A bustling, cosmopolitan metropolis, Athens is the epicenter of the economic, financial, industrial, political and cultural life of Greece. Located at the crossroads of three continents, Athens has been a melting pot of cultures over the centuries. Today, it is Greece’s capital with an overall population of more than 3 million people. As Greeks are known for their hospitality since ancient times, visitors are sure to receive a warm welcome here.
Athens is also an ideal congress destination, combining state-of-the-art infrastructure, excellent congress facilities and easy access from all over the world with world-class cultural attractions, modern amenities and diverse entertainment.
Past & Present
Boasting a history of 2.500 years by preserving various monuments along with some world class museums, Athens is an attractive destination with a vibrant contemporary cultural life. The founding of Athens dates back to mythological times. The city’s history is still evident in the form of many Ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine monuments.
A hub for the arts and philosophy during Antiquity, Athens was the home of Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum. The city was also the birthplace of Socrates, Pericles, and Sophocles among many other prominent philosophers, writers and politicians. The city is widely referred to as the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy, largely due to the impact of its cultural and political achievements during the 5th and 4th centuries BC on the rest of Europe.
The heritage from its classical era is still evident in the city via a number of ancient monuments and works of art, the most famous of all being the Parthenon on the Acropolis, widely considered a prime landmark of Western civilization. The city also retains numerous Roman and Byzantine monuments, as well as a smaller number of remnants of the Ottoman era, projecting the city’s long history across the centuries.
Landmarks of the modern era are also present, dating back to the establishment of the Modern Greek state, such as the Greek Parliament (19th century) and the Athens Trilogy of buildings (Library, University, and Academy) at Panepistimiou Street.
Athens was the host city of the first modern-day Olympic Games in 1896. Having hosted the Olympic Games again in 2004, the city has proven to meet the requirements of one of the most demanding events, delivering an impeccable result.
Landmarks and Museums of Athens
Being one of the most historically significant cities in Europe, Athens has much to offer to those who are interested in exploring traces of the world’s cultural heritage. Over the years, a multitude of conquerors occupied Athens, and erected some splendid monuments. The capital of Greece integrates its ancient and medieval history into the contemporary era. Such monuments can be found all around the city center, side by side with contemporary constructions such as buildings, roads and train stations.
The Acropolis is arguably the most well-known monument of Greek civilization. Its main building, the Parthenon, was dedicated to Athena Parthenos, the patron Goddess of the city and was completed in 432 BC. Unfortunately, like most ancient monuments, the state of the Acropolis has deteriorated over the centuries through vandalism and pillaging. Nevertheless, just at the end of the hill, stands the Acropolis Museum. It is there that numerous pieces of information are provided so as to grasp the history throughout the years.
Before going up the hill to look at the Parthenon, you shouldn’t miss the Hadrian’s Arch monument. It was constructed in 131 AD to honor the Roman Emperor Hadrian; it could also be the entrance to the new part of the city of Athens thus separating it from the old one. On one side of the monument there was the inscription “This is Athens, the city of Theseus” while on the other side remains the phrase “This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus”.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus
Behind Hadrian’s Arch stands the imposing temple of Olympian Zeus. The building process started in the 6th century BC, only to be completed in the 2nd century AD by Emperor Hadrian. Originally consisting of 104 Corinthian columns, only 16 remain today. Inside the temple, Hadrian built an enormous gold and ivory statue of Zeus. To this day it is not certain when the destruction of temple took place. It could have been brought down during the Germanic invasions of the 3rd century AD or even by a powerful earthquake. In any case, ruins of the temple must have been used later on as building materials of other Athenian structures.
The Agora, which means “market” in Modern Greek, is situated at the footsteps of the Acropolis. During ancient times it served as the commercial a political, cultural and religious centre of the city. Today it resembles a park that can be explored by visitors and provide them with a vivid visual of the everyday life of ancient Athenians.
Originally built in the 4th century BC for the festivities of the Great Panathinaia (cultural and athletic competitions in Athens), the “Kallimarmaron” Stadium was the venue of the first modern Olympic Games, in 1896.
A creation of the Athenians, as its name proudly proclaims, the Panathenaic Stadium has been the venue for noble competition of the mind and body, since Antiquity.
Herodes Atticus Odeon
Built at the base of the Acropolis hill, the ancient Amphitheatre of Herodeion, also known as the Odeon of Herodus Atticus, is one of the best places to watch a new production of an Ancient Greek theatre play. It was built during the 2nd century AD by the Roman philosopher, teacher and politician Herodes Atticus. He dedicated the theatre to his late wife Aspasia Regilla, who died in 160 AD. Herodeion is still used for various spectacles.
