The cradle of classical culture and democracy, Athens has been a major tourist destination for thousands of years. Cruise ships stop at its port, Piraeus, Europe’s largest passenger port. This is a port of call for Mediterranean cruises as well as for trips around the Greek islands, serving about two million passengers each year. Most cruises dock about a mile or so from Piraeus’ metro station. Once there, take the green line to Monastiriki station in central Athens. The trip takes about 20 minutes. When you leave this station, the major sights of Athens are grouped in a small area.
The Acropolis and its Doric temple, the Parthenon, have dominated Athens for nearly two and a half thousand years. It’s always a good idea to arrive here at 8 am when it opens and there are few tourists around. The Parthenon, with its 46 Doric columns, is probably the most influential building in classical architecture. See the Theatre of Dionysus, first constructed of wood in the 6th century BCE and then upgraded to marble three centuries later. Its seating capacity was 17,000 over 64 tiers, of which some 20 tiers still survive. Another attraction is the 5th century BCE Erechteion temple built as a tomb for King Erechteius. The Caryatids, columns supporting the structure that are shaped like maidens, are its most famous feature.
Situated on the northwest side of the Acropolis hill, Agora was ancient Athens’ marketplace. This was also the centre of public and political life. Socrates and St. Paul made their speeches here. Ancient Athenian law courts were also located here and adult males present could be called for jury service. Today it is a mass of fallen column but the spirit of the past is still there.
Plaka is the old residential part of Athens and is located on the northeast slope of the Acropolis hill between Monastiraki Square and Syntagma. No traffic is allowed along its narrow streets. Even with tourists, it retains a village atmosphere. Plaka’s Adrianou Street is the oldest street in Athens and has the same layout as in ancient times. There are lots of small tourist shops and restaurants, as well as museums of all the different national and religious cultures that found a home in Athens.
Lycabettus is the second high spot in Athens after the Acropolis. Once known as the place of the wolves, none of these creatures remain. There is a cable car to take visitors to the top, about 980 metres, where a taverna and an amphitheatre that hosts concerts await. It gives a different view over Athens than the Acropolis. Visit Kolonaki, a fashionable neighbourhood on the southwest slopes of Lycabettus, a part of the city that abounds in museums, art galleries, bars and restaurants.
National Archaeological Museum
This is Greece’s flagship museum and history junkies should allow at least two to three hours for a visit. It is one of the greatest museums of the world, located in the Exarcheia part of central Athens. Walk through thousands of years of history beginning with the Cycladic Islands through to the Minoans and the Myceneans. There are even collections of Egyptian art and artefacts. You will be able to see the golden Nestor’s Cup, as described in Homer’s Iliad and the golden funeral mask of Agamemnon.
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