THE BLOG
12/08/2014 06:34 pm ET Updated Feb 07, 2015

Athens, Greece's Hotspot

The Parthenon, one of the oldest symbols of the cradle of civilization, stands timeless on a mountain that dates back over 5,000 years at the center of one of the most renowned cities of the world, Athens, Greece. Athens is one of my favorite destinations in Greece and continues to be raved about as one of the most cosmopolitan cities of Europe.

Everyone who visits Greece arrives in Athens for a night or two before engaging in island hopping, however, what tourists rarely realize is that Athens also has much to offer for every vacationer. Whether you are looking for a vacation filled with cultural experience, sun, beach, fine dining, shopping, or the famous Greek nightlife, you have landed in the right place! So where are you off to so quickly? Stay a while and consider a week in Athens when traveling to Greece. Learn about the history from the world famous museums, dine at the traditional restaurants, and stroll through the ancient streets of Plaka. Swim at the beautiful and well laid out beaches, stay at 5 star resorts and hotels with full blown amenities, and party all night long to the beat of famous DJs at one of the outdoor clubs on the strip of Poseidon street.

Athens' great ancient history dates back to the beginning of time. Myth has it that a battle between the Goddess Athena and the God Poseidon took place over who would be the ruler and protector of the city. The first king of Athens, Cecrops, resolved the difference by asking the Gods to offer gifts to the citizens, who would then choose between the sea water spring of Poseidon, or the olive tree of Athena. The majority of Athenians chose the symbol of peace and prosperity, the olive tree, and thus, the legendary city was named Athens after the Goddess of wisdom, Athena.

Athens dates back to the first settlement of the Neolithic Period. In time, what seemed to be a small village grew to become one of the first and most powerful Hellenic city-states during the Golden Age of Greece under the rule of Pericles. Myths, legends, and historical facts are the elements that define the beginning of Athenian history. The citizens of Athens managed to invent themselves as an impregnable powerful city, producing great citizens ranging from philosophers, politicians, artists and leaders. Athens was a civilization that boasts the birth of philosophical, political and scientific thoughts, ideals, social morals and standards that have been the foundation and influence of the world throughout the ages of time. Aristotle preached in his "Purpose of Life" that the pursuit of happiness is every man's goal.

Athens today has her modern city built over and around her ancient ruins. The charming busy city has a modern infrastructure with everything located within a time distance of 5 to 45 minutes, depending on your destination - whether it is archeological sites, shopping, beaches, nightlife, casinos, ports or the airport.

Athens is known as one of the most cosmopolitan cities of the world and has accommodations to meet all types of budgets. There is an abundance of hotels in Athens that range from 3-5 star choices and many are rated amongst the leading hotels of the world.

Transportation has never been easier. You have a choice of taking a taxi, tram, or new metro train. Nowhere else in the world will you experience what you will see when riding the Athens metro. There were impeccable ancient ruins and sites found underneath the city during the metro construction that have been preserved as mini museums, therefore even your ride on the metro includes siteseeing!

ARCHEOLOGICAL PARK

Touring around the center of the city is easy by foot. I suggest grouping your areas by location and begin in the center of Athens from Constitution Square. Most of the sites are walking distance in that area, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes. I suggest sneakers!

Stroll through the Queen's Garden, which will lead you to the Temple of Zeus at the Styles Olympion Dios. Across the way from that begins the cultural park tour with the first theatre of the western world, the Dionysos Theatre. As you continue your walk, you will soon reach the Odeon of Herodes Atticus Theatre, which was built under rule of Roman governor, Herodes Atticus. Every year you can enjoy ancient Greek Drama during the Hellenic Theatre Festival, be sure to check the schedules for unforgettable performances. This year Martha Graham's Dance Company gave an unforgettable performance celebrating the Greek Connection.

The world renowned Acropolis Museum houses precious artifacts preserved from the Parthenon and its surrounding ancient buildings. As you walk towards the Acropolis you will find the Asklepion Temple serving as the ancient healing center for Athenian citizens, which was always built near the town in antiquity. As you climb up the mountainside and approach the Acropolis and the Parthenon, the grandeur of the buildings will leave you in awe, asking yourself the same question people have asked throughout time: "How did they build such magnificent buildings in antiquity with such detail, precision and impeccable beauty?" Ancient Greek architects, engineers and artists are world renown for their mastery in natural stone material design, architecture and engineering.

Athens, being one of the most ancient cities in the world, has museums located all over the city, so be sure to pick up a guide at the kiosk and don't miss out on the wonderful artifacts dating back to antiquity and ranging from the Geometric, Archaic, Classical, Hellenic Periods, and on to the Roman and Byzantine Era. You can also view contemporary collections by famous Greek artists.

