Greece is a firm favourite for an idyllic summer escape, yet its cultural capital, Athens, is often overlooked by sun seekers bound instead for the glistening sands of the Greek islands. The fabled cradle of western civilisation is, however, much more than a mere stopover en route to the sugar cube speckled villages of the Aegean. At once, this perpetually sun-kissed city is ancient and modern, relaxed yet full of life, extraordinarily diverse and home to friendly locals. Thanks to an Olympiad scale transformation prior to the 2004 games, the city has been stirred from Hypnos’ slumber, and reinvented itself in a big way.
Athens is a beguiling combination of the traditional and the contemporary. From Homer’s rosy fingered dawn, a day in the city can be spent dipping in and out of old and new. Visit the National Museum of Contemporary Art before enlisting the help of a guide to navigate the city’s hilly streets and unpick the mystery of the Parthenon. Tuck into a gyros under the shade of tumbling geraniums, dine al fresco on souvlaki in the historic neighbourhood of Plaka or sample a glass of Greek wine on Syntagma Square.
The intoxicating hotchpotch of street life is not just a treat for the taste buds. Authentic tavernas jostle for a spot alongside buzzing cafes whilst artisans haggle with one another amidst bustling markets. Dive off the main thoroughfare to discover one of city’s many independent galleries, an obvious nod to Athens’ thriving creative scene, and find a newly claimed stomping ground for budding artists. Meanwhile, marvel as classical civilisation is played out in every corner of the city, in its ancient landmarks, neighbourhoods and archaeological sites.
Athens with the kids in tow is a real delight. Let Ancient Greece come alive in a city which is literally bursting at the seams with history and culture. Re-enact the Trojan wars, relive the golden age of Pericles or delve into a Sophoclean tragedy on an educational excursion with a difference. It is also the perfect place for a romantic getaway to indulge in a spot of culture before marooning on the shores of a Greek island. Peeling back the layers of the Classical, Roman and Byzantine eras of Athens with the whole family or a loved one is a cultural delight, on the grandest scale.
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