A visit to Athens, the Greek capital,is a chance to relive the Classical past — and to enjoy the city's more contemporary attractions
Why go now?
After years of economic gloom, the Greek capital has a buzz again. The new National Museum of Contemporary Art opens in June in a converted brewery (www.emst.gr) at the junction of Kallirois and Amvrisiou Frantzi Avenues. First up is a specially curated exhibition of its "Treasures": 500 works across all five floors of this 1950s industrial block.
The Athens & Epidauris Festival (greekfestival.gr/en; 1 June-16 August), has events and performances focusing on Greek culture.
Get your bearings
Athens grew up around the Acropolis, a rocky outcrop in the middle of a basin ringed by bigger hills.
During the Ottoman Empire the city shrank in size and importance but, after independence in 1834, the first Greek kings expanded north of the old city walls around the royal palace – now the Parliament Building on Syntagma Square. Much of the city's oldest housing and retail space clusters around the Acropolis in the Plaka and Monastiraki neighbourhoods. Restoration is ongoing, and these picturesque "villages" now attract a lot of tourists.
The Greek National Tourism Organisation office is at 18-20 Dionysiou Areopagitou Street (gnto.gr), close to the Akropoli metro station (9am–7pm weekdays, 10am – 4pm at weekends).
Take a view
Areios Pagos is a rock just below the Acropolis where trials for murder were held in ancient times.
These days it's a perfect place from which to gaze north across modern Athens while the Acropolis rises immediately behind you. There are steps and handrails to make sure you get a good view, safely.
Down below lie the Roman and Ancient Greek market places, surrounded by trees and lawns.
Take a hike
Athens contains the vestiges of many civilisations, not just Periclean Greece. Start at the Roman Agora, Athens' "new" 1st-century market place on Epaminonda (open daily 8am-3pm; entry €2) the location of which demonstrates Emperor Augustus' preference for building on the flat ground below the Acropolis. Turn left, into Taxiarcheon and follow the hill down past the Greek Orthodox Church of Panagia Grigoroussa, turning left into Dexippou from where you get a great view into the 2nd-century Library of Hadrian (open daily 8am-3pm, entry €2).
Turn right down Arios Street where the road is flanked by shops selling Hellenic helmets and beach towels, football shirts and museum art. After taking in the monumental façade of Hadrian's Library, ascend the steps to the 18th-century Tzisdarakis Mosque, now a museum of Greek Folk Art (open daily, except Tuesdays, from 9am-2.30pm, admission €2). The view down into Monastiriki Square shows Athens at its gaudiest, with fruit stalls and musicians adding to the throng.
Gaze down into the exposed section of the Eridanos river (which was bricked over when Hadrian was Emperor). Descend six steps to the medieval pavement level in front of the tiny brick Church of Panagia Pantanasa, which was once a women's monastery and from which the Monastiriki area gained its name.
Lunch on the run
I Thessaloniki stou Psyrri at 1 Iroon Square is a popular shop in the Psyrrri district north of Monastiraki which sells Thessalonian snack food. Buy your slice of spanakopita (spinach pie) for €1.70 and eat it from the paper bag in the square outside.
Head down Adrianou Street following the signs to the flea market. The further west you get towards Thiseio Station, the more eccentric the shops become, particularly in side streets such as Normanou and Philippou. At times it can seem as if the entire contents of a 1930s household have been emptied into a shop window. The market in Avissinias Square is a riot of 20th-century Athenian bric-a-brac and vintage clothing.
Osterman on St Irinis Square (ostremann.gr) was recently converted from a der