The Eiffel Tower in Paris; Big Ben in London; the Colosseum in Rome; Red Square in Moscow; the Empire State Building in New York; the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco; the Taj Mahal in Agra; the Pyramids of Giza; Petra in Jordan—all rank as iconic, instantly-recognizable man-made landmarks from around the world. For my money, though, the most memorable landmark to be found anywhere is the Parthenon atop the Acropolis in Athens. The Parthenon is but a few decades shy of celebrating its two-thousand five-hundredth birthday.
Most people are reluctant to talk about their age after reaching a certain point in their lives. Not so the Parthenon, built, they say, to honor the goddess Athena, patroness of the city that bears her name. In fact, the Parthenon feels younger and more vibrant than it has in centuries thanks to an on-going restoration effort and a sparkling new museum opened in its honor in 2009. If you’ve never visited the Parthenon, or haven't done so since the museum’s opening, you might want to think about scheduling a trip to Greece. The rewards are great. Eletherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens (ATH) is a modern facility built to receive visitors to the 2000 Olympic Games. Major carriers such as Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, Qatar, Emirates, Delta, British Airways, Swiss Air, Air France, Alitalia and Singapore Airlines serve Athens, making getting there and back from anywhere in the world a relatively easy task. If your aim is to explore other parts of Greece using Athens as your base, Aegean Airlines serves the Greek Islands, all of the major cities in Greece and most of the major cities of Europe. Aegean ranks as my favorite regional airline anywhere in the world and is a member of Star Alliance.
A taxi ride from the airport to central Athens will cost you 35 euros or so, while a train ride will cost you 8 euros. Consider renting a vehicle, however, only if you’re daring and not averse to risk. For overseas visitors, navigating the streets of Athens by car is something akin to feeling your way through a labyrinth blindfolded. I consider myself an automotive veteran of the city’s streets, yet it recently took me close to an hour to find my way across two miles of central Athens to a hotel I had visited many times before. Rule of the Road #1 based on that experience: No street in Athens ever takes you where you think it will.
In short, driving in Athens is not for the faint of heart. Luckily, in-town cab fares are relatively inexpensive. A one-way ride to the Acropolis from most major hotels will run you 5 euros or less. Also consider using Athen’s extensive metro system, where an all-day pass can cost as little as 4 euros. If you’re headed to the Acropolis, the station is on Line 2. A Guided tour, see Vintage Tours, is another wonderful option. You can also check with your hotel concierge for his/her recommendation. If you’re staying at a 5-star hotel like the Intercontinental, King George or Grande Bretagne, you can choose from one or more tour lines calling at your hotel. The same holds true for 4-star hotels and for most 3-star hotels. Once you get down to the 2-star, 1-star or no-star level, your chances of catching a tour bus at your hotel diminish in direct proportion to your lodging’s star count. As for hotels, I’ve yet to settle on a favorite despite my many trips to Athens. My main recommendation is, try to find a hotel that sports a rooftop restaurant with a view of the Acropolis. The Parthenon awash in light at night is an unrivaled sight. On my most recent visit to Athens in January of this year, I had dinner one evening at the Olive Garden Mediterranean Cuisine Bar & Restaurant on the top floor of the Titania Hotel, a short walk from Omonia Square. The food and view convinced me I must dine there again. The Titania is a 4-star option worth considering.
France may be the epicenter of great food and wine, but the Greeks, too, know a thing or two about preparing memorable meals. Their vegetables, their olive oil, their olives, their honey, their fruit—as a rule all of their food products are splendid in quality and taste. Indeed, Greek tomatoes are the best I’ve ever tried. And you’ve never truly tasted a Greek salad until you’ve been served one in Greece. Seafood caught in the Aegean has a special flavor and richness. Some liken it to seafood taken from the Arabian Gulf and attribute its flavor to the similar extra saltiness of the waters. Spend an evening at a seafood restaurant in Athens and judge for yourself. As for its wines, Greece has much more to offer to the oenophiles amongst you than retsina or ouzo or tsipouro. Red or white, sweet or dry, their wines are worth serious investigation. If you’re anything like me, you suffer from recurrent, unfulfilled hankerings for shawarmas. Greek gyros are a close approximation. If you look hard enough, you can find purveyors of the real McCoy in Athens. Either way, Greek street food is one of my secret vices. Back to the Acropolis and Parthenon. So much has been written about their history, their beauty, their significance, their architecture, I won’t attempt to summarize any part of those here. You can glean far more that’s useful and well-informed from a visit to one of the websites listed below.
If you do make it to Athens, be sure to include a full day to explore the Parthenon and its environs, and to set aside a few hours of that day to visit the Acropolis Museum at the base of the summit. When it comes time to sate your hunger and slake your thirst, the Museum has a restaurant with a view, and there is a host of cafés within easy walking distance offering indoor and outdoor seating. Visit your one stop travel company, Vintage Travel, to book a trip to Greece. Vintage Travel gives discounts to Aramcons! For more information on Athens, the Acropolis, the Parthenon and Greece, visit: http://www.greece-athens.com http://www.visitgreece.gr/en/main_cities/athens http://www.thisisathens.org http://www.ancient.eu/parthenon/ http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/404 http://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/en http://venizelosairport.com/flights/arrivals-athens-airport