Most people in the UK will gladly tell you that Greece is one of the best holiday destinations you can visit. They will probably tell you about the great nightlife, but will it be Athens nightlife they are talking about?
For most people, the first thing that grabs them about Athens is the contrast. Specifically what stands out is the contrast between ancient and modern. I think most of us recognise Athens as an ancient city; in fact it is one of the oldest in the world. In European terms it is fair to describe Athens as the forerunner of our civilisation, the first ever democracy for example, was created in the city state of Athens. You can still see many remarkable buildings from this period although many of the ancient buildings in the city also date from Roman times. What you might not expect at first though, is to find the thriving, vibrant and modern city that has grown up among these ancient buildings.
You could write a hundred articles on just the ancient sites of Athens and you will often see these buildings on lists of top 10 ancient sites in the world. A few of the regular contenders are the Parthenon, the Acropolis and the Theatre of Dionysus.
When you think of a symbol of ancient Greece, it is probably the hugely recognisable structure of the Parthenon that spring to mind. Dedicated to the goddess Athena, this Doric building is widely accepted as one of the most important surviving buildings from the era. The building was completed in 432 B.C. and since then has been a Greek temple, a church and a mosque. Two and a half thousand years later it is still there standing proudly overlooking the city centre.
There are many acropoleis (citadels) in Greece, but such is the significance of the acropolis in Athens that it is typically just referred to as the acropolis. If you didn't think of the Parthenon when I asked you to think of an ancient building, then it was probably the acropolis that you thought of.
The Theatre of Dionysus is one of the oldest of the outdoor theatres in Athens, built in 534 bc. The remains of the site are remarkable and should be considered as part of any visit to Athens. The theatre is located close to the Acropolis and can be visited on the same trip.
After spending your day exploring these ancient sites, don't forget to dust yourself off and see the other side of the city. Dont forget that Athens has a young and lively population who like nothing better than enjoying the warm evenings in the taverns. My favourite area in town is Plakas, where if you follow your nose (or the sound of music) you will soon find somewhere to spend the evening.
Visiting Athens can be done as a fantastic city break, but as ferries to the Greek islands depart from nearby Piraeus. If you are flying into Athens airport before heading out to the islands seriously consider spending some time here. Another reason that you might end up passing through Athens is if you take a ferry from Italy on your way to the islands. Again this will actually dock in Patra which is around two and half hours away, but you should still spend time in Athens before onward travel.
When you visit Athens have a great time!