Most people traveling to Greece don't pay Athens much mind. But this is a huge mistake, as experiencing Athens gives you a deeper understand of Greek culture. Where else can you find monuments from ancient times almost in their full splendor? This concrete jungle, filled with smog, may put off the ordinary tourist, but let it be known that beneath that grimy façade lies a lot of gems and treasures.
Athens is populated by a whopping 4 million people, which makes up about 40% of the entire Greek population. Because it's so densely populated, pollution, heat, and unattractive apartment blocks line its streets. But again, and it bears repeating, beneath all that is an intriguing city that holds most of the world's greatest tourist sights and sites, and all of them should not be missed.
Athens, getting there & around
Visitors from other countries will be welcomed by Athens 's modern international airport. It houses its very own museum, and gives you access to its efficient bus system, train, and ferry services.
There are flights to Athens from most parts of the world. The Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Spata has made traveling to Greece far more convenient and pleasurable. You can get to the airport via the metro to Syntagma, or by taking the train from the city. You can also take the airport express bus from Amalias Avenue , also in Syntagma.
Taking a cab or a taxi is not recommended, as traffic can get really bad. For the same reason, driving around in Athens is not recommended, but if you insist on driving, just take the National Road 1, the main route from Athens .
If you're coming from other Greek cities, you can also make use of the rail system, with trains leaving from Larisis and Peloponnese . There are also trips that go to Turkey , Bulgaria , Macedonia , and northern Europe .
You can also arrive in and depart from Athens via ferry or hydrofoil. Athens 's main port is Piraeus , and you can find the different departure and arrival information from the weekly ferry schedule in Central Athens 's tourist office.
Buses from Albania , Bulgaria , and even Turkey can also be used to get to Athens . There are terminals in Kifissou and Liossion, as well as in Peloponnese .
When in Athens , you can make use of the metro system to get from one point to another. You can also take the bus or trolley, also known as the electric cable bus network, which was improved and developed for the 2004 Olympics.
Getting around Athens has also been made more efficient and comfortable thanks to the underground rail system, and the blue and white Suburban Buses that you can take at virtually any time. These buses are quite convenient and affordable, as well as dependable-they can take you anywhere fast.
Taxis are also available and inexpensive, but hailing one can be quite a task. Try shouting your destination whenever a taxi passes; that might work. To save yourself the trouble, just try radioing for a taxi service.
One mode of transportation you shouldn't try is to rent a car and drive around. Signs are confusing, there are many one-way streets that can drive you nuts, and there is a severe need for good car parks.
Athens, main attractions
This landmark can be considered one of the greatest survivors of the war and the various religious change that plagued Greece . It has weathered many historical storms, and stands as the reminder of glory days of Greek civilization. The Acropolis is the hill that symbolized the upper city of Athens , and is crowned by the great Parthenon.
The Acropolis was also witness to the destruction of temple that honors the goddess Athena, which was destroyed by Persians during 480-79 B.C.
Most of the buildings surrounding this complex remained untouched until AD 52, when Roman emperor Cladius added a staircase to the grand entrance. During the second century, Hadrian then decorated some of the shrines, while Justinian closed down the philosophical schools in 529.
The Acropolis is most definitely a site not to be missed.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
This is the largest temple in Greece, which took 700 years to finish. It has 104 gigantic Corinthian columns, each standing 17m high. Today, only fifteen of the 104 columns are still standing.
National archaeological museum
This is one of the most popular museums in Greece, so make sure that you are already by the door even before it opens. Most tour groups will get there about an hour after the opening, so you still have time to enjoy the exhibits without the crowd. If you can, try to visit the museum more than once.
The Monastery of Daphni
If you’re visiting this monastery, try to stay at the courtyard first and take in the sights of the monastery’s brickwork. This monastery has a long, colorful history, and shrines were built here when there was a still a temple to Apollo. Today, the temple is no longer standing save for one column, but the temple’s name, Daphni, still commemorates and honors Apollo.
Holidays of note include the Epiphany on the 6 th of January, Independence day on the 25 th of March, Labor day on the 1 st of May. Greeks also celebrate Assumption day on the 15 th of August by holding family reunions, Ohi Day on the 28 th of October, and Stephen's day every 26 th of December.
They also celebrate the usual holidays celebrated in most countries, such as Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Christmas.
There is a Greek carnival season three weeks before Lent, with Athenians celebrating by having feasts, drinking, and abundant merrymaking. Easter is one of the foremost holidays in the Greek Orthodox calendar, and it is honored through a procession, climbing Lykavittos Hill, and ending in the Chapel of Agios Georgos.
Other events include the Greek folk dances usually held in middle of May until September. There are also nightly son et lumiere during April until October. You can also catch the Hellenic festival, held during June until end of the September.
Important visitor information
Climate in Athens is very Mediterranean. Temperatures of 40°C are usually experienced in the months of July to August. Time zone is GMT/UTC +2 (Eastern European Time).
Health concerns should be the last thing on your mind when in Athens, as conditions here are pretty excellent. Tap water is recommended for drinking, making the heat quenchable. One of the dangers you might encounter is from the heat, so make sure that you always have a bottle of water with you. Light, comfortable clothing is also recommended when going around.
As mentioned, traffic can be quite a hazard. Watch out for taxi drivers who are out to make an extra buck—always check that the taxi meter is set to zero when you board a taxi.