Athens, the Historical Capital
Athens is the oldest continually inhabited capital of Europe, with a history that starts from the first settlement in the Neolithic age. Over the years, a multitude of conquerors occupied Athens and erected unique, splendid monuments—a rare historical palimpsest. In 1834, Athens became the capital of the Modern Greek state and in the two centuries since then it has become an attractive modern metropolis with a unique charm.
A large part of the town’s historic center has been converted into a 3-kilometer pedestrian zone (the largest in Europe), leading to the major archaeological sites and forming an archaeological park that largely reproduces the ancient landscape and layout.
However, the enchantments of Athens are not limited to the unique archaeological sites. The core of the historic center is the Plaka neighborhood (on the northeastern side of the Acropolis), which has been inhabited without interruption since antiquity.
Continuing from Plaka, you arrive at Monastiraki, a characteristic area of old Athens, with narrow streets and small buildings where the city’s traditional bazaar (yousouroum) is held. Close to it is the Psyrri area, a traditional neighborhood, which during the past few years has evolved into one of the most important centers of the city’s nightlife, with scores of bars, tavernas, ouzeris, and clubs.
Within the historical center you will also find the picturesque neighborhoods of Makrigianni (close to the Acropolis, where the Acropolis Museum stands), Ano Petralona, Theseion (where you will find small interesting museums and scores of cafés, bars and restaurants), Kerameikos and Metaxourgeio, as well as the Gazi area, with the former gas works, which have been turned into the Technopolis cultural center of the Athens municipality.
Syntagma and Omonia are the city’s main central squares; they are linked by Stadiou Street and Panepistimiou Avenue, along which you can see some of the town’s most beautiful Neoclassical buildings, many of which feature arcades.
Dominating Syntagma Square is the Greek Parliament, which was originally the royal palace. Behind the parliament lie the former royal gardens, now a public park, known as the National Garden. Through the National Garden you reach the impressive Zappeion Mansion (1874-1888). From there you can continue towards the presidential mansion and the Panathenaikon (Kallimarmaro) Stadium, where the first Olympic Games in modern history were held (1896).
From Omonia Square, one of the main avenues is Patission street, a busy street with interesting buildings, amongst which are the Neoclassical mansions of the Polytechnic School and the National Archaeological Museum.
In Kolonaki, a stone’s throw from Syntagma Square, you will find many shops, restaurants, bars and cafés. Above Kolonaki rises Lycabettus Hill, reachable by a funicular. From the top of Lycabettus, you can let yourself be captivated by the stunning panoramic views of Athens.
It is also worthwhile to visit the southern suburbs, located on the coast of the Saronic Gulf. They offer many opportunities to take a walk along the seaside, while you will also find many beautiful organized and free beaches, large shopping centers and nightclubs (especially during the summer). You can also visit the spectacular Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center in Faliro. The recently opened center houses, among other things, the national opera and the national library, but also offers many interesting exhibitions and cultural events.
The suburbs of Maroussi and Kifissia (to the north of the city) are also worth a visit. Maroussi was the where most of the events were held for the 2004 Athens Olympic games, and Kifissia delights with its beautiful villas and impressive mansions. Kifissia can be reached easily by train from the center, and also offers a beautiful park area and many cafés and restaurants.