Athens

Striking in its antiquity, Athens is, and forever will be, an enduring symbol of  Western culture, civilisation and diversity 

Athens, the place where it all began

The world owes much to Greece’s beautiful, ramshackle capital, which has been central to Western art, culture and philosophy longer than most other places have been a feature on the map.

Crowned by the Acropolis, whose stone monoliths are unfathomable in their history, Athens appears like a sprawling, living museum – a place where the defining moments in European history are there for all to see. From the Greeks to the Romans, the Turks to the Venetians, so many have left their mark on this great city, and we’re all the richer for it.

If you’re travelling to the Greek capital as part of an unforgettable Emerald Yacht Cruises itinerary through the western Mediterranean, join us as we celebrate the highlights of the city – from its must-see sights to its incredible cuisine.

Must-see Sights

As must-see sights go, Athens is the motherload. Acropolis, Agora, Hadrian’s Library – the list goes on and on. Here is but a handful of the incredible sights you can look forward to in the Greek capital.

Acropolis of Athens

athen acropolis
Where else to begin a sightseeing tour of Athens than the world-renowned Acropolis, one of the defining symbols of European antiquity. Built following Athens’ victory over the Persians in the 5th century BC, the monuments of the Acropolis were commissioned by Pericles, an ambitious Athenian statesman who sought to transform the city into a world centre of culture and the arts. In the decades that followed, Pericles’ vision came to light, with a group of artists and sculptors erecting a series of spectacular buildings, including the Parthenon, the Propylaea, the temple of Athena Nike, and the Erechtheion. Today, many structures remain within the Acropolis, including the iconic, unmissable Parthenon.

Ancient Agora

ancient agora
Located on the northwest slope of the Acropolis, Athens’ Agora is the site of the city’s ancient marketplace, a place devoted to commerce and trade since ancient times. Unlike other structures on Acropolis Hill, the Agora had a practical use, and it’s believed that aspects of Western democracy were partly developed on this unique heritage site. While some evidence of the site’s ancient marketplace remains, most visit the Agora to marvel at the Temple of Hephaestus, one of the best-preserved Greek temples from the Classical era. Also on the Agora site is the Stoa of Attalos, built during the Hellenistic period shortly before the emergence of the Roman Empire.

Plaka

Plaka
Situated in the shadow of the Acropolis, Plaka is an ancient neighbourhood of Athens which hosts some of the most charming architecture and cultural highlights in the city. Mostly pedestrianised, the district is a wonderful place to explore, with traditional tavernas, attractive stone buildings and narrow, cobbled streets giving you a sense of old-world Athens. Two streets, Kydathineon and Adrianou, form the main thoroughfares through Plaka, but there are limitless smaller byways to explore at your leisure. The area is famed for its cafes, tavernas, jewellery stores and markets, as well as the beautiful blossom trees which bear blooms through the spring and summer – lending this attractive neighbourhood an irresistible local charm.

Monastiraki Square

monastiraki square
With its blend of architecture, history and vibrant café culture, Monastiraki Square is, for many, the heart of modern Athens. From here, you can take in wonderful views of the Acropolis, while exploring heritage gems from other periods in Athens’ history, including the Byzantine Tzistarkis Mosque, the Monastery of Pantanassa, and the spectacular Roman-age ruins that make up the ancient Library of Hadrian. A whole day could easily be spent wandering Monastiraki Square and its surrounding thoroughfares, making it a wonderful starting point for your walking tour of Athens.

Cultural Highlights

The world’s cradle of culture, Athens offers much for the curious traveller to uncover. Here we shine a light on some of the city’s cultural mainstays.

Mount Lycabettus

mount lycabettus
Those seeking a spectacular vantage point for capturing the beauty of Athens would do well to summit Mount Lycabettus, a hill in the heart of Athens’ city centre. On foot, a hike to the top of this inner-city hill provides a beautiful escape from the hubbub of the city, with green spaces and wonderful views to admire along the way. Those put off by the climb can reach the top via the Lycabettus cable car, which promises an enthralling ride above the city streets. From the top, expect far-reaching views across Athens and its surroundings, lending you the perfect panorama from which to take in the Acropolis, Plaka and the city’s distant islands and coast.

