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Historic city: Athens is often considered the birthplace of democracy and consequently the origin of western civilisation. It’s all thanks to the Greeks of the classical period, whose new methods of thinking bought about dramatic changes in politics, as well as art, philosophy and medicine. Luckily many of the majestic ancient structures still remain for you to see on city breaks here, including one of the most famous landmarks of the entire world, the Parthenon atop the Acropolis. But with archaeological museums, art galleries and even ancient gardens, there’s much more to see on Athens city breaks than just the famed temples.
Vibrant restaurants and bars: One of the great things about Athens city breaks is the sheer diversity of restaurants and bars. Along certain streets you’ll see a whole world of restaurants offering international cuisine all vying for your attention. Of course, you can expect to see the famous kebab houses too, where you’ll find delicious griddled meat served with fresh salad and lashings of tzatziki (mint and yoghurt) sauce.
Attractions in Athens
The Acropolis: One of the most famous sites in the world, the Acropolis is the rocky plateau which dominates the skyline of Athens, no matter where you’re staying on city breaks here. Upon this mountaintop you’ll see a number of fascinating ancient ruins, including most famously, the Parthenon, as well as the Temple of Athena Nike and the Theatre of Dionysis. The Parthenon proves the real draw though, as it’s one of the largest temples in Greece and has a long history dating back to 447BC. Many civilisations have attempted to capture the site, and over its time it has been converted to Christian church and an Ottoman mosque. Regarded as a perfect example of architecture of the period, its huge columns rise 10m to the sky, but to fully appreciate the true size and breathtaking scale of the Parthenon, you really do have to visit!
Ancient Agora of Athens: ‘Agora’ means ‘market square’ in Greek, and at the Ancient Agora in Athens you’ll the pinnacle of an ancient market square. There’s a plethora of structures to see if you choose to visit here on city breaks in Athens, including the Stoa of Zeus, the Temple of Apollo Patroos and the Tower of the Winds just to the east of the agora in the Roman Forum.
Kerameikos: This large expanse of land was once a cemetery and as such is rich with artefacts and archaeological finds. In fact, so much was unearthed during excavations here; a museum was built to display all the wonderful exhibits of ceramics and metalwork found. When you visit, you’ll see a multitude of elaborately designed grave reliefs, as well as ceremonial plates and weapons.
Activities in Athens
Syntagma Square: The most political area of Athens in modern times, you’ll see the parliament buildings nearby as well as the recently restored Grande Bretagne Hotel (many world leaders have stayed there). Perhaps the best photo opportunity in Syntagma Square is during the changing of the guards on the hour, every hour. They perform an unusual motion to change guards, and their unique uniform is certainly eye-catching! Their change is also performed in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Museum of Cycladic Art: This often-overlooked museum actually contains some of the most interesting finds you’ll see on city breaks in Athens. Inside, you’ll see a number of artefacts of Cycladic Art, principally angular stone figures dating from a civilisation over 5000 years old. What’s most unusual about the figures is that their flattened geometric shapes almost give the impression that they’re modern art.
Byzantine Museum: If you fancy a break from all the ancient art on Athens city breaks, why not head to this impressive Byzantine Museum. The exhibits are very thoughtfully arranged, making touring the museum a real pleasure. On your way around the galleries, expect to see gilded paintings, ornate sculptures and vibrantly coloured ceramics.
Beaches in Athens
Glyfada Beach: Around 15km away, Piraeus is the closest coastal city to Athens. So if you fancy a break on a beach during your Athens city breaks it’s best to head here! Glyfada Beach is one of the best in Pireaus, and indeed a whole seaside community has built up around it. It boasts gloriously golden sand, as well as comparatively clear water and a good selection of water sports.
Votsalakia Beach: Considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Piraeus, this is probably your ideal choice if you want pure relaxation away from the hustle and bustle of Athens city breaks. The stunning mountain views and the light golden sand make this an easy beach to recommend for any time of year.
Lake Vouliagmeni: Ok so technically this one isn’t a beach, but there’s still an opportunity to sunbathe on the sun beds here, just as you would on the nearby coastline. In addition, this freshwater lake has the added advantage of being reportedly very good for your skin. The warm springs remain at a toasty 23C, plus you have lots of little fish kissing your feet as soon as you jump in the water! As well as offering a replenishing, refreshing dip in the water, you can also enjoy the beautiful views of the rocky mountain face which lines one side of the lake.
Restaurants in Athens
Smile Cafe: This fabulously fresh restaurant certainly will make you ‘smile’! All food is utterly authentic and presented in a colourful and appetising fashion. In particular we’re thinking of the sweet, crispy baklavas (Greek pastries), creamy mousakka (very similar to lasagne), and lamb kleftiko (a thick, hearty stew).
Spondi: Fancy going somewhere special during your city breaks in Athens? Well Spondi will certainly fit the bill! The innovative presentation is what really takes your eye – think dishes presented stacked on elegant lines with geometric precision and you’ll come close to the creativity on display here. It’s actually rated as a 2 star Michelin restaurant so as you’d expect some dishes are extremely opulent, but the prices are surprisingly cheap for an eatery of this quality.
KIKU Japanese Restaurant: This elegant Japanese restaurant is a break from the norm of the usual kebab shops you might expect to see on Athens city breaks. The clean, sophisticated surroundings only add to the delightful simplicity of the eating experience. And essentially, the ingredients, which include Japan’s signature dish of sushi, are amazingly fresh and flavoursome.
Nightlife in Athens
Lots of bars and clubs: Athens city breaks have a dazzling array of bars and clubs spread out across various districts. Each area has its own unique atmosphere, with Kolonaki offering a more upmarket experience (it’s the place where the country’s celebrities usually live), and Psyrri and Monastiraki being some of the best for late night clubbing. One of the greatest things about Athens city breaks is that many local people do not actually even go out until midnight, so things stay lively until after the break of dawn! Great nightspots to visit on Athens city breaks include (the appropriately named) Booze, Balux (a very stylish waterfront bar), and Magaze.
Shopping in Athens
Independent shops: Luckily Athens city breaks haven’t succumbed to the soulless commercial malls you’ll often see in other major cities. It seems that the independent shops are still enjoying quite a degree of success here, especially in places such as Kolonaki (which has a number of original art galleries, designer boutiques and quirky oddity shops). And whilst Plaka can seem a little too dominated by souvenir-style shops, it’s certainly a useful place for picking up postcards and keepsakes. Whereas Ermou Street is the main shopping street of choice for big name labels and international brands.