Although Athens covers a huge area, the major landmarks of the ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine periods are close to the modern city center. You can easily walk from the Acropolis to many other key sites, taking time to browse in shops and relax in cafés and tavernas along the way. From many quarters of the city you can glimpse "the glory that was Greece" in the form of the Acropolis looming above the horizon, but only by actually climbing that rocky precipice can you feel the impact of the ancient settlement. The Acropolis and Filopappou, two craggy hills sitting side by side; the ancient Agora (marketplace); and Kerameikos, the first cemetery, form the core of ancient and Roman Athens. Along the Unification of Archaeological Sites promenade, you can follow stone-paved, tree-lined walkways from site to site, undisturbed by traffic. Cars have also been banned or reduced in other streets in the historical center. In the National Archaeological Museum, vast numbers of artifacts illustrate the many millennia of Greek civilization; smaller museums such as the Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art Museum and the Byzantine and Christian Museum illuminate the history of particular regions or periods.
Athens may seem like one huge city, but it is really a conglomeration of neighborhoods with distinctive characters. The Eastern influences that prevailed during the 400-year rule of the Ottoman Empire are still evident in Monastiraki, the bazaar area near the foot of the Acropolis. On the northern slope of the Acropolis, stroll through Plaka (if possible by moonlight), an area of tranquil streets lined with renovated mansions, to get the flavor of the 19th century's gracious lifestyle. The narrow lanes of Anafiotika, a section of Plaka, thread past tiny churches and small, color-washed houses with wooden upper stories, recalling a Cycladic island village. In this maze of winding streets, vestiges of the older city are everywhere: crumbling stairways lined with festive tavernas; dank cellars filled with wine vats; occasionally a court or diminutive garden, enclosed within high walls and filled with magnolia trees and the flaming trumpet-shaped flowers of hibiscus bushes.
Makriyianni and Koukaki are prime real estate land. Formerly run-down old quarters, such as Kerameikos, Gazi-Kerameikos, and Psirri, popular nightlife areas filled with bars and mezedopoleio (similar to tapas bars), are now in the process of gentrification, although they still retain much of their original charm. The area around Syntagma Square, including the café scene at Ayias Irinis Square, and Omonia Square, form the commercial heart of the city. Athens is distinctly European, having been designed by the court architects of King Otto, a Bavarian, in the 19th century. The chic shops and bistros of ritzy Kolonaki nestle at the foot of Mt. Lycabettus, Athens's highest hill (909 feet). Each of the city's outlying suburbs has a distinctive character: Pangrati, Ambelokipi, and Ilisia are more residential in nature, densely populated, with some lively nightlife spots and star attractions like the Panathenaic Stadium and the Athens Concert Hall (Megaron Mousikis).
In Kaisariani and Neos Kosmos, you can still see some old refugee apartment blocks next to gleaming modernist buildings like the Onassis Culture Centre.
Farther out, in the north, is wealthy, tree-lined Kifissia, once a summer resort for aristocratic Athenians. Just beyond the southern edge of the city is Piraeus, a bustling port city of waterside fish tavernas and Saronic gulf views that is still connected to Central Athens by metro. And beyond Athens proper, in Attica to the south and southeast, lie Glyfada, Voula, and Vouliagmeni, with their sandy beaches, seaside bars, and lively summer nightlife.