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  Visiting Athens (1)  

The climb up Acropolis is a must for every tourist visiting Athens.
The climb up Acropolis is a must for every tourist visiting Athens.

From the tourist's point of view at least, much of your Athens visit will take place around the Syntagma and Monastiraki areas, with the Omonia (Omonoia) Square to a lesser extent, so it will be practical to stay near one of these areas (which incidentally are not too far from each other neither).
Despite talks that Athens is not a safe place at night the fact is that Athens is much more vibrant (and therefore quite safe) at night than many other bigger cities. Places such as Syntagma Square or Omonia Square as well as the exits of the metro stations at Monastiraki are always teeming with people at all times of the day and night. Even the McDonalds at Syntagma Square is open 7/7 and 24/24, something that even bigger cities like Paris cannot boast of. There is also a cybercafe called "Bits and Bytes" at Kapnikareas 19 in Monastiraki that offers 24/7 services. On Friday and Saturday nights the last metro leaves the terminus at 02h20. So Athens is very much of a night city after all.
Although road names and public notices are a nightmare because they are all written in Greek characters, yet surprisingly English is more understood here in Athens than in many other European cities so there is much less of a language problem.


Acropolis will of course be the highlight of your visit to Athens. You can go to Acropolis either after a visit to the once-colossal Temple of Olympian Zeus* which is on the other side of the road or by simply taking the metro to the Akropolis station.
Click on photo for bigger version.
The Ancient Theater of Dionysos in Acropolis
You will pass by the Ancient Theater of Dionysos on your climb up Acropolis
The Parthenon in Acropolis
The Parthenon, completed in 438 B.C., meets you at the end of your climb.
Lycabettus Hill, as seen from the top of Acropolis
Lycabettus Hill in the distance, as seen from the top of Acropolis.

Plan your visit to the Acropolis in the morning (the earlier the better, to avoid the bus-loads of tourists and student groups). In winter, admission to it is closed as early as 14h30 though the upside is that admission is also free on Sundays during winter (a considerable savings of the 12 euros admission fee).
The Temple of Olympian Zeus
The Temple of Olympian Zeus - or what remains of it.
Exiting the metro station at Akropolis will take you to the foot of the world-renowned Acropolis itself. Be prepared to walk/hike up the steep pathway to the very top of Acropolis if you want to admire the Parthenon from near. On the way up you will be passing by what looks like an arena but is actually the Ancient Theatre of Dionysos.
After a tiring day at the Acropolis (it would be a really tiring day if you should take in the nearby Acropolis Museum inaugurated in June 2009 as well) it is well worth the while to continue walking along the archaeological site towards Thissio and from there on to Monastiraki. On the way you will come across many outdoor cafeterias that you can stop to rest your tired feet or take in a well-merited meal. In fact Athens is such a walkable city that its popular areas such as Plaka, Monastiraki and Thissio, where souvenir and antique shops abound, are all within walking distance of Acropolis.
*The Temple of Olympian Zeus is also known as the Olympeion or Stiles Olympiou Dios. This monumental temple was constructed in honour of Zeus, the "Father of Gods and men". It used to have 104 columns but is now reduced to 16 - of which 15 are still standing and one remains fallen on the ground.

Syntagma (Constitution) Square

This place got its notoriety from the fact that all demonstrations are held here (since the Greek Parliament is located here). An important one was held on 12 February, 2012 (and another on 15 July 2015) against the Greek government's enforced austerity drive. Yet within a few days after the fiery demonstrations, everything was back to normal with not a trace of any protesting voice in the square. In fact it is so busy and thronging with tourists and workers alike that you can never feel safer here than anywhere else.
The crowd crossing the road at Syntagma Square.
The crowd crossing the road at busy Syntagma Square.
The National Gardens is by the side of the Greek Parliament building in Syntagma Square
The National Gardens is by the side of the Greek Parliament building
Ermou Street, the pedestrian shopping street of Athens, starts from Syntagma Square
Ermou Street, the busy pedestrian shopping street in Athens.

The "pedestrians only" Ermou Street, which is the principal shopping street of Athens, is just outside one of the Syntagma metro exits, next to the 24-hour McDonalds. Far on the opposite side (for Syntagma or Constitution Square is as vast as the Concorde in Paris) is the Greek Parliament and beside it the entrance to the National Gardens. Syntagma is also the terminus of the tram that goes to Voula passing many other beaches on the way. If you happen to be there on a Sunday morning make it a point to witness the changing-of-guards ceremony with orchestra accompaniment at 11h00.

Omonia Square

Apart from the Syntagma and Monastiraki squares, the other square that is full of life is Omonia Square, near where the Hondos Center is located. Similar in style to the Galeries Lafayette of Paris or El Corte Ingles in Spain, the huge department store of 10 floors is also a popular place to go for lunch. From here you will be able to appreciate the Lycabettus Hill in the distance while eating. Take the lift up to RG (Roof Garden) on the 10th Floor. Although basically a self-service it has quite a number of typical Greek dishes.
Omonia is also the nearest metro station to the Central Market of Athens (look for the Athinas Street exit). Known locally as the Varvakeios Agora market you can eat typical Greek food from the many stalls here. If you are an archaeology buff you will want to visit the National Archaelogical Museum nearby.
Busy scene at one of the streets in Omonia Square
Busy scene at one of the streets in Omonia Square.
Different varieties of octopuses at the Central Market
Different varieties of octopuses at the Central Market.
Fish stall at Athens central market
Fish displayed to give the impression they are not quite dead yet!

Monastiraki Square

If you continue walking straight ahead along Athinas Street after your visit to the Central Market (that is, away from Omonia Square) you will find yourself at the very animated Monastiraki Square, which is just outside the metro of the same name.
Monastiraki Square is just at the exit of the Monastiraki metro station.
Monastiraki Square is just at the exit of the metro station carrying the same name.
The Athens flea market at a less crowded moment
The Athens flea market at a less crowded moment
Queuing up for the
Queuing up for the "souvlaki" (pita sandwich) in Monastiraki Square

This is where the Athens Sunday flea market begins (another part is at the adjoining Adrianou Street). It is also in the alleys around Monastiraki Square that the local populace as well as tourists go for their meals. At one corner of the square you will not miss the Tabepna Restaurant with a long string of tourists queuing up outside for its yummy souvlaki (also called gyros, a pita sandwich), served with tomatoes, French fries and onions for just two euros. Since there is hardly a Greek who doesn't eat this famous souvlaki, you would do well not to leave Athens without tasting it. In fact the whole Monastiraki area, together with the bordering Plaka area, are always full of tourists as there are many souvenir shops as well as cafes and restaurants there. The fact that they're located close to the Acropolis makes them even more touristy. By the way don't try too hard to look for Plaka. You'll probably be in its territory without even realizing it as you wander around the Monastiraki area. For example, Adrianou street is in the Plaka area yet it is just next to the Monastiraki metro station.
More in Page 2
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