Artistic Athens

This extract of Artistic Athens in the Lonely Planet book Culture Trails on Greece Travel Secrets takes visitors on a journey through the artistic side of Athens – and beyond - over a millennium.

Culture Trails is a handsome coffee-table book, and we've reviewed it fully here. Till then, Greece Travel Secrets is delighted to have this extract from the excellent essay on Artistic Athens. To whet your appetite for the book, here are some of the other highlights:

• On a Classical High in Vienna
• Confronting Soviet Ghosts in Bulgaria
• Literary Paris through the Eyes of Hemingway
• Traditional Music in the Wild West, Ireland
• Mackintosh & the Glasgow Style
• Aboriginal Art in the Northern Territory, Australia
• Havana’s Music Scene
• Tokyo Pop Culture
• Politico Washington on the Small Screen
• Finnish Sauna Culture

Artistic Athens over a Millennium

Antiquities and emerging art collide in the Greek capital, where temples symbolising ancient artistic perfection are enthroned above graffiti-splashed city streets.

Ancient and modern, with equal measures of grit and grace, busy Athens is a heady mix of iconic art history and contemporary cultural edginess. Throughout the city, iconic Greek monuments mingle with first-rate museums jammed with priceless art. Meanwhile, modern-day Athens serves as the focal point for the current Greek art scene, with myriad contemporary art galleries and performance spaces showcasing emerging and established local artists.

Inhabited since Neolithic times (4000–3000 BC), the historic centre of Athens is a veritable open-air museum, and the city’s present-day cultural and social life takes place amid these ancient landmarks, merging past and present. The magnificent Acropolis rises above the sprawling metropolis and has stood witness to the city’s many transformations. Pericles, ruler from 461 BC to 429 BC, transformed the city during the period known as Athens’ golden age — the pinnacle of the classical era. Most of the monuments on the Acropolis today date from this period. Drama and literature flourished then due to such luminaries as Aeschylus, Sophocles and

Euripides. The sculptors Pheidias and Myron and the historians Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon also lived during this time.

Today, you’ll wander spectacularly graffiti-adorned streets combining pointed messages with brilliant flights of artistic fancy, and stop in at spaces dedicated to showing top visual and creative art. While you’re perusing the city’s rich artistic offerings, you’ll also be able to partake in Athens’ stylish restaurants, sophisticated shops and hip hotels.

The surrounding region holds excellent art and antiquities as well, and a day trip across the sparkling Saronic Gulf to the island of Hydra combines an historic car-free stone village with summertime exhibitions by both local artists and international art superstars.

Need to Know

This three-day trail is easiest by foot and metro in central Athens; you’ll need the ferry to get out to Hydra Island.

© Adrienne Pitts / Lonely Planet 

01 Acropolis

Perhaps the most important ancient site in the Western world, the Acropolis is crowned by the Parthenon and stands sentinel over Athens, visible from almost everywhere in the city. Its monuments and sanctuaries of Pentelic marble gleam white in the midday light and gradually take on a honey hue as the sun sinks, while at night they stand brilliantly illuminated above Athens.

This temple complex, dedicated to the cult of Athena, once combined lavishly coloured colossal buildings and gargantuan statues, some of bronze, others of marble plated with gold and encrusted with precious stones. Major restoration programmes are continuing.

Many of the original sculptures have been moved to the Acropolis Museum. To reach it, stroll down the south slope of the Acropolis, past the enormous Odeon of Herodes Atticus, still in use as a theatre today, and the Theatre of Dionysos – the birthplace of drama.; tel +30 210 321 0219; 8am-8pm Apr-Oct, to 5pm Nov-Mar, last entry 30 minutes before closing

© fazon1 / Getty Images 

02 Acropolis Museum

This dazzling €130-million modernist museum showcases the Acropolis’s surviving artistic treasures still in

Greece. The museum cleverly reveals layers of history, floating over ruins of an ancient Athenian neighbourhood with the Acropolis resplendent above.

Among its beautifully presented artworks you’ll find the five famous Caryatids, the maiden columns that held up the Erechtheion, the temple dedicated to Athena and Posedion (the sixth is in the British Museum). The top-floor Parthenon Gallery is the museum’s crowning glory: a glass atrium built in alignment with the temple — visible across the way — displaying its metopes (a series of marble panels that once adorned the façade of the temple) and the 160m-long frieze of the Panathenaic Procession.

