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.

Note:

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 (AtticaLycabettus hillPenteliYmittos moutain and Parnitha mountain).

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Location - Athens City

Hiking in Mount Parnitha

There is a lack of landmarks for the 75 hiking paths on this mountain, but there is a guide called Footpaths of Mt. Parnitha and map by Road Editions that outline these hikes well.

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Koutouki Cave

The most well-known cave on Hymettus is Koutouki cave in Peania which hosts guided tours. Sadly, too much lighting and human presence has degraded the natural characteristics of the cave.

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Even right in the centre of the city, Athens is a great place for birdwatching, if you know where to go. The Acropolis Hill is known for its owls, while the National Gardens right behind Syntagma Square, Athens' central point, are also a magnet for birds, especially during migrating season. Here you may spot Blackbirds, Eurasian Collared Doves, Great Tits, Magpies, Short-toed Treecreepers, Spotted Flycatchers and more.

Imittos

The closest and largest birdwatching locale in the city is the mountain of Hymettus or Imittos in Greek. It is about 20 km long and 1026 km high, offering a great location to hike and spot birds.

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Mt. Lycabettus

Also noteworthy is Lycabettus or Likavitos Hill in Athens almost in the centre of town. In addition to great views of the port of Piraeus and all of Athens, a rocky area on top attracts many rock-loving birds. You might see a Bunting, Chaffinch, Great Tit, Sardinian Warbler and many more.

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Mt. Parnitha

This is the highest peak near Athens towering at 1,400 meters. Past the cable car station at the upper elevations in the mornings and evenings is bound to reveal the most birds. You could spot a Coal Tit, Firecrest, Flycatcher, Great Tit, Jay, Magpie, Sardinian Warbler, Western Rock Nuthatch and more.

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Mt. Penteli

While often plagued by forest fires in summer, the elevation of upto 1,100 meters on its eastern slopes may reveal several species of birds. These include Hooded Cirl Buntings, Crows, Jays, Red-backed Shrikes, Sparrow Hawks, Western Rock Nuthatches.

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Schinias

This area was revamped during the Olympic games, creating rowing lakes. The trees near the beach, including large confiers, a creek and some greenery have attracted birds here.

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Koutouki Cave

The most well-known cave on Hymettus is Koutouki cave in Peania which hosts guided tours. Sadly, too much lighting and human presence has degraded the natural characteristics of the cave.

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Pit of Sykia, Vari, Mount Hymettus

On the southeast side of Hymettus near the area of Vari, this open precipice impresses you with its mouth and runs 20 meters deep. Speleologists practice climbing up and down over here.

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Athens has changed in recent years with many auto-free zones around the central area in particular. This includes the area from Gazi/Keiramikos to Thisseo and on to Dionysiou Argeopagitou street which takes from Thisseo to the Acropolis Museum.

The green areas around there are also accessible by bike. Hermou street from Syntagma down to Thisseo is also pedestrianized, giving bikes access to the most important parts of Downtown Athens. Pedal through the Plaka and Monastiraki districts, as well as the old neighbourhood of Anafiotika, part of Plaka. The green Philoppapou hill and the Pnyx are a particular pleasure to bike through. This is where Socrates Cave lies, as well as the tomb of Kimon, leader of the Delian League. The area is also where Plato lectured.

Nearby, mount Hymettus (Imittos) offers many interesting biking routs with lots of dirt roads. It generally requires a good mountain bike with the right tires. Expect some steep biking climbs that are nonetheless negotiable if you have some biking experience. There are specialist maps that show designated routes that are good for biking.

Is there a specific cuisine for the Athens area? Of course not, it's the capital of Greece, right in its centre, and has been the melting pot of Greek cuisines from the Pontus area of Anatolia to the depths of Alexandria. Indeed, Greeks from all over the ancient and modern world brought their gastronomic delights to this very old yet young capital after its rebirth in the last century or so.

