The Oldest and Most Diverse Capital City of Europe
George Papadellis | SG Head
Sophia Parastatidou | SG Team | MA Candidate - ACG Apprentice
In the southeast part of central Greece, there is the most famous Greek city worldwide, Athens, the oldest capital city of Europe (since 1400 BC), which holds a huge wealth of history and culture. Athens is also one of the oldest cities in the world together with Aleppo (Syria), Balkh (Afghanistan), Beirut (Lebanon), Byblos (Lebanon), Cadiz (Spain), Erbil (Iraq), Faijum (Egypt), Jericho (Palestine), Jerusalem (Western Asia), Kirkuk (Iraq), Larnaca (Cyprus), Luxor (Egypt), Plovdiv (Bulgaria), Sidon (Lebanon), Susa (Iran), Thebes (Greece), Tyre (Lebanon) and Varanasi (India). There are several Athens facts that most people don’t know, such as: that the first capital of the new Greek state was not Athens but the city of Nafplio (1821 - 1834), that Athens was not the first host of the Olympic Games in history (they were held in Olympia Peloponnese in 776 BC) but of the Panathenaic Games (566 BC), that Athens has more theatre stages than the US West End and Broadway combined, and that during the construction of the Athens Metro there have been over 50.000 rare archaeological artifacts found.
The history of Athens is a topic that needs thousands of pages to analyse. An attempt can only provide basic but so interesting information. To begin with, Athens has existed as an inhabited city for more than 3.000 years. It was named after the Goddess of Wisdom, Courage and Warfare, Athena (or Athina in Greek), and its primary symbols (Athens symbols) were the owls and the olive trees. Athens has experienced all types of government (monarchy, democracy, socialism, capitalism and communism) and it is the hometown of democracy, born around 500 B.C. As the most influential city of Greece, the roots of its fame come from the ancient years when the ancient Athenians produced and tought the fundamentals of sciences, philosophy, history and arts. According to the ancient Greek mythology, the creator of Athens was a half-man and half-serpent creature called Cecrops!
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An interesting issue to analyse is the differences and similarities between Athens and Sparta, both dominant cities of ancient Greece. Their main difference had to do with values. Spartans, for example, respected women more, by giving them more freedom, status, and recognition than Athenians. Athens, as another example, had a democratic structure, while Sparta had an oligarchic one, thus Athens was the one that became famous for its civilization and its commercial and educational development and intelligence, while Sparta became famous for its military power. Similarities between Athens and Sparta is that they both had a vast slave population and relied on slave labour, they both had a government caring for its citizens’ welfare, and they both had an active army.
Athens has so many monuments to see, that one does not have enough time for all, not even for most! Firstly, the Acropolis [the Acropolis Hill and the Parthenon (temple of Greek Goddess Athena), along with the unique Acropolis Museum], they are attractions you can’t miss and, as a total, they are the most famous attraction in Greece! Along with them, there are also the Erechtheon, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Propylaea. The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is the ancient theatre near the Acropolis, still available for music concerts, with an audience of 5000 people at least. Dionysiou Areopagitou is one of the most beautiful streets of the old city, especially nice in the summer when the Athens Festival holds many interesting concerts to watch. The Temple of Olympian Zeus, the place of the Chief of the Olympian Gods, has today only 16 of its 104 giant colossal columns. The Panathenaic Stadium, which was hosting the Panathenaic Games in the past and where the Athens Olympic Hymn was heard for the first time! The Temple of Hephaestus, located in the Ancient Agora in the heart of Athens and known as one of the most well-preserved temples in Greece, was dedicated to the God of blacksmiths and artisans, Hephaestus, although, in the beginning, many claimed that it was dedicated to the mythical hero Theseus. This misconception led to the naming of the area Thissio.
For those who seek to get a full-scale taste of activities when traveling, Athens can offer varied and extraordinary options. The worth to explore Athens riviera, a region in the southern suburbs of the city from Piraeus to Sounio, has many amazing beaches there, such as Astir Beach, Kavouri, Vouliagmeni Lake, Thalassea, Yabanaki, Edem, Beach of Sounio, Kape Beach, Asimakis, and Dikastika. A short daytrip that you should plan is to Sounio, where you can visit the temple of Poseidon, Olympian God of the Sea! Longer trips can be to ancient Elefsis, where the Elefsinian Mysteries were held (21km from Athens via the Sacred Road that started in Keramekos), and to Delphi, where you can visit the archaeological site with the temple of the god of Music and Sun, Apollo, and the Delphi Museum where you can see the Charioteer of Delphi, also known as Heniokhos. During the summer, all-day cruises in the islands of Agkistri, Moni and Aegina, or (another combo) Poros, Hydra and Aegina are organized including with lunch and drinks! Moreover, you can hop on the train and go on a full-day trip to Meteora with a tourist guide. Another super fun and alternative thing to do is to have dinner in the Sky Athens, an Athens restaurant in the air, 165 feet from the ground, having the best night view in Athens! In addition, you can enjoy many musical experiences in Athens, from Rebetika (traditional greek songs that mostly are played in taverns) and Bouzoukia (Greek way of partying) to high quality of performing classical music concerts in Megaro Mousikis and the National Greek Opera Scene. Summer cinemas are also a great option, as the films played there are rare and vintage, and the concept of “drive-ins” or open cinema has excellent aesthetic and vibes. Last, Greek theatre is difficult to follow and keep up with if you don’t know Greek, but you can find shows held in English!
