Democracy, drama, philosophy… Athens has given us an awful lot. And the traces of the ancient greats crop up surprisingly regularly in an otherwise gritty but buzzy modern city. Walking down a road past bars, street art and souvlaki joints, only to suddenly bump into the remnants of the classical world, is surprisingly common. Athens is more than just a giant open-air museum.
Arguably the most important site in Europe is the hill that every hotel and restaurant in Athens fights for a view of. The Parthenon is the most renowned ruin on the Acropolis – a staggering feat of design where every column was made a slightly different size and shape in order to appeal to the eye – but there's plenty more. Take, for example, the Theatre of Dionysus, the giant open-air theatre where drama was born.
A good way of exploring modern Athens is through its food. Urban Adventures runs an excellent Taste of Athens tour that mooches through markets, tests out traditional Greek coffee, gorges on feta and spinach spanakopitas, and tackles doughy desserts with Greek yoghurt ice-cream. It costs €68. See urbanadventures.com
The New Acropolis Museum does a fantastic job of explaining the periods of Greek history through its remarkable collection of statues, busts and temple fragments. The highlight is the top floor, exactly the same size and orientation of the Parthenon, which displays the remaining Parthenon marbles and dives into the stories they tell. See theacropolismuseum.gr
Context Travel's Socrates, Plato and the Pursuit of Happiness tour is something very different. It heads to the ruins of what's thought to be Plato's Academy, and explains how the philosophical school started there. But then it turns into a philosophical discussion in the park, as a trained classicist leads the small group through the cornerstones of Plato's beliefs, encouraging participants to work out whether they're more Plato or Aristotle. The private tour cost €325 for groups of up to six. See contexttravel.com
The New Hotel has considerable design pizzazz, with walls covered in bits of old wooden furniture, rooms gently themed on the "evil eye" and bonkers chairs that have ladders climbing almost to the ceiling as backs. Doubles cost from €176. See yeshotels.gr/hotel/new-hotel
The best time to head to the Acropolis – if you want to avoid the crowds, anyway – is late in the afternoon. From about 5pm, the cruise ship crowds have dispersed.
David Whitley was a guest of Context Travel and Urban Adventures.