Discover the best attractions in Athens…
Athens, the capital of Greece, was the heart of the ancient Greek civilization. You can still visit the early Greek landmarks such as the Acropolis and the Parthenon. The Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum preserve sculptures, vases, jewelry, and more from Ancient Greece.
The Acropolis is the most important ancient site in the Western world. Crowned by the Parthenon, it stands sentinel over Athens, visible from almost everywhere within the city. Its monuments and sanctuaries of white Pentelic marble gleam in the midday sun and gradually take on a honey hue as the sun sinks, while at night they stand brilliantly illuminated above the city. A glimpse of this magnificent sight cannot fail to exalt your spirit.
This dazzling museum at the foot of the Acropolis’ southern slope showcases its surviving treasures. The collection covers the Archaic period to the Roman one, but the emphasis is on the Acropolis of the 5th century BC, considered the apotheosis of Greece’s artistic achievement. The museum reveals layers of history: ruins are visible in its floor, and, through floor-to-ceiling windows, the Acropolis is always visible above. The surprisingly good-value restaurant has superb views; there’s also a fine museum shop.
Antonis Benakis, a politician’s son born in Alexandria, Egypt, in the late 19th century, endowed what is perhaps the finest museum in Greece. Its three floors showcase impeccable treasures from the Bronze Age up to WWII. Especially gorgeous are the Byzantine icons and the extensive collection of Greek regional costumes, as well as complete sitting rooms from Macedonian mansions, intricately carved and painted. Benakis had such a good eye that even the agricultural tools are beautiful.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
A can’t-miss on two counts: it’s a marvellous temple, the largest in Greece, and it’s smack in the centre of Athens. The temple is impressive for the sheer size of its 104 Corinthian columns (17m high with a base diameter of 1.7m), of which 15 remain – the fallen column was blown down in a gale in 1852. Begun in the 6th century BC by Peisistratos, the temple was abandoned for lack of funds.
Theatre of Dionysos
The tyrant Peisistratos introduced the annual Festival of the Great Dionysia during the 6th century BC, and held it in the world’s first theatre, on the south slope of the Acropolis. The original theatre on this site was a timber structure, and masses of people attended the contests, where men clad in goatskins sang and danced, followed by feasting and revelry. Drama as we know it dates to these contests. At one of the contests, Thespis left the ensemble and took centre stage for a solo performance, an act considered to be the first true dramatic performance – hence the term ‘thespian’.
More than any other monument, the Parthenon epitomises the glory of Ancient Greece. Meaning ‘virgin’s apartment’, it’s dedicated to Athena Parthenos, the goddess embodying the power and prestige of the city. The largest Doric temple ever completed in Greece, and the only one built completely of white Pentelic marble (apart from its wooden roof), it took 15 years to complete. It was designed by Iktinos and Kallicrates and completed in time for the Great Panathenaic Festival of 438 BC.
This lush, tranquil site, uncovered in 1861 during the construction of Pireos St, is named for the potters who settled it around 3000 BC, then on the clay-rich banks of the Iridanos River. But it’s better known as a cemetery, used through the 6th century AD, and, ironically, the grave markers give a sense of ancient life: numerous marble stelae (grave markers) are carved with vivid portraits and familiar scenes. There is also an excellent small museum. Once inside, head for the small knoll ahead to the right, where you’ll find a plan of the site.
The Agora was ancient Athens’ heart, the lively hub of administrative, commercial, political and social activity. Socrates expounded his philosophy here, and in AD 49 St Paul came here to win converts to Christianity. The site today is a lush respite, with the grand Temple of Hephaistos, a good museum and the late-10th-century Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles, trimmed in brick patterns that mimic Arabic calligraphy. The greenery harbours birds and lizards. Allow about two hours to see everything.