Athens


WHAT TO DO

Athens is an exciting mix of ancient history, spirited culture and contemporary cool. It is the capital of Greece and one of the world's oldest cities, with its recorded history spanning over three thousand years. A center for the arts, learning and philosophy - home of Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum - Athens is widely referred to as the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy. The heritage of the classical era is still evident in the city, represented by ancient monuments and works of art, the most famous of all being the Parthenon. Athens is also home to several museums and cultural institutions, such as the National Archeological Museum, featuring the world's largest collection of ancient Greek antiquities. It was the host city of the first modern day Olympic Games in 1896. The city center of Athens can easily be explored on foot - use the metro (three lines) to reach destinations beyond walking distance.

Begin your Athenian adventure atop the magnificent Acropolis. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, 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. Inspiring as these monuments are, they are but faded remnants of the city of Pericles, who spared no expense - only the best materials, architects, sculptors and artists were good enough for a city dedicated to the cult of Athena (patron goddess of Athens). It was a showcase of lavishly colored buildings and gargantuan statues, some of bronze, others of marble plated with gold and encrusted with precious stones. The Acropolis was first inhabited in Neolithic times (4000-3000 BC). The earliest monumental buildings were constructed here during the Mycenaean era. People lived on the Acropolis until the late 6th century BC, but in 510 BC the Delphic oracle declared it the sole province of the gods. After all the buildings on the Acropolis were reduced to ashes by the Persians on the eve of the Battle of Salamis (480 BC), Pericles set about his ambitious rebuilding program. He transformed the Acropolis into a city of temples, which has come to be regarded as the zenith of Classical Greece. Major restoration programs are ongoing, and most of the original sculptures and friezes (a decorative band on a wall near the ceiling) have been moved to the nearby Acropolis Museum and replaced with casts.

Designed to be the supreme monument of the Acropolis, the Parthenon epitomizes the glory of Ancient Greece. Dedicated to Athena, it is the largest Doric temple ever completed in Greece, and took fifteen years to build. It was designed by Iktinos and Kallicrates and completed in time for the Great Panathenaic Festival of 438 BC. Built on the highest ground of the Acropolis, the Parthenon had a dual purpose: to house the great statue of Athena commissioned by Pericles and to serve as the new treasury. The temple consisted of eight fluted Doric columns at either end and seventeen on each side. To achieve perfect form, its lines were ingeniously curved to create an optical illusion - the foundations are slightly concave and the columns are slightly convex to make both look straight. Supervised by Pheidias, sculptors worked on the architectural detail of the Parthenon, including the pediments and friezes, which were brightly colored and gilded. The metopes (the decorative panels on the temple's exterior) on the eastern side depicted the Olympian gods fighting the giants; on the western side they showed Theseus leading the Athenian youths into battle against the Amazons. The southern metopes illustrated the contest of the Lapiths and Centaurs at a marriage feast, while the northern ones depicted the sacking of Troy. The ceiling of the Parthenon was painted blue and gilded with stars. At the eastern end was the holy cella (inner room of a temple), into which only a few privileged initiates could enter. Here stood the statue for which the temple was built: the Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin), considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. Designed by Pheidias and completed in 432 BC, it was made of gold and ivory with a wooden core and stood almost forty feet high on its pedestal. The face, hands and feet were made of ivory, and the eyes were fashioned from jewels. Clad in a long gold dress with the head of Medusa carved in ivory on her breast, the goddess held a statuette of Nike (the goddess of victory) in her right hand; in her left, a spear with a serpent at its base. On top of her helmet was a sphinx with griffins in relief at either side. Note: in AD 426 the statue was taken to Constantinople, where it disappeared.

