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Athens

What's it really like?

Athens is home to half of the entire Greek population and at times it seems half of the world's tourists and backpackers are here, too.

The summer months are hot and the humidity chokes the city making the crowds of day trippers and locals very tetchy.

The Greek capital's bursting with 2000 years of historical architecture, ruins and artifacts dominated by the Acropolis, the ancient temple that overlooks some 19th-century buildings, modern shops and street cafes.

In an attempt to find its identity some streets in the historical districts have been converted into pleasant pedestrianised zones and a peaceful escape from the traffic. The city must be given credit for its ambitious efforts to mix the old and the new - like trying to weld together two contrasting jigsaw puzzles highlighted by the views from Acropolis looking down on the huge expanse of concrete and metal.

Many of the attractions and squares have been spruced up and the new metro system has improved the traffic flow whilst reducing pollution.

Although parts of Athens are tatty, run down, busy and noisy the city has many redeeming qualities such as: the ancient ruins, some quaint back streets and its proximity to some lovely beaches.

Driving: The traffic is frantic, the signs are bewildering and parking spaces are scarce ...need we say more?

Climate: Mediterranean Climate - winter daily average temperature between 10-15 degrees Celsius, summer daily average temperature between 30-35 degrees Celsius

Currency: EURO

Time Difference: GMT +2 hrs

Tipping; a service charge of 15% is usually added to the bill but it's customary to leave a tip of up to 10% for waiters for good service.

Islands: Regular ferries can be boarded from the major port at Piraeus, which is just a 25 minute metro ride away from the city centre.

Acropolis:

From its lofty position on the hill of the Acropolis, the Parthenon, is the most famous site in Greece dating back to the fifth century BC. Built entirely of marble, it was a sanctuary for the goddess Athen and looks magnificent at sunset and when its illuminated after dark.

The Temple of Athena Niki and the Erchtheion Temple can also be found here.

Delphi:

A day trip to this ancient site north-west of Athens is rewarded by its dramatic hillside setting.

Delphi is one of the most sacred sites of ancient Greece and includes a huge amphitheatre
and the Temple of Apollo.

Plaka:

At the foot of the Acropolis the Plaka district remains untouched for the last 100 years thanks to some strict building regulations.

Most of the city's sights are within easy reach of the narrow, winding streets which are rammed with open air caf�s, restaurants and souvenir shops.

It's a good place to stay if you can cope with the noise.

National Archaeological Museum:

After two years of renovation work the museum has at last become a worthy home for some national treasures from sites around Greece.

Among the showpiece exhibits from the last 7,000 years are golden masks, jewellery, murals and the bronze statue of Poseidon

Nights Out:

Athens boasts an intense night-life, especially during the busy summer months, when the tavernas and street cafes are swarming with people.

Traditional Greek restaurants are now competing with some classy establishments that sprung up for the Olympic Games and serve quality international cuisine.

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