13 Favorite Athens Experiences

Yellow plate, Athens Michel Huctin
Athens may have the Parthenon, that most exquisite symbol of achievement, but this free, anarchic city is more than just a monumental collection of 5th-century-B.C. landmarks. Beside the ancient sites in the compact, historic center lie pedestrian walkways line with modern bars, cafes, and tavernas, where the food is piled high, the barrel wine flows freely, and the patrons are animated. Kicking dance clubs and luxurious post-Olympic hotels down scenic streets are only a short walk away. And then there's the shopping from the latest shoes to classical craftsmanship. What follows is a collection of some of the best of these diversions, both antique and contemporary.
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Acropolis at night, Athens Vergas/IML Image group
There is no comparison anywhere to the wonder that is the Acropolis. The Parthenon-topped apex has been Greece's pride and joy since antiquity -- and ancient Greeks were as distracted by its beauty as we are. Eyes are drawn to it, streets lead to it, and thankfully, given its location, it's not too hard to get a view of it. It's absolutely spectacular at night.
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Lounging in cafe atop Lycabettus Hill, Athens David Sanger/drr.net
Sitting here with friends or family at an outdoor cafe is relaxing, especially for parents. (Kids can play without fear of traffic.) This is where you get that million-dollar view of both the aforementioned Acropolis and Lycabettus Hill.
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Observatory on Pnyx Hill, Athens J D Dallet
On this "thank God" hill in the middle of town, you will see a lot of people from neighboring areas bringing their apartment-balcony-confined dogs here to, well, poop. but many others, like me, come up to see the celebrated Attic sky (Greece's light is known for its clarity), look out to sea, and watch the sunset from a natural setting.
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People dining in Psyri cafe at night, Athens Elisabeth Blanchet
Quality of life in Athens is directly related to the fact that you can go out on foot at any hour and not worry about personal safety. The Psyrri district is full of bars, clubs, and restaurants, and the atmosphere rightly feels like a carnival. This is life as it should be.
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Outside of the Numismatic Museum, Athens Anders Blomqvist/Lonely Planet Images
There are so many museums and galleries in Athens, top-notch or not, that you could see something new and interesting every Sunday afternoon. State museums are also free in winter -- a great public gesture. Finding one in a charming neighborhood followed by a coffee makes for a red-letter day.
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A full view of the Herodion Theater, Athens Patricia Fenn
You could visit a neighborhood Open-air cinema to see a first-run movie, complete with a glass of wine at intermission, in a breezy garden on a warm evening. For live action, head to the Athens Epidaurus Festival in summer for an ancient theater performance of Carmen, for example.
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Winding backstreet in Athens' Plaka area Maro Kouri/IML Image Group
The name is used only for ease of reference for tourists, but walking along this pedestrian walkway around the Acropolis, with its breathtaking view, and stopping at a cafe for a frappe, is still way up there, even for natives.
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A fish stand at central market, Athens Pixida/Alamy
Athens is hearteningly full of independent businesses, with many conveniently grouped by what they sell. Many of these shop-filled lanes lie off Athinas Street, a main artery, which leads to the Central Market and its meat, fish, veggies nuts and other food.
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A crowd on Ermou Street, Athens Bernard O'Kane
There are so many shoe stores on the pedestrian Ermou Street that finding the perfect pair of boots is practically a sport. Comparison window-shop for good-quality leather shoes at great prices before choosing.
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Blue ceramic cups at a street market in Athens PCL/Alamy
Some souvenirs on heavily touristed Adrianou Street in Plaka seem to get better each season, while others there remain tacky. (Apparently, the biggest sellers these days are fridge magnets.)
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Church on the water in Piraeus, Athens Elisabeth Blanchet
This neighboring city may be hectic and dirty, but its port, the busiest in Europe, is extremely practical, particularly since you can walk from the Athens Metro station, jump on a ferry at the last minute, and soon be on an island far from the bustle of the city. And I love watching the boats, especially as they dock.
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Cafe with plaid tables in Roman Agora, Athens Glowimages/www.agefotostock.com
There are two Adrianou Streets, and this one is great for sitting at an outdoor cafe in summer or winter (under heaters) and people-watching. A view of the Acropolis and Hephaisteion temple across the Metro line in the Ancient Agora doesn't hurt.
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A busy crowd on Pandrossou St, Athens Andrew Holt
Known as laiki, these markets set up once a week all over Athens -- each neighborhood on a different day. You can buy fresh fruits and veggies, fish, kitchenware, flowers -- my favorite, and often the only thing I buy -- and even carpets. My local, the Koukaki market, is on Fridays.
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