Info About Athens - Best Luxury Hotels Worldwide

Info About Athens - Best Luxury Hotels Worldwide

Athens (Greek: Αθήνα, Athína) is the capital of Greece and one of the most famous cities in the world, named after goddess Athena. Modern Athens is a bustling cosmopolitan metropolis, home to some 3.2 million people. The Athens metropolitan area is currently growing both northwards and eastwards across Attica and it constitutes the dominant center of economic, financial, industrial, cultural and political life in Greece today. The city is also rapidly becoming a leading business centre in Europe. Athens is located at 38°00′N 23°43′E.

Ancient Athens was a powerful city-state and a renowned center of learning, home of Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum. It is considered to have been the cradle of Western civilisation, largely due to the immense impact of its cultural and political achievements during the 4th and 5th centuries BC on the rest of the then known European Continent. The heritage of the Athenian Enlightenment is still evident in the city, portrayed through a number of spectacular ancient monuments and artworks, the most famous of all being the Parthenon on the Acropolis ("high city"), nurtured by Ictinus, Callicrates and Phidias. The latter is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of Classical Greek architecture, still standing as an epic legacy to the West and indeed to the rest of the world. Many of these cultural landmarks were renovated ahead of the 2004 Olympic Games.


In ancient Greek, the name of Athens was Ἀθῆναι-Athenai, plural of Ἀθηνά-Athene, the Attic name of the Goddess Athena. The city's name may have been plural, like those of Thebai (Thebes) and Μυκῆναι-Mykenai (Mycenae), because it consisted of several parts. In the 19th century, this name was formally re-adopted as the city's name. Since the official abandonment of Katharevousa Greek in the 1970s, however, the popular form Athína has become the city's official name. See also a list of alternative names for Athens.


Athens was the leading city in Greece during the greatest period of Greek civilisation during the 1st millennium BC. During the "Golden Age" of Greece (roughly 500 BC to 323 BC) it was the world's leading cultural and intellectual centre, and indeed the phrase "Western civilization" has its origins in ancient Athens' ideas, achievements, and practices. In 431 B.C, Athens went to war with another city-state, Sparta. Due to its losses during a plague, Athens was defeated by Sparta, and its walls were pulled down (however remnants of the original walls of the era are still to be found today, especially in the coastline of Piraeus).

The schools of philosophy were closed in AD 529 by the Christian Byzantine Empire, which disapproved of the schools' pagan thinking. During the Byzantine era, Athens gradually lost a great deal of status and, by the time of the Crusades, it was already reduced to a provincial town. It faced a crushing blow between the 13th and 15th centuries, when the city was fought over by the Greek Byzantines and the 'French' and Italian Crusaders. In 1458 the city fell to the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Mehmet II the Conqueror. As the Emperor entered the city, he was greatly struck by the beauty of its ancient monuments and issued a firman (imperial decree) that Athens' ruins not be disturbed, on pain of death. The Parthenon was in fact converted into a mosque and therefore preserved.

Despite the Sultan's good intentions to preserve Athens as a model Ottoman provincial capital, the city's population went into decline and conditions worsened as the Ottoman Empire declined from the late 17th Century. As time went by, the Ottoman administration slackened its care for Athens' old buildings; the Parthenon (or Mosque) was used as a warehouse for ammunition during the Venetian siege of Athens in 1687, and consequently the temple was severely damaged when a Venetian shell targeted the site and set off several casks of gunpowder stored inside the Parthenon.

The Ottoman Empire relinquished control of Athens after the Greek War of Independence (1821–1831). The city was inhabited by just around 5,000 people at the time it was adopted as the capital of the newly established Kingdom of Greece on 18 September 1834. During the next few decades the city was rebuilt into a modern city adhering mainly to the Neoclassic style. In 1896 Athens became the first host city of the revived 1896 Summer Olympics.The next large expansion occurred in the 1920s when suburbs were created to house Greek refugees from Asia Minor. During World War II the city was occupied by Germany and fared badly in the war's later years.