Other exhibits include a forest of statues and bronze artefacts from temples predating the Parthenon (destroyed by the Persians).; tel +30 210 900 0901; Dionysiou Areopagitou 15; 8am-4pm Mon, to 8pm Tue-Sun, to 10pm Fri Apr-Oct, reduced hours Nov-Mar

03 National Museum of Contemporary Art

Stroll down Leoforos Andrea Syngrou to reach this temple to cutting-edge art, which inaugurated its spectacularly renovated new quarters at the former Fix Brewery in 2015.

The museum shows top-notch rotating exhibitions of Greek and international contemporary art, and its permanent exhibitions include paintings, installations and new media, as well as experimental architecture.; tel +30 211 101 9000; Kallirrois & Frantzi; 11am-7pm Tue, Wed & Fri-Sun, to 10pm Thu

The Acropolis
© mffoto / Shutterstock 

04 Panathenaic Stadium

The grand Panathenaic Stadium lies between two pine-covered hills, 1.6km northeast of the National Museum, and is the embodiment of architecture as art, with its sweeping arc of harmoniously proportioned seats and perfectly oval field.

Originally built in the 4th century BC as a venue for the Panathenaic athletic contests, it's said that 1000 wild animals were sacrificed in the magnificent arena during Hadrian’s inauguration in AD 120. Later, the 70,000 seats were rebuilt in Pentelic marble by Herodes Atticus.

The stadium made a stunning backdrop to the archery competition and the marathon finish during the 2004 Olympics. It's still used for concerts, public events and the annual Athens marathon. If you don’t fancy hiking out here on foot, take bus 10 or 550 from the Olympiaki stop on Syngrou.; tel +30 210 752 2984; Leoforos Vasileos Konstantinou; 8am-7pm Mar-Oct, to 5pm Nov-Feb

05 Taf

Two kilometres northwest, in the bustling Monastiraki neighbourhood past the verdant National Gardens, lies Taf (The Art Foundation). The warren of spaces in a series of crumbling 1870s brick buildings function as art, music and theatre venues. Athens’ emerging artists show their work here, and many performances and screenings are free. The central courtyard cafe fills with an eclectic young crowd. The Monastiraki quarter is also worth a wander, with its magnificent classical sites (the Ancient and Roman Agoras, Hadrian’s Library) and its chintzy antique and flea market.

Tel +30 210 323 8757; Normanou 5, Monastiraki metro station; noon- 9pm Mon-Sat, to 7pm Sun

06 National Archaeological Museum

One of the world’s most important   museums, Greece’s National Archaeological Museum is just a hop away on the metro and houses the finest collection of Greek antiquities: more than 11,000 items in an 8000-sq-metre, 19th-century neoclassical building.

Treasures offer a comprehensive view of Greek art from the neolithic to classical periods. The fabulous collection of Mycenaean antiquities, dating from the late Bronze Age and made from elaborately crafted gold and precious stones, are the museum's tour de force, especially the gold Mask of Agamemnon.

The Cycladic collection displays superb figurines from the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC, which inspired modern artists such as Picasso. Don’t miss the Minoan frescoes from Santorini (Thira).; tel +30 213 214 4800; 28 Oktovriou-Patision 44, Viktoria metro station; 8am-8pm Apr-Oct, reduced hours Nov-Mar

07 Graffiti in Exarhia

The bohemian Exarhia district (abutting the Archaeological Museum to the southeast) has an alternative culture and history that sets it apart from Athens’ other neighbourhoods. A hotbed of students and anarchists, its homegrown graffiti is a bold treat, mixing excellent painterly technique with sharp messaging.

Start at the Strefi Hill end of Themistokleous and simply wander the neighbourhood, looking for the latest expressions of both fancy and ire.

© Freeartist / Getty Images / iStockphoto 

08 Hydra Island

Nearby Hydra is the gem of the Saronic Gulf and stands alone among Greek islands as the one free of wheeled vehicles. No cars. No scooters. Just tiny marble-cobbled lanes, exquisitely preserved stone architecture, donkeys, and clear sea.

Artists (Brice Marden, Nikos Chatzikyriakos-Ghikas, Panayiotis Tetsis), musicians (Leonard Cohen), actors and celebrities (Melina Mercouri, Sophia Loren) have all been drawn to Hydra through the years, and it remains an art powerhouse.