Museums of Athens
National Archaeological Museum of Athens
The National Archaeological Museum of Athens is the largest of its kind in Greece and one of the most important museums in the world devoted to Ancient Greek art. It was founded at the end of the 19th century to preserve and exhibit antiquities from all over Greece, thus displaying their historical, cultural and artistic value. https://www.namuseum.gr/en/
Byzantine & Christian Museum
The Byzantine and Christian Museum, which is based in Athens, is one of Greece’s national museums. Its areas of competency are centered on – but not limited to – religious artefacts of the Early Christian, Byzantine, Medieval, post-Byzantine and later periods. The Museum has over 25.000 artifacts in its possession, which date from between the 3rd and 20th Century A.D. https://www.byzantinemuseum.gr/en/
Museum of Cycladic Art
The Museum of Cycladic Art is dedicated to the study and promotion of ancient cultures of the Aegean and Cyprus, with special emphasis on Cycladic Art of the 3rd millennium BC. It was founded in 1986, to house the collection of Nicholas and Dolly Goulandris, an extensive and unique private collection of prehistoric art from the Cycladic islands as well as ancient Greece. https://cycladic.gr/en
The Acropolis Museum
The New Acropolis Museum was established in 2009. Replacing the old museum, which was located on the hill, it is a place that could accommodate the missing Parthenon sculptures. It is focused on the findings of the archaeological site of the Acropolis of Athens and its surrounding slopes, from the Greek Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine Greece. The building lies over ruins of the Roman and early Byzantine times. https://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/en
The Benaki Museum ranks among the major institutions that have enriched the cultural life of Athens. It exhibits thousands of items covering multiple periods of Greek history, from the Prehistoric, Ancient and Roman eras to the Byzantine and contemporary periods. https://www.benaki.org/index.php?lang=en
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC)
SNFCC is a multifaceted center built right next to the Faliro bay. Inaugurated in 2016, it plays a vital role in the cultural life of the whole country. The visitor may find in its premises the facilities of the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera. SNFCC also includes Stavros Niarchos Park, one of the largest green areas in Athens, covering 21 hectares. Concerts, films and theater plays are just some of the activities that take place in one of the most modern cultural centers in the world. https://www.snfcc.org/en
Hellenic Cosmos Cultural Center
A museum, a dome resembling a planetarium and a state-of-the-art theater are just some of the facilities of this institution, where visitors can learn about history, culture and sciences through interactive exhibitions, educational programs, virtual reality shows and documentaries. http://www.fhw.gr/cosmos/index.php?&lg=_en
Shopping, Gastronomy and Nightlife
Shopping in Athens
One of the most popular places to go to in the center of the city is the Attica department store. One can find all kinds of products there from clothes, shoes, cosmetics, jewelry, and bags to even home equipment and decorating items. There are multiple coffee shops, theatres and museums around the area offering a full evening experience. On the north side of Attica is the Kolonaki area, the best place for high end shopping in the city with all the well-known fashion brands.
On the south side of Attica, is Ermou Street. It is a pedestrian road full of famous shops leading to the ultimate street shopping place of Monastiraki.
Plaka and Monastriraki areas are situated around the Acropolis and offer a unique environment, where you may walk on the old cobblestone roads and visit the traditional flea market and bazaar.
Greek gastronomy has a history of around 4,000 years, based on pure and unique quality goods produced in the country. After all, it was Archestratos who arguably wrote the first recipe book in history. Greek cuisine can be summarized by four elements: good quality fresh ingredients, correct use of flavorings (herbs) and spices, the famous Greek olive oil and most importantly, simplicity.
Honey, cheese and olive oil are some of the signature tastes one remembers after Greek meal. However, there are many more ways to impress your palette and satisfy your cravings. Additionally, due to the ever-generous Mediterranean Sea, Greek cuisine is abundant in recipes based on various delicious fresh fish.
When it comes to drinking, wine has been imbedded in the Greek culture since the ancient times and is still a very serious matter for locals today. Hundreds of wineries thrive around the country along with countless wine bars in most cities and islands. Other famous Greek drinks include Ouzo, Raki and Tsipouro. There is also Mastika, a liqueur based on the resin of mastic trees, which are located almost exclusively on one island in Greece, Chios.
Athens Nightlife and Entertainment
One of the main characteristics of Greek Culture that tourists notice is the vibrant lifestyle of Athenians. From jazz bars to pubs and from clubs to the traditional Greek Bouzoukia, Athens is an animated city offering a wide range of options for all sorts of lifestyles and tastes.
Dinner in Greece is served relatively late compared to other European countries. Reservations are rarely booked before 9 p.m. and bars never close before 2 a.m., even during the week. Clubs in Athens can stay open until the morning hours making every night special where one can meet new people, as Greeks have a tendency to meet, greet and involve people when they are having fun.
As far as cinemas are concerned, Greece is one of the few countries in Europe, where most films are screened without dubbing, using complimentary subtitles instead. Consequently, people are able to enjoy a movie in its original language.