Although more of Athens has become pedestrianized and public transport is much improved since the 2004 Olympics, traffic is still a problem; getting around in a rush hour that lasts most of the day can be incredibly time-consuming. However, if you do want to rent a car, your best bet is Hertz. Smith members get a 10 per cent discount; simply quote '635230' when you reserve a car online at www.hertz.co.uk.
Athens International Airport, aka Eleftherios Venizelos (+30 210 353 0000), receives direct flights from all over the world and connecting flights to the islands, including Mykonos, Santorini and Kefalonia. From the UK, BA, Olympic Airways, Hellas Jet and easyJet fly in daily. Olympic also operates direct flights from New York and Toronto. A taxi into town takes from 40 minutes to an hour, costing up to €40; the airport metro departs every 30 minutes for Monastiraki station and costs about €8.
If you love travelling by rail, it's possible to follow the traditional Orient-Express route through the Balkan peninsula. Go to www.seat61.com for a detailed itinerary from London to Athens via Brussels, Cologne, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest. Athens' excellent tram and Metro systems are inexpensive and will get you around (and beyond) the city with relative ease.
Country code for Greece: +30. Athens: 21.
The Frogs, Lysistrata or any other play by Aristophanes; pioneering travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time of Gifts; The Parthenon by Mary Beard provides one of the most engaging overviews of this incredible piece of ancient architecture.
Do go / Don't Go
After the Olympics, Athens has become a year-round city-break destination, but travel from March to November if you want guaranteed sunshine.
Athens is a cosmopolitan city with a thriving international restaurant scene. As in the rest of Greece, traditional cuisine centres on Mediterranean-style fresh fish and vegetables, grilled meats and salads, all made with lashings of locally produced olive oil. Dishes also draw on the cuisine of neighbouring countries, with influences from Turkey, the Balkans and the Middle East - try tapas-style mezze, flat breads and baklava pastries. Head to an ouzerie to sample the fearsomely strong Greek fire water, ouzo, with a snacking-portion selection of mezedes - we like Ouzadiko in Kolonaki, but so does most of Athens, so you'll need a reservation (+30 210 729 5484). If you're in the Plaka district, seek out Mesogaia (+30 210 322 9146), a fantastic little deli at 52 Nikis that stocks speciality produce from all over Greece.
On busy roads, you might have trouble hailing a cab: pick one up at a rank, it's usually quicker. Or ask your hotel to book one in advance - this is usually the best option.
There's no expectation, but up to 10 per cent will be very much appreciated. No need to tip taxi drivers.
Sun hat and sandals for exploring the archaeological sites; grecian-style sundresses for day-to-night glamour.
You'd be hard pushed to find more history per square inch than on the Acropolis. Head there later in the day when most people are leaving. As well as the mighty temple to Athena (aka the Parthenon), the Erectheion is renowned for its curvy caryatids, and the temple of Athena Nike also deserves a look-in. Don't miss the inspiring architecture of the New Acropolis Museum (www.newacropolismuseum.gr), which exhibits newly uncovered artefacts as well as Parthenon marbles. Fast-forward a few thousand years from Acropolis to Technopolis, a converted gasworks in Gazi hosting exhibitions and events.
The Benaki Museum (www.benaki.gr) provides yet another cultural high, in a city that dishes up more than most. Byzantine relics and impressive pieces from worldwide ancient civilisations - not just Greek - will keep you fascinated, and children (of all ages) will love the department of childhood, toys and games.
A credit card's throw north of Syntagma Square, the trendy district of Kolonaki is enough to satisfy the most upmarket retail hankerings - particularly if you share the sartorial sensibilities of Donatella Versace. Look out for Laurel, Eva Gounaro, Stroggylos and Kalogirou. Stroll down Pindarou Street and you'll find Yiorgos Eleftheriades (unique, unisexy tailoring) and Bettina (stocking Greek style stars such as Sophia Kokolasalaki). Less than half an hour from the city by metro, the swanky suburb of Kifissia is also a shopping, barhopping and eating hotspot. For souvenirs and jewellery, head to Plaka, the oldest part of Athens - touristy but fun. Between browsing, light a candle in one of the ancient churches or stop for a coffee. People-watch while you hunt for treasure at the fanastic Monastiraki Square flea market - Sundays see the best selection of antiques, bric-a-brac and books. Take some Greek glamour home with you by stocking up on Apriati's colourful, stylish and offbeat jewellery, which combines delicate silver and gold chains, diamonds and leather thongs. There are two boutiques in the city (one at Pentelis Street, one at Mitropoleos Street), and Cavo Tagoo hotel in Mykonos also has an outpost (+30 210 322 9020; www.apriati.com).
For the best views of the city and the Parthenon, take the funicular from Ploutarchou Street in Kolonaki up to St George's at the summit of Mount Lycabettus - it's Athens' equivalent of Sacré Coeur. The tiny church may not be as grand as its Parisian counterpart, but the views are unparalleled. Book a table for lunch or dinner at Le Grand Balcon, the super-smart restaurant in the St George Lycabettus Hotel (+30 210 729 0711) - you'll have amazing city-skyline views to go with your Modern Mediterannean meal.
Friezes 'acquired' by Elgin aside, there's much marble to be amazed by in the National Archeaological Museum (+30 210 821 7724; www.culture.gr), which houses the world's greatest collection of antique art. There are various free-entry days, including every Sunday from November-March; the first Sunday of the month in April, May, June and October; and the second Sunday of July, August and September. Otherwise it'll cost you €7 (a bargain anyway, really). Nearest metro: Omonia.
May-June Technopolis competes with the Acropolis for attention during the annual European Jazz Festival at Gazi's reinvented industrial arts hub. May-September The annual Athens Festival brings a season of high drama (plus music, ballet and opera) to some of Athens' most impressive venues, including the spectacular open-air theatre at Epidauros (+30 210 327 2000; www.greekfestival.gr). July Rockwave is Athens' banging answer to Glastonbury and Woodstock; this year's three-day festival brought Patti Smith, Manu Chao and Siouxsie out to play (www.rockwavefestival.gr). Mid-August The night of the full moon sees Athens hold a version of Nuit Blanche, with museums throwing open their doors for free and a variety of moonlit events taking place across the capital.