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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