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As the cradle of modern, Western society, Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world. Athens breathes history and you'll notice it as soon as you arrive in the Greek capital. The remains of Ancient times are the biggest attractions, with its undisputed highlight the Acropolis, a mountain with an altitude of 156 meters in the center of the town, with remains of the first settlement. Over 4000 years ago humans settled on this strategic location.
The Parthenon is the large temple on the Acropolis, dedicated to Athena, goddess of wisdom and art. This building with Doric columns was erected right next to the old Athena Temple that was destroyed by the Persians in the 5th century B.C. Another important sanctuary on the Acropolis is the Ionian Erechtheion, dedicated to King Erechtheus. On the south side of the mountain lies the Theater of Dionysos. Although not much is left of it, it still is worth visiting, even purely so that you're not in the midst of busy crowds like on top of the Acropolis. Nearby there's a trail that leads to a small grotto temple, Panagia Chrysopolitissa, that is decorated with murals.
Countless objects from Ancient times have been found during excavations in Greece. Part of that precious collection can be admired in the National Archeological Museum. You'll be amazed by the craftsmanship with which the death masks, statues, vases, pots, frescos and other items have been made. A real must when visiting Athens!
The Agora was the central square of old Athens, surrounded by colonnades. Trade was conducted here, the latest news exchanged, and important decisions were made on this square by the notables of the city. The colonnade of Attalos has been restored and now houses the Agora Museum, displaying finds that were discovered during the excavations. Near the Agora is the Tower of Winds, in which a water clock has been placed. The eight corners of this 12 meter high tower represent the wind directions.
Athens is not only a destination for people who are interested in culture and historical architecture. Located in the shadow of Acropolis are the districts of Pláka, MonoastirákiandThissio. These are the oldest neighborhoods of the city, built in the 19th century when Athens became the capital of modern Greece. Picturesque streets and old houses combined with an enormous offer of taverns, bars and cafes. The shops and restaurants here are mostly aimed at tourists. The neighborhood Anafiotika is particularly nice. Every Sunday there's a big jumble sale in the district of Monastiráki. For a more authentic experience go to the district of Psyrri and Gazi that both border Monastiráki. This is where the locals go.
Even though Athens is not known as a shoppers paradise, you can find some beautiful shops, mostly in the chic district of Kolonaki. Aside from expensive designer boutiques, antique shops and art galleries this is also the neighborhood where you can find the better (and more expensive) restaurants of Athens. Kolonaki lies at the foot of the 277 meter high Lykavittos Hill. From the top there's a stunning view of Athens. If you find the climb up to exhausting; there's a funicular as well.
Many tourists will go and look at the change of guards at the Grave of the Unknown Soldier. This ceremony, with Greek soldiers in traditional uniforms, takes place daily at eleven in the morning. On Sundays the ceremony is more elaborate and colorful.
The summers in particular can be very pressingly hot in Athens. It's best to visit the historical attractions of the city in the morning and take it slower during the afternoons.
If you haven't gotten enough of the remains of the Greek Ancient times in Athens just yet, there's plenty of other sites to visit near the Greek capital. On the peninsula Peloponnesos, west of the city, you can find remains of Olympia, where the 'old' Olympic Games were held. The old town Delphi and the Acropolis of Mycenae are easy to get to with a rental car.
The peninsula Attika has one of the most beautiful beaches of Greece: Schinias, near the town of Marathon. This stunning sandy beach is surrounded by pine tree forests. There's dozens of taverns, where you can eat well and relatively cheap. With a rental can you can get to this beach from Athens within an hour.
Just outside Athens lie the Koutouki Grottoes, near the town of Peania. These grottoes were accidentally discovered when a goat fell through a hole and ended up in a grotto. You can find impressive stalactites and stalagmites here.
Athens has a huge range of accommodation; from campsites (just outside town) and budget hotels to luxurious 5 star hotels. The touristic district of Pláka has relatively few hotels, but around it you have plenty of choice. If you are determined on staying in Pláka, it's advisable to book your accommodation well in advance.
Let's be honest: Athens is not exactly known as a car friendly city. To battle traffic congestion and air pollution cars with a number plate that ends with an even number are allowed in Athens on even days only, and odd days allows cars with a number plate that ends with an odd number. Not that this rule proved very effective, because a lot of Greeks simply bought a second car. If you park on the street in the center, please note: the blue zones are reserved for inhabitants. As a visitor you are allowed to park on the white zones, but you have to purchase a ticket at the kiosk. Best is to leave your rental car on one of the parking lots situated at the edge of town and then travel towards the center using the subway.
The international airport of Athens was purposely built for the 2004 Olympic Games. So it's a very modern airport. Athens Airport lies 33 kilometers south east of Athens. Thanks to the construction of new highways the airport is easily accessible in a rental car. For routes down south follow the signs for Elefsina, for routes up north follow the signs for Thessaloniki. The toll road Attiki Odos connects the airport with the western districts of Athens.