3000 Years of history are impossible to ignore in Athens, from your first glimpse of the iconic Acropolis to the ancient remains scattered throughout the city center.
Classical Greece played a huge role in the formation of the modern world, and it seems that every empire in history has tried to control the city. The Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires have all left their mark on Athens with countless architectural ruins and cultural traditions.
But there is more to Athens than its history.
Today, Athens is a modern megalopolis, where more than 3 million people live. The streets are full of activities with designer fashion stores, open-air films and plonk bars galore. There is a vibrant Mediterranean food culture focused on traditional Greek cuisine, and the sandy beaches lined with beach clubs are just a short drive away.
There is no shortage of sights in modern Athens, but most tourists still visit history. While the archaeological sites and museums of Athens are not to be missed, the modern city is also worth a visit. I have found 5 ways to experience Athens as it is today and experience the remarkable journey that brought it here.
1. Discover Athens through the eyes of a local
The best way to get an idea of each city is to see it through the eyes of its inhabitants, but this is usually only possible if you have a local friend visiting you. The city of Athens has captured this feeling of “walking with a friend” with its unique program This is My Athens.
2. Learn how the trendy Plaka neighborhood has influenced Greek and international artists
Plaka is one of the oldest and most fashionable neighborhoods in the center of Athens with narrow streets, shops, restaurants and colorful townhouses. To learn more about the lively district and the famous personalities who have shaped it, I booked the Fantasy Travel Tour In the footsteps of the artists around the Acropolis. This tour is perfect for lovers of history, culture or literature who already know a thing or two about Athens and want to deepen the stories about the events, people and places that have made the city what it is today.
The tour guide Nancy and the organizer of the tour, Athena, took us through Plaka and stopped to mark important landmarks such as Tripodon Street and the lycicrate monument. Nancy explained that the lycicrate monument is the only remaining monument of its kind and, unlike the most valuable statues and monuments of Athens, it was never looted, but inspired sculptors and architects around the world to build copies of it. Perhaps you have seen similar structures in Edinburgh, New York, Philadelphia or Sydney.
3. Hear the stories behind the neoclassical buildings of Athens
A short walk through the center of Athens will reveal dozens of elaborate and exquisite buildings that anyone seriously interested in architecture will consider neoclassical buildings from the mid-18th to the 19th century. To learn more about these beautiful buildings and the stories behind them, I booked Fantasy Travel’s beautiful neoclassical Athens Tour.
Our guide Katerina gave us some general information before showing us some of the most impressive neoclassical buildings in the city. The tour began in the Greek Parliament Building and the old Royal Palace, built in 1842, the first neoclassical building that set the benchmark for other state buildings and private houses in Athens.
4. Taste world-class Greek plonks
It is easy to understand why Greek cuisine has gained international fame. Traditional Greek dishes are prepared from simple but fresh ingredients with layers of delicious flavors. However, what is surprising is that Greek plonk is not so famous on the international stage.
5. Dine in international restaurants
There is no shortage of authentic Greek restaurants in Athens, from traditional taverns to street souvlaki stalls. Like any other modern city, Athens is full of international restaurants specializing in modern Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Indian and American cuisine.
For my American dose, I had dinner at the Hard Rock Café in Plaka, which serves all the hard rock classics as well as some locally inspired twists. I could not overtake the Zeus Burger, a fairly typical burger, but enriched with additional Greek ingredients such as olive oil and feta cheese. Delicious!
As you might expect, the Hard Rock Café is decorated with musical souvenirs such as framed records, guitars and costumes of famous rock stars. There are two dining rooms, a smaller indoor area for non-smokers and a larger outdoor area for smokers and non-smokers.
Where to stay in the center of Athens
The ideal starting point to explore modern Athens is the New Hotel, a trendy boutique hotel, within walking distance of popular attractions such as Plaka, the Acropolis, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Syntagma Square and the National Gardens.as the name suggests, the new hotel is extremely modern and avant-garde, with golden accents and centerpieces made from recycled lamps, chairs and dressing table. Upcycled decor and whimsical works of art require attention. On my last day at the hotel, I noticed an LED panel in the main restaurant flashing strangely strange lines like “Big Brother is Watching You”. I asked an employee what it was about, and they informed me that it was a work of art by Jenny Holzer, but it looked more like dystopian quotes from 1984. Breakfast will never be the same again.