In the heart of modern Athens, its streets pulsating with traffic, stands an enormous open space bordered by trees and shrubs – the Olympieion – a tranquil archaeological park where earth and sky seem to meet, linked by massive marble columns stretching upward, marking the temple of Olympian Zeus. Once inside the entrance of this age-old sanctuary, visitors are treated to a taste of nature, an extraordinary ancient ruin on a super-human scale and one of the area’s most inspiring views of the temple-topped Acropolis.
Like the Acropolis, the temple of Olympian Zeus has been a distinctive Athenian landmark since time immemorial. Begun about 520 BC by the tyrant Peisistratus and his sons, it was left unfinished at the end of their rule until the 2nd century BC, when further construction was briefly undertaken (174 – 164 BC) by one of Athens’ Hellenistic benefactors, the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Abandoned once again following Antiochus’ death, it was ultimately finished by the Roman emperor Hadrian and dedicated in AD 132. Hadrian, an ardent Hellenophile much respected by the people of the Greek East, gave Athens not only the completed Olympieion, but also other temples in the area; a new public forum on the north side of the Acropolis that contained a library and lecture halls; and an urban water system fed by an aqueduct from Mount Penteli that continued to supply the city until the 1930s.
The “core” of the historic centre is the Plaka neighborhood (at the eastern side of the Acropolis), which has been inhabited without interruption since antiquity. When you walk through the narrow labyrinthine streets lined with houses and mansions from the time of the Turkish occupation and the Neoclassical period (19th c.), you will have the impression of travelling with a “time machine”
One of the legendary sites that sits beneath the slopes of the Acropolis on the southwest side, is the stunning open-air theatre, Odeon of Herodes Atticus. In ancient times, Odeons were built for musical contests and this ancient stone theatre has gone on to host some of the world’s best musical performances during the last 60 years since its modern day re-opening, including Nana Mouskouri, Luciano Pavarotti and Frank Sinatra to name a few.
Widely known by locals as simply “Herodeon”, it was built between 160AD – 174AD by the wealthy benefactor of Athens, Herodes Atticus as an ode to his late wife Rigilla. It was the third Odeon to be built in Athens and was distinctively Roman in contrast to the nearby Theatre of Dionysos. With its Roman arches and three story stage building, it was originally partly covered with a wood and tiled roof. The circular orchestra has now become a semi-circle, paved with black and white marble. With 35 rows, the marble auditorium extends slightly beyond a semi-circle with a diameter of 80 metres and today seats 4680 people.
Standing 277 meters above sea level, Lycabettus Hill is the highest point of Athens. Although a beautiful walk up via a circular path, it will be a test of endurance and a challenge in summer. A funicular or cliff railway can take you to the top of the hill, which proves to be a novelty for younger kids. The downside is it’s a closed tunnel, so there is no view on the way up or down.
The view from Lycabettus Hill is best enjoyed at sunset whilst waiting for the lights of the Acropolis, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Panathenaic Stadium and Ancient Agora to come on. You will also be reminded that Athens is surrounded by sea with spectacular views across the Aegean.
At the top of the hill you will find the Greek whitewashed church of Agios Georgios (St. George) and all are welcome to enter. The viewing platform in front of the church provides sprawling views of Athens, stretching out to the city’s coastline. A cafe is open for breakfast and lunch. Dinner reservations can be made at the very upscale Orizontes restaurant, that also has spectacular views across Athens.
Syntagma Square is the most famous in Athens if not all of Greece. No matter where you have to go in Athens, if you can find Syntagma Square you can find your way there.
Syntagma Square is back and better than ever. Well maybe not better than ever. It was probably at it's best in the early 1900's when there were not cars and buses whizzing around it and it was shaded by large trees. But with the re-routing of the traffic, the opening of the new metro and the removal of the wooden billboard covered walls that for at least an entire year, hid the construction site that was once Athens most popular platia, Syntagma looks better than it has in many years. At the top of the square are two stairways and an elevator leading to the Syntagma Metro Station, one of the most beautiful metro stations in the world, with its own museum of artifacts found at the construction site.
Listed in the world’s top 20, the new Acropolis Museum is home to unique masterpieces, mainly from the Archaic and Classical periods. All exhibits are directly connected to the Acropolis and offer panoramic views of the monument from the museum’s halls.
Monastiraki is one of the most renowned neighborhoods in central Athens partly because it belongs to the oldest part of the town and due to its traditional flea market. A vivid neighborhood with the aromas and arts of a bygone era still prominent!
One of the most important archaeological museums in the world, the Archaeological Museum of Athens houses the finest antiquities all over Greece. Well-curated exhibitions guide you through magnificent findings, exceptional sculptures, detailed pottery, Avant-garde jewelry, frescoes and artifacts dating back to antiquity and the classic times.
Built in the same time as Parthenon, the Doric Temple of Poseidon is situated on the edge of the magnificent Cape Sounio, 70km south from Athens. 16 remaining slender columns of Doric order reveal that Greeks, indeed, knew where to "place" their temples. On the coast of Attica, Cape Sounio is a jewel overlooking the Aegean Sea. Once upon a time, the Temple of Poseidon used to serve as a sacrifice point, since the sailors tried to appease God of the Sea, Poseidon, before entering the Aegean Sea.
The distinctive cape crowned with the imposing Temple of Poseidon offers impressive views of the Saronic Gulf and the Aegean Sea with the Greek islands.
Panathenaic Stadium, also known as "The Callimarmaron", a classical Greek monument, a venue designed and used for noble competition and fair play of mind and body, lies between the neighborhoods of Mets and Pangrati.
Originally a natural hollow part of the ground between the hills of Agra and Ardettos, over Ilissos River, the place has been turned into a stadium by orator Lykourgos, during the 4th century, for the competitions of the Great Panathinaea festivities, games with nude athletes. The Panathinaea games honored, once more, the protector of the city, goddess Athena.
National Garden is a marvelous park, open to the public from sunrise to sunset, located in the heart of Athens, just behind the Greek Parliament. What were once, the Old Palace and the Royal Garden, the getaway of Queen Amalia and King Otto, is now a delightful, shady refuge for Athenians and visitors during the hot summer months.
The Kovadareios library is not just a collection of dusty pages, it is a compilation of the history, symbols and values of a brand new and simultaneously ancient nation. Among the valuable codices and rare volumes, you’ll see one of the two surviving copies of the ‘Carta’ (Charter) of Rigas Feraios, one of the founding fathers of modern Greece.