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The big, fat Greek guide to Athens

Ancient history and contemporary cool collide in the Greek capital which is the birthplace of philosophy, mythology and democracy.

By Karen Pasquali Jones

Home to ancient ruins, idyllic, Instagram-worthy beaches, and villages preserved in ancient ash, Greece, the birthplace of Western civilisation, is more than just the birthplace of Socrates and moussaka. 

Here, families can step back in time, discovering the ancient citadel of Acropolis in Athens, one of the oldest cities in the world, which also plays host to a bustling nightlight with trendy clubs, bars and popular restaurants. 

But while Athens is now a thriving, bustling metropolitan and ultra-modern city, it boasts some of the world’s most famous monuments starting with the UNESCO-protected Acropolis, the temple city that was built in the fifth century BC and reminds Greeks of their important heritage and many transformations.

Visible from almost every part of the city – with balconies, rooftops and windows built to face it – the block of milky marble sits on the top of a steep hill, housing the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion complex and the 2,400-year-old Parthenon, the temple of Athena, the goddess of wisdom after which the capital is named. 

Opposite is the new Acropolis Museum, regarded as one of the best museums in the world, which had its opening delayed after archaeological remains were found and had to be incorporated into the building. Now open, it houses archaic masterpieces that have survived for around 25 centuries, and has replicas of the Parthenon Friezes on display on the top floor. 

No visit is complete without seeing the Panathenaic Stadium – which is completely built out of marble – and which hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 but can be traced back to 338BC. The Olympic flame is handed over to the host nation from this 50,000-seater stadium every four years.

Syntagma Square – Constitutional Square – is in the heart of the city, in front of the Parliament Building, and has had a makeover to make it traffic-free, and lined with cafes and benches in the shade. From here you can watch the locals, and watch the iconic guards kick up their pom-pom toes every hour by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. On Sundays, an entire platoon with a marching band make the journey from the Presidential Barracks to the tomb.

Away from the monuments, head to Kolonaki, the designer shopping district where home-grown brands compete with luxury labels, stroll down Ermou Street, the longest in Athens, which offers souvenirs, or bargain-hunt at Monastiraki flea market for vintage clothes and pre-loved accessories. Remember to take cash – the euro is best – as some shops don’t accept credit or debit cards. 

If you’ve worked up an appetite, head to a tarverna for Greek favourites in the busy streets of Plaka, the vine-covered district at the foot of Acropolis Hill. For a Michelin-starred treat, try Spondi, or venture to the top of Mount Lykavitto to Orizontes for stunning views of the Parthenon which are spectacular lit up at night.


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Duration: 7 nights

Where: Piraeus (Athens) | Santorini | Rhodes | Bodrum | Mykonos | Piraeus (Athens)

Ship: Resilient Lady

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Published 03.02.22