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When it comes to Greece, many people think of the majestic marble pillars and tumbling ruins of Athens, which is home to some of the best relics from the dawn of modern civilisation. More than just a centre of tourism, however, Athens has many hidden gems to offer when it comes to things to see, do and eat in this special city.
What to See
You can’t visit Athens without paying homage to the Acropolis, one of Greece’s most famous and best-loved monumental complexes. Following victory over the Persians in the 5th century BC, a group of exceptional architects and sculptors built some of the most notable monuments. It is well worth the climb through the olive groves to pass through the Propylaea gateway and marvel at the spectacular buildings.
Among other things, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion and the Parthenon can all be found here. They all look far more impressive in real life than they do on the endless photographs of Greece, so don’t be embarrassed to follow the crowds and make a day of it.
The Ancient Agora
Once the beating heart of public life, the Agora marketplace is an important archaeological site when it comes to understanding the origins of Western civilisation. In ancient times, it would have been alive with the bustle of merchants and artisans selling their wares to those who congregated to take part in all aspects of public life that were conducted there.
From political struggles and judicial decisions to arguments on philosophy, the Agora was an important place for all the inhabitants of Athens to play their role as citizen. The ruins of the ancient marketplace seem quiet in comparison to their vibrant history, but they are a must visit for anyone interested in how ancient Greece has shaped the modern world.
The View from Mount Lycabettus
If you want to enjoy the very best view of Athens in the whole city, then it’s time to put on your walking boots. Venture up Mount Lycabettus at twilight to look out over the magical panoramic view of Athens twinkling below, just as the sun sets. Perched on the top of this beautiful mountain, just opposite the viewing platform, you’ll find the tiny white chapel of St George.
If you venture up in daylight, there is also a superb café that commands a majestic view of the city below. For those who aren’t up to the climb, there is also a tiny funicular train which can transport you most of the way to the top.
What to Do
Make Like a Local with Alternative Athens
Athens is much more than just its ancient heritage, and for those who want to discover the real beating heart of the city beneath the tourist veneer, Alternative Athens is the perfect guide. Walking tours of the city let you discover areas that are loved by the locals but less often seen by tourists, including amazing street art tours! They also offer other great experiences, such as sharing a meal with Athenian locals, following mythological trails in the woods, and exploring famous ruins from a new perspective. It has received the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence year after year, and it isn’t hard to see why.
Take a Cooking Class at the Greek Gastronomy Museum
The brainchild of four young locals in their twenties and run entirely by volunteers, the Greek Gastronomy Museum is a celebration of all things edible in Greek history and culture. It gives you a taste (literally) of how Greek food is produced, cooked and eaten, with plenty of opportunities to learn and sample. Amongst the best features are the cookery classes offered by the museum, which teach you how to create between three and five authentic dishes, complete with all the secrets for success no local would ever tell you.
Escape to the National Gardens
Often overlooked by tourists and locals alike, the National Gardens are a beautiful, tranquil green space in the centre of Athens. It covers an enormous 38 acres, and features a duck pond, small zoo and botanical museum. During the spring and summer it’s a veritable paradise, the perfect place to relax while the kids explore and let off some steam. It also has a café, so you can enjoy some refreshment in the dappled sunlight when you’re done marvelling at the beautiful plants.
Where to eat
When it comes to seafood, nowhere compares to Lefteris Lazarou’s Michelin-starred restaurant. Foodies flock here to sample the amazing culinary creations, which showcase local fish caught fresh every day. Delights such as the grilled squid with black eyed beans and marjoram, which is delicately flavoured with cumin, and catch-of-the-day dishes served with a choice of mouth-watering accompaniments. Be sure to book early to avoid disappointment, you don’t cook the best seafood dishes in Athens without earning high demand.
Plaka is renowned for being a tourist centre, especially when it comes to food, but Psarras is the one place you’re likely to find plenty of locals dining under the stars. It has been creating authentic Greek dishes since the late 1800s, and many a celebrity has eaten homemade, local food in its mulberry-shaded courtyard. Highlights of the menu include the heavenly Psara’s Grouper, served in a beautiful wine sauce, and the variety of speciality lamb dishes. A visit here makes for a perfect end to a day in the Acropolis.
Black Duck Garden
Hidden behind the City of Athens Museum, this summer-only bistro is located in the leafy remnants of modern Athens’ first public garden. Relax among the greenery in this stylish oasis of calm, preferably with one of their delightful lunch offerings and a pot of traditional Greek coffee.
Whether you want a holiday with touristy big hitters, hidden gems, or a tantalising mixture of both, Athens really does have it all. What better way to enjoy it than as part of one of Cruise1st’s Mediterranean cruises? Browse the full range online or call our dedicated sales team on 1300 857 345.