Breathtakingly well-endowed with cultural and historical attractions, Greece's capital is definitely worth a visit:
Athens is charming, challenging and captivating. Its store of Classical Greek remains are an eternal drawcard for history buffs. That said, foodies, fashionistas and party-animals will relish its array of restaurants, diverse shopping opportunities, and energetic nightlife.
With its hectic traffic and frenetic pace, a holiday in Athens may be too daunting for very young children, or travellers who don't fancy bustling crowds. But, anyone with a taste for classical history, colourful street markets, and tasty Greek specialities will revel in exploring this ancient city.
Best time to visit Athens
From travellers looking to avoid tourist crowds, winter is the best time to visit Athens. Hotels offer great deals, though the odd shower may intrude on day-to-day plans.
Most visitors come during summer, in July, August and September. The season is hot and muggy, making hotel air conditioning a must. Spring and autumn may be the best times to see Athens. The weather is still warm, but most tourists have gone.
Electrical current is 230 volts and 50Hz. A variety of plugs are in use, including the European-style two-pin and the round three-pin.
Greek is the national language, but English is widely spoken.
Travellers don't need to worry about specific health risks when visiting Greece. Most health problems come from too much sun and too much food or alcohol, though there's also the risk of encountering sea urchins, jellyfish and mosquitoes.
Medical facilities in major cities are excellent but some of the smaller islands are a long way from a decent hospital. Larger towns and resorts have English-speaking private doctors and the highly professional local pharmacies can usually deal with any minor complaint. Travellers should take along any necessary prescription medication.
Food and water are safe, but those visiting for short periods should consider sticking to bottled water. UK nationals are entitled to a refund on emergency hospital treatment under a reciprocal agreement between the UK and Greece, and a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) should be taken on holiday for this purpose.
A service charge is automatically added to most restaurant bills and an additional tip it not expected -- though always welcome. Rounding up the bill is sufficient for drinks at cafes; taxis, porters and cloakroom attendants will expect a tip.
Though Greece is a safe destination, peak tourist season usually sees a spike in petty theft cases, especially in crowded areas. Visitors should conceal valuables or store them in hotel safes and watch out for pickpockets. Violent crime is rare but there have been incidents on some islands; visitors travelling alone should not accept lifts from strangers.
Though more traditional than the British in some ways, most Greeks are friendly and welcoming enough to seem intrusive to reserved British tourists. Greeks are also the heaviest smokers in Europe and will often ignore the smoking ban in public places. Swimwear is expected on the beach but tourists should dress properly in bars and restaurants.
Athens is an ancient city in the truest sense, with a history stretching back into antiquity. Popular attractions such as the Acropolis, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Ancient Agora are among the city's dearest and most admired heirlooms.
Visitors can view Athens' history on 'museum mile' along Vassilissis Sofias Avenue, where most of the city's museums are clustered. These include the Benaki Museum, the Museum of Cycladic Art and the Byzantine Museum. The 'mile' starts from Syntagma Square, which is home to the Greek Parliament. Visitors should stick around for the daily changing of the guard.
For the best view of the city, visitors should climb Lycavittos Hill. It offers a spectacular view of the Parthenon, and what feels like the entire Athens. The tranquil National Gardens make a lovely daytime break from the urban rush. Also, urban beaches such as Agios Kosmas, Attica Vouliagmeni, and Varkiza are only a tram-ride away.
Though Athens is busy and occasionally overwhelming, it's exceedingly rewarding for sightseers.
Travelling taste buds love the exotic and varied nature of Greek cuisine.
A traditional meal typically comes with a selection of hors d'oeuvres, known as mezedes. These include melitzanosalata (mashed eggplant with oil, lemon and garlic), taramosalata (caviar spread), gavros marinatos (marinated anchovies), and saganaki (grilled or fried cheese). Also, while many tourists ask for famous 'Greek' dishes such as dolmades and baklava, restauranteurs are quick to explain that those foods are actually Turkish in origin.
Athens has four tiers of restaurants. In an estiatorio, travellers will get the familiar but more expensive restaurant experience. Tavernas are less formal, cheaper and generally offer traditional dishes. Psistaria are Greece's version of a steakhouse. They're often buffets with spit-fired meat on display. Lastly, psarotaverna specialise in seafood dishes.
Athens also has a culture of street vending. Koulouri (sesame seed bread ring), Galaktoboureko (custard-filled pastry dusted with icing sugar) and Tyropitta (cheese or spinach pies) are among the foods on offer are. Souvlaki is another popular Greek fast food. It consists of meat and vegetables grilled on a skewer, and is often served in a pita sandwich. Visitors will find many of these foods in the Syntagma district.
The strong, anise-flavoured liqueur, Ouzo, dominates the drinking scene. Ouzo originated in Greece and is traditionally served with the mezedes. Greece also has a very long history of wine production, though connoisseurs may be disappointed by the lack of subtlety.
Greece's islands have a global reputation for their vibrant summer nightlife. With everything from sex shows to traditional Greek dancing on offer, Athens is just as lively.
Most parties don't get going until well after dinner, which can be as late as 10pm during summer. The old Turkish quarter, known as the Plaka district, is a great place to start. Diners sip aperitifs on rooftop terraces overlooking the Acropolis, while violins, concertinas and bouzouki play traditional Greek music. Many tavernas host lively dancing. Later, visitors head to the city's music bars, clubs, as well as rock and jazz establishments.
One of the most breath-taking venues for live music is the theatre on Mount Lycavettos, which has hosted many world-famous artists. Visitors will find classical music programmes at the Megaron Mousikis Concert Hall, Olympia Theatre, and the Pallas Theatre. For traditional Greek theatre and dancing, visitors should try the Athens Centre or the Dora Stratou Folk Dance Theatre.
Athens is one of the sunniest cities in Europe, with a semi-arid climate and little rainfall.
Heat waves are common during summer, when the mercury can soar to over 104°F (40ºC). Winters are mild and sunny, though nights can be cold. The city experiences short, heavy showers.
The best time to visit is during the cooler weather of spring and early summer, between late April and early June. Autumn (September and October) can also be pleasant. That said, summer is still peak tourist season, and the period when beaches and attractions are most crowded.
Same-sex sexual relations are legal in Greece and civil unions between same-sex couples have been legal since 2015. The age of consent of 15 is the same as for partners of the opposite sex. Transgender people are able to change their legal gender. Anti-discrimination and hate speech laws apply to gender identity.
Public attitudes towards homosexuality vary throughout the country; public displays of affection by same-sex couples may be frowned upon, especially in rural areas.
Attitudes are generally much more welcoming in Athens and on many Greek islands, particularly on Lesvos, Mykonos and Skiathos, which are well known for their gay and lesbian scenes.
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