Across the Parthenon is the historical location of Arius Pagos (or Aeropagus) where the Senate was born and the greatest political thinkers debated over the birth of democracy. The temple of Hephaestion can be seen across the hill. It is a well-preserved temple and is only a short walk across the way. The ancient markets of Plaka and Monastiraki lie right under the Acropolis. Experience the modern market that is full of little quaint shops that sell excellent replicas of antiquity and souvenirs, hand embroidered linens, leather sandals and bags, amazing jewelry, and much, much, more. Within the cobblestone streets there are many old churches with hand painted icons that are a must see. All the walking and shopping will tire you out, so be sure to sit and relax at one of the wonderful taverns and enjoy some authentic Hellenic cuisine.

Ermou Street is an endless modern shopping district with great prices! Kolonaki is a more high end shopping destination selling every name brand you can think of. The paved streets offer lovely window-shopping, as well as many quaint restaurants and cafes, where you can enjoy a more fine dining experience.

A breathtaking view of Athens all the way down to the port of Piraeus can be seen from Lycabytus Hill, which is located on a mountain top right above Kolonaki.

There are so many districts to explore around the center of Athens that are worth visiting and easy to get to with public transportation.

Heading down to the coast, your first stop should be the ancient town of Piraeus. The Port of Zea ,also named Pasalimani, is one of the largest marinas in the Mediterranean, and offers many ships and ferries to the islands. Mikrolimano is a lovely little harbor to visit, full of yachts and fishing boats and traditional fish taverns, which complement the picturesque scenery. Above it all stands the hill of Kastella, with its panoramic view of the port and traditional
Greek houses.

The beaches along the coast extend all the way to Sounio, which is located conveniently 20 - 40 minutes away from the center of Athens. There are many more different great seaside areas to visit such as: Glyfada, Cavouri, Astir Beach Vouliagmenis, Lake of Vouliagmenis, Lagonisi and Sounio.

Astir Beach is a well organized beach with cafes, restaurant, bungalows, lounge chairs, beach volleyball and water sports. I also strongly suggest a visit to Lake Vouliagmeni, which is located along the coastline of Athens. Lake Vouliagmeni is considered a special place with deep blue thermal water that has mineral properties, which has been found to have many healing properties. It is about 50 centimeters above sea level and is constantly replenished by the hot springs that lie beneath it. It is considered a phenomenon of nature, and, since its discovery, has drawn much research. Scientific discoveries revealed that millions of years ago, there was a large cave with many hot springs and that, at some point, the roof collapsed due to the high temperature and moisture of the springs. Today the minerals are still streamed into the lake through the hot springs, and people swim in it for therapy or for fun. You can also lounge on the beach chairs by the lake and enjoy the nice cafe-bar-restaurant. In the evening dine by the lake at the restaurant under the stars with the lit up rocks and mountainside.

Just across the street is Vouliagmeni Beach, which is considered one of the best beaches in Athens. There are many great hotels in this area, ranging from 3-5 stars, as well as many cafes, bars, traditional taverns, and restaurants to enjoy.

Sounio is further out east and is a great road trip. The amazing temple of Sounio sits above the beach on a mountain overlooking the sea and was dedicated to the God of the Sea, Poseidon. The temple was always the last landmark to be seen when the Athenians sailed away, and the first site as they returned. The temple of Sounio was first mentioned in the Odyssey, as the place where Menelaos stopped during his return from Troy to bury his helmsman, Phrontes Onetorides. This Doric temple was built in the 5th Century BC, on the ruins of an older one. From the site, you can see the islands of Kea and Kythnos, and the peninsula of Peloponnese in the far distance.

Sounio is a favorite destination for enjoying the beach, whether it's a great swim you seek, having drinks and traditional mezedes (or appetizers) at the taverns by the beach, or just taking in the breath taking famous Sounio sunset. According to local legend, there is a certain day of each year at sunset, at the Temple of Poseidon, that you can faintly see the image of the ancient golden statue of Athena that used to stand on the Parthenon of the Acropolis of Athens.

Opposite the coastal line of Athens is the northern suburbian district of Kiffissia-Ekali and Drosia. Kiffissia is surrounded by green hills with beautiful homes and apartment buildings. The center of Kiffissia is a great shopping hub, offering many name brand flagship stores that are surrounded by quaint cafes and restaurants. Kiffissia is a great shopping destination. Beyond the northern suburbs there are many other beaches worth visiting such as: Vavrona, Skinia, Nea Makri and Varkiza, offering endless golden sandy beaches offering great water sports, café bars, and Greek traditional taverns.

Greece is world famous for her nightlife! No matter what area of Athens you decide to go out to at night, you will experience amazing Greek entertainment! Check your hotel room guides for suggestions.

Overall, no matter where you choose to travel to within Greece, the first and last stop should be Athens. Rich in history, full of architectural wonders, and unforgettable exciting cosmopolitan lifestyle, Athens is a timeless destination that makes travelers visit over and over again discovering and seeing something new every time.

Get an idea of what you can see in Athens on Destination Greece's Video below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySV62lcXhMI

References:
http://www.limnivouliagmenis.gr/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athens
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Greek_art