One of the oldest cities in the world, and located at the crossroads of East and West, modern Athens wears many faces. The old city, a remarkable must-see, is rebellious and feels akin to Naples, another ancient place. Then there is the city that emerged from the 2004 Olympic Games, the contemporary city created as Greece embraced the modern era. So if you have just one day in Athens, here's what to do and see...
Although at first glance chaotic urbanisation gives this city a somewhat unreadable and sprawling vibe, its fascinating, complex and mysterious character makes it an incredibly lively and engaging capital. It's easy to be mesmerised by the city's historic and creative vibe, and a visit to the impressive Acropolis is an absolute must. Taking centre stage in the heart of the capital, it's a truly stirring sight in the cool glow of the early hours of the day. At its base lies a brand new museum, an edifice of glass and marble perched on stilts at the foot of the sacred hill designed by Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi, perfectly complementing the ancient structures above. Also in the centre, the Museum of Cycladic Art is truly something to be savoured, featuring statuettes from the Goulandris collection, with forms so clear cut they evoke the work of much more modern sculptors.
The Historic Centre
Varvakios - Adrianou - Aeropagitu - Athina
You need to lose yourself in the historic centre (not easy in just one day in Athens!) to truly conquer this melting pot city where the mark of the Ottoman Empire can still be felt. Previously abandoned by the middle classes for neighbourhoods further outside the centre, the district is gradually becoming trendy again. Walk this twisted maze of streets dotted with Byzantine churches, low houses and flower-filled gardens in Varvakios, the lively streets of Adrianou and Aeropagitou, the picturesque central market, and Athina Street, the true 'belly of Athens' with its designer boutique hotels. There is a undeniable energy here that is trying to connect the city's prestigious past with a future full of hope.
The Hip Neighbourhoods
Psiri - Metaxourghio - Exarchia - Kifisia
It's time to follow in the footsteps of the city's new guard. Today's young Athenians spend their time in areas like Psiri, Metaxourghio with its many art galleries and Gazi, a former gas plant that has become one of the coolest spots in the city : a cultural hub filled with cool bars, restaurants and small cafés. The Deste Foundation, created by billionaire Dakis Joannou to house his astonishing collection of contemporary art, is another must-see on this cultural scene, while graffiti-lovers should head to the more alternative Exarchia area, named by the New York Times as a 'modern Mecca for street artistst '. The middle classes and ultra-cool kids meet in Kolonaki, the capital's most elegant area, Kifisia, an eccentric neighbourhood steeped in greenery, and Plaka, the beating heart of fashion in the capital.
At dusk, do as the locals do and climb to the top of Mount Lycabettus for a stunning view of this vast city and the Acropolis. Enjoy food flavoured with spices from the Silk Road, Mediterranean aromas and intoxicating Turkish flavours in trendy restaurants, or classic grilled lamb with herbs from some of the smaller and more modest tavernas . Thanks to the warmth of Greek hospitality, evenings are always long and full of fun, with everything from jazz bars, alternative venues and bouzouki music to get the night going. Without a doubt Athens is emerging as one of southern Europe's hottest destinations, bursting with energy and a truly exciting place to visit.