Good Athens in need of

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As the birthplace of modern Western civilization, sprawling Athens has enough neoclassical buildings to keep you busy for a week. These are the top experiences in Athens. The greatest symbol of the glory of Ancient Greece, the Acropolis rises spectacularly in the center of Athens.

In the reign of Pericles, in the 5th century BC, the hilltop was deemed a religious sanctuary. Just as pilgrims of millennia past made their way to worship here, you can ascend the marble steps on the west side, to find yourself dwarfed by the towering columns of the magnificent Parthenon. Complete your experience by seeing a concert or play at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Natural light cascades through the spacious galleries of the modern Acropolis Museumilluminating the priceless treasures that have been removed from the hill and installed here for safekeeping.

The pinnacle of the museum is the top-floor glass atrium, where the m-long frieze from around the top of the Parthenon minus the portion still held in the British Museum is installed at eye level, so visitors can see all the details of this masterpiece in marble, and get a truer sense of its grand scale. Follow in the footsteps of Socrates and his various political and philosophical cohorts at the Agorathe heart of ancient Athens' civic life and the birthplace of democracy.

In the stately Stoa of Attalos an architectural paradigm for shopping arcades that you'll recognize across modern Athensthe Agora Museum displays unusual finds from ancient daily life.

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The Temple of Hephaistos is exquisite and very well preserved; see how many of the Labors of Hercules you can identify on the frieze. It's gratifying to stroll the galleries and realize just how many of the finely wrought sculptures look familiar, just because they're cornerstones of Western art history: the bronze figure of a bearded god, say, or the hammered gold death mask of maybe, maybe not Agamemnon. Among such icons are plenty of other surprises; don't miss the frescoes from Santorini upstairs.

Greece's largest temple was seven centuries in the making. Or rather, what used to be Greece's largest temple — today only a handful of its colossal columns remain, as the rest were picked apart and reused in other buildings. The temple was dedicated to Zeus, and, unofficially, to the Roman emperor Hadrian, who actually finished the construction job and erected a statue of himself.

While you're here, note Hadrian's Arch, congratulating him on his achievement.

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And explorers can seek out a sanctuary to Pan, on the far side of this site. This impeccable private collection shows the spectrum of Greece from ancient times right up through the midth century. It occupies a stunning neoclassical mansion, with fine art and mundane folk objects — both equally beautiful — displayed chronologically.

As a kind of counterpoint to the pure classicism celebrated elsewhere in the city's archaeological sites, the Benaki collection tells the story of how Greece has absorbed foreign influences and ideas to create its uniquely syncretic culture. If you have time for only one museum, make it this one. Many of the finest grave markers are replicas; the originals are on display at the absorbing small museum on-site. The area was also the ceremonial entrance into ancient Athens, and while the gates no longer stand and the arriving road is now a paved city street, it's still an interesting place to pause and imagine the activity that would've taken place at the gates here.

The mythical battleground of Theseus and the Amazons is a green park studded with small ruins connected by beautiful stone paths that are themselves a minor architectural marvel. Make time in your schedule to come here — and to the neighboring Hill of the Pnyx — around sundown one evening to watch the lights on the Acropolis switch on and glow gold against the blue sky.

More prosaically, this is also where a lot of Athenians walk their dogs, so you'll be out strolling with some great Greek pups. One of the great pleasures of the Athens summer is seeing a film in one of the city's many outdoor cinemas. Grab a beer at the concession stand, settle into a comfy lounge chair and enjoy the magic of the silver screen. At some of the best and oldest movie theatres, such as Cine Paris in Plaka, you may also enjoy a view of the Acropolis alongside the latest Hollywood blockbuster or black-and-white classic.

Screens start opening in May and usually run through September or October. : Best places to eat in Athens in Seeing a performance here will be a highlight of your trip, but there's plenty of free things to do and see as well, including meandering through the stunningly beautiful Stavros Niarchos Park. Deed to showcase Mediterranean flora, the gently sloping gardens are the perfect spot to relax and take in the views and cooling sea breezes. Athenians don't wait until the weekend to head out to catch up with friends, they spend their days under the shade of orange trees nursing coffees and conversations for hours.

By day, the leafy central neighborhoods of Pangrati and Exarhia are packed with locals spilling out from kafeneions Greek cafes and into the streets, philosophizing a favorite activity of any Greekplaying backgammon on marble table tops and sipping slowly on a cuppa.

On Saturdays, central Athens throngs with shoppers looking for a bargain at the huge Monastiraki Flea Marketwhich takes place between the Monastiraki and Thisseio neighborhoods. Here, traders open up their second-hand stores to flog a jumble of flea-market finds, vintage clothing and oddities ranging from vintage magazines punctuated with bold Greek lettering to mid-century furniture and strange bric-a-brac. Athens is getting increasingly well known for its art scene.

From not-for-profit galleries like CheapArtAthens to well-established commercial galleries like The Breeder and the newly-opened Goulandris Foundationthe city's creative side is thriving. Add to that a flurry of international artists who have moved to the city and set up spaces like Kypseli Print Studio — a print screening studio which hosts workshops for people of all abilities — and Haus Na creative hub for new installations and works by young Greek artists, and it's easy to see the landscape changing for the better.

Try and catch its ceremonious changing of the guard. Two guards are always in residence here, dressed in traditional evzones costume, a tasseled fez hat, thick kilt and stockinged legs with pom-pom shoes. In summer, the customary get-up gets so hot that these guards have to be dabbed at with tissues, as they are unable to move from their positions protecting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Escaping the heat of the city is easy in Athens: Just head to the beach.

In the sweltering summer months, take the A1 tram to the Palaio Faliro neighborhood for a palm tree-lined promenade and a soft, sandy beach. Further along the Apollo Coast are the more upmarket southern suburbs of Glyfada and Vouliagmeni, with no shortage of luxury beach clubs should you want a full day off from sightseeing.

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Out of season, Vouliagmeni has a burgeoning surf scene. At the foot of Filopappou Hill, this 16th-century church may not be the oldest in Athens, but it is certainly one of the loveliest, with a heavy timber roof, marble floors and the permanent scent of incense.

A great fresco of St Dimitrios, astride his horse in a pose copied from ancient images of Alexander the Great, adorns the interior. The churchyard, with its wooden gate and bells, conjures Japan — a touch by modernist architect Dimitris Pikionis. Pikionis also applied his precise style to the restoration of the back exterior wall, a delightful piece of stonework. Inthe church was the site of a reported miracle. The Turks, ensconced on the Acropolis, prepared to fire a cannon on worshippers gathered in the church, but the gunner was killed by lightning, saving the congregation.

Hence its name, Loumbardiaris 'of the cannon'. With its rows of white Pentelic marble seats built into a ravine next to Ardettos Hill, this ancient-turned-modern stadium is a draw both for lovers of classical architecture and sports fans who can imagine the roar of the crowds from millennia past. A ticket gets you an audio tour, admission to a tiny exhibit on the modern Olympics mainly eye-candy games posters and the opportunity to take your photo on a winners' pedestal.

The stadium — built in the 4th century BC and restored for the first modern Olympic games in — was first used as a venue for the Panathenaic athletic contests. It's said that at Hadrian's inauguration in ADa thousand wild animals were sacrificed in the arena. Later, the seats were rebuilt in marble by Herodes Atticus. : The best free things to do in Athens. You may also like: First time Greece: top 10 experiences The 10 best museums in Athens Seven great day trips from Athens. Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.

Anastasia Miari. Lonely Planet Editors. Introducing Greece. Share this story:. Places from this story Athens Greece City. Greek Islands Greece Region. View more. Related content.

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