I’d be content visiting Athens if it offered no more than the Acropolis and the new Acropolis Museum but it actually offers the visitor so much more. There are additional ancient sites, both Greek and Roman, world-class museums, inviting green spaces, interesting neighborhoods, great shopping, and outstanding restaurants. Here are a few of my favorites.
We particularly enjoyed several ancient sites within walking distance of the Acropolis and our hotel. On the southern slopes of the Acropolis are two ancient amphitheaters, the Theatre of Dionysus, and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. The former was built during the 5th century BCE as the venue for festivals and performances of early Greek plays. To my knowledge, it was still in use until the major renovation project began in 2010 which is slated for completion in 2015.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a newer facility built by the Romans that opened in 161 AD. Seating around 5,000 and restored in the 1950’s, it continues to be used for performances today, most notably during the Athens Festival beginning in the spring.
The Ancient Agora was the marketplace, the center of social, economic, and political life in ancient Athens where Socrates and his student, Plato, walked and discussed issues of the day. There are many ruins in the Agora to explore while imagining what it was like to live in 6th century BCE Greece.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus must have been a colossal masterpiece judging by the remains. Only 15 of the original 104 marble columns are standing today but they make quite an impression both from a distance and up close. Note the fallen column between the two columns to the right and Hadrian’s Arch in the lower left area of the photo below.
The nearby Arch of Hadrian, built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 131 AD, separated the Roman city from the ancient Greek area of Athens. You can also see the Acropolis through the arch.
On our first visit to Athens, we visited the National Archeological Museum of Athens. Although it’s not within walking distance of the Acropolis area, it was well worth the bus ride to see one of the top archeological museums in the world if you have the time and the inclination. Here are a few exhibits to whet your appetite.
We walked to the Panathenaic Stadium which is close to Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch. A stadium has stood on this site since 330 BCE but more notably, this restored stadium was chosen to host the revived Olympic Games in 1896. For the 2004 Olympic Games, it was the site of the archery competition and the finish line for the Marathon race.
There are also other sports facilities within this complex and son, Brian, and daughter-in-law, Abi, were welcome to work out there. One of the local coaches even offered some advice.
We enjoyed a lovely and leisurely stroll through the National Garden on our way to
see the changing of the guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Parliament Building at Syntagma Square. The traditional uniforms of the guards (Evzones) and the pageantry of the ceremony were particularly impressive.
Finally, we finished our tour with a little browsing through high-end shops near Syntagma Square, then a walk through the Plaka to stop at some souvenir shops on our way back to our hotel.
We enjoyed many other sights and neighborhoods while visiting Athens and I’m looking forward to repeat visits in the future to discover even more.
Next time: Our favorite Greek food in Athens.
Based of events of 2009 and 2013