Although the Parthenon was the most impressive monument of the Acropolis, it was more showpiece than working sanctuary. That role fell to the Erechtheion. Named after Erechtheus, a mythical king of Athens, the temple housed the cults of Athena and Poseidon. It was here that, as the myths told, the god and goddess had a contest for the city's affections. Poseidon struck the ground with his trident, making a salt spring, but Athena won by producing an olive tree. The Erechtheion was part of Pericles' plan for rebuilding after the Persian attack, but the project was postponed after the outbreak of the Peloponnesian Wars. Work did not start until 421 BC, eight years after his death, and was completed around 406 BC. It is the most unusual monument of the Acropolis, a supreme example of Ionic architecture ingeniously built on several levels to compensate for the uneven bedrock. The main temple is divided into two cellae - one dedicated to Athena, the other to Poseidon - representing a reconciliation of the two deities after their contest. In Athena's cella stood an olive wood statue of Athena Polias holding a shield adorned with a gorgon's head. It was this statue on which the sacred peplos (shawl) was placed at the culmination of the Great Panathenaic Festival. In front of the temple grows an olive tree, held to be a cutting of the one that sprang forth at Athena's behest when she won the contest against Poseidon. The southern portico is supported by six larger than life maiden columns, the Caryatids, modeled on women from Karyai - modern day Karyes, in Lakonia, hence the name. Those you see are plaster casts, the originals are in the Acropolis Museum. Poseidon's cella, the northern porch, is accessible by a small set of stairs against the boundary wall. It consists of six Ionic columns; the fracture in the floor is supposedly left either by Poseidon's trident in his contest with Athena, or by Zeus' thunderbolt when he killed the mythical king Erechtheus. Note: the Erechtheion was the last public building erected on the Acropolis in antiquity.

The Propylaia formed the monumental entrance to the Acropolis. Built by Mnesicles between 437 BC and 432 BC, it ranks in architectural brilliance with the Parthenon. It consists of a central hall with two wings on either side; each section had a gate, and in ancient times these five gates were the only entrances to the upper city. The middle gate opened on to the Panathenaic Way, the route for the great Panathenaic Procession. The Propylaia is aligned with the Parthenon - the earliest example of a building designed in relation to another. It remained intact until the 13th century, when various occupiers took it as a palace and started adding to it. Note: it was badly damaged in 1645, when lightning struck gunpowder the Turks had stored here. The small but exquisitely proportioned Temple of Athena Nike sits at the southwest edge of the Acropolis, jutting in front and to the right of the Propylaia. Designed by Kallicrates, the temple was built of white Pentelic marble between 427 BC and 424 BC. The building is almost square, with four graceful Ionic columns at either end. Only fragments remain of the frieze and relief sculptures, now replicas; the originals are in the Acropolis Museum. The frieze shows scenes from mythology, the Battle of Plataea (479 BC) and Athenians fighting Boeotians and Persians. An additional relief sculpture shows Athena Nike fastening her sandal. The temple housed a wooden statue of Athena. Note: the temple was dismantled in 1686, when the Turks used its stones to build a bastion against the Venetians. Down the hill, near the Acropolis main entrance, is the totally awesome Odeon of Herodes Atticus. This large amphitheater was built in AD 161 by wealthy Roman Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife Regilla. It was excavated in 1858 and completely restored in the 1950s. The Athens & Epidaurus Festival holds drama, music and dance performances here in summer. Note: when you're visiting the Acropolis site, the path leads west from the top of the Stoa of Eumenes, and you can peer down into the odeon from above. From this vantage, it looks positively intimate, though it seats 5000 people. A short distance away, on the south slope of the Acropolis, is the 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 theater. The original theater 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 center stage for a solo performance, an act considered to be the first true dramatic performance - hence the term 'thespian'. During the golden age in the 5th century BC, the annual festival was one of the state's major events. Politicians sponsored dramas by writers such as Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, with some light relief provided by the bawdy comedies of Aristophanes. Note: the theater was reconstructed in stone and marble by Lycurgus between 342 BC and 326 BC, with a seating capacity of 17000 spread over 64 tiers, of which about 20 survive.

