Greece: Athens: Strategies: Lay of the Land
Dionysiou Areopagitou, a pedestrian street at the southern edge of the Acropolis, is filled with neoclassical houses and cafes. Its recent pedestrian revamping has made it one of the best places to stroll. While there, also check out the New Acropolis Museum, with its entrance tucked into that street. With its glittering, open architecture made of stainless steel and glass, it is the largest modern building erected so close to the ancient Acropolis. From there, you’re in short walking distance to the Parthenon.
The Embassy District is home to elegant townhouses and modern office buildings, sprinkled with neoclassical mansions converted into urban chic boutiques. It’s a great place to turn late afternoon into evening (and possibly into night). It’s also a refreshing change of pace from the old-world feel of Athens’ robust ancient history. Hit the Benaki Museum after lunch, moving along Museum Mile, for contemporary exhibits, or view the country’s best collection of iconic Christian objects at the Byzantine and Christian Museum, housed in a gorgeous 19th century Florentine-style villa built for the Duchess of Placentia.
Then head uphill to Kolonaki, where high-end shopping meets great evening drinks amongst the city’s well-heeled professionals and stylish socialites. Shoe stores and private art galleries abound. It’s a vibrant glance into modern Athens. Lycabettus Mountain presides over Kolonaki—much of the area clings to its slopes—and is one of the best views of the city. Head up there for sunset, then descend through the upscale, tree-lined streets of residential Likavitos.
Psiri has seen one of the most dramatic makeovers of the city. Once desolate, it’s grown to be one of Athens’ hottest nightlife destinations. For those who don’t breathe without their Blackberry, it even has its own website with daily events and handy maps (www.psirri.gr). You might call Psiri’s unique cache “restoration chic”: converted neoclassical houses, still-derelict buildings, and warehouses-turned-nightclub line up like trendy candy on these narrow, popular streets. It’s a faster-paced alternative to Kolonaki if you want to stay out until the wee hours of the morning. Sample tapas-style mezedopoleia in a taverna with live music as a way to start your night.
Thissio is another restored neighborhood just northwest of the Acropolis and bordering the ancient agora. It’s one of Athens’ oldest neighborhoods, and, with the offerings of its bazaar, it’s a charming, sensory gateway to Athens’ distinct Middle Eastern influences.
If you venture out to Coastal Athens, you can catch a cool breeze and excellent food by an easy trip on the tram, bus or metro from downtown. The Glyfada neighborhood (with its own tram stop) is great for daytime strolling and shopping, and continues buzzing at night; its Leoforos Poseidonos Avenue brims with stores, cafes, restaurants, open-air clubs and an outdoor cinema. The beaches, though popular and sometimes fairly packed, are consistently clean and enjoyable.
At the southernmost tip of Athens, Cape Sounion is where you’ll find the ancient Temple of Poseidon. Look for Lord Byron’s name etched into the ruins and ask any Grecian how it got there—its authenticity is heavily disputed (many believe it was inscribed by the young Byron himself during his Grand Tour of Europe from 1810-11; naysayers call it common vandalism). But in the end, mythology is the in-between space where Greece’s great history lies. The ruins of Poseidon’s temple stand on the cliff where Aegeus, king of Athens, lept to his death—thus invoking the name of the Aegean Sea.