Imperious and unforgettable, Athens is without doubt one of the most outstanding experiences on any Mediterranean cruise. Often used as a starting point or as a show stopping grand finale, the famous ‘cradle of democracy' is almost as wedded to the sea as she is to her own, matchless history.
The city is actually joined to its port of Piraeus to such an extent that they are almost now one and the same. A new international airport makes access relatively easy, and the arrival of the 2004 Olympics resulted in a much needed infusion of time, thought and money that made the fading Greek capital into a much refreshed visitor destination; one that offered visitors a raft of modern conveniences, yet still able to wear and flaunt is fabulous history like some ancient laurel crown.
Dating back around some 3,400 years, Athens is dominated by the all pervasive presence of the Acropolis and, at its summit, the majestic, hulking magnificence of the Parthenon. Climbing to the summit is something that every visitor should try and do at least once. That ascent, visually softened by lemon groves and pine trees that stand out against decades of sun seared granite, is rewarded by a series of staggering vistas out over the vast spread of this amazing sea city.
Down below, the bustling Plaka plays host to many bars, restaurants and cafes, and another poignant Athenian landmark, in the shape of the hexagonal Tower of The Winds.
Throughout what is in effect a massive architectural theme park, ancient Doric columns, stunted by the passage of time and bleached by centuries of pitiless sun, stand like silent exclamation marks as lines of traffic race heedlessly by.
Yet there is another, more resurgent side to Athens that many are unaware of. Along the sparkling, sun kissed waters of its gorgeous coast, the Athenian Riviera is slowly coming back into its own, with mile after mile of sun splashed beaches, indolent yacht harbours brim full of open air restaurants, and promenades thronged with locals and visitors all engaged in the ancient sport of people watching, one that pre dates even the Olympics here.
Ringed in by mountains to the north, both city and port have a spectacular natural stance, with sun dappled waters playing host to fleets of ferries and cruise ships that go back and forth at all hours, making for the sparkling, idyllic island paradises of the Aegean. In Omonia Square, the changing of the guard usually draws a flood of spectators every day of the year.
Should you visit in summer, check out one of the fabulous, open air garden theatres that offer performances all over the city at night. These can be nothing short of magical, with the scent of pines and olive groves in the air as the sun sags reluctantly out of sight behind the impassive Acropolis.
Athens is best thought of as a city that emphasises its proud past, rather than one that merely lives in it. Fascinating without question, it remains one of the great, must see cities on any cruise itinerary of any duration.
If you would like more information on cruises to Athens, please contact one of our Cruise Experts on 0800 008 6677.