It's no wonder that all roads lead to the fascinating and maddening metropolis of Athens. Lift your eyes 200 feet above the city to the Parthenon, its honey-color marble columns rising from a massive limestone base, and you behold architectural perfection that has not been surpassed in 2,500 years. But, today, this shrine of classical form dominates a 21st-century boomtown. To experience Athens—Athína in Greek—fully is to understand the essence of Greece: ancient monuments surviving in a sea of cement, startling beauty amid the squalor, tradition juxtaposed with modernity. Locals depend on humor and flexibility to deal with the chaos; you should do the same. The rewards are immense.
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Things You Can't Miss
The Acropolis Museum, opened in 2009, explains the Sacred Hill via exhibits and a 3-D film. “Family backpacks” hold games to entertain kids.
Syntagma Square is worth a visit. Watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown, where statuesque soldiers parade in traditional garb.
Treasures of ancient Greece fill the excellent National Archaeological Museum. See friezes, gold, bronze pieces. Go early or late to avoid crowds.
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Escape the bustle by exploring the hilly 19th-century Anafiotika neighborhood, where whitewashed houses with blue doors call out for camera time.
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For seafood, take the train to the port of Piraeus. Avoid touristy eateries by the water. Find a restaurant where locals are eating and grab a table.
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