Athens hotels that one should consider when planning a trip to Athens are several. Top Athens 5-star hotels we propose are Hotel Grande Bretagne, King George, Divani Apollon Palace & Thalasso, Electra Metropolis, Grand Hyatt Athens, Sofitel Athens Airport (a hotel near Athens airport), Royal Olympic Hotel, Four Seasons Hotel. Of course, there are many more affordable options that you can easily find. First, the center of Athens is ideal to be close to every destination you want to reach! Second, the coastal parts of Athens can give you direct access to the sea and the capital's suburbs. Of course, you might want to stay in specific area of Athens, such as: Koukaki, Syntagma, Neos Kosmos, Plaka, Pangrati, Kolonaki, Psiri, Omonoia, Glyfada, Palaio Faliro, Exarcheia, Kallimarmaro, Ilisia, Kallithea, Thisseio, Petralona, Piraeus City Centre, Monastiraki, Alimos, Vouliagmeni, Marousi, Metaxourgeio, Voula, Chalandri, Kerameikos, Kifissia, Gazi, Ayia Paraskevi, Nea Erythrea, Herakleion, Castella, Chaidari, Thymari, Charakas, Acharnes, Neo Psychiko, Palaio Psychiko, Ekali, Anoixi, Drosia.
Regarding Athens cuisine, one article is undoubtedly not enough! Herewith, we give you some ideas based on our personal experiences, peers’ recommendations and reviews online! Nolan is the unique minimal Athens restaurant of the famous Greek chef Sotiris Kontizas, located in Syntagma Square. It provides 18 special dishes and three sides, based on a combo of Japanese, international, and Mediterranean cuisine. Varoulko is the elegant Athens restaurant of the famous Greek chef Lefteris Lazarou, located in front of the sea in the Mikrolimano marina. All the dishes are made with fresh ingredients based on your preferences and tastes. Ovio is a fantastic option for lovers of Italian cuisine, located in the heart of Athens, with a warm atmosphere, inner garden, and friendly staff. The owner is the famous Greek chef Panos Ioannidis, who has the philosophy of creating dishes that will open a new world of experiences to the client. Eleas Gi is a restaurant where you can taste traditional Greek recipes with fresh ingredients, a fantastic view of the whole Athens, and a great aesthetic and atmosphere. Do not underestimate street Athens food spots that offer Athens souvlaki (also known as Athens gyros), traditional pies, and other takeaway greek food that you will love for sure!
Regarding Athens cafés, Plaka is one of the best places to drink coffee, especially in the Giasemi café, where colourful chairs, tables, pillows to sit along with flowers, and soft music, create a unique atmosphere. A for Athens in Monastiraki has a fantastic view of the whole Athens on the rooftop, and the coffee and the cocktails it serves are delicious! Close to A for Athens, there is also Taf, a relaxed and alternative place with striking aesthetics and vibes where you will experience something different than you have already had! Some minutes away, Underdog is waiting for you with an incredible inner garden that reminds you of an exotic place in the middle of nowhere. Peek a Bloom is a top place to drink coffee and eat the perfect brunch! And regarding sweets, don’t miss Nancy Sweet Home (To Sermpetospito), the Cap Cap (with theme events like Harry Potter, Friends, etc.), and Little Kook (with the most impressive decoration EVER!).
Regarding Athens nightlife, this is incomparable! Except for big clubs, Athens has so many great bars! Many of them are so close to each other, that locals use to say “let’s go barotsarka” (which means a tour to the local bars one after the other). Such bars are Bank Job, Praxitelous Bar, Frau, Buena Vista, Rudu, and other more alternative. Also, a more elegant experience can be found in Noah, Che, Jazz in Jazz, 360 Cocktail Bar, Ark, By the Glass, Tiki Bar, Hide & Seek Bar, and more! If you want more crazy and wild things, don’t miss the nightclubs, such as Island, Cinderella, Kitty Cat, Dybbuk, Bolivar Beach Club, and Rock n Roll Bar! But again, we recommend asking the locals always, as they are the best to guide you in the top spots in their neighbourhood!
As for Athens weather and climate, this depends on the season. First and foremost, the Mediterranean climate of Athens is healthy, balanced, and a perfect mood booster! Next, you need to know that the hottest and windiest month is August, the coldest month is January, and the wettest month is December.
Athens in Greece
To conclude, Athens can’t be fulfilled in an article! The traveller must begin with the basics and then let the journey flow by itself. Of course, only one time is not enough to really and sincerely see, enjoy and experience the magic of this diverse mosaic of cultures. A place with such rich history, wealth of sightseeings, variety of things to do, and hidden gems that you will discover needs more than once to be visited. As for how many days in Athens one should spend, there is not a single answer, as this depends on your budget and preferences. No doubt, we would recommend at least one week! And you will definitely want to come again!