Photograph by Edwin Remsberg, Getty Images

 

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This theater, known as Odeon of Herodes Atticus, sits below the Acropolis in Athens.

Photograph by Edwin Remsberg, Getty Images

 

Discover the Best of Athens

Ten things to do in the "birthplace of Western civilization".

Natural Wonder

Take a dip in the emerald waters of Lake Vouliagmeni, a half-hour drive south of the city center, where thermal springs, which remain a steady 72 to 84 degrees year-round, are thought to help treat ailments ranging from dermatological problems to gynecological disorders. Scientists have not yet been able to determine the length of the lake's mysterious undersea cave.

National Park

Parnitha National Park, 23 miles northwest of central Athens, covers an area of 97 square miles over which fir-forested Mt. Parnitha presides. The park is host to 1,100 species and sub-species of flora, 92 of which are endemic to Greece. If you're lucky, you may spot a red deer, one of only two locations in the country where they live in the wild.

UNESCO Site

Amble through the cobblestoned alleyways of Athens' oldest district Plaka, situated at the foothills of the Acropolis, where a lucky few reside in pastel-hued neoclassical homes among Byzantine churches built atop ancient temples, museums, Ottoman era monuments and stores overflowing with cotton dresses. High up in Plaka is Anafiotika, whose whitewashed houses were built by craftsmen from the Cycladic island of Anafi.

Best Day Trip

The elegant car-free Saronic island of Hydra is a 95-minute fast catamaran ride from Piraeus. Leonard Cohen, among the many artists drawn to the island, bought a home and lived there in the '60s. Meander among 18th century neoclassical mansions, walk to the picturesque fishing village of Kamini and check out a contemporary art exhibition at DESTE Project Space Slaughterhouse.

Off the Beaten Path

Exarchia may make the news for scuffles between anarchists and the police but the graffiti-filled student neighborhood is also known for its underground art galleries, jazz joints and meze-focused tavernas. At the edge of Exarchia is the National Archaeological Museum, which hosts some of the country's most significant finds and fascinating temporary exhibitions.

Most Iconic Place

What is Athens without the Parthenon, a global symbol of ancient world and classical Greece's highest architectural achievement, situated on the Acropolis hill. It is hard not to be humbled at the sight of the marble Doric temple, built between 447 and 438 B.C.E. Even locals never fail to find it awe-inspiring. The Acropolis Museum is also a must-see.

Late Night

Athens is, arguably, the city that never sleeps, at least in Europe. The back streets of Syntagma Square have turned into a hive of nighttime activity, with stylish restaurants and funky bars. Streets like Eolou, Voulis and Thiseos are teeming with dining spots dishing out everything from Mexican to haute Hellenic fare and bars with flamboyant interiors and cocktails to match.

Local Quirk

Athenians like to take their time, whether it's meeting up for drinks at a rooftop bar, savoring a taverna meal with family or running an errand. What's the rush? So, while a reservation may be required for that hot new restaurant, there are no first and second sittings. Linger over your chargrilled lavraki (sea bass) as long as you like.

Neighborhood to Explore

South of the Acropolis is Koukaki, a 20-minute walk from Syntagma Square. Unlike Monastiraki, this is a real neighborhood where locals like to meet for a glass of wine and meze on a weeknight or gather for a lazy Sunday brunch at an outdoor café. Browse artisan workshops for hand-woven bags, finely-crafted jewelry and beaded leather sandals.

Travel Tip

It's easy enough to single out Athens' major attractions but to dig below the surface of this captivating city, it's worth enlisting an insider guide for a private walking tour, customized to interest areas like street art or Percy Jackson novels. Culinary tours not only involve olive-tasting at the central markets but also hard-to-find dairy shops and traditional bakeries.