Athens' crown is the Acropolis, and its jewel is the Parthenon. This epic monument soars above the city, and on the hill's southern slopes, a fabulous modern museum holds its treasures. A pedestrian promenade links the two – it's a tourist throughway, but also a favourite spot for locals to enjoy a sundown stroll. And as soon as you turn off this strip, further south, the quiet neighbourhoods of Makrygianni and Koukaki deliver a slice of residential Athens life, with reliable hotels and low-key bars and restaurants.
There are two possible approaches to the Acropolis, depending on your interests. If you're deep into the classics – or just want to be sure you're not hiking around in the heat – plan to be at the gate at opening time. This gives you about 45 minutes before the tour groups arrive, and you can stay as long as you like.
The other strategy – call it Acropolis Lite – is to go 60 to 90 minutes before closing. At this time, all the big groups have departed, and the sun will be slanting low enough for good photos. Read up before you go, and don't dawdle; go straight to the Parthenon, which is the area the staff start clearing first, then work your way down the southern slopes.
In either case, reserve midday for the air-conditioned confines of the Acropolis Museum, where you can also grab lunch at the super-scenic and relaxing cafe. And allow a little time around sunset to join the volta (stroll) along the pedestrian avenue of Dionysiou Areopagitou and on into Thisio.
For dinner, you can stay close and have dinner with an Acropolis view, or stroll down into Makrygianni and Koukaki for more neighbourhoody options. Shoppers may want to come this way earlier in the day, so as not to miss the little strip of creative boutiques on Veïkou.
- Acropolis Walking up the western slope of the temple-city, via marble stairs and ramps, just as worshippers did some 2500 years ago.
- Parthenon Feeling like an ant, standing next to the columns of this iconic building that is now synonymous with Ancient Greece.
- Acropolis Museum Feeling like a giant, as you look at the frieze from the top of the Parthenon, now installed on the top floor here. Look out the window to remind yourself of the scale.
- Odeon of Herodes Atticus Taking in a concert in the balmy summer night at this classical theatre.
- National Museum of Contemporary Art Seeing how classical Greek heritage inspires today's artists.
You could skip all the sights in Athens and still feel you've gotten the city's pulse just by strolling along the pedestrian street of Dionysiou Areopagitou around sundown. Lights glow on the Acropolis above, and the road is filled with tourists, snack vendors, musicians and local couples out for an arm-in-arm promenade.