Athens is the capital city of Greece with a metropolitan population of 3.7 million inhabitants. In many ways the birthplace of Classical Greece, and therefore of Western civilization.....
Athens is big, brash and frenetic, but has a wonderful charm all of its own. All too often tourists' perceptions are clouded by the fact that they overnight in Athens on their way to or from the Greek islands, and so the extent of their Athens experience amounts to a quick view of the mostly grotty town of Piraeus, a cheap hotel, and maybe the Acropolis in scorching summer heat if they're lucky. Athens, however, has a lot more to offer....
Given that the Olympic Games will be taking place in Athens in August 2004, much work has been done in recent months and years in order to brighten up Athens and give it a more efficient infrastructure.
Spring and late autumn are the best times to visit Athens. Summer can be extremely hot, 40 degree days compounded by smog and humidity.... but you can be lucky! Winter is definitely low season, being somewhat chilly with the occasional rainy day, but also an ideal time to save money while enjoying the city without countless other travellers and tourists.
The sprawling city is bounded on three sides by Mt Parnitha, Mt Pendeli and Mt Hymettos; whilst inside Athens are eight hills, the Acropolis and Lykavittos being the most prominent. These hills provide a refuge from the noise and commotion of the crowded city streets, offering amazing views down to Saronic Gulf, Athen's boundary with the Aegean Sea on its southern side. The streets of Athens (clearly signposted in Greek and English) now meld imperceptibly into [[Athens/Piraeus|Piraeus], the city's ancient (and still bustling) port.
Most things of interest to travellers can be found within a relatively small area surrounding the city centre at Syntagma Square (Plateia Syntagmatos). This epicentre is surrounded by the districts of the Plaka to the south, Monastiraki to the west, Kolonaki to the east and Omonia to the north. Further afield is the port of Athens, the Piraeus....
Athens International Airport (Eleftherios Venizelos) is situated 27 km (17 miles) east of the city center at Spata. This well-appointed airport opened in 2001, raising the comfort levels of travelling to Athens and Greece by a phenomenal degree.
Athens airport is a major hub in the Aegean, Balkan and East Mediterranean regions. Delta and Olympic maintain non-stop flights from North America, while a large number of European carriers fly direct into Athens.
You can also get into the city by taking the E95 bus to the city center (Syntagma Square) or the E94 to Ethniki Amyna metro station. Works for the Olympics mean that the entire city is something of a construction site at the moment, so do expect traffic delays.
The new Athens Metro system, opened in 2001 and currently being extended, is a wonder to behold, and puts many better-known metro systems to shame. Many Metro stations resemble museums, as they exhibit artefacts found during excavations for the system. A new tram line is under construction, and Athens International Airport has won awards since its opening in 2001.
Expect to pay about 20 euro by taxi during the day, and 30-35 euro after midnight and before 5am. Note that taxi meters in Athens have two rates - rate 1 applies from 5am till midnight, and rate 2, the double rate, from midnight to 5am. Taxi fare fraud is not as widespread as it used to be, but it still happens, so make sure the rate is correct. If you feel you have been overcharged, as for a receipt (they are obliged to give one) and take the plate number, then phone the tourist police to report the driver on 171.
Museums and Galleries
Given its antiquity and influence, Athens is full of museums and galleries. Here are a selection of 'must-sees' - district articles will hold additional possibilities....