The Greek capital is undergoing a radical period of urban renewal that did not stop with the 2004 Olympics. The magnificent Acropolis, crowned by the iconic Parthenon temple, rises above the city, watching the sprawling modern metropolis evolve. Athens is now a conspicuously wealthier, more sophisticated cosmopolitan city. The shift is evident in a gradual gentrification and the new art and leisure precincts around town, and in the lifestyles of the hedonistic, trend-conscious Athenians. Stylish new restaurants, shops and revamped hotels continue to open.
Perhaps the most significant change is in the historic centre, virtually unrecognisable since cars were banished, with most significant ancient sites linked in what has become Europe’s longest and arguably most stunning pedestrian promenade. This huge archaeological park has reconciled past and present, with the city’s cultural and social life once again taking place around the ancient monuments and surrounding neighbourhoods. Athens remains a city of contradictions, as frustrating as it is seductive. It is the oldest city in Europe, yet still in a state of transition. It’s one of Europe’s safest and liveliest cities – a heady mix of grunge and grace with an undeniable urban soul.
Most visitors will leave impressed with its vibrant street life and relaxed lifestyle, where people take time out for endless coffees and evening strolls, dine out until late and enjoy the city’s nightlife, long after the rest of Europe has gone to bed. Athenians are the first to debate and lament their city’s many shortcomings – but most wouldn’t live anywhere else.
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Best places to stay in Athens
Awe-inspiring ancient sites
Taken from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Experiences, may we present a bevy of BC (or thereabouts) beauties that have stood the test of time without losing any of their ability to drop your jaw.
Athens destination guides
Should you see or skip Europe's top icons?
Europe is filled with landmarks that need no introduction. Often they’re destination-makers in themselves. At other times, the hassle and cost and crowds leave you wondering if they justify their hype.
Hydra, Poros and Egina Day Cruise from Athens
Visit three gorgeous Greek Islands in one day on an island-hopping cruise from Athens! Visiting the Saronic Islands of Hydra, Poros and Egina, this independent sightseeing tour includes a delicious Greek lunch and hydrofoil boat transfers. Sightsee, shop, swim or join exciting excursions, like a trip to the Temple of Aphaia (own expense), on this must-do day trip from Athens.
Delphi Day Trip from Athens
Visit Delphi – one of the most important archeological sites in Greek history – on this full-day trip from Athens! Traveling with an expert guide, you’ll explore the UNESCO World Heritage-listed town, home to the Temple of Apollo, and stroll around Delphi Archeological Museum.
Food and travel: inseparable companions
In this extract from A Moveable Feast, Don George, editor of this new collection of food travel tales, reflects on the inseparable, wonderful relationship between food and travel. I had ventured way off the beaten track, into a weather-beaten fishing village on a foggy spit of land that slides into the Sea of Japan.