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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Athens, Greece

Photo: The Poseidon Temple

The Poseidon Temple—mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey—is a timeless attraction.
Photograph by Maro Kouri/IML Image Group/
Birthplace of drama, democracy, and philosophy, Athens today is synonymous with smog, cement, and aesthetic anarchy. But after a radical revamp for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, Athens is enjoying a renaissance. The clash between myth and modern-day grit is an Athenian trademark: marble busts adorn souvlaki joints, Byzantine churches nestle beside bouzouki clubs, the Parthenon reigns serene above a ragged expanse of apartment blocks. More than three million people are crammed into this loud, laid-back city. With 300 days of sunshine a year, a 75-mile (120-kilometer) coastline, and 3 a.m. traffic jams, irrepressible Athens is a muse for beach bums and barflies, as much as classical scholars and art lovers.
Photo: Concert at the Odeon
 Concert at the Odeon

Nuts-and-bolts information to plan your trip, plus a checklist of essentials to include when you pack and a list of links to local media


Entry Requirements: U.S. citizens need a valid passport to enter Greece, and can stay 90 days or less without a visa.
Security: Athens is one of the safest cities in Europe. But do take appropriate precautions to keep your personal belongings safe, as pickpockets are becoming more prevalent.
Time: Greece is seven hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time.
Money: The currency of Greece is the Euro. For current conversion rates go to OANDA Currency Converter.
Phone Calls: The country code for Greece is 30. Athens’ area code is 210.
When to Go: Winters in Greece are relatively mild, summers searingly hot. Avoid Athens in August, when many restaurants and attractions close, especially around the August 15 national holiday.
Getting There: Athens International Airport ( is served by most international carriers. Olympic Airlines and Aegean Airlines operate connecting flights to many islands.
Getting Around: Driving is on the right side of the road. Public transport is extremely cheap and the fastest way of getting around the traffic-clogged city. The spotless Athens Metro ( covers most landmarks, including the airport. Buy tickets at any station and validate before boarding. A convenient way to tour the sights is the OASA 400 ( sightseeing bus—you can hop on and off for 24 hours using the same ticket. (Departure from National Archaeological Museum every 30 minutes, 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m., June-September). The tram ( runs a slow service from central Athens to the seaside and along the coast from Faliron to Glyfada—useful for beach- and barhopping. Taxis are among the cheapest in Europe, but swindling tourists is regarded as fair game. Check that the meter is running, and if you take a taxi from the airport, confirm the price in advance. The Proastiakos or suburban railway ( provides speedy links to the airport and as far as Corinth.


Sightseeing Tips: Many museums and sights close at 3 p.m. in low season, so get an early start to avoid missing out. If you plan to visit several archaeological sites, buy a $17 multiple entry ticket valid for the Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Keramikos, Temple of Olympian Zeus, and Roman Agora.
Tourist Police: Available 24 hours, the multilingual tourist police (dial 171) will help with problems or emergencies.
Sunscreen: Bring a sun hat and always wear sunscreen if you’re visiting Athens in summer. The glare is especially bright at archaeological sights, where shade is usually scant.
Insect Repellent: Mosquitoes can be a problem. Greek cosmetics brand Propoline’s natural insect repellent is effective.
Greek Orthodox Etiquette: If you plan to visit churches or monasteries, dress appropriately. Women should wear knee-length skirts and avoid revealing tops. Men should wear pants, rather than shorts.

Web Links

The Athenian Constitution
Aristotle’s account of the origins of democracy.
Athens News Agency
Daily news headlines.
Athens Tourism & Economic Development Co.
Official website, includes useful transport and sightseeing information and maps.
Discovering Contemporary Architecture: Athens
Interactive maps of Athens’ best buildings and leading architects.
The Greeks
Virtual tour of the Acropolis, interactive timeline from 1400 B.C. to 337 B.C., created for a major PBS documentary on ancient Greece.
Go Culture
Comprehensive bilingual arts and entertainment listings updated daily, profiles and features related to local culture.
Guide to Greek wine and food, includes recipes from local chefs and reliable Athenian restaurant
Foundation of the Hellenic World
Comprehensive history of Athens and Greece from antiquity to modern times.
Ministry of Culture
Up-to-date listings and information on cultural events, archaeological sites, and museums in Athens and beyond.
Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens
“Grand Promenade” linking archaeological landmarks, includes heritage trails and ongoing developments.

Local Media

Athens Voice
Alternative free weekly newspaper that spawned several lesser copycats. Political commentary, interviews, lonely hearts, and entertainment listings; in Greek.
Athens News
English-language weekly newspaper covering Greek news, politics, business, arts, and sports, plus international news in brief.
Weekly listings bible; in Greek.
Kathimerini English Edition
Abridged English edition of Greek conservative daily Kathimerini. Distributed free with the International Herald Tribune.
Athens International Radio (104.4 FM)
Run by Athens Municipality for the capital’s foreign residents and visitors. Latest news, traffic, and weather, tips on where to go, music, and chat broadcast in 12 languages.

