Most Greeks agree on one thing, that Athens is one big village. Ancient Athens aside, this relatively young and noisy capital grew in one century from a few thousand people to some four million, and very quickly. Arriving from all over Greece and from Hellenic bastions beyond Greece proper (Alexandria, Constantinople, Smyrna, Pontus, etc.), Athenians have brought with them a mishmash of cultural intricacies and traditions. Behind the stark buildings of Athens lies a much more intimate fabric of civilization from old culinary secrets to island-like houses such as those in Anafiotika, Plaka. This, mixed with rich archaeological treasures and the natural attractions of Attica – the prefecture that hosts Athens – will make any trip across and around the big city more eco-friendly than ever, provided that you're armed with all the information needed to navigate what may seem like a jungle for first-timers. Rest assured, Athens and its environs are amazing in an east-meets-west sort of way, and for whatever you're looking for. Vestiges from Hellenic, Roman and Ottoman times conspire to make your stay in this city and environs an exotic one indeed.
Right in the middle of Athens, there's of course the Acropolis that everyone has seen, at least in pictures. While a trip to the acropolis is sheer delight, along with a visit to the amazing new Acropolis Museum, there are many other places in the immediate neighborhood to visit. The temple of Hephaestus or Thiseon is even more intact than the acropolis, though smaller. Beside it lies the Agora – the only ancient building that's been completely renovated – housing as well a noteworthy archaeological collection. Even the archaeological displays in the metro stations such as the Acropolis Metro, Syntagma Square Metro and Monastiraki Metro are worthy of your attention. These riches were unearthed when the Metro was being dug up only a decade or so ago. Note also the ancient running river Iridanus or Eridanos that still passes through the Monastiraki Metro. Nearby too are the ancient graveyards of Kerameikos, complete with an onsite museum. The theatre of Herod Atticus and theatre of Dionysus are also a walk away from the centre and the Acropolis. This rich area hides amazing landmarks in its neighborhoods like the tower of the winds in Plaka and the monument of Filopappou not far away. Beyond classical Greece, the Romans also left their mark on Athens, from Hadrian's arch to the Roman Agora, a civilization that gave way to the Byzantines and then the Ottomans. Monuments and buildings from all these eras are hidden in Athens' streets.
Is there real ecotourism in Athens though? Yes, and much of it too if we're talking about greater Athens and its surroundings. After all, the city is surrounded by hills and mountains that harbor wildlife, fauna and flora the likes of you've never seen. Keeping in mind that the symbol for Athens is the wise old owl, Athene Noctua, there are 120 species of birds flying around this metropolis and 140 species of wild flowers recorded in the city itself. A visit to Lycabettus Hill, the Hymettus mountain range and Philoppapou Hill, all within city limits, will take you to a world of nature and hiking as if you're suddenly in another dimension, millennia away from the hustle and bustle. Other lesser known green treasures within the city are Tourkovounia, Stretfi Hill, Areos Pagos park and even the once royal gardens behind Syntagma square, smack in the centre of the city.
Nature abounds in the capital, even if it's hard to see. The national gardens off syntagma offer a wonderful break and some strange birds who fly through, although the birdwatching prize goes to the adjacent Hymettus (or Immitos) hill that actually has bird towers and is considered an unparalleled spot for birdwatching, despite the mega-city sprawling nearby. A short hike up the forested Lycabettus Hill (Lykavitos) from the Kolonaki neighbourhood will give you a splendid view of the Attica basin, all the way to the port of Piraeus. The little church of Saint George on its summit is said to answer difficult prayers. Downtown's archaeological museum and Cycladic Museum are must-sees, but so are smaller ones such as the Numismatic Museum and the Folk Museum in Plaka.
Athens is also an important springboard for all other sites and landmarks of Attica, and the Greater Athens area. The ancient site of Eleusis (today Elefsina) where spiritual and religious ceremonies where held are only a bus ride away, and so is the powerful, magical site of Sounio with its acropolis, overlooking the Aegean Sea and nearby islands. The Sounio National Park is also a unique haven for fauna and flora.
Another bus ride can take you to the north edge of the capital, as far as the Royal Gardens of Tatoi, where the King of Greece once lived and now a huge garden that takes a couple of hours to explore, right at the foothills of Mount Parnitha. Lastly, not for from Athens are lesser known locales of Marathon (Marathonas), Brauron (Vravrona) and Ampheirion, with amazing nature and ancient ruins that are waiting to be discovered.
The TopoGuide, a fantastic new hiking app, has just been released for Attica region (Lycabettus hill, Penteli, Ymittos moutain and Parnitha mountain). Great images, wondrus hiking routes, geological curiosities and even roadmaps will guide users on amazing journeys. www.ecotourism-greece.com is proud to have contributed its insights to this app! You can download these apps from Google Store (Attica, Lycabettus hill, Penteli, Ymittos moutain and Parnitha mountain).