A walking tour of Athens
A full circuit of Dionysiou Areopagitou, the tree-lined pedestrian avenue looping around the foot of the Acropolis, is the ideal starting point to any Athens jaunt. Put your best foot forward and enjoy the wealth of charms that await you just off this time-honoured trail
Approximately 500 steps: Let’s start at the Akropoli metro station, where a mere handful of the 30,000 relics unearthed during the construction of the railway are on display. Pass the perennially busy restaurants that spill over the old tramlines of Makrigianni Street and turn left into the Acropolis Museum. Four spectacularly designed floors house artefacts found at the Acropolis site. Continue along Dionysiou Areopagitou and turn left on Kariatidon to uncover another treasure, the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum – a golden-hued Neoclassical mansion that showcases the glittering work of the eponymous Greek jeweller.
Coffee on cushions
Approximately 1,475 steps: Venture slightly uphill to rejoin Dionysiou Areopagitou. Double back on yourself, pass the statue of freedom fighter Ioannis Makrigiannis, and turn left into Athens’ oldest neighbourhood, Plaka. This street, Vyronos, is named after renowned Hellenophile Lord Byron, who helped fund the Greek bid for independence in 1821. Push past the souvenir shops and you’ll come across the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, a circular pedestal once used for displaying ancient festival prizes and the only one of its kind left. Bear left onto Tripodon, and left again to Lisiou, before taking a break at Yiasemi. This traditional kafeneio (coffeehouse) is Plaka personified: customers sit on cushions that trail up old steps, climbing plants cover the walls inside and out, and the coffee is earthy and always served with a syrupy glyko tou koutaliou (spoon sweet).
When in Athens...
Approximately 2,000 steps: Keep going, and the Roman Forum appears before you. Constructed in the 1st century BCE by Julius Caesar and Augustus, the standout feature is the octagonal Tower of the Winds, a kind of ancient Met Office with a sundial and water clock that also told the direction of the breeze. Follow its wrought-iron fence around to the right. The Islamic era of Athenian history jostles for your attention as you approach the chatter, footsteps and market cries of Monastiraki square, represented by the 1690 Ottoman (and very orange) Fethiye Mosque Museum. Turn on to Areos when you reach Hadrian’s Library, a reading room and lecture hall that once housed more than 17,000 documents.
Approximately 2,390 steps: When you arrive in the plateia (square), veer left at Monastiraki metro station and dive into Athens’ bustling flea market. Step into Zaharias Records to spin your favourite vintage LPs with a crowd of fellow music-lovers: play anything from acid jazz to the romantic sounds of classic bouzouki. Opposite is Katerina’s tavli shop, established in 1932, when traditional Greek backgammon was the only way to pass the time. Ask nicely, and the owner might give you a quick game. Stroll into Platia Avissinias, where the flea market proper begins: secondhand furniture is scattered across the square and, if you’re feeling brave, you can haggle for a bargain.
Approximately 5,525 steps: At the end of the alley, turn left at Agios Philippos, a modern house of worship containing ancient relics that's worth peeking into. A small mosaic on the exterior wall tantalisingly translates as ‘Come and see’. Turn around and you’ll land at the entrance to the Ancient Agora. The Acropolis was where classical Athenians worshipped the gods: the Agora was where they got down to business. The restored Stoa of Attalos — originally built between 159 and 138 BCE — dominates the scene. In its heyday, it was a veritable shopping centre, containing 42 stores. Other must-sees include the Temple of Hephaestus (opening image), which, although built at the same time as the Parthenon, owes its intact condition to 2,000 years of continuous use, and the slowpoke Greek tortoises who live in it.
Approximately 7,100 steps: Exit the Agora the way you came in, turn left, and continue until the labyrinthine streets of old Athens give way to Ermou, a 2004-built boulevard with plenty of space to stretch your legs. In a few hundred metres, you’ll pass by the ancient pottery district. It was here mighty general Pericles made a rousing speech to huddled Athenians as they were being besieged by Spartans during the 5th century BCE Peloponnesian War. Cross the Pireos highway to the striking former gasworks, Gazi, which houses the Technopolis: a thoroughly modern venue that hosts exhibitions, street food stands and festivals. Come December, the courtyards, warehouses, and even chimneys are transformed into beacons of glittering fairy lights when the Christmas Factory comes to town: think illuminated Ferris wheels, cheerful elves handing out candy canes and the pitter-patter of ice skates under the Athenian stars.
Food, films and Filopappou
Approximately 10,000 steps: Go back over the level crossing, continue along Persefonis for 150m, before turning right and returning to the old city via Irakleidon. Turn right again and head uphill when you reach the decorated trees of To Kousoulo, a popular mezedopoleio (small plates restaurant) frequented by Greek A-listers. Climb a few flights of steps to reach the silver-domed National Observatory at the top. You’re well-placed to explore Filopappou Hill, a jungle of ancient monuments — including a cave Socrates was allegedly imprisoned in for corrupting the minds of young Athenians. Follow the dusty path down onto Dionysiou Areopagitou, turn left, and catch a show and sunset at Cine Thisio, an old-fashioned outdoor cinema that screens a mix of classic Hollywood and arty Greek flicks. The perfect way to give those hard-working feet a rest.
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