Athens grew rapidly in the years following World War II until ca.1980 and suffered from overcrowding and traffic congestion. Greek entry into the EEC in 1981 brought massive, unprecedented investment into the city along with problems of increasingly worsening industrial congestion and air pollution. Throughout the 1990s the city's authorities undertook a series of decisive measures in order to combat the smog which used to form over the city, particularly during the hottest days of the year. Those measures proved to be successful and nowadays smog or nefos in Greek is much less of an issue for Athens, even when temperatures soar above 40 C. The traffic congestion has also significantly improved in recent years. Part of this improvement is attributed both to the transformation of the once highly problematic Kiffissos Avenue into a modern, 8 lane urban motorway that stretches for more than 11 km along the ancient Kifissos River, linking many of Athens' western suburbs, from Peristeri to the port of Piraeus and to the construction of the Attiki Odos motorway. Today Athens is a vibrant metropolis with a state-of-the art infrastructure, breathtaking ancient monuments and museums, a legendary nightlife featuring a vast spectrum of choices and world class shopping malls.

Settings and population

Athens sprawls across the central plain of Attica, which is bound by Mount Aegaleo in the west, Mount Parnitha in the north, Mount Penteli in the northeast, Mount Hymettus in the east, and the Saronic Gulf in the southwest. Athens has expanded to cover the entire plain making future growth difficult.

The geomorphology of the Athens frequently causes the so-called temperature inversion phenomenon, partly responsible for the air pollution problems the city recently faced. (Los Angeles, with similar geomorphology, has similar problems).

Along with its numerous suburbs, Athens has an official population of about 3.2 million, representing approximately one-third of the total population of Greece. The actual population, however, is believed to be quite higher, because during census (taking place once every 10 years) some Athenian residents travel back to their birthplaces and register as local citizens there. Also unaccounted for is an undefined number of unregistered immigrants originating mainly from Albania and Pakistan. Therefore it is estimated that the actual figure reaches the 3.7 million level.

The ancient site of the city is centered on the rocky hill of the Acropolis. In ancient times the port of Piraeus (modern name Pireas) was a separate city, but it has now been absorbed into greater Athens.The rapid expansion of the city initiated in the 50's and 60's continues today, especially towards the East and North East (a tendency that is greatly related to the new Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport and Attiki Odos, the freeway that cuts across Attica). By this process, Athens has engulfed many former suburbs and villages in Attica and continues to do so.

Climatic conditions

Athens enjoys a typical Mediterranean climate, with the greatest amounts of precipitation mainly occurring from mid-October to mid-April. The rest of the year remains largely rainless, making Athens one of the sunniest cities in the European continent. Sheltered by topographic barriers from the full force of the western, rain-bearing winds, Athens has a semi-arid climate and averages less than 500 mm of precipitation annually.

Winters are generally mild, with comfortable daytime temperatures and cool nights, though light frosts may occur on infrequent occasions (it has to be noted however, that Northern suburbs -that stand at a higher elevation- have a somewhat different microclimate, with cooler summers and colder winters with quite heavier average snowfall).

Winter rainfall tends to occur in the form of short and sometimes heavy showers. Snow is relatively rare, although the city has experienced its share of blizzard-like conditions. The most recent examples include the blizzard of January 2002 as well as that of February 2004, both dumping heavy amounts of snow and blanketing the entire metropolitan area for days.

Spring and autumn are considered ideal seasons for sightseeing and indeed for all kinds of outdoor activities. Summers can be particularly hot and at times prone to smog and pollution related conditions (admitedly, however, much less so compared to the past). The average summer daytime maximum temperature is 32 degrees Celsius (90°F). Heat waves are not uncommon during the months of July and/or August and during these events daytime temperatures can soar at or above 40 degrees Celsius (104°F) or they can even sometimes (though rarely) reach the 43°C to 44°C levels (109°F to 111.2°F).

