It's no wonder that all roads lead to the fascinating and maddening metropolis of Athens. Lift your eyes 200 feet above the city to the Parthenon, its honey-color marble columns rising from a massive limestone base, and you behold architectural perfection that has not been surpassed in 2,500 years. But, today, this shrine of classical form dominates a 21st-century boomtown. To experience Athens—Athína in Greek—fully is to understand the essence of Greece: ancient monuments surviving in a sea of cement, startling beauty amid the squalor, tradition juxtaposed with modernity. Locals depend on humor and flexibility to deal with the chaos; you should do the same. The rewards are immense.
Reasons to Go
The Acropolis: An ancient beacon of bygone glory rising above Athens's smog, this iconic citadel represents everything the Athenians were and still aspire to be.
Evzones on Syntagma Square: Unmistakable in tasseled hats and pom-pom shoes, they act out a traditional changing of the guard that falls somewhere between discipline and comedy.
The Ancient Agora and Monastiraki: Socrates and Plato once discoursed—and scored excellent deals on figs—at the Agora, and today you can do the same at the nearby Monastiraki marketplace.
Opa!: Whether jamming to post-grunge in Gazi—Athens's Greenwich Village—or dirty dancing on the tables at live bouzouki clubs, the Athenians party like no one else.
Benaki Bounty: Housed in a neoclassic mansion, the Benaki Museum—Greece's oldest private collection—has everything from ancient sculpture to modern art.
When to Go
Athens often feels like a furnace in summer, due to the capital's lack of parks and millions of circulating cars. Mornings between 7 am and 9 am or evenings after 5 pm are often pleasant but temperatures can still hover in the 90s during heat waves. The capital is far more pleasant in spring and fall. The sunlight is bright but bearable, the air feels crisp and invigorating, and even the famously surly Athenians are friendlier. Winters are mild here, just as they are in all of Greece: it rains but rarely snows, so a light coat is all that is needed.
Next destination: Chianti, Siena, and Central Tuscany
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