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Athens

Athens is a city of neighborhoods all pretty much centered on the Acropolis and the Parthenon. Start at Syntagma Square, and from there, wander into its neighborhoods -- of particular interest to visitors are Plaka, Kolonaki, Athens Central and Varvakios.

Athens Central
parthenonThe center of Athens is not only host to the city's most ancient treasures but also very much a part of its contemporary life -- with locals thronging its shops and restaurants (the University of Athens is located here as well).

The Acropolis: At 2,400 years old, the Parthenon is the largest Doric temple ever completed in Greece, and the only one built completely (apart from its wooden roof) of Pentelic marble. Built to house the giant statue of Athena commissioned by Pericles, it also served as the treasury for the tribute money that had been moved from Delos. (Hint: Arrive here when it opens at 8 a.m., and you'll have it to yourself.) The Theatre of Dionysos is the second theater erected on the southeastern slope of the Acropolis -- the first was made of timber in the 6th century B.C. Reconstructed in stone and marble by Lycurgus between 342 and 326 B.C., the theater once seated 17,000. Of the original 64 tiers of seats, about 20 tiers still survive. The Roman Forum (Agora) was the happening place back in the day where one could hear Socrates expounding his philosophy or St. Paul converting the market goers to Christianity. And the Temple of Hephaestus, on the western edge of the Agora, dates from 449 B.C. and is the best-preserved Doric temple in Greece. To the northeast of the temple are the foundations of the Stoa of Zeus Eleutherios, one of the places where Socrates spoke to the masses.

Other key historic sites include the Agora Market, once the centerpiece of ancient Athens' city life; today it is a mix of ruins and museums. The National Archeological Museum is an Athens showplace, known for its premier collection of art from eras such as the Minoan, Cycladic and Mycenaean, among others.

Plaka
plaka athens The oldest part of Athens (save for the Acropolis!) is the Plaka, a neighborhood of many identities. Its winding, narrow streets are lined with houses and shops that date back to the 5th century B.C. Over the last 170 years, Athens has been forever changing. Currently, many buildings are in the process of refurbishment and are painted in colorful shades. Cafes and restaurants abound -- many are touristic tavernas, but are great stops for a quick refueling.

Kolonaki
The Byzantine and Christian Museum is in an 1848 Ilisia mansion that once belonged to the Duchess of Placentia. The collections show the course of Greek art from the 4th to the 19th century. One of the most important exhibits here is the sculptural group showing Orpheus from the 4th century.

The Benaki Museum is housed in founder Emmanuel Benaki's neo-Classical mansion. Its collections include icons, Greek costumes and a room from an 18th-century northern Greek house.

The Museum of Cycladic Art, located two blocks from the Byzantine Museum and the War Museum, is dedicated to the promotion and study of the ancient and pre-historic Greek art of the Cycladic Islands.

In ancient times, pine-covered slopes jam-packed with wolves surrounded Lykavetos. These days, there are no wolves, but it does offer the finest panoramic views in Athens including the surrounding mountains and the islands of Salamis and Aegina. You can walk the path to the summit from the top of Loukianou or take the funicular from the top of Ploutarhou. This is where you'll find the Chapel of Agios Giorgios -- at night, it takes on a fairy tale aura from the dramatic backlighting.

Varrakios
The neighborhood surrounding the Kotsa Plaza is a "locals" hangout -- it's also the sight of some ancient ruins, including coffins that were mistakenly dug up by developers who were then required to stop digging. (The coffins were just left there.) The plaza itself has lovely lush gardens.

Outside Athens
Head to Corinth, located 55 miles from Athens. Corinth was a significant gateway to the Peloponnese; there's a more modern city and an ancient city (the latter is the one to explore). Take note of the Corinth Canal -- some smaller cruise ships still transit through there. Other sites to see include the Archeological Museum, which features Corinthian artifacts, and the surviving structures of ancient Corinth, including the Temple of Apollo and the Roman Agora.

Sounion, about 45 miles from Athens, is home to the majestic (and classical) Temple of Poseidon, open daily from 10 a.m. until sunset.

Astir Beach, about 40 minutes from Athens, fronts the Aegean Sea on what is dubbed the "Aegean Riviera."
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