There’s a lot new about the ancient city of Athens.  The clean-up of the city prior to the 2004 Olympics has left a restored, tidier and altogether more pleasant destination for visitors.



By diverting traffic from the downtown area and connecting famous architectural landmarks and entertainment districts via a continuous 10-mile walkway, the city is now a delight to stroll around.

Awe-inspiring ancient monuments and ruins are never too far away, while the numerous cafés and tavernas offer a chance to take in the city’s atmosphere while enjoying the genuine hospitality of its people.

Most major and low-cost operators offer flights to the city, which welcomes arrivals at its new international airport, with easy access by metro into the centre of Athens.

Enjoyed as either a stopover on the way to one of the Greek islands or as a city break, Athens’ popularity is on the increase. Here are a few suggestions for those yet to visit.


Architecture

For clients interested in classical architecture, there’s no better city than Athens. Top of the list of sites is the  a raised plateau of land that dominates the centre of the city. Visitors can easily spend three hours up there, taking in the beauty of the structures and the sense of history they exude. The iconic Parthenon dominates the site, inspiring even more pictures than the panoramic views across the city.

Winding their way down the hill, visitors should spend some time by the beautifully preserved Theatre of Dionysus, where many of the Greek tragedies were performed. Another must-see is the Temple of Olympian Zeus – 15 gigantic Corinthian pillars that hint at the enormity of the original building.

And… action:a €12 multi-ticket gives access to all the major sites around Athens, including the ancient Agora: fascinating ruins, statues and temples at the heart of ancient Athens.

The main feature: it has to be the Parthenon. One of the most famous buildings in the world, it doesn’t disappoint and looks stunning when lit up at night.



Eating

Clients looking for good food and drink should head directly to the Plaka district, a historic quarter made up of narrow streets and small courtyards around the foothills of the Acropolis. Here, clients will find numerous cafés and restaurants, with tables spilling out onto the ancient pavements, open night and day. Typical dishes include Greek salad (feta cheese, tomatoes and onions), grilled seafood and moussaka (a layered dish of aubergine and minced meat). Olives, pitta, houmous and taramasalata are a delicious snack any time.

Suck it and see:visitors must try calamari (deep-fried squid) at least once. Fresh from the Aegean Sea, it will melt in the mouth with a splash of lemon juice and a glass of chilled white wine.

To dine for: for a cheap meal in vibrant surroundings, clients take a table at one of the crowded restaurants around Monastiraki Square as night falls. Visitors can sample some of the best kebabs they are ever likely to taste as they are serenaded by musicians who move among the diners.



Nightlife

There’s a huge range of bars and clubs in Athens, found mainly in the central districts of Plaka, Psiri and Thission. From traditional Greek music and one-man bands, to jazz quartets and trendy DJs, Athens comes alive at night. Most nightclubs don’t get going until after midnight, but to limber up, head for the Apostolou Pavlou, a wide, pedestrianised boulevard in the Thission district. Around 9pm, everyone seems to be out and about, walking, talking, listening to buskers and stopping for a coffee.

Can’t go wrong: again, the Plaka district is a great spot as night falls. Clients can find a small street café, order a bottle of wine and enjoy the temperate evening climate and the people watching.

Be seen at:  Heraklion in Thission is a particularly cool street packed with cafés, where the young and hip of Athens collect to pose, smoke and eye each other up.



Shopping

The Plaka district offers the widest range of shopping opportunities for clients. While the usual tourist tat of football shirts and faux ancient vases are in abundance, there are also some good leather stalls and carpet shops.

Visitors must also make time for the flea market behind Monastiraki Square. Sunday is the big market day, but most days the shops have their varied wares on show. You can buy almost anything here from old pictures and antiques, to furniture and second-hand parachutes.

Designer spree:Ermou Street, which runs off the main Syntagma Square, is the number one shopping street in Athens. Formerly a main traffic street that has now been pedestrianised, international stores such as Benetton and Zara sit beside local outlets.

Try also: the Athens Central Market on Evripidou Street off Monastiraki Square is a bombardment of the senses. The fish and meat stalls are fascinating and there’s a huge assortment of olives and fruit to keep clients going on their travels.



Arts and culture

A cultural hub, Athens welcomes a wide range of artists and performers each year and boasts a comprehensive programme of events.

Many end up performing at the magnificent Herods Atticus theatre built on the west side of the Acropolis. This restored ancient coliseum plays host to opera, classical, jazz and dance performances, especially during June and July when Athens holds its Hellenic festival.

The warm-up:close to the Acropolis, the Technopolis is one of the city’s leading cultural centres. Once a factory complex, the buildings are being converted and already house an art gallery, theatre and arts cinema.

The masterpiece:as if the architecture outdoors wasn’t enough, clients will be blown away by the treasures inside the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, widely regarded as one of the world’s finest.