Dance, Theater, and Music

“Concerts, book launches, screenings, art performances, progressive music––the new alternative arts space in Athens.”—Fotis Georgeles, editor, Athens Voice. Vintage decor, eclectic events. Piraeus84; tel.             30 210 342 5335 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            30 210 342 5335      end_of_the_skype_highlighting      .
Known as skyladika, or doghouses, devotees flock to these temples of kitsch (many lining Piraeus Street and Iera Odos) to worship a modern pantheon of Greek pop stars. “A noisy but uniquely Greek experience. Go late for the headliner; choose the singer, not the venue—Vasilis Karras, Yiannis Ploutarhos, Natassa Theodoridou, and Katy Garby have staying power.”—Diane Shugart, author, Athens by Neighborhood.
Herodes Atticus Theater
“Sitting in this ancient, open-air theater under the Acropolis on a moonlit summer evening, watching modern dance or an opera, is one of life’s great experiences.”—Sofka Zinovieff, author, Eurydice Street: A Place in Athens. When Pausanias visited Athens, he described the ‘Herodion’ as “the finest building of its type.” Dionysiou Areopagitou; tel.             30 210 324 1807 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            30 210 324 1807      end_of_the_skype_highlighting      .
Open-Air Cinemas
“A highlight of summer evenings. Scented by jasmine, watched by neighbors on their balconies, attended by all ages who eat, drink, and smoke their way through the movie. You couldn’t be anywhere but Athens and wouldn’t want to be.”—Sofka Zinovieff. Venues all over town. Open May-Oct.
Stoa ton Athanaton
“Right in the central market, great for anyone who wants a rembetiko (Greek blues) experience, but is not a late owl.”—Diane Shugart. Created by disillusioned, dope-smoking refugees from Asia Minor. Sophokleous 19; tel.             30 210 321 4362 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            30 210 321 4362      end_of_the_skype_highlighting      .


“Relaxed local haunt, stylish but not contrived.”—Diane Shugart, author, Athens by Neighborhood. Delicious gravadlax and broccoli soup in case a quick drink turns into a long night. Platia Proskopon and Ptolemaion, Pangrati; tel.             30 210 724 1116 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            30 210 724 1116      end_of_the_skype_highlighting      .

Fabulous garden for downtown drinks on a summer night. “Like a private party in a grand old mansion. Great cocktails, glamorous older crowd.”—Theodora Mantzaris, design director, 2004 Athens Olympic Summer Games. Tsoha 27 and Vournazou, Ambelokipi; tel.             30 210 644 1215 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            30 210 644 1215      end_of_the_skype_highlighting      .

Bar Guru Bar
“Timeless and sexy. No door policy, yet always has right blend of people; groovy musical mix and match reflects this mix.”—Kimon Frangakis, editor, Status magazine. Tasty Thai food, occasional live jazz in top floor club. Platia Theatrou 10, Psiri; tel.             30 210 324 6530 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            30 210 324 6530      end_of_the_skype_highlighting      .
“An absolute classic, with original fittings intact since the early ’70s. Immaculate bartending. Try the Manhattan.”—Angelos Frantzis, film director. One for connoisseurs, hidden in an old-fashioned arcade near Syntagma Square. Stadiou 10, Syntagma; tel.             30 210 322 7733 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            30 210 322 7733      end_of_the_skype_highlighting      .

Predominantly gay bar with mean mojitos, overflowing tables on pedestrian street. “Always buzzing day or night. The narrow bar stretches the length of the block so you don’t miss a trick.”—Angelos Frantzis. Aiolou 33, Monastiraki; tel.             30 210 324 3740 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            30 210 324 3740      end_of_the_skype_highlighting      .

“Louche lair for architects and media types who sip martinis in red leather booths. Small, plush cinema with occasional screenings—great for watching football matches.”—Kimon Frangakis. Agisilaou 61B, Keramikos; tel.             30 210 346 2077 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            30 210 346 2077      end_of_the_skype_highlighting      .

Seven Jokers
Tiny, cozy, and crammed, especially after hours when free shots are downed and inhibitions abandoned. Voulis 7, Syntagma; tel.             30 210 321 9225 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            30 210 321 9225      end_of_the_skype_highlighting      .


February-March. Greek Orthodox Carnival, with roots in ancient worship of wine god Dionysus. Two weeks of late-night revelry, pranks, and meat eating, before the 40-day fast for Lent.
Athens Festival
June-September. Artistic Director since 2006, Yorgos Loukos has introduced lower ticket prices, new venues, and an adventurous lineup of international performers, including Peter Stein, Fiona Shaw, and Bob Wilson.
Athens Classic Marathon
Early November. Athletes retrace the 26-mile (42-kilometer) route run by a soldier in 490 B.C. to announce Athenians’ defeat of the Persians in the battle of Marathon. He died on the spot. Finish line at Panathenaic Stadium, venue of the first modern Olympics in 1896.
Babel Comics Festival
June. International and Greek comic artists (Philippe Druillet, Paolo Cossi) on display at Technopolis, former gasworks converted into an arts center.
Music Day
June 21-23. Free al fresco concerts all over town, from folk musicians to Greek pop bands to music from the city’s ethnic communities.

Greece Photos

Photo: Oia village, Santorini
Photo: Greek monastery on a rocky outcrop
Photo: Brightly painted houses on Santorini Island

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