Athens has long been considered a major cultural capital of Europe — and there's no doubt it is the birthplace of Western civilization. Over centuries, the conquerors who occupied Athens erected splendid monuments to their victories, resulting in a rich mosaic of human history and ambition. Athens became the capital of the modern Greek state in 1834 and, in the nearly two centuries since, it has become a modern metropolis with unrivaled charm and vitality. A large part of the town's historic center has been converted into a 3-kilometre pedestrian zone (the largest in Europe), leading to the major archeological sites.
Most awe-inspiring is the sacred rock of the Acropolis, rising majestically over Athens and home to so many masterpieces of architecture and art, most renowned of which is the Parthenon, temple of the city's guardian goddess, Athena. Not far from the rock is the Acropolis Museum, a modern wonder of steel, glass, and concrete. The sleek building is in sharp contrast to the priceless collection of antiquities it houses. Other notable historic landmarks near the Acropolis include the Temple of Zeus, Hadrian's Arch, and the ancient theatre of Dionysos where the works of Sophocles and Euripides were performed in the 5th century BC.
The "core" of the historic center is the Plaka, which has been inhabited without interruption since antiquity. Here are narrow labyrinthine streets lined with houses and mansions from the time of the Turkish occupation and the 19th century Neoclassical period. This area is rich with museums and galleries as well as shops selling souvenirs and traditional Greek products. More serious shopping can be done on and around Ermou Street in the historic commercial neighborhood. With over 2500 stores it's a shopper's paradise.
It's impossible to discuss a trip to Greece without mentioning the exceptional cuisine and lively dining scene. A favorite activity of Athenians is socializing with friends over drinks. Cafes, tavernas, restaurants, ouzeries, and pubs can be found throughout the city. All are welcoming and friendly. In September, when Carpenter will be visiting, meals are often enjoyed outdoors. Ingredients are remarkably fresh and local—fish off the boat, salad from the garden, and exceptional Greek olive oil adding its wonderful flavor. At night, locals flock to the clubs and dance halls where they dance and drink till dawn.