- Cityscape A classic Greek beauty
- City life Modern civilisation
Centre of the ancient world, Athens is every bit as glorious and atmospheric as you'd imagine.
The Acropolis and the Parthenon may dominate its skyline, but the Greek capital certainly doesn't live in the past. With one of the Med's coolest and most vibrant urban centres, Athens is far more than an island-getaway gateway, and offers buzzing bars and restaurants on the same streets where chiton-clad philosophers laid down the foundations of modern civilisation. With more tourist attractions than you can shake a history textbook at, and beaches but a short drive away, there’s no shortage of things to see or do; add to that blue skies, hot sun and, best of all, terrific shopping, and you've got all the ingredients you need for a perfect ancient-city break.
Do go/Don’t go
After the Olympics, Athens has become a year-round city-break destination, but travel from March to November if you want guaranteed sunshine.
Planes Athens International Airport, aka Eleftherios Venizelos (+30 210 353 0000), receives direct flights from all over the world and connecting flights to the islands, including Mykonos, Santorini and Kefalonia. From the UK, BA, Olympic Airways, Hellas Jet and easyJet fly in daily. Olympic also operates direct flights from New York and Toronto. A taxi into town takes from 40 minutes to an hour, costing up to €40; the airport metro departs every 30 minutes for Monastiraki station and costs about €8.
Boats Find ferry timetables at www.ferries.gr. Taking a car to Greece? There are ferries from Brindisi, Venice, Ancona and Bari in Italy to the busy port of Patras, then it’s a couple of hours drive to Athens. Otherwise, you can island-hop from Athens from the port of Piraeus, where you can take ferries to Santorini and Mykonos, amongst others. Book tickets well ahead for any public holidays, when Athenians flee the city for a fix of sea.
Trains If you love travelling by rail, it’s possible to follow the traditional Orient-Express route through the Balkan peninsula. Go to www.seat61.com for a detailed itinerary from London to Athens via Brussels, Cologne, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest. Athens’ excellent tram and Metro systems are inexpensive and will get you around (and beyond) the city with relative ease.
Automobiles Although more of Athens has become pedestrianized and public transport is much improved since the 2004 Olympics, traffic is still a problem; getting around in a rush hour that lasts most of the day can be incredibly time-consuming. However, if you do want to rent a car, Avis (www.avis.com) has desks at the airport and in the city.
- Taxis On busy roads, you might have trouble hailing a cab: pick one up at a rank, it's usually quicker. Or ask your hotel to book one in advance – this is usually the best option.