Syntagma is the heart of modern Athens, a business and bar district with Plateia Syntagmatos (Syntagma Sq) its historic meeting point, political centre and transport hub. Just a short walk away is Plaka, the heart of old Athens, virtually all that existed when the city was declared the new Greek nation's capital in 1834. With narrow streets winding by neoclassical mansions, Byzantine churches and tavernas straight out of movies, Plaka is ground zero for Athens tourism. But lifelong residents and a splash of graffiti keep its soul strong.
You don't need to plan to go to Syntagma – you'll naturally pass through this hub. If it's near the top of the hour, stop to see the changing of the guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The area can feel a bit bland on the main streets, but side streets reveal surprises, and the square itself is a treat in the evenings, when a cross-section of Athens gathers on the wide stairs, in front of the multicoloured fountain, even at the outdoor seats at McDonald's.
You'll also want to come to this area in the evening for a drink or a few. Some of the city's best bars are here, tucked away on pedestrian streets or down the end of shopping arcades. The scene naturally bleeds into Monastiraki to the west.
As for Plaka, it's naturally a draw, and it's easy to spend the better part of the day looping around its curving streets. There are few must-do sights – the National Historical Museum and the Jewish Museum call for the most time. Otherwise, there are just a lot of smaller quirkier things to discover – and this includes the centuries-old churches scattered all around. They don't have set opening hours (and there are many more than we list), so just pop in whenever you see one open. Likewise, if you see any interesting set of stairs, follow them – you might get lost, but that's part of the pleasure of this neighbourhood.
- Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Getting your prime Athens photo op during the hourly changing of the guard, when the traditionally clad soldiers go through an elaborate drill.
- Nightlife Bar-hopping from top-rated cocktail spots like Clumsies, chic wine haunts and cool hideaways in quiet business arcades.
- Small museums Digging deep at niche exhibits such as Athens' Jewish Museum, the city's oldest house, a WWII prison and others.
- Souvenirs Shopping for the perfect keepsake in Plaka, at cool design-centric shops such as Flâneur.
- Anafiotika Exploring this tiny corner of Plaka, where Greek island architecture creates a quiet spot below the Acropolis.
Take any chance you get to duck into the stoas (shopping arcades) that cut through large buildings around Syntagma. Away from the street, where rent is cheaper, you might find old-man ouzeries (places serving ouzo and snacks), single-purpose stores, a jewel-box cocktail bar, even an occasional pop-up DJ party. Stairs down to basement level are often fruitful too.