//WTM: City Guide: Athens

WTM: City Guide: Athens

The Greek capital offers a heady concoction of antiquity and modernity, with some gastronomic excellence thrown in

Whether it’s ancient history, contemporary culture or super cool restaurants, Athens has something for everyone. This is a city where antiquity sits right alongside modernity, where you will find radical bookshops a few streets away from parliamentary buildings. It’s a heady concoction that gives the Greek capital a feeling like no other. This is one of the oldest cities in the world, where you can spend a morning visiting Unesco sites followed by an afternoon shopping and an evening taking in the buzzing nightlife.

No trip to Athens would be complete without a trip to the Acropolis, the remains of the ancient city. The Acropolis’s crowning jewel is the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to Athena, the city’s patron goddess. Athens is famed for being the birthplace of democracy and the Parthenon acts as a constant reminder – high up on a hill in the middle of the city, it can be seen from any rooftop and offers the perfect backdrop to sunset drinks. Admission is €20 and can be booked online. The relatively new Acropolis Museum (€12) is a five-minute walk from the Acropolis and is well worth a visit, housing many of the monuments that were found on the hillside of the Acropolis.

But not all of Athens is ancient history. The city is also home to a thriving contemporary arts scene, with numerous galleries. Among them is the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC), home to the Greek National Opera (GNO) – the country’s sole opera house, which, founded in 1939, emerged out of a 150-year history of a flourishing opera tradition on the Ionian Islands. SNFCC is an architectural treasure, designed by Renzo Piano in an abandoned seafront piece of land in the southern suburbs. Modern art fans should visit the newest blockbuster museum in Athens, Basil & Elise (B&E) Goulandris Foundation, which showcases work by Picasso, Pollock, Bacon, and Greek masters such as Moralis, Tsarouchis and Ghika. There’s also Onassis Stegi, where innovative Greek artists showcase their work.  

When it comes to eating and drinking Athens has got you covered. The city boasts four Michelin-starred restaurants and four more that have been awarded the Bib Gourmand. Many of their dishes are seafood or fish based, with the latter sourced directly from fishing boats plying the Aegean. In fact, there is so much fresh produce here. Order a mouth-watering choriatiki salad and expect organic tomatoes from Vravrona, cucumber from Kalyvia, oregano and capers from Mount Hymettus, black olives from Megara, virgin olive oil from Troezen, red wine vinegar from Spata, onion and garlic from Marathon and feta cheese from Lavrio. Plaka is the area of Athens probably best known by tourists, in the shadow of the Acropolis and with a villagey feel, but nearby Psyri, with its nightlife and small artisan shops, is worth a look, too. The Athens Riviera, the coastline to the south of the city, begins in Piraeus and ends at the tip of Cape Sounion. It’s just a short distance away from the centre, and the beaches and bays are popular with locals and visitors alike.

For those looking to relax, 24km south of the city on the Athenian Riviera, is the healing Lake Vouliagmeni – a natural wonder of therapeutic emerald warms and labyrinthine underwater cave.

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