It’s high time we escaped the Athenian Antiquity (although it won’t be possible at all, as Athens is equal to Antiquity) and feel the rhythm of the more modern city. I suggest that we start our stroll from the oldest square in the town, namely Omonia. It is also the most vivid one because unlike Syntagma it stays awaken 24/7. It’s always overcrowded with people. It’s a tradition for locals to go out into the square on Saturday evening. They buy their Sunday’s newspapers from one of the numerous kiosks. Some of them review them in the nearby cafés while others just return home.
You might take the subway or walk on foot for about 5-10 minutes and you will reach a place where you will stumble upon the Trilogy of the neo-classical buildings comprising the National Library of Hellas, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and the Academy of Athens. The designer of them all is Danish architect Theophil Freiherr von Hansen.
The Vallianios National Library of Hellas keeps more than 4 500 manuscripts and other archives. Outside it attracts visitors and locals alike with its impressive, ellipsoid double stairway at the entrance.
National and Kapodistrian University of Athens is next to it. It was founded by King Otto of Greece in 1837 and it was named after him – Othonian University. The University was the first and the biggest education institution of that kind in the newly liberated Greek state. After King Otto left Greece it was renamed to National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in honour of Ioannis Kapodistrias (he was the very first head of state of the liberated country). Nowadays, the University is the second biggest one after Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. By the way, one of the most fascinating things about it is the beautiful wall paintings dating back to 1864. They depict the Hellenic revival of sciences.
The third element of the Trilogy is the Akademia Athinon (or the Academy of Athens). Actually, the idea comes from the ancient Academy of Plato. Nowadays it possesses more than ten research centres as well as 10 research offices. Speaking about its outlook, I should mention that this is one of the most remarkable and renowned buildings in Athens and one of the greatest landmarks in the Hellenic capitals. Why? Because it’s well distinguished from other buildings in the city due to the two flanking pillars with the figures of Goddess Athena and God Apollo with lyre and seated marble figures of the two greatest Greek philosophers – Plato and Socrates.
Moving forward by metro or on foot, we shall reach the other biggest and most central square of Athens – Sýntagma. The name of the square means “Constitution” and it was named after the Greek Constitution of 1844 when the Athenians rebelled and demanded from King Otto its concession. Nowadays the square is an extremely pleasant place for having a nice stroll at daytime or at night.
Many of the tiny streets that start from here lead to the Highest Town and on its slopes. Of course, this place is dotted by numerous luxurious hotels, buildings housing banks, companies and public institutions. For example, the Grande Bretagne Hotel is the grandest one in Athens. It is a huge Neoclassical building from King Otto’s makeover. The marbled lobby has remained untouched since 1950s when Winston Churchill survived an assassination attempt when he stayed there in 1944.
Surely, the greatest attraction here on the Syntagma Square is the Old Royal Palace which is now the Hellenic Parliament. Not to be missed is the Changing of the Guard (the Evzones) in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
If you need some peace and quietness, you might choose to spend some time in the National Gardens of Athens. They are about 16-hectare central park in the capital which situated just behind the Hellenic Parliament building.
Here you can practise turtle watching or you can just sit on a bench with a book in hands. There are plenty of attractions and playgrounds for children. You might visit the Botanical garden situated among the trees and alleys. Or you might just cross it from end to end reaching the 1878 neo-classical building of the Zappeion Congress and Conference Hall built by Theophil Freiherr von Hansen.
And finally, you might end the day by going to Piraeus in afternoon to have a late lunch or early dinner, drink a frappe or visit the Hellenic (Nautical) Maritime Museum. Piraeus was a separate town once upon a time but it was added to Athens and today it’s known as the Athenian port. Apart from being the sea port of the capital, it is a very nice place near the sea with its crescent shaped harbours – Marina Zea and Mikrolimano. It is a delightful place to wander and escape the intensity of Athens. Enjoy it. 🙂