Athens

Athens is over 3,400 years old, and is often called ‘the birthplace of democracy’, as well as being known worldwide as the cradle of contemporary Western civilisation. It’s also dramatic, graceful, stately and beautiful in it’s own right, and one of the truly great and historic centres of world culture and civilisation.

Athens today is more or less conjoined with its port, the adjacent city of Piraeus. Set against a magnificent, mountainous backdrop, it is a city of bustling avenues and broad, sunlit plazas, often framed and surrounded by reminders of it’s ancient Hellenic past.

You cannot miss the vast, classical bulk of the Acropolis .It is a long climb, up 124 steps, but it is well worth the effort.  Hewn out of limestone and shaded with pine and olive trees, it contains an astonishing cluster of no less than twenty magnificent structures, dating all the way back to the year 570 BC.

Most famous of these is the Parthenon, with its massive Doric columns and stunning portico. This one building looms over the whole city, and can be seen from most parts of it.

Also worth checking out here is the Temple of Athena Nike, and an amazing, semi circular auditorium called the Theatre of Dionysus. This massive, marble lined theatre once seated up to 17,000 people and, after a massive restoration, is set to reopen for live performances in 2015.

Perhaps take in the beating heart of the city at bustling Omonoia Square. This is the oldest square in Athens, and is thronged with many cafes, bars and restaurants. Near to the Acropolis, the famous Plaka is a buzzing tourist centre, full of neoclassical architecture and a slew of late night tavernas.

Ermou Street is a shoppers’ paradise, a  full kilometre long and a pedestrian only zone. It features all the big name designer shops that anyone could want. This street leads neatly into Syntagma Square, the largest in the city. This is also the site of the Greek Parliament, at one time the Royal Palace, and it remains a very busy tourist area to this day.

Out in Piraeus, the small, beautifully formed yacht harbour at Marina Zea enjoys a beautiful setting, with many waterfront eateries, ranging from the simple to the sophisticated.

Getting there: Most ships dock in Piraeus, some eight miles from Athens. A twenty minute walk from the terminal takes you to the metro. A day pass to use buses and metro to and from Athens is the best bet, and costs around four euros. Taking a taxi? Note that rates posted inside are per taxi total, not per person.

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