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One of the oldest cities in the world, Athens wears its history like a badge of pride. The Acropolis and its crowning glory, the Parthenon, look down over the city from their lofty viewpoint, but everywhere you go you’ll come across ancient ruins from temples and theatres to towers and triumphal arches.

There are also Byzantine churches and Ottoman mansions to explore (the city was conquered multiple times throughout the ages), world-class museums, a vibrant nightlife, beaches and ocean views.

Areas of the heart of Athens are closed to vehicles, so you’re best exploring on foot and enjoying the city from rooftop bars and restaurants with sweeping views.

Things to see and do in Athens

The Acropolis

An ancient citadel perched on an outcrop above the city, the Acropolis was the brainchild of 5th-century BC statesman Pericles. He decided to build a lavish city of temples dedicated to the cult of Athena.

The site was proclaimed the province of the gods by the Oracle of Delphi, and the finest materials and best craftsmen were employed to construct a series of temples, theatres, sanctuaries and monumental gateways.

Although pilfered and damaged by conflicts and natural disasters over the centuries, the complex still has an immensely powerful presence. Many of the most important surviving sculptures now sit on display in the Acropolis Museum, while replicas fill their original places on the hilltop.

The Parthenon

Built during the Golden Age of Athens, the Parthenon sits on the highest point of the Acropolis, visible from all over Athens. The enormous Doric temple is regarded as the finest surviving example of classical Greek architecture. It was completed in 438 BC, and its finely calculated proportions, complex architectural structure and lavish decoration have inspired countless imitations.

The building originally served as a temple and treasury and held a colossal statue of Athena. Its friezes and sculpture-laden pediments would have been brightly painted and, although it has suffered badly over the years, it remains the symbol of Ancient Greece around the world.

Ancient Agora, the heart of classical Athens

The hub of ancient Athens, and its administrative, political and commercial heart, the Ancient Agora was the city’s marketplace, communal gathering space and location for some of the most heated debates and ground-breaking speeches in history.

The agora can justifiably claim to be the birthplace of democracy, a place where Socrates and Plato expounded their ideas, Saint Paul preached for coverts to Christianity, and lawmakers drew up codes that still influence our daily lives.

The site remained in use for about 5,000 years, and highlights include the Temple of Hephaistos and the modern reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos, a covered walkway from the Hellenistic period. The Museum of the Ancient Agora explores the site’s legacy, as well as private and public life in classical Athens.

Plaka, one of Athens’ oldest districts

Set at the foot of the Acropolis, Plaka’s warren of narrow streets are lined by brightly painted, often tumbledown houses and a glut of shops, galleries, tavernas, cafes and restaurants. Bougainvillea cascades from rooftops, and the district gives off a definite air of traditional Greek way of life.

You’ll also find small Byzantine churches, leafy little squares, flower sellers, buskers, museums and, like everywhere else in the city, impressive archaeological sites.

It’s also a good place to pick up everything from ouzo and olive oil to Byzantine-style necklaces and woven carpets.

Modern Athens

Despite Greece’s well-documented economic woes in recent years, Athens remains a thriving city with a lively contemporary arts scene. Museums covering everything from Cycladic and Islamic art to ancient archaeology, Jewish history, folk art and numismatics.

You can see edgy street art on buildings all over the city and, by night, attend live music, dance and drama performances of every type.

On Syntagma Square, Athens’ central gathering place, the Old Royal Palace houses the Greek parliament and you can see the changing of the guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Best time to visit Athens

Athens makes a good destination at any time of year, but April to June and September to October are the best times to go. During these months, the temperatures are pleasant and visitor numbers are lower than in high summer. During July and August, temperatures can reach 33 C (91 F), making it very hot for exploring the city, while winter weather can be quite unpredictable.

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Map of Athens

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