Nearby at Dionysiou Areopagitou 15 is the excellent Acropolis Museum. This impressive 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 culmination of Greece's artistic achievement. The museum reveals layers of history - from ancient ruins beneath the building, to the Acropolis itself, always visible above through floor to ceiling windows. Designed by US based architect Bernard Tschumi with Greek architect Michael Photiadis, it opened in 2009 after decades of planning. As you enter the museum, the glass floor reveals the ruins of an ancient Athenian neighborhood. These were uncovered during construction and had to be preserved and integrated into a new building plan. In 2019, the museum opened up a section of these ruins for closer inspection. The ground floor's Gallery of the Slopes of Acropolis emulates the climb up to the sacred hill, while allowing glimpses of the ruins below. Exhibits include painted vases and votive offerings from the sanctuaries where gods were worshipped, plus more recent objects found in excavations of the settlement, including two clay statues of Nike at the entrance. Bathed in natural light, the first floor Archaic Gallery is a veritable forest of statues, mostly votive offerings to Athena. These include stunning examples of 6th century kore - statues of young women in draped clothing and elaborate braids, usually carrying a pomegranate, wreath or bird. Most were recovered from a pit on the Acropolis, where the Athenians buried them after the Battle of Salamis. Also on this floor are five Caryatids, the maiden columns that held up the Erechtheion (the sixth is in the British Museum in London). The museum’s crowning glory is the top floor Parthenon Gallery, a glass atrium housing the temple's magnificent frieze. It's mounted as it once was, following the layout of the building, and you can stroll along, as though atop the columns, and examine the fragments at eye level. The frieze depicts the Panathenaic Procession, starting at the southwest corner of the temple, with two groups splitting off and meeting on the east side for the delivery of the peplos (shawl) to Athena. Note: the museum is open every day from 9a-5p.

A short stroll from the Acropolis Museum is Hadrian's Arch. The Roman emperor Hadrian had a great affection for Athens. Although he did his fair share of spiriting its Classical artwork to Rome, he also adorned the city with many temples and infrastructure improvements. As thanks, the people of Athens erected this lofty monument of Pentelic marble in 131 AD. It now stands on the edge of one of Athens' busiest avenues, Vasilissis Amalias. In Roman times, it stood across the road to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The inscriptions laud the new Roman era: the northwest frieze reads, 'This is Athens, the Ancient city of Theseus', while the southeast frieze states, 'This is the city of Hadrian, and not of Theseus'. The Temple of Olympian Zeus was once the largest temple in Greece. Of its 104 original Corinthian columns, only 15 remain - the fallen column was blown down in a gale in 1852. Started in the 6th century BC by Peisistratos, the temple was abandoned for lack of funds. Various other leaders took a stab at completing it, but it was left to Hadrian to finish the job in AD 131, thus taking more than 700 years in total to build. In typically immodest fashion, Hadrian built not just a colossal statue of Zeus, but an equally large one of himself. Note: admission to the site is included with the Acropolis combo ticket (€30), which permits entry to the Acropolis and six other sites (including this one) within five days. Down the road at Leoforos Vasileos Konstantinou is the Panathenaic Stadium. With its compact rows of white Pentelic marble seats built into a ravine next to Ardettos Hill, this ancient turned modern stadium is a draw both for lovers of classical architecture and sports fans who can imagine the roar of the crowds from millennia past. The stadium - built in the 4th century BC and restored for the first modern Olympic games in 1896 - was first used as a venue for the Panathenaic athletic contests. It's said that at Hadrian's inauguration in AD 120, a thousand wild animals were sacrificed in the arena. Later, the seats were rebuilt in marble by Herodes Atticus.

From there, head to the National Archaeological Museum at Patision 44. Housing the world's finest collection of Greek antiquities in an enormous neoclassical building, this museum is one of Athens' top attractions. Treasures offering a view of Greek art and history - dating from the Neolithic era to Classical periods, including the Ptolemaic era in Egypt - include exquisite sculptures, pottery, jewelry, frescoes and artifacts found throughout Greece. The beautifully presented exhibits are displayed mainly thematically. Highlights include The Horse and Jockey, Mask of Agamemnon, The Kore and Kouros, and the Zeus/Poseidon Statue. Note: the museum is open every day from 8a-8p. Next, make your way to Varvakios Agora (Central Market) at Athinas 42. A wonderful sight in its own right, this huge old wrought iron market hall is dedicated to fish and meat, especially row upon row of lamb carcasses. Tavernas (a small Greek restaurant) within the market are an Athenian institution for hangover busting patsas (tripe soup). Across the street is the fruit and vegetable market. In the surrounding streets are olives, cheeses and spices. Not far away is the Monastiraki Flea Market. The true flea feel is on Plateia Avyssinias and in nearby small streets, where dusty palaiopoleia (old stuff sellers) rule. Note: for the best rummaging, hit the market on Sunday morning. From Monastiraki, walk west along Ermou Street (the city's best known shopping and pedestrian zone) until you reach the Kerameikos archaeological site. This lush, tranquil site is named for the potters who settled it around 3000 BC. It was used as a cemetery through the 6th century AD. Once inside, head for the small knoll ahead to the right, where you'll find a plan of the site. A path leads down to the right from the knoll to the remains of the city wall built by Themistocles in 479 BC, and rebuilt by Konon in 394 BC. The wall is broken by the foundations of two gates; tiny signs mark each one. The first, the Sacred Gate, was where pilgrims from Eleusis entered the city during the annual Eleusian procession. The gate marked the end of the Sacred Way, aka Iera Odos, which is now a wide city street that still follows a straight route west to Elefsina. To the northeast are the remains of the Dipylon Gate - the city's main entrance and where the Panathenaic Procession began. From a platform outside the Dipylon Gate, Pericles gave his famous speech extolling the virtues of Athens and honoring those who died in the first year of the Peloponnesian Wars. Leading off the Sacred Way to the left as you head away from the city is the Street of Tombs. This avenue was reserved for the graves of Athens' elite, while ordinary citizens were buried in surrounding areas. Note: be sure to visit the small museum here.

