Athens is the capital of Greece and one of the most famous cities in the world, named after goddess Athena. Modern Athens is a bustling cosmopolitan metropolis, home to some 3.2 million people. The Athens metropolitan area is currently growing both northwards and eastwards across Attica and it constitutes the dominant center of economic, financial, industrial, cultural and political life in Greece today. The city is also rapidly becoming a leading business centre in Europe.
Athens has been a popular tourist destination even since antiquity. Over the past decade, the infrastructure and social amenities of Athens have been radically following the city’s successful bid to stage the 2004 Olympic Games. The Greek state, aided by the E.U., has poured money into major infrastructure projects such as the new, state-of-the-art “Eleftherios Venizelos” International Airport, the massive expansion of the Metro system, and the new Attiki Odos ring-road. Home to a vast number of 5 and 4 star hotels, the city is currently the 6th most visited capital in Europe.
Entire parts of the city centre have been redeveloped under a masterplan called “Unification of Archaeological Sites of Athens”. Notably, the famous Dionysiou Aeropagitou street has been pedestrianised, forming a scenic route. The route starts from the Temple of Olympian Zeus at Vasilissis Olgas Avenue, continues under the southern slopes of the Acropolis near Plaka and finishes just outside the Temple of Hephaestus in Theseum. This route provides the visitors views of the Parthenon and the Agora (the meeting point of ancient Athenians), away from the busy city centre.
Syntagma Square (Constitution Square) is situated in central Athens and it is the site of the former Royal Palace, now the Greek Parliament and other 19th-century public buildings. Syntagma is the largest square of the city and it is also home to a number of luxurious hotels, including the historic Grande Bretagne, Athens’ first hotel. Syntagma is essentially the tourist core of the city, being in the centre of an area where most of the famous ancient monuments are located, all within a radius of 2 km. Near Syntagma Square stands the Kallimarmaro Stadium, the place where the first modern Olympic Games took place in 1896. It is a replica of the ancient Athens Stadium. It is the only major stadium (60,000 spectators) made entirely of white marble from Penteli, the same as that used for the construction of the Parthenon.
Athens features a number of hills. Lykavittos is the tallest hill of the city proper that, according to an ancient legend, was actually a boulder thrown down from the sky by Goddess Athena. Located in the city centre, near Alexandras’ and Vassilisis Sofia’s Avenues, it offers views of sprawling Athens below. On top of it, stands the St. George’s church. Philopappos Hill is yet another famous hill, located just to the southwest of Acropolis.
The city’s classical museums include the National Archaeological Museum of Athens at Patission Street (which holds the world’s greatest collection of Greek art), the Benaki Museum in Piraeus Street (including its new Islamic Art branch) , the Byzantine Museum and the Museum of Cycladic Art in the central Kolonaki district (recommended for its collection of elegant white metamodern figures, more than 3,000 years old) . Most museums were renovated ahead of the 2004 Olympics. A new Acropolis Museum is being built in the Makriyanni district according to a design by Swiss-french architect Bernard Tschumi. The Athens Planetarium , located in Sygrou Avenue, is considered to be among the world’s best.
The old campus of the University of Athens, located in the middle section of Panepistimiou Avenue, is one of the finest buildings in the city. This combined with the adjacent National Library and the Athens Academy form the imposing “Athens Trilogy”, built in the mid-19th century. However, most of the university’s functions have been moved to a much larger, modern campus located in the eastern suburb of Zográfou. The second most significant academic institution of the city is the Athens Polytechnic School (Ethniko Metsovio Politechnio), located in Patission Street. More than 20 students were killed inside the School in November 17, 1973 during the Athens Polytechnic Uprising against the military junta that ruled the nation from April 21, 1967 until July 23, 1974.
Entertainment, nightlife and shopping
Athens is full of possibilities, catering for all tastes and cultures. Featuring a large number of multiplex as well as romantic, open air garden cinemas it is also home to more theatrical stages than any other European city (including the famous ancient Herodes Atticus Theatre, home to the Athens Festival http://www.hellenicfestival.gr/site/index_en.htm taking place from May to October each year). Athens boasts a vast number of music venues including a state of the art music hall known as the “Megaron Moussikis”  that attracts world-famous artists all year round.
The central Psirri neighbourhood – aka Athens’s “meat packing district”- has acquired many new mainstream bars, thus becoming a hotspot for many. It also features a number of live music restaurants called “rebetadika”, after rebetiko, a unique kind of music that blossomed in Syros and Athens from the 1920’s till the 1960’s. Rebetiko is admired by many, therefore virtually every night rebetadika get crammed by people of all ages that will sing, dance and drink wine until dawn. Plaka remains the traditional top tourist destination, with many tavernas featuring traditional music, but the food, though exceptionally good, is often more expensive compared to other parts of the city. Plaka, lying just beneath the Acropolis, is famous for its numerous neoclassic buildings, making it one of the most scenic districts in central Athens. Monastiraki, on the other hand, is famous for its string of small tourist shops as well as its crowded flea market and the tavernas that specialise in souvlaki. Another district notably famous for its student-crammed, stylish cafés is Theseum, lying just west of Monastiraki. Theseum, or Thission is home to the remarkable ancient Temple of Hephaestus, standing on top of a small hill. The Gazi area, one of the latest in full redevelopment, is located around a historic gas factory in downtown Athens, that has been converted into the Technopolis (Athens’s new cultural multiplex) for all the family and has a number of expensive small clubs, bars and restaurants as well as Athens’s nascent “gay village”. The relatively recent and rapid redevelopment of these areas has brought the -until then relatively forgoten- city center back into the limelight. This tendency is gradually spreading to adjacent areas.
