Visitors to Athens will find a fusion of the ancient and the contemporary. Situated in Greece's Attica region, this bustling metropolis is both the country's capital and it's oldest city; the Athens area has been continuously inhabited since at least the Neolithic Age, about 12,000 years ago. This rich, continuous history -- as well as its sunny Mediterranean climate and enchanting setting between Mounts Aegaleo, Hymettus, Parnitha and Penteli and the Saronic Gulf -- means that Athens' attractions have something for every traveler.
When visiting Athens, the Acropolis -- an ancient citadel -- is impossible to miss. Built on a sacred hill located in the center of the city, it has stood as a symbol of power, learning and civilization since the 5th century B.C. Sitting atop the Acropolis is the Parthenon, a stunning example of Greco-Roman architecture that served as both a temple and a seat of power for centuries. The Acropolis opens to visitors at 8 a.m. most days of the year; seniors, students, youth and disabled visitors may be eligible for discounted or free admission. The Acropolis Museum houses objects and art uncovered during the archaeological excavations of the site. Visitors can examine sculptures from the Archaic Period in a three-dimensional exhibit hall, walk along the frieze taken from the Parthenon and learn about daily life in ancient Greece through audiovisual presentations.
Learn about the region's long history at the Kanellopoulos Museum. Housed in a Neoclassical mansion, the museum's collection contains artifacts spanning Greek history. Visitors will see ancient pottery, weapons, tools and artwork from across Greece, Egypt, Cyprus and Mesopotamia, as well as classical and modern examples of jewelry, portraits, textiles and religious icons dating to the 19th century. The National Archaeological Museum -- Greece's largest -- houses a vast collection of ancient Greek art. With more than 26,000 square feet to explore, the museum's more than 11,000 exhibits of pottery, sculpture, metalwork and artifacts trace the region's history from 6,000 B.C. to the Roman conquest.
Built by Hadrian in the 2nd century A.D., the Olympieion honored Zeus, the most powerful of ancient Greece's gods. Though only 15 of the original 104 columns still stand today, Hadrian's monument is the last of a long succession of temples built for the Olympian Zeus. Today, visitors can marvel at the temple's Corinthian columns, visit a nearby Roman bath and view ruins of the Themistoclean Wall. The Temple of Hephaestus, standing atop the hill of Agoraios Kolonos, is one of the most well-preserved temple in Athens, says the Ministry of Culture and Sports. Built between 460 and 420 B.C., the temple was a sanctuary for the worshipers of Hephaestus, the deity of metallurgists, and the goddess Athena Ergane, the deity of potters. In the 8th century, the temple was converted into a Christian church and remained in use until the Greek War of Independence of the early 1800s.
Once known as Agora, the Monastiraki district has long been a center of commerce in Athens. From the 6th century B.C., all roads ran through Agora. This neighborhood, located just downhill from the Acropolis, was a bustling marketplace, meeting place and center of learning. Today, visitors can view the ruins of the Agora and browse the shops in adjacent Monastairaki. For panoramic city views, take a cable car ride or hike to the top of Lycabettus Hill. Rising about 1,000 feet above Athens, this scenic spot offers views of the Acropolis, the port and nearby islands. Visit Syntagma Square and stand in the center of Greek political life. Home to the Greek Parliament -- located in a former palace -- Syntagma Square has been the site of political rallies, celebrations and protests for centuries. In addition, don't miss the Plaka district. This central Athens neighborhood -- the oldest in the city -- is a maze of cafes and shops, punctuated by museums, buskers and an outdoor theater.