For more historical sites, take Ermou east towards the city center and stop off at the Ancient Agora. It was ancient Athens' heart, the lively hub of administrative, commercial, political and social activity. Socrates expounded his philosophy here; in AD 49 Saint Paul came here to win converts to Christianity. The site today is a lush respite, home to the grand Temple of Hephaistos, a solid museum and the 11th century Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles, trimmed in brick patterns that mimic Arabic calligraphy. First developed as a public site in the 6th century BC, the Agora was devastated by the Persians in 480 BC, but a new one was built in its place almost immediately. It was flourishing by Pericles' time and continued to do so until AD 267, when it was destroyed by the Herulians, a Gothic tribe from Scandinavia. On the western edge of the Agora, the Temple of Hephaistos, god of the forge, was surrounded by foundries and metalwork shops. It was one of the first buildings of Pericles' rebuilding program and is one of the best preserved Doric temples in Greece. Built in 449 BC by Iktinos, one of the architects of the Parthenon, it has 34 columns and a frieze on the eastern side depicting nine of the Twelve Labors of Hercules. In AD 1300 it was converted into the Church of Agios Georgios. The last service held here was in 1834 - in honor of King Otto's arrival in Athens. The Agora Museum is packed with archaeological finds. It is set in the magnificent Stoa of Attalos, a two storied portico filled with columns. It was built by the king of Pergamum in the 2nd century BC and restored in the 1950s. Continue east along Ermou until you reach Syntagma Square. Generally considered the center of Athens, this square is a transport hub (syntagma metro stop) and general hang out spot - especially on warm summer evenings when people lounge around the central fountain. Parliament, where the syntagma (constitution) was granted in 1843, is directly across the road, so the square is also the epicenter for demonstrations. Built between 1836 and 1842 by Bavarian architect Friedrich von Gartner, Greece's Parliament was originally the royal palace. In front of Parliament, the traditionally costumed evzones (presidential guards) stand by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and change every hour on the hour. On Sunday at 11a, an entire platoon marches down Leoforos Vasilissis Sofias to the tomb, accompanied by a band. Note: the evzones uniform of the fustanella (white skirt) and pom pom shoes is based on the attire worn by the klephts, the mountain fighters of the War of Independence.

From Syntagma Square, walk along Leoforos Vasilissis Sofias until you arrive at the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture (Koumbari 1). In 1930, Antonis Benakis endowed what is perhaps the finest museum in Greece. Its three floors showcase impeccable treasures from the Bronze Age up to World War 2. 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. Note: the museum is open from 10a-6p and is closed on Tuesday. Conclude your exploration of Athens by wandering my favorite neighborhood, Plaka. In the shadow of the Acropolis, hillside Plaka is the oldest section of the city. It has a village feel with narrow cobblestone streets - lined with cafes and shops selling jewelry, clothes and local ceramics. Plaka's two main streets are Kydathineon and Adrianou. Clinging to the north slope of the Acropolis, the tiny Anafiotika district is a beautiful, architecturally distinct subdistrict of Plaka. In the mid 1800s, King Otto hired builders from the Greek island Anafi to build a new palace. In their homes here, they mimicked their island's architecture, all whitewashed cubes, decorated with bougainvillea and geraniums. The area now is a group of about 40 homes, linked by footpaths just wide enough for people and stray cats. This small enclave has a Greek island vibe. Note: it's easy to miss the entrances to this district. On the west side, head uphill near the Church of the Metamorphosis on Theorias. On the east side, zigzag up Stratonos.

