About 12 million people visit Athens every year to clamber around Europe’s most famous classical ruins at the Acropolis and discover the city’s world-class museums. These cultural havens work to relate the history of our oldest democracy from historic times to the present day. Bonus: During the summer season, many of Greece’s museums and historical sites gear up for the annual influx of visitors by lengthening their opening hours.
Chief among these is the Acropolis itself. The New Acropolis Museum is tucked under the real thing and showcases the history of the Acropolis in an imaginatively curated exhibition bringing centuries of history alive. The third-floor mock-up of the Parthenon serves as a highlight of any visit, as it can be compared to the original sitting on its hill right outside. This museum is open for 12 hours a day during some parts of the year.
The National Archaeological Museum may well be the most important ancient Greek museum in the world. It pprovides visitors with an excellent introduction to ancient art and history while emphasizing the ancient Greek influence on contemporary Western civilization. The museum’s five permanent collections are stuffed to the gunnels with bronzes, sculptures, funerary masks and jewelry from Greece’s most important classical sites, as well as Neolithic and Egyptian finds.
The Benaki Museum also carries some classical displays but concentrates on later Greek history, showcasing the country’s rich and turbulent past until 1922, when the defeat of the Greek army in the Asia Minor Disaster led to the end of 3,000 years of Greek presence in Turkey. Showpieces among the museum’s collections are wood-paneled rooms from an island home on Hydra, rare 17th-century embroidery from Cyprus and colorful traditional costumes from central mainland Greece.
The Byzantine and Christian Museum is housed in the neo-classical Villa Ilisia, which has had a facelift and now presents thoughtfully curated, chronological displays tracing the development of Greek Byzantine culture from the fourth to the 21st centuries. The priceless collection of sparkling Byzantine icons is a standout, and modern-day religious Greek art is covered in a series of ever-changing temporary exhibits.