Ask anyone and they'll tell you nobody is really from Athens, which rings true if you go back 150 years and find that only a few hundred lived in this city. But precisely because of this, Athens is now the hotbed of Greek cuisine, a porridge of ancient recipes and modern interpretations that have even won a couple of Michelin stars here and there. From the fish taverns of Piraeus with heavenly seafood delicacies to the Peinirli places of Drosia offering semi-closed pizzas with cheese, egg and bacon, Athens is the ultimate word on Greek food. Many local restaurants – i.e. tavernas – boast cuisines that are inspired by where their owners originate, be they from Crete, Naxos or Thessaloniki. The best ones are not those found in touristic areas such as Plaka and Monastiraki (although there are some decent ones there), but hidden away in the side streets were only locals go.

There are tavernas, specialty shops and patisseries that are away from the tourist areas, offering unsurpassed local dining. For dessert, think heavenly Greek custard pie (Galaktoboureko), mastic ice cream, nutty baklava or walnut cake with a bit of syrup (Karidopita). We are slowly putting the most authentic and most traditional Greek eateries and food shops on our website, so keep checking under the relevant category for more. You'll be on a culinary tour of the city that will take you to gastronomic bliss.

Hiking in Mount Parnitha

There is a lack of landmarks for the 75 hiking paths on this mountain, but there is a guide called Footpaths of Mt. Parnitha and map by Road Editions that outline these hikes well.

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Hiking in Sounion National Park

Right outside Agios Konstantinos (Kamarizas) on the way to the church of Agia Triada is Chaos, a unique geological phenomenon in Attica. It is a large round gulch with a perimeter of roughly 500 meters and a depth of 70 meters.

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Hiking in Ymittos (also Imittos or Hymettus)

Mount Hymettus is famous for its thyme-scented honey. It is covered with beautiful pine forest, impressive caves, historic monasteries and many marked footpaths, just a five or ten minute drive from downtown Athens.

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Mount Parnitha north of Athens offers the ultimate in mountain climbing. Petra Varibombis northeast of the Athens' Thrakomakedones suburb features a large cluster of rocks of different sizes, offering a wide variety of climbing opportunities for every level of difficulty.

Photo: easy-hiker.blogspot.gr

In the gorge of Houni the area of Flambouri offers several climbing possibilities and is considered of medium difficulty, with a different in altitude of 90 meters. An even more challenging area is Arma, above the Monastery of Kleiston, with cliffs that are in the 'difficult' range and an altitude difference of 130 meters.

Eight climbing fields of all degrees of difficulty reveal themselves on Mount Hymettus near Athens. Specialised maps mark these areas or mountaineering clubs can take you to them.

The most known areas are:

  • Kareas: Located on the western slope of the mountain, this is the oldest in the area. It offers a calcareous rock landscape with several beautiful paths and great views.
  • Karavi (Plori): Also on the western slope, this ancient quarry is ideal for climbing, with limestone rocks and stunning views.
  • Stroma: There are ten climbing routes on this new climbing field, which offers a lot of possibilities.
  • Korakovouni: This is one of the more classic areas for rock climbing with short climbs of 3-8 meters, many of which can be roped from the top.
  • Sesi: Considered one of the most beautiful climbing areas on the mountain, with three distinct climbing areas – Lelaki, Vrachokipos and Kendriko – offering a variety of climbing levels.

Hiking in Mount Parnitha

There is a lack of landmarks for the 75 hiking paths on this mountain, but there is a guide called Footpaths of Mt. Parnitha and map by Road Editions that outline these hikes well.

Find Out More

Koutouki Cave

The most well-known cave on Hymettus is Koutouki cave in Peania which hosts guided tours. Sadly, too much lighting and human presence has degraded the natural characteristics of the cave.

