Athens's gold standards

By James Ellis, Metro

Last updated at 15:44 31 March 2006


Take a stroll around Athens's bustling harbour

There is no doubt that over the past four years, Athens has become Europe's most improved city. Previously a smog-filled cauldron worthy only of a short stop to climb the Acropolis before heading for the havens of the islands, Athens pulled its finger out in readiness for the 2004 Olympic Games.

The Greek reputation for doing things avrio (tomorrow) cast doubt on Athens's suitability as an Olympic city - and that sparked a new Hellenism born of sheer indignation.

The result was one of the most successful Olympics ever and Greece became the only country in history to become European champions in basketball and football and win the Eurovision Song Contest at the same time.

This renaissance led to other regeneration projects in the city. The breathtaking ancient sites were unified by pedestrian walkways; the extended Metro, new tram system and ring roads eased congestion and pollution; unsightly advertising boards were ripped down; and beaches displayed record numbers of EU blue flags for cleanliness.

Neoclassical homes in neglected areas such as Psiri, Gazi, Thisseio and Plaka were refurbished and replaced with a buzzy café and bar culture, while shops in Ermou Street, boutiques in Kolonaki and the flea market in Monastiraki all thrived.

Throw in Athens's rich historical sites, such as the Acropolis, Ancient Agora and Hadrian's Arch, and you'll find more than enough to keep you entertained for a short break. A wag once wrote: 'If Greece gave the light of democracy to the world, why does it live in the dark?' Well, the lights are back on and they're shining bright.

Sleep Grande Bretagne: Once part of the Royal Summer Palace, this recently refurbished Starwood hotel, built in 1862, deserves a visit, even if you can't afford a room.

Plaka Hotel: Minimalist boutique hotel in the city centre. Great rooms at cheap rates.

Art Hotel: The beautiful, neoclassical facade belies one of Athens's best boutique properties with themed rooms.

Eat Spondi: This classy, pricey restaurant in Pangrati has topped listings mag Athinorama's Golden Chef awards for four years running.

Edodi: There are no menus at this restaurant in Veikou Street. Instead, fresh ingredients are presented at your table and the chef tells you what he can make with them. Only eight tables so do book. Tel: 30 210 921 3013.

Jimmy And The Fish: Head to Mikrolimano in the port of Piraeus for Athens's best fish restaurant.

Drink Pop: Tiny place in Kleitou Street in the city centre hosts eclectic music and serves the best cocktails. Tel: 30 210 322 0650.

Stavlos: This rock and pop venue in the former Royal Stables in Thisseio has a cosy atmosphere.

Factory: This legendary gay dance club has recently relocated to Dekeleon Street in Gazi. Tel: 30 210 345 2220.

Must-see Parthenon: You can't visit Athens without taking the half-hour trek to the mainstay of the Acropolis.

Lycabettus Hill: The city's other high point has a funicular railway to take you to the top for stunning views. There's also an open-air theatre halfway up that plays host to international acts.

Syntagma Square: The centre of the city is where you'll see the changing of guards in traditional garb outside parliament. The surrounding National Gardens are a gem.

Off-beat Lake Vouliagmenis: Take a dip in this eerie, freshwater lake and spa 15km from town. It's said to be bottomless and have underwater caves.

Meat market: Buy your meat, fruit, veg and spices here, off Athinas Street. All-night tavernas in the depths dish up cheap, melt-in-the-mouth meals. Remember 79: Athens's only punk clothes shop, at 79 Adrianou Street in Monastiraki, is a shrine to every rock star who has visited the city. The Greek capital of Athens is flanked by the Ymettos mountain range and Saronic Gulf.

It is best visited in spring and autumn as summer can be unbearably hot.

Fast facts Currency: £1 = E1.6 Language: Greek Flying time from Britain: Four hours Time zone: GMT +2 Tourist board:

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