WHERE TO EAT

Athens has plenty of great places to eat and enjoy a drink. Traditional Greek cuisine is popular all over the world - especially classic dishes like souvlaki (grilled meat skewers), moussaka (similar to lasagna), spanakopita (spinach pie) and horitaki salata (Greek salad). Any visitor here would surely be excited to try these famous foods plus local delights like olives, pistachios and feta cheese. Start your day at Athenee, located around the corner from Syntagma Square at Voukourestiou 9. It's worth coming here for a coffee just to lounge in the sumptuous interior of this famous cafe, all velvet and brass and walnut paneling. Another solid spot for breakfast is Yiasemi, found at Mnisikleous 23 in Plaka. It attracts a good mix of young Athenians, who set up for hours in the big armchairs or out on the scenic steps. Orea Hellas is at Pandrosou 36 in Monastiraki. This lovely old style coffee house is the perfect place to enjoy Greek coffee and something sweet. Head upstairs for a seat on the open balcony overlooking Mitropoleos, or, in cooler weather, an indoor spot with an Acropolis view. Not far off at Karaiskaki 17 is the kooky, Little Kook. This place sells coffee and cake, but it's really about its dazzling decor, which conjures up childhood fantasies. Precisely which one depends on the season, as the theme changes regularly. Everywhere are dolls, props, paintings and table decorations - an Instagram paradise. For seriously good coffee, head to Senios at Kalamiotou 15 in Monastiraki. This stylish cafe and bar roasts its own beans in house daily. It also makes a mean cocktail if you're in the mood. Occupying a triangular corner at Falirou 88 is the hip Bel Rey. It's a buzzy scene that works well for a morning coffee or an adult beverage. Da Capo anchors the cafes on Kolonaki's main square (Tsakalof 1) and is always mobbed. Unlike just about every other cafe in Greece, you have to order your coffee inside at the counter. One last spot for your morning fix is Nice n Easy, located at Omirou 60 in Kolonaki. This casual cafe places an emphasis on organic produce in an old Hollywood setting.

When afternoon rolls around, race to Karamanlidika tou Fani at Sokratous 1. At this modern day pastomageireio (tavern deli combo) tables are set alongside the deli cases, and staff offer complimentary tasty morsels while you're looking at the menu. Beyond the Greek cheeses and cured meats, there's good seafood, such as marinated anchovies, as well as rarer wines and craft beers. Just up the street at Sokratous 9 is Diporto Agoras. This charming old taverna is an Athens gem. There's no signage - look for two sets of doors leading to a rustic cellar. There's no printed menu, just a few dishes that haven’t changed in years. Order the house favorite revythia (chickpea stew) and follow up with grilled fish, paired with wine from one of the giant barrels lining the wall. Ellevoro can be found near the Acropolis at Rovertou Galli 2. Three generations of a family work at this romantic homestyle restaurant that's decorated with wood beams, white tablecloths, twinkling candles and chandeliers. Traditional Greek dishes - such as fava beans with smoked eel, and slow oven baked lamb kleftiko - are superbly prepared and presented. Located at Eptachalkou 5 in Thisio is Steki tou Ilia. If there's a line to dine at this no frills psistaria (restaurant serving grilled food), it's worth joining. The payoff is succulent lamb and pork chops, barrel wine, simple dips and salads. Damigos is at Kydathineon 41 in Plaka. Hidden away and with an intimate feel, this traditional place, in business since 1865, specializes in bakaliaros, fried cod in batter and spiked with garlic sauce. Everything else is solid as well - aided by quality house wine, naturally chilled in barrels set in the bedrock.

