The ancient city of Athens is known as the cradle of democracy and the place where modern Western civilization originated. Because of its age and the effects of more recent air pollution, the city seems to be crumbling, but no one can deny its allure and the excitement of gazing on the Acropolis more than makes up for the decrepit nature of the city center. Here are my recommendations for the best things to do in and around the city.
1. Admire the Acropolis — Whether it’s day or night, the acropolis dominates the cityscape and can be seen from almost everywhere in Athens. It should be the first stop for any tourist.
2. Wander Around the Plaka — The area below the Acropolis, the oldest part of the city, is a delightful place to stroll. Be sure to stop ocassionally to have a drink or snack at an outdoor cafe.
3. Go Back in Time at the Agora — The center of life in ancient Athens, now in ruins, can be visited to get a flavor for what life was like 400 years before the birth of Christ.
4. Check Out the Roman Agora — Later, when the Romans ruled the city, this area was the center of activity. You can still see the Tower of the Winds, a relic from these days.
5. Visit the Temple of Olympian Zeus — The remains of this Roman temple are still impressive because of the size of the columns. It is located in a park not far from the Plaka.
6. Catch a Performance at the Herod Atticus Theater — This amphitheater sits just below the Acropolis and is still used for special performances from time to time.
7. Make an Excursion to the Temple of Poseidon — At the tip of a peninsula near Athens sits this dramatic temple. It is especially scenic at sunset since it overlooks the Aegean Sea.
8. See the Arch of Hadrian — Here is another relic of the Roman era, a triumphal arch similar to the ones which can be seen at the Roman Forum and in other places across Europe.
9. Visit the National Archaeological Museum — Many of the original structures from Athens’ past have been removed from the smoggy environment to preserve them. They are on display in this excellent museum.
10. Day Trip to Delphi — What was once considered the navel of the world, the oracle of Delphi is incredibly famous in Greek history. The site contains a wealth of structures from this period. Of special note is the Temple of Apollo.
11. Take in the View from Lykavitos Hill — This dramatic hill shares the skyline spotlight with the Acropolis and provides fantastic views of the entire city.
12. Stroll Around Syntagma Square — This large, oblong area, in the government part of the city is probably the largest square in Athens and is a popular gathering place.
13. View the Changing of the Guard at Syntagma Square — Actually just opposite the square is the Parliament Building where the Changing of the Guard takes place in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
14. Take an Excursion to Nafplion — This charming, walled, medieval town can be found southwest of Athens and can be visited in combination with visits to several other important tourist locations mentioned below.
15. Check Out the Acoustics at Epidaurus — The famous amphitheater at Epidaurus is known all over the world for its incredible acoustics. Drop a small object from the stage and the sound can be heard even in the last rows of the theater.
16. Go Further Back in Time at Mycenae — The ruins here pre-date much of Athens. This city, in Greek mythology, was the home of Agamemnon, brother of Menelaus, who was married to Helen. The Trojan War occurred because Agamemnon tried to recover his brother’s wife, after she eloped with Paris, of Troy. This myth, and the subsequent murder of Agamemnon by his wife Clytemnestra, pervades any visit to Mycenae.