The chic Kolonaki area, near Syntagma Square, is full of boutiques catering to well-heeled customers by day and bars and luxurious restaurants by night. Ermou Street, an approximately 1 km pedestrian road connecting Syntagma Square to Monastiraki, has traditionally been considered a consumer paradise for both the Athenians and foreign tourists. Full of fashion shops and shopping centres featuring most international brands, it has become one of the most expensive roads in Europe. Huge malls such as the “Attica” mall in Panepistimiou Avenue and “The Mall Athens”  located in the classy northern suburb of Maroussi also offer an enormous variety of international selections that can totally satisfy even the most demanding customer. Some central areas (mostly just south of Omonoia Square) are mainly peopled by immigrants and are therefore full of colourful ethnic restaurants and shops, especially Indian, Pakistani and Chinese.
The transportation system
The Athens Mass Transit System is currently one of the most modern and efficient systems in Europe. It consists of a large bus fleet, a trolley fleet that mainly serves the downtown area, the Athens Metro,a tram line connecting the southern suburbs to the city center and the Athens Suburban Railway services.
The Athens Metro is one of the most impressive systems in the world. It currently operates four lines, three of which are distinguished by the colours used in the relevant maps and signs (green, blue and red). The historic Green Line, which is the oldest and for the most part runs on the ground, connects the port of Piraeus to the northern suburb of Kifissia. The line is 25 km long and has 24 stations. The other two lines were constructed mainly during the 1990s and the first sections opened in January 2000. They run entirely underground. The Blue Line runs from the central Monastiraki district to Doukissis Plakentias avenue, in the eastern suburb of Halandri. The Blue Line then ascends on ground level and reaches Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport, using the Suburban Railway rails. The Red Line runs from Aghios Antonios to Aghios Dimitrios. Extensions to both lines are under construction, most notably westwards to Egaleo, southwards to the Old Hellinikon Airport East Terminal (future Metropolitan Park) and eastwards towards the easternmost suburb of Aghia Paraskevi. The fourth line is the Athens Suburban Railway (Proastiakós) which connects Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport to the city of Corinth, 80 km west of Athens, via the central Larissa Train Station. The metro network, Suburban Railway not included, has a current length of 91 km and it is expected to reach 124 km (72 stations) by the year 2009. It is managed by three different companies, namely ISAP, Attiko Metro (lines 2 & 3) and Proastiakós (line 4).
The bus service consists of a huge network of lines operated by normal buses, electric buses, and natural gas run buses (the largest fleet of natural gas run buses in Europe). There are plenty of bus lines serving the entire Athens Metropolitan Area.
The tram runs from Syntagma Square to the southwestern suburb of Palaio Faliro, where the line splits in two branches. The first branch runs all along the Athens coastline towards the southern suburb of Glyfada while the other one heads towards the Piraeus district of Neo Faliro. Both Syntagma – Palaio Faliro – Neo Faliro and the Syntagma – Glyfada lines opened on 19 July 2004. Further extensions are planned towards the major commercial port of Piraeus and the southernmost suburb of Vouliagmeni.
There are many taxis in Athens, which can be recognised by the yellow colour of the vehicles. They are quite cheap and during rush hours it is considered normal to hail a taxi even when another customer is already in (although, strictly speaking, this is forbidden); in that case, if the one halting it happens to go to the same direction as the customer and the customer does not mind (although this is never brought up or an issue), he is also allowed in, and each one pays normally as if they were the only customer.
Athens is served, since March 2001, by the ultra modern Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport located near the town of Spata, in the eastern Mesoghia Plain, some 35 km east of Athens. There is an Express Bus service connecting the airport to the metro system and 2 express bus services connecting the airport to Piraeus port and the city centre respectively. Athens is also the hub of the Greek National Railway System. Ferries departing from the port of Piraeus connect the city to the Greek islands of the Aegean Sea.
There are two main highways that travel both to the west, towards the city of Patra in Peloponessus (GR-8A, E94) and to the north, towards Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki (GR-1, E75). In 2001-2004 a ring road toll-expressway (Attiki Odos) was gradually completed, extending from the western industrial city of Elefsina all the way to the Athens International Airport, after encircling the city from the north. The Ymittos Ringroad is a separate section of Attiki Odos connecting the eastern suburb of Kaisariani to the northeastern town of Glyka Nera and this is where it meets the main part of the ringroad. The total length of Attiki Odos is now approximately 70 km.
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