The Greek capital is a paradox of qualities: ancient and modern, relaxed and full of life. Athens also boasts an amazing climate and lively inhabitants. Despite initial scepticism, Athens enjoyed an Olympiad refurbishment in preparation for the 2004 Games. Although the efforts didn't quite match those of Barcelona, the capital opened a new airport, sorted out its troublesome metro system and scrubbed up the Omonoia and Waterfront districts - both now abuzz with modish bars and restaurants.
The most pleasant time to visit Athens is in the spring or early summer, before the tourist rush in July and August when the city functions as a frenetic gateway to the islands. You should consider the climate if travelling during the summer or winter as it is prone to the odd extremity - 35 degrees in the mid-summer and 5 degrees in late winter.
Where to stay: ATHENS HOTELS
Athens hotels, can be found and booked online on travel web site www.medestino.com
What to see:
THE ACROPOLIS: One of the great icons of Western civilisation, you have to take a deep breathe in order to brace the crowds of meandering backpackers who visits Acropolis daily. Some three million visitors come here yearly.
ERECHTHEON: Located just north of Parthenon on the Acropolis hill, this is Athens' most sacred ground - where an olive tree sprung up at Athena's touch during a battle for possession of the city, and where Poseidon plunged his spear into a rock, creating a massive waterfall. The capital has enjoyed a plentiful supply of both nutritious olives and reviving fresh water ever since.
PARTHENON: Dedicated to the goddess of Athena, the Parthenon - the white marble building on top of the Acropolis hill - remains Athens' greatest symbol. Famed for its architectural symmetry, it also houses surviving friezes and marble metopes, though the best examples are still residing in the British Museum. Open daily.
THE NATIONAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSUEM: Patissíon 44, 106 82 Athens (00 30 210 821 7717; fax: 00 30 210 821 3573; www.culture.gr). Another essential visit, the National Archaeological Museum boasts the finest collection of Classical Greek art in the world. The frescoes on the second floor were severely damaged during the Athens earthquake of 1999, and restoration remains ongoing. Probably best to give yourself time for more than one visit. Open daily.
BENAKI MODERN ART MUSEUM: 1 Koumbari Street, 106 74 Athens (00 30 210 367 1000; fax: 00 30 210 367 1063; www.benaki.gr; It looks just like an ark adrift in an industrial wasteland - but the new Benaki Museum is a magnet for design junkies. The red-marble façade conceals an atrium lined with steel mesh and blinds, a café, bookstore and an architectural archive.
THEATRE OF DIONYSOS AND ODEION OF HERODES ATTICUS: Odos Dionissiou Areopayitou (00 30 210 322 4625; fax: 00 30 210 923 9023). Located on the south slope of the Acropolis, the Odeion is a semi-circular theatre still plays host to a summer festival of classical drama and music performances and the occasional gig by the likes of Jean Michel Jarre.