Once one of the most important cities in the ancient world, Athens retains its place today as the heart of modern Greece. Up until recently, the city had been infamous for its traffic, air pollution and litter. However, since the 2004 Olympic Games, Athens has been regenerated and has transformed into a clean and pleasant urban area. It is now far more than just a stopover for tourists on their way to the Greek island resorts. There are a ton of activities to do and sights to take in that will leave tourists aching for more from a city which is widely acknowledged as the birthplace of Western democracy. With developments in how the European Union awards visas to American tourists under a new ETIAS scheme set to take effect in the near future, you should start planning your big Greek vacation right away. Below is a list of the five best things to see and do in Greece’s charming capital city.

1.Visit the Acropolis

One of the most significant ancient sites in the Western world, the Acropolis of Athens is a citadel situated above the modern city on a rocky limestone outcrop. Dating back to the Bronze Age, the site contains numerous ruins of buildings of immense archeologically importance, the most famous of which is the Parthenon. Throughout the centuries, the Acropolis was the home of ancient Athenian kings, while legend also has it that it was also the residence of the gods. Today, it is one of most visited tourist sites in the whole of Greece, partly due to the incredible Parthenon temple and partly due to the spectacular view that the site offers across the urban sprawl.

2.Explore the Ancient Agora of Athens

Located in the center of the modern city, the Ancient Agora of Athens was once the site of a busy marketplace. At the zenith of the Ancient Greek civilization, the building represented the crucible of the political, cultural and economic world, and was where people would come to hear civic announcements, discuss politics and muster public support for bellicose campaigns of military conquest. It is often far less busy than the Acropolis and is an excellent place to get a feel for what life was like in the Athens of millennia past.

3.Take a Trip to the Odeon of Herodes Atticus

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a large and ornate stone amphitheater situated on the southwest slope of the hill on which the Acropolis stands. Built between 160-174 A.D. by a wealthy philanthropist as a memorial to his late wife, the Roman-style theater still serves today as a working venue for plays and musical performances. Those lucky enough to catch a performance there report the experiencing a magical atmosphere that transports the audience back in time to a bygone era of performance art.

Zeus Temple

4.Check Out the Temple of Olympian Zeus

As one of the finest examples of Ancient Greek architecture that still stands to this day, the Temple of Olympian Zeus consists of finely worked white columns topped by hefty lintels. The structure is the remnants of what was once one of the most important temples in the city of Ancient Athens. If you are a student of history, the central location of the temple provides the inquisitive traveler with a fascinating opportunity to immerse themselves in the spiritual lives of the former inhabitants of the city.

5.Visit Kerameikos Museum

Kerameikos is an ancient cemetery which is located northwest of the Acropolis in one of the most beautiful and infrequently visited areas of the ancient city. An enchanting archeology museum stands at the site of the cemetery which exhibits the findings of the grave digs. Among the various collections is a wide range of relics and artefacts, including statues, urns and funerary monuments from thousands of years ago. The museum and cemetery offer a serene atmosphere and are a must for anyone with an interest in funerary practices of the Ancient Greeks.

Vacations to modern Greece are much more than lazing around on the country’s many island drinking cocktails and taking in the sun. It is a massive shame to miss out on the incredible remnants of the civilization whose influence extends into every aspect of modern Western culture and society. Lucky for anyone with a burning passion for ancient history, it is becoming much easier for travelers from outside the European Union to visit the country. If you are an American citizen, use an ETIAS guide to stay up-to-date with the latest visa information.