Every June to August, collector Dakis Joannou’s Deste Foundation hosts an exhibit at the island’s former slaughterhouse, featuring one international contemporary art superstar. Both he and fellow collector Pauline Karpidas are part-time Hydra residents. Pauline similarly fills a gallery on the port with a major artist’s work each summer, and the Melina Mercouri Gallery and the Historical Archives Museum host ever-changing exhibitions. The ferry journey over to Hydra takes about 1¾ hours from Piraeus port.


The Caryatids at the Acropolis in Athens
© David Buffington / Getty Images 


Where to Stay
In the charming, historic quarter of Plaka, this smart hotel is one for romantics — have breakfast under the Acropolis on your balcony (in higher-end rooms) and dinner in the chic rooftop restaurant. Rooms are buffered from the sounds of the city streets.; tel +30 210 337 0000; Navarhou Nikodimou 18

This elegant boutique hotel, a short walk from the Acropolis, has been totally rebuilt – but the formal interior design is in keeping with the lovely neoclassical facade. The rooftop restaurant and bar have spectacular views.; tel +30 210 923 6682; Falirou 9

Where to Eat & Drink
Hidden away in the middle of Monastiraki’s flea market, this bohemian restaurant specialising in mezedhes gets top marks for atmosphere, food and friendly service. There’s live Greek music on weekends and Acropolis views upstairs.
Tel +30 210 321 7047; Kynetou 7

Nouveau gastronomy meets fresh Mediterranean ingredients at this two–Michelin-star restaurant. Elegant lighting, refinement and sheer joy in food make this a top stop.; tel +30 210 524 2727; Paramithias 3, cnr Salaminas

The ancient theatre at Epidavros and Athens' Odeon of Herodes Atticus are the headline venues of Greece's annual cultural festival held June to August, featuring a top line-up of local and international music, dance and theatre.

Athens' annual three-day contemporary-art fair (usually in May) showcases a broad spectrum of art from Greek and international galleries, with satellite exhibitions held around town.

The above extract is reproduced with permission from Culture Trails, © 2017 Lonely Planet:

Don't miss this visual tour of Athens with photos by Donna Dailey of Greece Travel Secrets.

Where to Stay in Athens

You might like these other Athens pages...

  • National Archaeological Museum

    The National Archaeological Museum is one of the best things to see in Athens, and the best museum in the world for seeing Greece's archaeological treasures.

  • A Drive around Attica

    This drive around Attica offers visitors high hills, beach resorts, small villages and classical sites like Marathon and the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion.

  • Cape Sounion and the East Coast

    The beach resorts of Athens are easily reached from the city and also close are Cape Sounion with the Temple of Poseidon, ancient Marathon and Rafina's port.

  • The Best Things to Do in Athens

    The best things to do in Athens, Greece, include top archaeological sites like the Acropolis and must-see attractions such as the National Archaeological Museum

  • Best Cocktail Bars in Athens

    Two of the best cocktail bars in Athens, MoMix Kerameikos and The Clumsies, are making creative cocktails using that most Greek of Greek spirits, Metaxa.

  • Athens: Travel Information and Advice about Athens, Greece

    Athens is a top vacation destination. The Greece Travel Secrets Athensguide has information on hotels, museums, Athens airport and all the best things to do.

  • Athens Weather and the Best Time to Visit

    The Greece Travel Secrets website looks at the Athens weather, the chance of rain, the climate in summer and winter and the best time to visit Athens.

  • Athens Walking Tours and Other Experiences

    Athens walking tours and other experiences like cookery lessons, ceramics workshops, dining with a family, and street art are available from Alternative Athens

  • Athens to Santorini

    There are lots of flights from Athens to Santorini as well as a ferry service from Piraeus, with flights to Santorini leaving from Athens International Airport.

  • Athens International Airport

    Athens International Airport is east of Athens city centre with its own Metro train station, buses to Athens and Piraeus, taxis and car rental offices.

  • Athens in the Rain

    Athens in the rain isn’t something you’re likely to experience but here are suggestions for things to do in the rain in Athens including museums and shopping

  • Athens Food Tours

    Athens Food Tours are being introduced by new company The Greek Fork, and will include tours of the Central Market, and the best street food.

  • Athens Events and Public Holidays

    If visiting Athens it helps to know when major events and public holidays take place, as some shops and attractions may be closed, but to be there at times like Easter can make for a magical trip.