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Acropolis Museum

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Acharnian Gate of the Ancient Athens Wall

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Acropolis, Athens

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Amphiareion, North Attica

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Cave Sanctuary of Pan

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Elefsina (Eleusis)

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Greek Agora in Plaka

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Hadrian’s Arch, Downtown Athens

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Kerameikos, Athens

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Lysicrates Monument, Plaka area

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Marathon Warriors’ Tomb, Marathonas

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Monastiraki Metro Display

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Odeon of Herod Atticus, Acropolis

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Panathenaic stadium (Kalimarmaro)

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Philoppapou Monument Hill

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Pnyx hill

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Ramnous (Kato Souli, near Marathon coast)

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Roman Agora, Athens

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Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library

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Roman Bath, Amalias Avenue

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Temple of Hephaestus, Thisseo

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Temple of Olympian Zeus

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Temple of Poseidon, Sounion

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Tower of the winds/ Aerides, Plaka area

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Underground ruins, Kotzia Square

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Vravrona, near Markopoulo/Porto Rafti

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Aegosthenes Fortress, Porto Germeno

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Mount Parnitha just north of Athens has over 20 caves and chasms, the most known being Pan's cave which was a place of worship dedicated to the god Pan in antiquity. Mount Hymettus (Imittos) is composed of slate on lower ground and limestone on higher ground which can store water, yielding many springs like at the Kesariani Monastery, Asteriou Monastery, Agios Ioannis Theologos Monastery, Kareas and Kalopoula. The limestone topography has given rise to over 60 caves in the area. Most have been explored but it is expected that there are still many other unexplored ones.

Cave of Leontari, Mount Hymettus

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Pit of Asteriou Monastery

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Pit of Megalos Pyrgos, Mount Hymettus

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Church of Agioi Anargyroi, Athens

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Church of St. Catherine, Plaka

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Church of St. John the Theologian, Athens

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Church of Panagia Chrysokastriotissa, Athens

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St. Nicholas of the Poorhouse, Downtown Athens

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Bath House of the Winds, Plaka

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Beth Shalom Synagogue

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Commonwealth War Cemetery

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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First Cemetery of Athens

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Mosque of the Conquerors’ Victory, Plaka

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Municipal Market of Athens, Athinas Street

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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National Observatory

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Old House of Parliament

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Old National University of Athens

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Syntagma Square, Central Athens

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Technopolis, Gazi

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Zappeion

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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There are over 100 museums around Athens of different sizes, and all offering insight on Greece from millennia ago to its dynamic culture today. Some of these museums are very famous, while others are tucked away on side streets and not known to the public. Let their themes inspire you, go visit, and let these museums stir your soul!

Acropolis Museum

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Archaeological Museum of Eleusis, Elefsina

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Archaeological Museum of Megara

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Athens Railway Museum, Sepolia

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Benaki Islamic Art Museum

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Benaki Museum, Downtown Athens

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Byzantine and Christian Museum, Downtown

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art, Downtown

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum, Acropolis

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Jewish Museum, Plaka

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Marathon Archaeological Museum, Vranas

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Mineralogical Museum, Lavrion

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Museum of Diachronic Art

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Museum of Greek Popular Musical Instruments

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Museum of the Ancient Agora

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National Archaeological Museum, Viktoria Metro

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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National Historical Museum, Downtown Athens

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Numismatic Museum

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Postal & Philatelic Museum

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Tactual Museum

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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The Museum at 22 Panos str., Plaka

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Ecotourism in Athens?

Yes, and much of it too if we're talking about greater Athens and its surroundings. Beyond the Acropolis, quick visitors consider Athens an ugly city and a concrete jungle, at best a stopover to other places in Greece. But there is so much more to Greater Athens that the passing visitor doesn't know about. To begin with, it's 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 the city 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, Streffi Hill, Areos Pagos park and even the once royal gardens behind Syntagma square, smack in the centre of the city.

Mount Hymettus (Imittos)

Athens & Nearby Islands / Athens City
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Mount Parnitha

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Sounio National Park

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Vravrona

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Acropolis Museum

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