What to see
The Philopappos Monument on Mouseion Hill is incredibly popular with tourists thanks to its outstanding panoramic views of Athens. The memorial was built as a tomb for Caius Iulius Antiochus Philopappos, a prince of the final independent ruler of the Kingdom of Commagene on the border of southern Turkey and Syria. In 72 AD the Roman Emperor Vespasian annexed the kingdom and exiled the royal family. As a result, Philopappos became a citizen of Athens. Given that he was also a Roman citizen, he was granted an important position by the Roman emperor Trajan – the Latin inscription on the tomb indicating this was written between 114 and 116 AD. With spectacular natural surroundings and views around the monument, the hill is regularly packed with tourists, and especially during Easter, Athenians come out in droves to fly their kites amidst the colors of nature.
Through the 1990s this was one of Athens’ more dangerous neighborhoods, best known for professions such as scrap dealing, portage and shoe-making. The district slowly started to become popular as antique dealers moved in. Psyri’s narrow streets, quiet squares and newly renovated buildings are all stunning, and its restaurants feature wonderful Mediterranean cuisine that you should be sure to treat yourself to. Make time for the Rebetiko music playing in local taverns, with songs, melodies and lyrics that form an important part of Greek culture. Among Psyri’s most famous residents was the Romantic poet Lord Byron, as well as Alexandros Papadiamantis, one of the most prominent figures in Greek literature. Lord Byron lived in this neighborhood and it is from here that he wrote his famous poem Maid of Athens.
Tzistarakis Mosque and Vasilis Kyriazopoulos Ceramic Collection
Known also as the “Mosque of the Lower Fountain” or “Mosque of the Lower Market” because of how close it is to the Agora, the mosque is in the center of Monastiraki Square. The name Tzistarakis Mosque comes from the Ottoman governor Mustapha Agha Tzistarakis. It’s believed that the governor may have used pillars from the Temple of Olympia Zeus as lime for the building. The governor didn’t have permission from the Sultan to do this, and as such, was punished and relieved of his duties. In fact, according to local legend, a plague descended upon local residents as punishment for the governor’s defacing of this ancient, sacred site. Monastiraki Square is one of the city’s busiest squares, and over the centuries the mosque has been used as a prison, barracks and a warehouse, though it now serves as museum. Today the Vasilis Kyriazopoulos Ceramic Collection is housed here as part of the Museum of Greek Folk Art.
Right along Athinas Street between Monastiraki and Omonoia Squares is the Varvakios Agora where locals come for all their daily needs. Meats, fish, spices, fruits, vegetables, second-hand items, books and clothing are all on sale here. The agora was built to replace sheds that formed the market in the ruins of Hadrian’s Library, and was designed between 1876 and 1886 by Greek architect Ioannic Koumelis. Between 1857 and 1956, the Varvakeion Lykeon School for Gifted Boys stood here, established by Psarianos Ioannis Varvakis and from which the modern agora takes its name. Varvakios Agora is a place for tourists to shop, experience daily life in the city and take some great photographs of their trip to Athens.
The Benaki Museum was founded and endowed in 1931 by Antonis Benakis, and has over 20,000 works dating from the prehistoric period up to the present day. The museum has two rooms furnished in the style of 18th-century Northern Greek homes with ancient Greek artifacts made from gold, silver and bronze. In this rich collection you’ll find ceramics from Çanakkale and Kütahya in Turkey, along with a wide variety of works of art ranging from weaved carpets to jewelry. Its other buildings exhibit Islamic art, history and photographs, and also house archives of Greek history. The museum is free of charge on Thursdays.
Athens War Museum
In 1964, to commemorate those who fought for the freedom of the country, the government established the War Museum. It was established by a team of scientists and was opened to the public in 1975. The museum has four floors of exhibition space, with artifacts and documents from Greece’s ancient history right up to the present day. The exhibits show the wars throughout the country’s history, with their causes and effects, and is a fantastic museum for anyone interested in military history.
Panepistimiou Street is today one of the axes of the city and is home to many important buildings. There are many hotels and shopping malls on the street, as well as important landmarks like the Bank of Greece, the University of Athens, the Academy of Athens, the National Library, and the Numismatic Museum. The Academy of Athens is one of the most beautiful buildings lining the street, and is in the Neoclassical style. The architecture of the National Library and University of Athens are also exceptional. This is a great street to go out for a stroll through the center of the city and discover what Athens is really all about.
The Acropolis and Acropolis Museum
Acropolis means “outermost” or “highest” city in Ancient Greek, and all ancient cities from the period had one, but because the Athens Acropolis is considered the most important of all of these, it is known as just “the Acropolis.” The Parthenon on the Acropolis is one of the symbols of the city and was commissioned in the 5th century BC by the famous Athenian commander Pericles. This glorious structure is the work of the architect Iktinos and dedicated to the city’s patron goddess Athena. During the Ottoman period, it was used as a mosque and then as an armory, until it was severely damaged in 1687 during the Venetian siege. Along with the Parthenon, the Acropolis is also home to the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the temple of Athena Nike. Located close to the Acropolis is the Acropolis Museum with many artifacts unearthed from the Acropolis. Be sure to make time to visit the Acropolis and the museum during your time in Athens – it’s not to be missed!
What to eat
Athens is famous for its incredible food, and without doubt, fish is among their specialties. Cooked to original Greek recipes, Athenian chefs don’t just know how to cook fish to perfection, they know how to present it beautifully too. You can be sure that the salads and other seafood served will be as fresh as the fish itself, with everything on the plates having been caught the same day. Along with sea bream, mullet, sea bass, sole and sardines, be sure to also try the other delicacies on offer like squid, cuttle fish, octopus, urchins and mussels.