Monastiraki Flea Market

Monastiraki Flea Market
Flea markets are commonplace throughout Athens, offering plenty of opportunities to pick up a unique souvenir to remember your visit to the Greek capital. One of the best-loved markets in the city takes place in Monastiraki, with a purpose-built section of the neighbourhood given over to this sprawling fare. Expect everything from art and antiques to local artisanal products and food, as you explore the labyrinth of aisles which make up this wonderful market. The market takes place on Sunday mornings, and there are plenty of nearby cafés and tavernas where you can break up the day with refreshments. A cultural must on your visit to Athens.v

Acropolis Museum

acropolis museum
While exploring the Acropolis itself reveals a swathe of fascinating history, visitors can go deeper and learn more about ancient Greek culture at the accompanying Acropolis Museum. Established in 1976, the museum was built to house and preserve precious artefacts once found within the temples and structures of the Acropolis, preventing further damage and decay. This modern museum wasn’t the first heritage centre to preserve relics from the Acropolis, with an older, much smaller museum standing since the 19th century. Today, the Acropolis Museum covers an area of 25,000 square metres, with a stunning collection of exhibits, beautifully curated and presented to offer an authentic glimpse into some of Europe’s most treasured antiquities.

Athenian Waterfront

Athenian Waterfront
While the ancient heritage and charming streets of Athens’ city centre provide days of cultural discovery and exploration, it’s well worth spending some time exploring its waterfront, too. Athens’ seafaring history predates most places on the planet, and looking out across the Saronic Gulf, it’s impossible not to imagine how the Athenian waterfront would have looked in ancient times. Today, Athens is home to Europe’s largest port, Piraeus, as well as a series of small, charming marinas, like Mikrolimano. This particular marina is revered for its seafood restaurants, so if you’re looking to sample fresh Greek seafood with views to die for, it’s well worth seeking out

A glimpse into Athens' past

Thousands of years of history are waiting to be discovered in Athens, and you’ll need more than a day to explore it all. To give you a head start, here we present an interactive guide to the history of Athens.

Local Gastronomy

From souvlaki to spanakopita, Athens is the ideal place to indulge in the very best of Greek cuisine – particularly lesser-known regional plates popular on the mainland. Here, we look at some of the city’s must-try dishes, with a focus on authentic street food.

Spanakapita

Spanakopita
Spanakopita is the Greek term for spinach pie, a beloved staple of the Greek mainland. Traditionally eaten at breakfast, the pie comprises of a filling of feta cheese, spinach, dill and parsley, lightly wrapped in crisp filo pastry. The buttery crunch of the filo, coupled with the satisfying savoury hit of the feta and spinach, make spanakopita a hearty and wholesome street eat, easily powering you through a morning of sightseeing.

Souvlaki

souvlaki
In Athens, there’s a saying: ‘souvlaki is the reason McDonald’s didn’t take off here’. Take one bite of this classic Athenian comfort food, and you’ll agree with the sentiment. Souvlaki is a form of Greek kebab, with a filling of grilled pork, tzatziki, cucumber, tomatoes, black olives and French fries, all wrapped up in a soft, warmed pita bread. You’ll see souvlaki stalls on virtually every street corner in the Greek capital, and there’s no finer handheld lunch as you continue your exploration of the city.viii

Loukoumades

Loukoumades
Loukoumades, or Greek doughnuts, have been enjoyed in Athens for centuries, and they’re still as enduringly popular as ever. Made fresh to order, these small balls of sweetened dough are drizzled with traditional Greek honey, or else filled with a sweet custard filling. We’d recommend visiting one of the more traditional loukoumades vendors, like Krinos Loukoumades, for an authentic taste, but any of the city’s Greek doughnut stores will be worth the wait.viii

 

Inspired to visit Athens and dive head-first into the heritage and culture of this vibrant city? Take a look at our collection of luxury ocean cruises in the western Mediterranean, and look forward to exploring Greece’s beautiful, fascinating capital. For more information or to book, visit the homepage or call us on 0808 296 4765.