The goddess of arts, crafts and civilization – Athena is believed to be the guardian of the Athens. It is no wonder then, that the city hailed as the historical capital of Europe is an architectural marvel. It is home to iconic Greek monuments and major archeological sites which make it a must-visit for every history and architecture buffs.
However, it would be unfair to label Athens as just that. While the city offers its visitors a peek into history, it has also embraced modernism as it gracefully fuses the old and the new. With kid-friendly activities, sightseeing spots, a flourishing theatre scene, beaches and a thriving nightlife – the city is a dream destination for most travellers.
Greek gods have long held the realms of mythology and its capital Athens is no exception. The city is more than 2000 years old and holds its fair share of mythical anecdotes including one on its very formation. It is said that both Poseidon, God of the sea and Athena, the Goddess of wisdom both wanted to be patrons of the city. Both decided to present the city with an offering to win the title. Poseidon struck his trident to the ground and water gushed out, a symbol that there would never be a drought if he was named the patron. However, the water was salty, just like the sea. Then Athena came forward and planted the olive tree which symbolised food, oil and firewood. She won and the city was named after her.
Begin the historic tour at the Syntagma square, the city’s most popular square comprising of a central fountain and a large open space surrounded by shops, restaurants and office buildings. In the background lies the Parliament, making this square the witness to some of the most mourned as well as celebrated events in Greek history. A few minutes away, forming the symbolic entrance to the city is the Hadrian’s Arch. It is one of the seven symmetrical gates built to defend the city. In walking distance is the rock of the Acropolis, an ancient citadel alongside a cluster of temples, shrines and ruins on top of a rocky structure overlooking the city. Do visit the Sacred Olive Tree which is located by the west porch of the Erectheion. In close vicinity are the temple of Olympian Zeus, the Panathenaic Stadium and the Roman Agora.
Tired from all that sightseeing? Catch the Athens Coastal Tram and head to the beaches by the Athens Riviera. Kayaking tours, five-star resorts, spas, esplanades, marinas, windsurfing and sailing – the river is brimming with activities. If you fancy an overnight excursion, catch a boat to Cape Sounio to visit the temple of Poseidon, one of Athen’s most important monuments.
As the sun goes down, the music turns up as you party till you drop by the coastline of Athens. At Alimos, Glyfada, Vouliagmeni and Varkiza, numerous beach bars, shacks by the sand, rooftop restaurants and exclusive nightclubs are bustling with music and energy.
For party-goers, a must go to spot is the hip area of Psiri. The seemingly ordinary streets by day turn into a party mecca by night. Small streets with graffiti walls and street musicians are good indicators of you reaching the neighbourhood.
For those with kids, the city is a mythical storybook come to life. The War Museum is a favorite amongst children, after all – they get to sit inside a World War II plane’s cockpit. Apart from that, a major attraction is the Hellenic Children’s Museum. It hosts multiple rooms with different themes and activities including the Bubble Room, The Market and The Attic.
Don’t forget to visit the Hellenic Cosmos, an ultra-modern museum that holds interactive exhibitions and VR tours. Here, your children can take a virtual tour of Ancient Greece.
Nothing will make your little ones happier than a stop at Little KooK cafe, a fairy tale themed cafe that serves tasty cakes and snacks. With their tummies full in fantasyland, head to the Attica Zoological Park to see penguins, parrots, lemurs, giraffes, flamingos, pumas and hippos.
Not to be missed is the Allou Fun Park, Athens’ largest amusement park that is divided into two parts for young ones and teens/adults making it a fun day for everyone.
Worried about all this walking with the kids? Ride the Athens Happy Train, a hop-on-hop-off train service that lets you see the most important sites of Athens. Children are sure to love this toy-like train service in the historic centre of the city.
Most food in the country is healthy and delicious. So naturally, when in Athens, the Greek salad is a must. Fresh vegetables, the world-famous olives toppled with soft feta cheese that is drizzled with greek olive oil and seasoned with herbs will leave you wanting more. The braided sesame and honey sweet ring bread, Koulouria, is a favorite amongst the Greeks for breakfast. You will find sellers in front of the Metro entrance, with Koulouria ready to be taken on the go. Other local delicacies include the spanakopita, a puffy spinach based pastry and Gemista, a baked stuffed dish best served with greek yogurt. If you are keen on building a local connection, head to the Athens farmers market where local produce prepared using sustainable farming methods is sold. You can check their website in advance to know where they are setting up next.
Head to the traditional family run, informal tavernas that serve authentic dishes to get a taste of the region. The ones by the by the beaches at Piraeus often serve fresh fish alongside these Greek delicacies. Must try restaurants in the city include Mana’s Kouzina-Kouzina, Kapetan Mixalis for traditional mezes and Michelin-starred seafood restaurant Varoulko. But whatever you pick, don’t forget to stay back post dinner for the country’s traditional activity of smashing plates. Although, some places have now substituted the plates with flowers, it is still the same amount of fun.
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