What to do in Athens
April 12, 2017
Intrepid explorer Sharon Preston lists Athens as one of her favourite destinations.
This magnificent city, that spreads out from the foot of the ancient Acropolis, is home to various reminders of its ancient heritage, which is why she loves it so much. Here she describes some of her favourite places to visit when you’re in town
ll over Athens one finds magnificent ruins… the columns that once belonged to the immense temple of Zeus, marble relics of the Panathenaic Stadium, built for the very first Olympic Games in 1896, the Theatre of Dionysos, erected in the 6th Century, the even older Odeon of Herode Atticus, that dates way back to the 2nd Century… and that’s just a taste of what you’ll find in this vibrant ancient city. Of course, you’ll discover much more in this vibrant city, from fascinating museums to fabulous restaurants, great shopping and other delights.
Here is a list of my five favourite spots:
1 Acropolis and Parthenon
Rising majestically above the centre of Athens, the magnificent Acropolis is a sacred rock on which a number of ancient Greek temples were built. Nearby you’ll find the Parthenon, the largest Doric temple to have ever been built in Greece. The view from the Acropolis is quite magnificent, and the surrounding temples below it are well worth exploring to get a feel for their history and age. A little further away, but also worth visiting is the New Acropolis Museum, where a number of the original marbles and statues are located that once inhabited the Acropolis. There are more than 4 000 treasures on display here and you will be able to visit ongoing excavations in the lower levels of the museum, including an early Christian settlement that has been uncovered, that is home to baths, shops, workshops and houses.
2 The Temple of Zeus
It took more than 700 years to build this magnificent ancient temple and the site is still home to 15 of the temple’s original 104 massive Corinthian columns. There is also a 16th column that collapsed in 1852. The Temple of Zeus was originally built in the 6th Century AD and was completed by Hadrian in AD131.
3 The Panathenaic Stadium
You must visit this imposing marble stadium as it’s where the first Olympic Games were held, in 1896. Interestingly enough, the stadium actually dates back much earlier. It is situated on the site where a stadium was built in the 4th Century BC. That stadium was also used for athletic competitions and used to house up to 50 000 spectators at one time.
4 National Archaeological Museum
One of the most important museums to visit in Greece, and certainly a highlight of a visit to Athens is the National Archaeological Museum. In fact, it’s considered to be one of the top 10 museums in the world! It’s home to an incredible collection of items that were discovered in archaeological sites around Greece. Look out for the Mycenaean Collection that includes a number of items such as cups and dishes, as well as gold masks, jewellery and lovely Cycladic figurines. These are some of the earliest Greek sculptures and are believed to date back to around 2 000BC. In the Stathatos Gallery you will find some lovely pieces that date all the way back from the middle Bronze Age to the post-Byzantine era. There’s even an Egyptian Art Collection, which spans more than 3 000 years. And a highlight of a visit to the museum is the exquisite collection of Greek vases and frescoes discovered on the island of Santorini.
5 The Plaka
When you’re in Athens you have to spend some time exploring its magnificent old city, the Plaka, located at the foot of the Acropolis. This historic area is a maze of narrow cobbled streets lined with structures built in the Neoclassical style, including Byzantine churches and charming little shops and restaurants. Take some time off to relax in the sun in a street café with a coffee or retsina and enjoy the people ambling past, and the lively activity around you. This is Athens at its best. Of course, at night, the Plaka comes alive and it’s the place to enjoy dinner, dancing and a vibrant atmosphere.