I had an excellent meal at Kalderimi, which can be found at Skouleniou 1 - Plateia Agion Theodoron. This downtown taverna offers Greek food at its most authentic. Everything is freshly cooked and delicious: you can't go wrong. Hand painted tables edge a pedestrian street, providing for a feeling of peace in one of the busiest parts of town. Another spot not to be missed is Ergon House Agora, located at Mitropoleos 23, not far from Syntagma Square. A superb addition to Athens' culinary landscape is this deli, cafe and restaurant occupying a gorgeously designed atrium space flooded with light. There are separate areas for a greengrocer, fishmonger, butcher and bakery - plus shelves packed with top quality Greek products sourced from small scale producers around the country. Gyros (pronounced yee - ros) are the classic fast food of Greece. They’re hot pitas piled high with grilled meat and stuffed with onion, tomato, lettuce and tzatziki. They’re juicy and delicious, and O Kostas (Plateia Agia Irini 2) does some of the best in Athens. Set on a pleasant square opposite Agia Irini church, this old style virtual hole in the wall joint also grills up some tasty souvlaki and bifteki (Greek seasoned hamburger), served on pita with a signature spicy tomato sauce. Note: go before the lunch rush, as it may close early if it runs out of meat. An additional site is O Thanasis, found at Mitropoleos 69 in Monastiraki. In the heart of Athens' souvlaki hub, just off Plateia Monastirakiou, this is a good place to settle in and watch the street parade. It's known especially for its mince kebabs on pita with grilled tomato and onions.

Located just above the bustle of Plaka at Erehtheos 16 is Palia Taverna tou Psara. This taverna fills tables cascading across the street and down the stairs. It's touristy, but respected by locals as one of the best seafood tavernas in the area. If fish isn't your thing, they have plenty of other dishes to choose from. Kuzina can be found at Adrianou 9 in Monastiraki. This comfortably elegant restaurant does contemporary Greek, with creations such as fried dumplings filled with feta and olives. Note: in summer, book ahead for a rooftop terrace table for views all around. A fine second choice is an outside table on the pedestrian street. Situated in the heart of Kolonaki at Xenokratous 19 is Filippou. It has been dishing out Greek goodness - hearty meats, long stewed vegetables - since 1923, and it's still a go to for the locals. Tucked down a little lane at Avliton 7 is Atlantikos. This small, hip fish restaurant is not to be missed. The atmosphere is casual and the top quality seafood is superb. For some midday delight, make your way to Lukumades at Eolou 21 in Monastiraki. Most European cultures have their own version of doughnuts, but Greek loukoumades are arguably one of the tastiest. They’re perfectly fluffy fried dough balls topped with Greek honey and cinnamon. Here, lines of locals come to indulge in much more sinful versions. Creative toppings and syrups are drizzled on and they’re sometimes accompanied by scoops of creamy ice cream.

When night falls, head to Spondi at Pyrronos 5. Athenians frequently vote this two Michelin starred spot the city's best restaurant, and its Mediterranean haute cuisine, with a strong French influence, is indeed excellent. It's a lovely dining experience - a relaxed setting in a charming old house with a bougainvillea draped garden. Note: be sure to book ahead. Another top notch place is Mavro Provato, located at Arrianou 31. Make a reservation for this wildly popular modern mezedhopoleio (mezedhes restaurant) in Pangrati, where tables line the footpath and delicious small plates are paired with regional Greek wines. One of my favorite meals in Athens was at Tzitzikas kai Mermigas, found close to Syntagma Square at Mitropoleos 12. This unpretentious eatery serves up tasty regional dishes such as tzitzikas salad, minced meat kebab and grilled squid. The white wine was refreshing and the ouzo (a dry anise flavored aperitif) selection was plentiful. I also enjoyed Klimataria, located at Plateia Thatrou 2. This family run taverna has been going strong since 1927, offering evenings packed with Mediterranean food, music and dance - a combination Greeks love. The tis oras (grilled meat platter) is what you should go for. It includes biftekia, grilled meat patties seasoned with spices, as well as lamb and pork chops. Plus, considering Klimataria translates as ‘grape vines’, it’s no surprise the wine served here is always excellent. If you fancy a fine view, do try Strofi at Rovertou Galli 25. Book ahead for a Parthenon view from the rooftop of this exquisitely renovated town house. Food is simple grilled meats and fish, but the setting, with elegant white linen and excellent service, elevates the experience. For the best vista in town, take the cable car up to Orizontes at Aristippou 1. Perched on Lycabettus Hill, one of the highest peaks in Athens, the views from here are god level. Sit outdoors come sunset - with the Acropolis, Aegean Sea and entire city sprawled below - and you’re guaranteed to feel like you’re dining on Olympus. The restaurant is equally acclaimed for its food: Mediterranean dishes that incorporate seasonal ingredients and local produce. Go for the pork tenderloin with vegetables in feta cheese, honey and sesame.