Tourist attractions

Athens has been a popular tourist destination even since antiquity. Over the past decade, the infrastructure and social amenities of Athens have been radically following the city's successful bid to stage the 2004 Olympic Games. The Greek state, aided by the E.U., has poured money into major infrastructure projects such as the new, state-of-the-art "Eleftherios Venizelos" International Airport, the massive expansion of the Metro system, and the new Attiki Odos ring-road. Home to a vast number of 5 and 4 star hotels, the city is currently the 6th most visited capital in Europe.

Entire parts of the city centre have been redeveloped under a masterplan called "Unification of Archaeological Sites of Athens" [1]. Notably, the famous Dionysiou Aeropagitou street has been pedestrianised, forming a scenic route. The route starts from the Temple of Olympian Zeus at Vasilissis Olgas Avenue, continues under the southern slopes of the Acropolis near Plaka and finishes just outside the Temple of Hephaestus in Theseum. This route provides the visitors views of the Parthenon and the Agora (the meeting point of ancient Athenians), away from the busy city centre.

Syntagma Square (Constitution Square) is situated in central Athens and it is the site of the former Royal Palace, now the Greek Parliament and other 19th-century public buildings. Syntagma is the largest square of the city and it is also home to a number of luxurious hotels, including the historic Grande Bretagne, Athens' first hotel. Syntagma is essentially the tourist core of the city, being in the centre of an area where most of the famous ancient monuments are located, all within a radius of 2 km. Near Syntagma Square stands the Kallimarmaro Stadium, the place where the first modern Olympic Games took place in 1896. It is a replica of the ancient Athens Stadium. It is the only major stadium (60,000 spectators) made entirely of white marble from Penteli, the same as that used for the construction of the Parthenon.

Athens features a number of hills. Lykavittos is the tallest hill of the city proper that, according to an ancient legend, was actually a boulder thrown down from the sky by Goddess Athena. Located in the city centre, near Alexandras' and Vassilisis Sofia's Avenues, it offers views of sprawling Athens below. On top of it, stands the St. George's church. Philopappos Hill is yet another famous hill, located just to the southwest of Acropolis.

The city's classical museums include the National Archaeological Museum of Athens at Patission Street (which holds the world's greatest collection of Greek art), the Benaki Museum in Piraeus Street (including its new Islamic Art branch) [2], the Byzantine Museum and the Museum of Cycladic Art in the central Kolonaki district (recommended for its collection of elegant white metamodern figures, more than 3,000 years old) [3]. Most museums were renovated ahead of the 2004 Olympics. A new Acropolis Museum is being built [4] in the Makriyanni district according to a design by Swiss-french architect Bernard Tschumi. The Athens Planetarium [5], located in Sygrou Avenue, is considered to be among the world's best.

The old campus of the University of Athens, located in the middle section of Panepistimiou Avenue, is one of the finest buildings in the city. This combined with the adjacent National Library and the Athens Academy form the imposing "Athens Trilogy", built in the mid-19th century. However, most of the university's functions have been moved to a much larger, modern campus located in the eastern suburb of Zográfou. The second most significant academic institution of the city is the Athens Polytechnic School (Ethniko Metsovio Politechnio), located in Patission Street. More than 20 students were killed inside the School in November 17, 1973 during the Athens Polytechnic Uprising against the military junta that ruled the nation from April 21, 1967 until July 23, 1974.

Entertainment, nightlife and shopping

Central Athens

Athens is full of possibilities, catering for all tastes and cultures. Featuring a large number of multiplex as well as romantic, open air garden cinemas it is also home to more theatrical stages than any other European city (including the famous ancient Herodes Atticus Theatre, home to the Athens Festival taking place from May to October each year). Athens boasts a vast number of music venues including a state of the art music hall known as the "Megaron Moussikis" [6] that attracts world-famous artists all year round.

