The glorious capital of Greece has so much more to offer than the Parthenon and the Acropolis. Here are 10 things you can do in Athens
You haven’t seen anything until you have seen the Parthenon and the Acropolis, it is said. While that may be true, there is more to Athens than these two historical monuments. With its pulsating rhythm, sidewalk cafes spilling with ecstatic crowds, designer boutiques, art galleries, and a plethora of museums, there are scores of attractions to satisfy the thousands of travellers who disembark each day at the port of Athens.
Here’s a list of top 10 things to do when in Athens:
- Visit the Acropolis cluster of architectural wonders — Sited on the Sacred Hill, the Acropolis, nominated as one of the seven wonders of the world, is visible from every corner of Athens. It is the soul of the city. The Parthenon, with its marble Doric columns, is the most magnificent temple dedicated to Goddess Athena, the guardian of the ancient city of Athens. The Parthenon and the Acropolis were built by Pericles in the fifth century BC. While you are there, have a look at the Theatre of Herod Atticus, built by the Romans in 161 AD. It is a venue for concerts, ballet and performances. Yanni has also performed in this theatre. The Theatre of Dionysus, which seated up to 17,000 people during the ancient time, is situated nearby.
- Gape at the Hadrian’s Arch & the Temple of Olympian Zeus — Construction for the Temple of Olympian Zeus, one of the largest Grecian temples, began in 515 BC, and had 104 gigantic marble columns, of which only 15 remain today. There were various hiccups in the construction of the temple and the Greeks left it unfinished till Roman Emperor Hadrian finished the construction in 131 AD. Needless to say, he placed his own statue along with that of Olympian Zeus, who the Romans called Jupiter. Today, neither the statue of Zeus nor Hadrian remains. The emperor also built the Hadrian’s Arch, which separated the ancient city from the new one built by the Romans.
- Wander through the Acropolis Museum – This huge museum is a treasure trove of ancient relics and statues, including the famous relief of ‘Mourning Athena’. Also on display are the remnants of the friezes from the Parthenon.
- Loiter around the Lycabettus Hill — This hill can be reached by funicular or by walking up. It is an ideal spot for a stunning view of Athens, the Parthenon and the Aegean Sea. Grab the famous Greek spanokopita or tiropita (spinach and cheese pie) from one of the many bakeries that line the way up to the hill.
- Enjoy the Changing of the Guards — Catch the ‘changing of the guards’ at the Greek Parliament near the Syntagma Square. The Evzones, as they are known, are a special unit of the Hellenic Army who guard the Monument of the Unknown Soldier. Their traditional uniform, with kilts and pom-poms on the shoes, is rather interesting. At 11 am on Sundays, there is a spectacular ceremony which draws hordes of tourists.
- Relive the past at the Ancient Agora — In ancient times, the Agora was the city’s main hub, with political, cultural, philosophical and commercial events taking place there. This was where Greek democracy was born. Imagine Socrates and Plato engaged in serious discussions at the Agora. The Greek and Roman Agoras stand within a stone’s throw from each other. The Tower of the Winds, nearby, is one of the many interesting structures.
- Walk around the historic Plaka — Plaka stands at the foot of the Acropolis with whitewashed houses, narrow cobbled streets, shops and cafes and picturesque ruins from the Roman era. Dotted with tiny Byzantine churches, it is an interesting place to loiter around.
- Haggle at the Flea Market — The Flea Market at Monastiraki is a buzzing place on Sunday mornings. This is where you are likely to find the most exotic things like ancient gramophone records, tea sets or masks. A couple of hours at the market can be an interesting experience. Street musicians abound as do pickpockets who are likely to clean out your pocket while you are bargaining for an interesting piece of antique.
- Experience nightlife — You haven’t seen Athens if you haven’t seen its nightlife. Despite the dire economic condition, there is no let-down in merrymaking. You will find live music at almost all clubs, cafes, bars and ouzeries at night. Visit a traditional Greek bouzoukia to enjoy the live performance of famous Greek singers like Antonis Remos and Anna Vissi.
- Pamper the taste buds — Savour the taste of traditional Greek dishes like moussaka, souvlaki, tzatziki, gyros, tiropita, Greek salad with feta cheese, and umpteen mezedes. Down it all with a glass of ouzo or retsina, the popular Greek drinks.
(Published in Sunday Herald, June 16, 2018)