Unearth the hidden gems of Athens

When it comes to visiting Greece, many of us will opt for a week or two soaking up the sun on one of the surrounding islands.

However, there is so much to explore on the mainland, none more so than the capital Athens. Among the oldest cities in the world, Athens is home to a number of historical sites such as the Acropolis, Temple of Poseidon and the unmistakable Parthenon and, of course, it is the birthplace to the Olympic Games.

While these landmarks will no doubt be on your itinerary, why not get off the beaten track and discover some of the hidden gems Athens has to offer. Take a stroll down one of the quaint side streets to find quirky cafes or historical sites not covered in many of the standard tour guides.

Athens is set to be at the forefront of a new campaign by Greece’s tourism sector following an increase in visitors to the country, Greek minister of tourism Elena Kountoura confirmed. The minister wants the capital to be the go-to destination for people looking for city breaks, so maybe this could be the time to visit?

Let’s take a look at some of the hidden gems that should be on your Athens wishlist.

Mount Hymettus

It may not be well hidden but Mount Hymettus is a great place for hiking and enjoying stunning views over the city. Often referred to as the ‘crazy mountain’, for reasons seemingly unknown, Hymettus stretches for over 1,000 metres on the east side of Athens. Take the steep steps up and you’ll find a wealth of blooming flowers making it a fairly pleasant walk.

The mountain range is home to the Kaisariani Monastery. Situated on the north side of Mount Hymettus, this Eastern Orthodox monastery has been here since the Byzantine times in 1100 and gives a nod to the Athens of years gone by. Hymettus is also the site of the sanctuary of Zeus Ombrios, the rain god, believed to have been in the same place since 8th century BC.

A must visit for the more active explorers among you.

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Brettos

Athens is famed for its nightlife with areas such as Psyrri, Monstiraki and Syntagma coming alive with music and revellers each evening. However, there is one nightspot that is truly unique and is a hit with tourists and locals alike. That place is Brettos.

Situated in the unassuming area of Plaka, Brettos provides a much different experience than anywhere else in Athens. It is the oldest distillery in the city serving up its own brand of ouzos and liqueurs made from every flavour you can think of. Soon as you step inside you’ll be struck by the wall of colour as hundreds of spirit bottles are illuminated to create a rainbow of light.

Founded by Michael Brettos in 1909, you could not get much more of an authentic Athens experience than with a couple of drinks in this wonderfully charming bar.

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Photo credit: llnmtheu via Flickr.

Panathenaic Stadium

While not technically a hidden gem, the Panathenaic Stadium is well worth a visit while in Athens. You will probably recognise the ground as being the finish line for the marathon during the 2004 Summer Olympics but it has a much longer and rich history behind it.

The stadium, located in the Pangrati district, can be traced back to 329 BC when it was used for the Panathenaic Games. It was renovated in 1869 in time for the 1870 and 1875 Olympics and it has been a focal point for sport in Athens ever since. From hosting major basketball games to being home to football side AEK Athens, the stadium has played a significant part in the city’s development.

Today, you can visit this impressive ground and follow in the footsteps of famous athletes and even hold an Olympic torch.

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Aegina Island

A short hop across the Mediterranean Sea is the charming Aegina Island. Easily accessible by ferry from the port of Piraeus, Aegina is a much slower paced way of life compared to Athens and, unlike the capital; it is not a major tourist destination as yet.

Many people come here to soak up the sun on the beautiful beaches and swim in the crystal clear waters but there are a number of historic landmarks to see. The island is widely recognised as being the first place in Greece to mint coins during the 7th century. It is a great place to simply wander round, especially in the port area.

Take a bus up to the Temple of Aphaea and explore the remains of the monument to the Greek goddess Aphaia which traces its history back to 500 BC.

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Roman Agora of Athens

One of the quieter tourist attractions in the city, the Roman Agora of Athens is yet another nod to the country’s past. Built between 19 and 11 BC, it is a reminder of the Roman occupation of Greece and the remains still stand to this very day.

Among them is the Gate of Athena Archegetis and a monument known as the ‘Tower of the Winds’ which is the combination of an ancient clock, weather vane, sundial and compass. Take a trip and explore the ruins for yourself.

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Agios Eleftherios

The final stop on this tour of Athens’ hidden gems is the charming Byzantine church of Agios Eleftherios. This quaint place of worship has been tucked away close to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens since it was constructed during the 12th century.

It is the perfect example of later-Byzantine architecture and is an ideal retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday Athenian life.

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This is just a snapshot of what Athens has to offer so search www.sunmaster.co.uk for a great deal and begin your Greek adventure today.