The central Psirri neighbourhood - aka Athens's "meat packing district"- has acquired many new mainstream bars, thus becoming a hotspot for many. It also features a number of live music restaurants called "rebetadika", after rebetiko, a unique kind of music that blossomed in Syros and Athens from the 1920's till the 1960's. Rebetiko is admired by many, therefore virtually every night rebetadika get crammed by people of all ages that will sing, dance and drink wine until dawn. Plaka remains the traditional top tourist destination, with many tavernas featuring traditional music, but the food, though exceptionally good, is often more expensive compared to other parts of the city. Plaka, lying just beneath the Acropolis, is famous for its numerous neoclassic buildings, making it one of the most scenic districts in central Athens. Monastiraki, on the other hand, is famous for its string of small tourist shops as well as its crowded flea market and the tavernas that specialise in souvlaki. Another district notably famous for its student-crammed, stylish cafés is Theseum, lying just west of Monastiraki. Theseum, or Thission is home to the remarkable ancient Temple of Hephaestus, standing on top of a small hill. The Gazi area, one of the latest in full redevelopment, is located around a historic gas factory in downtown Athens, that has been converted into the Technopolis (Athens's new cultural multiplex) for all the family and has a number of expensive small clubs, bars and restaurants as well as Athens's nascent "gay village". The relatively recent and rapid redevelopment of these areas has brought the -until then relatively forgoten- city center back into the limelight. This tendency is gradually spreading to adjacent areas.

The chic Kolonaki area, near Syntagma Square, is full of boutiques catering to well-heeled customers by day and bars and luxurious restaurants by night. Ermou Street, an approximately 1 km pedestrian road connecting Syntagma Square to Monastiraki, has traditionally been considered a consumer paradise for both the Athenians and foreign tourists. Full of fashion shops and shopping centres featuring most international brands, it has become one of the most expensive roads in Europe. Huge malls such as the "Attica" mall in Panepistimiou Avenue and "The Mall Athens" [7] located in the classy northern suburb of Maroussi also offer an enormous variety of international selections that can totally satisfy even the most demanding customer. Some central areas (mostly just south of Omonoia Square) are mainly peopled by immigrants and are therefore full of colourful ethnic restaurants and shops, especially Indian, Pakistani and Chinese.

The Suburbs

The Athens coastline, extending from the major commercial port of Piraeus to the southernmost suburb of Vouliagmeni for more than 25 km, is also connected to the city centre with a tram (which, although modern can be slow during rush hours) and it boasts a series of high class restaurants, cafes, exciting music venues and modern sports facilities. In addition, Athens is packed with trendy and fashionable bars and nightclubs that are literally crowded by the city's youth on a daily basis. Especially during the summer time, the southern elegant suburbs of Glyfada, Voula and Vouliagmeni become home to countless such meeting points, situated all along Poseidonos and Alkyonidon Avenues. The major waste management efforts undertaken in the last decade (especially the plant built on the small island of Psytalia) have made pollution of the Saronic Gulf a thing of the past and now the coastal waters of Athens are a haven for swimmers.

An entirely new attraction is the massively upgraded main Olympic Complex (known by its Greek acronym OAKA). The whole area has been redeveloped under designs by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava with steel arches, landscaped gardens, fountains, futuristic passages and a landmark new blue glass roof which was added to the main Stadium. A second olympic complex, next to the sea at the beach of Kallithea (Faliron), also boasts futuristic stadiums, shops and an elevated esplanade. Work is underway to transform the grounds of the old Athens Airport - named Hellinikon - in the southern suburbs into a massive landscaped park (considered to be the largest in Europe when ready).

Many of Athens's elegant southern suburbs (such as Alimos, Palaio Faliro, Elliniko, Voula, Vouliagmeni and Vari) host a number of beautiful, sandy beaches, most of which are operated by the Hellenic Tourism Organisation [8]. This means that one has to pay a fee in order to get in. None the less, this fee is not expensive in most cases and it includes a number of related, convenient services like parking facilities, coctail drinks and umbrellas. These beaches are extremely popular in the summer by both Athenians and foreign tourists.

