A glorious legacy of the 2004 Olympics, the Grand Promenade circling the Acropolis is a cross-section of Athenian history—marble temples, Byzantine churches, ancient theatres, and neoclassical museums—minus the ugly modern appendages.
Begin at (1) Acropolis Metro station (Makrigianni; www.ametro.gr), whose platforms are adorned with replicas of the Parthenon friezes.
Go north of the station and left onto Dionysiou Areopagitou. The futuristic glass and concrete behemoth on your left is the 5.4-square-mile (14,000-square-meter) (2) New Acropolis Museum (Dionysiou Areopagitou and Makrigianni Streets), due to open in late 2008.
Opposite, on the southern slopes of the Acropolis, is the (3) Theater of Dionysus (entrance from Dionysiou Areopagitou), where drama was born in 543 B.C., and the plays of Sophocles, Aristophanes, and Euripides were first performed.
To admire the Roman (4) Herodes Atticus amphitheater (entrance from Dionysiou Areopagitou; www.greekfestival.gr) up close, you’ll have to catch a performance during the summer Athens Festival.
Instead of following the crowds snaking up to the Parthenon, cross the street and follow the marble walkway into (5) Filopappou and Hill of the Muses. Hidden among the pine trees is the (6) Pnyx (www.stoa.org/athens/sites/pnyx.html), the world’s first democratic assembly, where Pericles and Themistocles delivered their orations.
The summit of Filopappou affords extraordinary views of the Parthenon and Athenian skyline, stretching as far as the Saronic Sea. “Especially magical at night, when you can look across the twinkling lights in solitude.”—Angelos Frantzis, film director.
Wander back downhill to Apostolou Pavlou, where gangs of chain-smoking Greeks sip frappes in pricy pavement cafés, and old classics are screened under the stars in the summer at (7) Thission cinema (Apostolou Pavlou; tel. 30 210 34 20 864).
Around the bend is (8) Thission station, and across (9) Agion Asomaton Square is the (10) Benaki Museum of Islamic Art (Agion Asomaton 22; www.benaki.gr), a glossy storehouse of Middle Eastern treasures. The rooftop café has wonderful views and decent coffee.
Turn left into Melidoni, home to the (11) Center of Traditional Pottery (4-6 Melidoni; www.potterymuseum.gr). “There’s nothing fusty about the exhibits, which make imaginative use of modern technology—from videos to microscopes—to breathe life into old clay.”—Diana Farr Louis author, Athens and Beyond: 30 Day Trips and Weekends.
Melidoni backs onto Athens’ ancient cemetery, (12) Kerameikos (148 Ermou, Thission; odysseus.culture.gr), unearthed during road work in the 1860s. “Sculpted tombstones show moving private moments—a woman contemplating her jewelry box, a dog mourning its master. But it’s as much a celebration of life as death: there are toads and tortoises, many species of birds, and dozens of plant varieties.”—Diana Farr Louis.
The tranquility of pedestrian Ermou Street ends abruptly at traffic-choked Piraeus Street, where the ruby-red chimney of (13) Technopolis (100 Pireos Street; www.cityofathens.gr) beckons revelers to the bars and clubs of the Gazi district, named after this gasworks converted into an alternative arts center.
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