In a city so packed to the rafters with historic sights, planning a trip to Athens can be overwhelming when it comes to knowing what to see and what to skip. There are several ancient sights well worth the effort (including the Acropolis of course), but a lot of the city's charm lies in cafe-hopping in the sunshine, or browsing the huge variety of goods for sale at the Bazaar. We've put together this Athens in pictures guide, a visual tour of the city to help you get your bearings and discover the best things to see.
The wide streets about Athens' historic Agora are lined with pavement cafes filled with locals drinking strong back coffee and conducting passionate debates on every topic under the sun. Pick and table and join the throng, then stroll the pedestrianised Apóstólo Pávlou that takes you past cafes to the edge of the Agora and the Acropolis. The view is particularly spectacular at sunset.
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Rain or shine, the Parthenon atop the rock of the Acropolis stands majestically above the city of Athens, master of all it surveys. It's undoubtedly one of the most iconic sites in the Western world, and the first time you see it you're sure to feel a little shiver of excitement.
Along with the Parthenon, the Acropolis site is also home to several other notable buildings including the Erechtheion, the temple of Athena Nike, and the Propylaia (gateways). It's easy to spend an entire day exploring the site - and bear in mind that there's little shade here and it can get very hot in summer, so set your alarm for an early start to get the best out of the site (it opens at 8am). Also be aware that various part of the buildings have been covered in scaffolding for the best part of 20 years as part of a major cleanup operation takes place.
In the shadow of the Acropolis, the winding streets of Pláka seem lost in a time warp, with hand-shaped walls, colourful shutters and tumbles of potted plants outside doorways. The area is largely pedestrianised and is lovely to walk around to just enjoy the feeling of the city around you, and also makes a welcome change from the concrete rectangles that characterise much of the rest of the city. We suggest strolling downhill along Odhós Kydhathinéon, from the Anglican and Russian churches at Odhós Filellínon to Hadrian's Street, Odhós Adhrianoú. There are plenty of shops, restaurants and cafes to fill your time along the way.
The area around Athinás and Eólou streets makes up Athens' Bazaar, where you can find almost anything for sale. The atmosphere will remind you of a North African souk, with different areas of the streets dedicated to different items – you'll find clothes along Eólou and Ayíou Márkou, tools at the south end end of Athinás, and food in the middle, around the Central Market. If you're looking for unique souvenirs to bring home, this is the place, and even if you're not in the market for shopping, the area makes a great people-watching spot.
OK, the Temple of Poseidon is not technically in Athens (you'll find it 70km away at Cape Soúnio), but if you're a history buff this site is well worth the detour. The 5th century temple, built in the time of Pericles, has been a landmark for sailors sailing between Piraeus and the Islands for centuries, and is still an atmospheric spot to visit. It captured the imagination in Britain in the early 19th century, when Lord Byron visited the temple in 1810, carved his name on a pillar (an activity that's strictly discourages these days) and immortalised the site in his poem Don Juan.
A trip to the National Archeological Museum is a must on any visit to Athens. Yes, you've seen Greek sculptures before, but the wealth of items of display here will please the most jaded traveller. Try to head here later in the day to avoid the tourist hordes. If you've only got time to zip around the highlights, make time for the gold Mask of Agamemnon, the Acropolis treasure trove of gold goblets and jewellery and the bronze Statue of Poseidon, dredged from the waters off Evvia in the 1920s.
On the southwest slope of the Acropolis, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus (built in the 2nd century AD) is one of the city's most atmospheric ruins, with tiered arches allowing glimpses of the city beyond. The audience seats were extensively restored in the 1950s, and the restoration was celebrated by inviting stars including Maria Callas and Frank Sinatra to perform at the venue. There's an ongoing programme of events at the amphitheatre from May to October – the ideal way to round off your trip to Athens.