The city is surrounded by four easily accessible mountains (Parnitha and Penteli to the north, Hemmettus to the southeast and Egaleo to the west). Mount Parnitha, in particular, is the tallest of all (1,453 m) and it has been declared a protected National Park. It has tens of well-marked paths, gorges, springs, torrents and caves and you may even meet deer or bears while exploring its dense forests. Hiking and mountain biking in all four mountains have been and still remain popular outdoor activities for many Athenians. Casinos operate on both Mount Parnitha, some 30 km from downtown Athens (accessible by car or cable car) and the nearby town of Loutraki (accessible by car via the Athens - Corinth National Highway or the suburban railway).

The nearby islands of Salamina, Aigina, Poros, Hydra and Spetses are also sites of spectacular natural beauty and historical architecture.

20th century architecture in Athens

• East terminal by Eero Saarinen, at former Hellenikon airport, 1960-63
• American embassy by Walter Gropius, at Vassilis Sophias Avenue, 1961
• Athens Olympic Sports Complex, by Santiago Calatrava (2001-2004) (sketches and models)
• National Bank at Aiolou Str./Sopholeous Str. by Mario Botta in 2002
• Bridge at Metro-station Katehaki by Santiago Calatrava (2004)
• New Acropolis Museum by Bernard Tschumi (2001-2006)

The transportation system

The Athens Mass Transit System is currently one of the most modern and efficient systems in Europe. It consists of a large bus fleet, a trolley fleet that mainly serves the downtown area, [9], the Athens Metro [10],a tram line connecting the southern suburbs to the city center[11] and the Athens Suburban Railway [12] services.

The Athens Metro is one of the most impressive systems in the world. It currently operates four lines, three of which are distinguished by the colours used in the relevant maps and signs (green, blue and red). The historic Green Line, which is the oldest and for the most part runs on the ground, connects the port of Piraeus to the northern suburb of Kifissia. The line is 25 km long and has 24 stations. The other two lines were constructed mainly during the 1990s and the first sections opened in January 2000. They run entirely underground. The Blue Line runs from the central Monastiraki district to Doukissis Plakentias avenue, in the eastern suburb of Halandri. The Blue Line then ascends on ground level and reaches Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport, using the Suburban Railway rails. The Red Line runs from Aghios Antonios to Aghios Dimitrios. Extensions to both lines are under construction, most notably westwards to Egaleo, southwards to the Old Hellinikon Airport East Terminal (future Metropolitan Park) and eastwards towards the easternmost suburb of Aghia Paraskevi. The fourth line is the Athens Suburban Railway (Proastiakós) which connects Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport to the city of Corinth, 80 km west of Athens, via the central Larissa Train Station. The metro network, Suburban Railway not included, has a current length of 91 km and it is expected to reach 124 km (72 stations) by the year 2009. It is managed by three different companies, namely ISAP [13], Attiko Metro (lines 2 & 3) and Proastiakós (line 4).

The bus service consists of a huge network of lines operated by normal buses, electric buses, and natural gas run buses (the largest fleet of natural gas run buses in Europe). There are plenty of bus lines serving the entire Athens Metropolitan Area.

The tram runs from Syntagma Square to the southwestern suburb of Palaio Faliro, where the line splits in two branches. The first branch runs all along the Athens coastline towards the southern suburb of Glyfada while the other one heads towards the Piraeus district of Neo Faliro. Both Syntagma - Palaio Faliro - Neo Faliro and the Syntagma - Glyfada lines opened on 19 July 2004. Further extensions are planned towards the major commercial port of Piraeus and the southernmost suburb of Vouliagmeni.

There are many taxis in Athens, which can be recognised by the yellow colour of the vehicles. They are quite cheap and during rush hours it is considered normal to hail a taxi even when another customer is already in (although, strictly speaking, this is forbidden); in that case, if the one halting it happens to go to the same direction as the customer and the customer does not mind (although this is never brought up or an issue), he is also allowed in, and each one pays normally as if they were the only customer.

