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Athens can easily be described as one of the cradles of Greek civilization, a city whose history goes back millenniums. In that regard, it is the perfect place to get a sense of the many cultures that shaped the history of Greece as a whole, from the Byzantine to the Ottoman. History lovers will fall in love with its museums, mythology fans will have the time of their lives in its many ancient sites and curious visitors stopping by on their way to the Greek islands will be well advised to plan at least a couple nights in the capital.
Here is our pick for the top sites to visit if you only have a few days in Athens :
1. The Acropolis (entrance fee: 20€ for the Acropolis, 30€ combined ticket):
Even by name only, the Acropolis rings beautifully. It carries the imagination back to a time of cultural brilliance and still reigns over the city from its scenic vantage point. Nowadays and even though it is mostly in ruins, the Acropolis does live up to its name. It is an indescribable feeling to walk past the Propylaia, the gateway to the citadel, and get a first glimpse of the Parthenon or of the instantly recognizable female faces of the Caryatids at the Erechteion temple. In and on itself, the Acropolis deserves plenty of time to soak in the atmosphere and enjoy the view on the city.
Before you get there, be sure to stop by the Theather of Dionysus and the Odeon of Herode Atticus too. After you complete your visit of the Acropolis, do not miss the Acropolis Museum either (5€ per person) which boasts a remarkable view on the Sacred Rock of the Acropolis and a collection of statues and bas-reliefs worth the visit in their own rights.
2. Panathenaic Stadium (entrance fee: 5€):
Past the ruins of the Olympion temple lies the stunning stands of the Panathenaic Stadium, which looks so brand new one could tell it has been built a few decades ago. The truth is, this ancient stadium has not always looked so dashing and it was renovated in 1896 to host the first Olympic games of our modern era, which means you’re looking at the perfect spot to learn more about the 19th-century revival of the Olympics.
Still, this oval-shaped stadium is gorgeous and it is hard to imagine how it could be more amazing, unless you try to picture it entirely built in marble, as it used to be during the Antiquity when the it was used to celebrate the Panathenaic Games.
3. Ancient Agora (entrance fee: part of the combined ticket, 8€ without combined ticket):
The Ancient Agora lies at the feet of the Acropolis Rock and its iconic Temple of Hephaestus can be seen from the Parthenon. Most of the notable monuments of this ancient place used for assemblies and markets are gone but two important buildings remain, including the Temple of Hephaestus which retained some of its marble sculptures.
The other is the Stoa of Attalos, an ancient covered walkway which was rebuilt from the ground up in the 1950s by American and Greek architects and now hosts a museum. Cats seem to enjoy the place as much as tourists and you will spot many of them near the Orthodox Church of the Holy Apostles.
4. Kerameikos (entrance fee: part of the combined ticket, 8€ without combined ticket):
Kerameikos is the definition of calm in the midst of an ever bustling city. What used to be an ancient potters’ neighbourhood was also a cemetery in the outskirts of the city and is now a pleasant spot for a stroll. Many funerary sculptures remain visible, on both sides of an ancient road, and many artefacts found on the site are now on display in the small museum at the entrance.
The site is also of great historical significance as it contains parts of the Themistoclean Wall, a fortification erected by the Athenian statesman and warrior Themistocles to counter the Persian attacks. Remember 300: Rise of an Empire? And that’s it for the lame movie references.
5. National Archaeological Museum of Athens (entrance fee: 10€):
Even if you’re not a big museum lover, you should give this one a chance. Long story short, it is the most comprehensive museum on ancient Greece and its collections from Greek antiquity are unparalleled worldwide.
To be fair, the museum captions could need some refreshment but the exhibitions on display will captivate you anyway, from painted clay jars to marble sculptures, bronze statues to jewellery. There’s even an Egyptian section that ties some links between both these great civilizations, showing what kind of impact the former had on the latter.
Of course, there’s many more gems to find in Athens, from the Roman Agora to the Ottoman architecture of the Monastiraki Plaza, not to mention the collections of the Benaki Museum or the quaint streets of Anafiotika. Is that enough to convince you to spend some time in the city? We certainly hope so!
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