Much of Athens has suffered from the financial crisis that has consumed Greece in the past few years, but the capital still remains one of the most glorious cities on Earth. Sitting on top of the Acropolis gazing at the Parthenon or by the side of the little whitewashed chapel atop Lykavittos Hill, looking over the expanse of the city and out to the Saronic Gulf, are bewitching experiences. The National Archaeological Museum and the Benaki Museum are must-sees, along with the great monuments of ancient Greece.
Spend a day winding your way from the Acropolis to Lykavittos, which is best visited at sunset. After exploring the Parthenon and the gorgeous Temple of Athena Nike, make your way down through Anafiotika, Athens’ most entrancing district – a maze of whitewashed alleyways imported from the Cycladic islands. Wander through Plaka as it warms up for the day before visiting the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Parliament building and Syntagma Square. Have a restorative drink at the Hotel Grande Bretagne before doing a little shopping in the Kolonaki district and then taking the funicular railway to Lykavittos.
Plaka is Athens’ most-touristed district, and while it can be awash with gawkers at certain times of the day, it retains its charm in the early morning and the evening. There are countless tourist trap restaurants that lure the punters with bouzouki music, plate-smashing and faux folkloric dancing, but some places manage to combine decent food with a lovely setting. Try O Platanos (Diogenous 4), which sets its tables under a massive plane tree and is magical on a warm night, Byzantinos (Kydatheneon 18) or Saita (Kydatheneon 21), which specialise in codfish and great home-made retsina. Have an ouzo, grabs some dips and enjoy.
As captivating as Athens is, the lure of the sea is ever-present. One of the most popular day trips is the three-islands tour that visits Poros, Hydra and Aegina. It can be done by hydrofoil, by standard vessel or by a luxury boat such as the Aegean Glory, which has a pool and a discotheque. But what better way to see the Greek islands – even those just a stone’s thrown from Athens, than by private yacht? You can hire a bareboat or a yacht with a skipper and explore islands such as Amorgos, Kythnos and Syros, all of which are a manageable distance from Athens.