Of the dozens of top ten lists in our humble blog thusfar, it was a major surprise, if not shock, to discover the conspicuous absence of Athens. For shame! Lest our Greek mates discover the blatant omission, we should rectify the error here and now, post haste.
Vast capital of Greece, birthplace of the Olympic Games and indeed, philosophy and democracy, the once classical city-state is a lively, cosmopolitan metropolis. Athens, the heart of finance, politics, commerce, arts and culture in Greece, is a premier alpha world city. While many opt for a short stay in the capital before weeks of debauchery and depravity in the Aegean Sea, patience yields brilliant rewards in Athens. Santorini, Ios, Rhodes, Mykonos and Crete, to name but several islands, will always be special but with well over 3,000 years of history, Athens is unbelievable.
From the obvious to the diminutive, here are ten must-see attractions in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games host city.
The de facto national academy of Greece is a tribute to the Academy of Plato and honors the tradition of knowledge, philosophy and study in the country. The main Neoclassical complex, built in the late 19th century, is one of the central landmarks in Athens.
Those in search of refuge from the heat and urban sprawl of Athens will love the superb National Garden. Just behind the Greek Parliament, the oasis offers over 15 hectares of land to explore at your own pace, with ancient ruins to ogle at every turn.
One of the most important squares in Europe, if not the world, has been the pulse point for political protest for well over a century – a frequent occurrence in Greece. Syntagma Square, with the Greek Parliament in full view, is a public transportation hub in Athens and provides easy access to some of the best districts in the city. Did we mention the square has free WiFi?
7. Cape Sounion
Though 69 km from Athens, Cape Sounion still merits consideration as a must-see attraction in the capital city. The beautiful peninsula promontory offers stellar Aegean Sea photo ops and best of all, a heritage network of ancient ruins and temples.
In classical times, the agora was a place of assembly, open to the public at large. The Ancient Agora of Athens is the best example left in the world, with as many as twenty vital inherent monuments that date as far back as the 6th century BC. Some 800 years later, landmarks such as the Temple of Ares, Altar of Zeus Agoraios and Odeon of Agrippa, among many others, were built within the agora.
The grand summit of Athens is visible from the Acropolis but for some reason, many choose to leave it at that and skip out on the funicular ride to the top. With a magnificent panorama of Athens, the legendary hill is worth the short trip, especially for open air summer concerts.
4. The Plaka
At the base of the Acropolis, the historic Plaka district winds around the ancient hill and features labyrinthine streets, stone and Cycladic architecture and a host of restaurants, tavernas, bars and shops. The most popular and vibrant area of the city, bar none.
Archaeology and Greece go hand in hand. From Turkey to Macedonia, the country is a goldmine for Indiana Jones hopefuls. For the absolute best of what Greece has to offer in terms of ancient relics, artifacts, monuments and documents, head to the world class National Archaeological Museum.
A site of eternal archaeological excavation, the Acropolis is a limitless treasure trove of remarkable relics. Built in 2008 at the base of the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Acropolis Museum is without peer, with artifacts that cover the Bronze Age to Byzantine Greece.
The Great Pyramid of Giza, the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal: all ancient and instantly recognizable. Well, add the Acropolis of Athens to the list. So familiar and ubiquitous in grainy picture form, from humble gyro restaurants all over the world to middle school history textbooks, the mere appearance of the Parthenon startles many as they get within close range of the famous hill. The premier attraction on the European Cultural Heritage list is a remarkable complex, with the ruins of no less than twenty-one vital monuments on site.
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