End your evening in Athens with a drink or two. Found at Voulis 7 near Syntagma Square is Seven Jokers. This lively spot has lovely old wood and brass fittings, plus a fine selection of wine and cocktails. Down the street at Thiseos 16 is Drunk Sinatra. Look for the movie marquee on a small side street to find this hipster hang - it serves a mean cocktail. Across the street at Thiseos 11 is Ippo. This great little place caters to the slightly more mature bar crawler, with pinball, memorabilia and David Bowie on the sound system. Around the corner at Kolokotroni 25 is Bartesera. This casual bar and cafe hides at the end of the narrow Praxitelous colonnade. It's a great spot to chill, day or night. Nearby at Kolokotroni 3 is 42 Bar. Set in classy and vintage decor, it's a stylish joint where you can sample unique and creative cocktails, made with fresh ingredients and homemade blends. Note: the bar has a no smoking policy, making it a refreshing place for non smokers. If you fancy gin, head to Gin Joint at Christou Lada 1. This relaxed watering hole is undeniably the best bar when it comes to gin. With enough labels (180) to fill the Parthenon, it is the kind of place where you know you will always have a good time. On the drink front, visitors can enjoy innovative concoctions, including serious drinks like the No Strings Attached (a delicious blend of Dutch genever, lemon, agave syrup, saffron and coconut salted caramel) or the more vibrant Home Is Where The Gin Is, which features premium London Dry Gin and the genius addition of cardamom bitters. If you're in the mood for rum, make your way to Baba Au Rum at Klitiou 6. Effortlessly cool and laid back, this spot is an internationally recognized bar you won’t want to leave. Offering a menu with solid drinks and cocktails, rum is its star liquor - as the name suggests - with over a hundred globally sourced varieties making it an ideal place for rum lovers. Not far away at Kalamiotou 14 in Monastiraki is Dude. This small bar on a pedestrian street does some solid drinks and plays good music - obscure funk and soul that makes you feel like you're in a Quentin Tarantino movie. Note: the bar buzzes until dawn. Plaka is short on bars in general, but Brettos (Kydathineon 41), both a bar and a distillery, makes up for it. More than a century old, its walls glow with stacks of multicolored bottles and huge barrels. Sample its home brands of wine, ouzo, brandy and other spirits. I saved my top experiences for last. Noel can be found at Kolokotroni 59b in Monastiraki. One of Athens' best breed of maximalist designed bars, its slogan is 'where it's always Christmas' - meaning the candlelit cocktail party kind of Christmas. Under softly glimmering chandeliers, smartly suited bartenders serve some of the most creative cocktails in the city. Located at Praxitelous 30, The Clumsies is my favorite spot in town. This cool and sophisticated bar is the brainchild of two world class Greek bartenders who teamed up to create something truly unique in the global bar scene. The interior is filled with natural light and the decor features rustic wood, bright whites and turquoise fixtures accentuating the relaxed vibe. From the luscious and endless cocktail list to the delicious bar food and great service, it’s no wonder this popular joint has helped put Athens on the map as one of the world’s best bars - yamas!

WHERE TO STAY

Athens offers a number of places to call home during your stay and there are 2 that I especially enjoyed. Both are in prime locations and provide exceptional service, modern amenities and comfort. The first is Hotel Grande Bretagne, located on Syntagma Square at 1 Vasileos Georgiou A. This luxury hotel dating from 1874 is adjacent to the Greek Parliament and not far from the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Featuring courtyard views, the plush rooms offer marble bathrooms and minibars, plus flat screen TVs and free WiFi. Upgrades add antique furnishings and separate living areas. Amenities include an elegant rooftop restaurant with Acropolis views, along with a refined cigar lounge and the excellent Alexander's Bar (with an 18th century tapestry of Alexander the Great). There's also a luxe spa, as well as indoor and outdoor pools.

A second option is AthensWas Hotel, located on a leafy pedestrian street at Dionysiou Areopagitou 5. This hip, boutique hotel is just below the Acropolis and a stone's throw from the Acropolis Museum. Stylish rooms come with complimentary WiFi and flat screen TVs, as well as minibars and Nespresso machines. All feature balconies and marble bathrooms - upgraded quarters add Acropolis views. Other perks include breakfast on the house and a rooftop terrace featuring panoramic city views.

Athens is full of culture, cuisine, art, architecture and history. It treated me well and I look forward to returning.