  • Athens Eaters Guide

    Athens, an Eater's Guide to the City, is published by Culinary Backstreets, who do walking food tours in Athens and the book recommends the best places to eat.

  • Athens Dining Guide

    This Athens dining guide doesn't list restaurants but gives practical advice on types of eating places, tipping, hotel breakfasts and picnics.

  • Athens Culinary Tours

    Athens culinary tours are among the food walking tours offered by an unusual company, Culinary Backstreets.

  • Athens Car Rental

    Athens car rental options include almost all of the major international car hire firms such as Avis, Budget, Hertz, and Europcar.

  • Athens Airport Hotels

    Athens Airport hotels include the luxury Sofitel at the terminals, Holiday Inn near the airport, and others close by like the Hotel Pantheon.

  • Athens Airport Car Rental

    Athens Airport car rentals include Alamo/National Car Rental, Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt, all with offices at the airport.

  • Athens Acropolis

    The Athens Acropolis has the city's most iconic building, the Parthenon, along with other historic buildings and is where the Elgin Marbles were taken from.

  • Pictures of Athens

    Pictures of Athens from the Greece Travel Secrets website

  • Where to Eat in Athens and Piraeus

    If you're wondering where to eat in Athens and Piraeus we have a few suggestions including some favorites around the Acropolis, Omonia Square, and Syntagma.

  • Ten Fun Things to Do in Athens

    Ten Fun Things to Do in Athens include eating in the Central Market, watching the sun set over the Acropolis and seeing one of the world's oldest theatres.

  • Piraeus

    Piraeus is the port of Athens from where many ferries to the Greek islands depart, and it also has an Archaeological Museum and the Hellenic Maritime Museum.

  • My Athens: a Portrait by Travel Writer Mike Gerrard

    In My Athens on Greece Travel Secrets travel writer Mike Gerrard describes what he loves about Athens including the Acropolis and eating!

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.

Latest Posts

  1. Kos on its Way to Become a Greek Biking Destination

    The comparative advantages of Kos as an emerging biking destination were presented by Deputy Transport Minister Michalis Papadopoulos during an event held recently on the island by local authorities…

    Read More

  2. Covid-19: Greece Still in CDC’s ‘Very High’ Travel Risk Category

    The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is warning Americans to avoid travel to some 75 countries, including Greece, after adding on Monday, Germany and Denmark to its “Level Four: Very High” Covid-1…

    Read More

  3. Greek Mountain Destinations Aching for Bookings

    The second winter season in the pandemic finds hotels in Greece’s striking mountain villages in a fragile state.

    Read More

  4. What to Eat at Syntagma – Petraki Street

    Petraki Street, near Syntagma Square, has everything a foodie wants, whether you’re looking for a good wine bar, cocktail bar, bakery, pastry shop, or restaurant worth visiting again and again.

    Read More

  5. Bringing Ancient Olympia Back to Life

    A new digital revival project, "Ancient Olympia: Common Grounds," harnesses artificial intelligence to bring the ancient sanctuary back to life like never before.

    Read More

  6. Athens Tops Europe’s Meeting Destinations Ranking, Says AmEx Report

    Athens, Greece’s capital city, ranks first in the top 5 meeting destinations in Europe in the 2022 Global Meetings and Events Forecast, the 11th annual report produced by American Express Meetings & E…

    Read More

  7. Covid-19: Greece Bans the Unvaccinated from More Indoor Places

    Adults in Greece not vaccinated against the coronavirus (Covid-19) will be banned from entering more indoor spaces, including cinemas, theaters, museums and gyms as of Monday, November 22, according t…

    Read More

  8. South Aegean Islands Introduced to Luxury Wedding Planners

    The South Aegean islands were introduced to some of the world’s leading wedding planners during the 7th Destination Wedding Planners (DWP) Congress 2021, that took place on Rhodes earlier in November…

    Read More

  9. Greece Promotes Western Macedonia as Top Wine Tourism Destination

    Western Macedonia, its wineries and wines are spearheading a far-reaching tourism ministry campaign to establish Greece as a leading wine tourism destination, said Deputy Tourism Minister Sofia Zachar…

    Read More

  10. A foodie guide to Thessaloniki

    Welcome to our foodie guide to Thessaloniki, where you’ll get to know all about what and where to eat in one of the best culinary getaways in Greece.

    Read More