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athens acropolis at night

The 2004 Summer Olympics sparked the transformation of central Athens, making it a more welcoming place for locals and visitors alike. Buildings that were once dingy dirty gray were painted in cheerful shades of yellow, green and orange. Public squares were pedestrianized, including the lovely Syntagma Square.

The Metro underground system was overhauled too, now providing a safe and efficient way to get around. Cafes are flourishing throughout the city, as is the arts and crafts scene, which offers a number of fabulous (and largely Greek-owned) boutiques and galleries.

Photos: 10 Best Greece Experiences

And yet the city has retained the soul of its ancient heritage, with spectacular classical sites such as the Parthenon, Acropolis and Temple of Athena. The Grecian capital city has long been known for its role in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. as the seat of the world's art, culture and history, and so much of it is here, on display. This idyllic time period didn't last forever -- the Roman Empire gobbled the city up in 146 B.C. -- but no matter, now. The city offers a marvelous opportunity to walk in the footsteps of ancient Grecian legends, while at the same time celebrating what, despite normal urban stresses, reflects a modern city with a sense of soul.

--written by Carolyn Spencer Brown and Maria Harding


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