Athens is served, since March 2001, by the ultra modern Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport located near the town of Spata, in the eastern Mesoghia Plain, some 35 km east of Athens. There is an Express Bus service connecting the airport to the metro system and 2 express bus services connecting the airport to Piraeus port and the city centre respectively. Athens is also the hub of the Greek National Railway System. Ferries departing from the port of Piraeus connect the city to the Greek islands of the Aegean Sea.

There are two main highways that travel both to the west, towards the city of Patra in Peloponessus (GR-8A, E94) and to the north, towards Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki (GR-1, E75). In 2001-2004 a ring road toll-expressway (Attiki Odos) was gradually completed, extending from the western industrial city of Elefsina all the way to the Athens International Airport, after encircling the city from the north. The Ymittos Ringroad is a separate section of Attiki Odos connecting the eastern suburb of Kaisariani to the northeastern town of Glyka Nera and this is where it meets the main part of the ringroad. The total length of Attiki Odos is now approximately 70 km.


The modern city of Athens consists of what was formerly a conglomeration of distinct towns and villages that gradually expanded and merged into a single large metropolis; most of this expansion occurred during the second half of the 20th century. The Greater Athens area is now divided into 54 municipalities, the largest of which being the Municipality of Athens or Dimos Athinaion, with a population of approximately 750,000 people. The next largest municipalities are the Municipality of Piraeus, the Municipality of Peristeri and the Municipality of Kallithea. Athens can therefore refer either to the entire metropolitan area or to the Municipality of Athens. Each of these municipalities has an elected district council and a directly elected mayor. Mrs. Dora Bakoyanni of the conservative New Democracy party was the Mayor of Athens from 1 January 2003 until 15 February 2006, when she joined the Greek Cabinet as the Minister of Foreign affairs. She was the 76th Mayor of Athens and the first female ever to hold the post in the history of the city. She was replaced by Theodoros Behrakis. The next municipal elections are scheduled for October 2006.

The Municipality of Athens is divided into 7 municipal districts or demotika diamerismata. The 7-district division, however, is mainly used for administrative purposes. For Athenians the most popular way of dividing the city proper is through its neighbourhoods (usually referred to as areas in English), each with its own distinct history and characteristics. Those include Pagrati, Ambelokipi, Exarhia, Ano and Kato (Upper and Lower) Patissia, Ilissia, Ano and Kato Petralona, Mets, Koukaki as well as Kypseli, world's second most densely populated urban area.

For someone unfamiliar with Athens, getting to know these neighbourhoods can often come particularly handy in both exploring and understanding the city.

The 2004 Olympic Games

Athens was awarded the 2004 Summer Olympics on September 5, 1997 in Lausanne, Switzerland, after having lost a previous bid to host the 1996 Summer Olympics, that would have marked the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympic Games, to Atlanta, USA. It would be the second time Athens would have the honour of hosting the Olympic Games, the first one being in 1896.

After the unsuccessful bid of 1990, the 1997 bid was radically improved, also based on an appeal to Olympic history. In the last round of voting, Athens defeated Rome with 66 votes to 41. Prior to this round, the cities of Buenos Aires, Stockholm and Cape Town had already been eliminated from competition after having received fewer votes.

During the first three years of preparations, the International Olympic Committee had repeatedly expressed some concerns over the status of progress in construction work of some of the new Olympic venues. In the year 2000 the Organising Committee's president was replaced by Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, who was the president of the Bidding Committee back in 1997. From that point on, preparations continued at a highly accelerated, almost frenzied pace. Although the heavy cost was criticised, as is usually the case with most Olympic cities, Athens was literally transformed into a more functional city that enjoys state-of-the-art technology both in transportation and in modern urban development. Some of the finest sporting venues in the world were created in the city, almost all of which were fully ready on schedule. The 2004 Games were adjudged a huge success, as both security and organisation were exceptionally good and only a few visitors reported minor problems, mainly concerning transportation or accommodation issues. Essentially, the only notable problem was a somewhat sparse attendance of some preliminary events. Eventually, however, a total of more than 3.2 million tickets were sold [14], which was higher than any other Olympics with the exception of Sydney (more than 5 million tickets were sold there in 2000).