Athens… It’s the birthplace of democracy, western philosophy (think Socrates, Plato and Aristotle), and classical art and architecture. But is Athens worth visiting today?
Before we answer that, let’s stay in the past for a while, okay?
Athens ancient treasures: the Parthenon
Because nowhere is the glory that was Greece more profoundly felt than by climbing the rocky hill of the Acropolis.
Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, the Acropolis is home to perhaps Greece’s most famous temple, the Parthenon, dedicated to the goddess Athena.
Built between 447 and 438 B.C., with 65 magnificent soaring columns, the Parthenon is even more impressive in real life than in photos.
The city of Athens doesn’t live in the past though. Restoration of the Parthenon has been ongoing for years (ironically longer than it took to build).
Craftsmen have been painstakingly putting together new and old blocks of the columns so they stand tall, strong and proud again. Lighter colored stone is used for the new parts – you can easily see what is original and what has been rebuilt.
Funnily enough, the scaffolding and construction equipment doesn’t take away from the Parthenon’s monumental visual impact.
We visited the Acropolis recently at sunset while in Athens at the end of an Aegean cruise through the Greek islands. Perhaps it was the light dancing on the marble, or perhaps the fact that it wasn’t very crowded (it was raining off and on that day), but we were mesmerized.
Is Athens worth visiting? Modern delights
Designed by a Swiss architect, the huge new and very modern Acropolis Museum at the base of the Acropolis (completed in 2009) is also absolutely stunning.
The main floor is partially glass – you can see ongoing excavations of archaeological ruins underneath.
Hundreds upon hundreds of marble and stone busts and statues found on the Acropolis are showcased in the Acropolis Museum.
The beautiful Caryatids are the icing on the cake.
These original ladies used to adorn the Erechtheion, the sacred temple near the Parthenon that was built to house a wood statue of Athena. But they were recently moved to the museum and given a makeover (hey, if you were that old, you probably wouldn’t mind a facelift either). Reproductions of the Caryatids now stand in place of the originals on the Erechtheion.
Rooftop bars and luxury hotels
We were also taken with the historical Plaka neighborhood (which has been cleaned up and restored since Janice first visited Athens many years ago).
Attractive tavernas, cafes and rooftop bars are abuzz late into the night with Greeks and visitors alike chowing down on stuffed peppers and braised lamb and imbibing raki and Greek wine (getting better and on the rise).
And we loved our hotel, the luxurious King George (totally renovated in 2013) with its beautiful neoclassical façade. (It was included as the post-cruise hotel for us and other guests on our Voyages to Antiquity cruise.)
Sadly, we didn’t have time to visit the National Archaeological Museum (extensively refurbished in time for the 2004 Athens summer Olympics). It houses some 11,000 Greek treasures, including the stunning gold funeral mask of King Agamemnon of Mycenae from the 15th century B.C. (we saw the copy in Mycenae on our cruise).
So, is Athens worth visiting? Absolutely!
Athens is no longer just a jumping-off spot to visit the Greek islands. It’s a destination in itself. And one we want to revisit again soon…