The sprawling city is bounded on three sides by Mt Ymettos, Mt Parnitha and Mt Pendeli; whilst inside Athens are twelve hills [the seven historical are: Acropolis, Areopagus, Hill of Philopappus, Observatory Hill (Muses Hill), Pnyx, Lycabettus, Tourkovounia (Anchesmus)], the Acropolis and Lykavittos being the most prominent. These hills provide a refuge from the noise and commotion of the crowded city streets, offering amazing views down to Saronic Gulf, Athens' boundary with the Aegean Sea on its southern side. The streets of Athens (clearly signposted in Greek and English) now meld imperceptibly into Piraeus, the city's ancient (and still bustling) port.
Spring and late autumn are the best times to visit Athens. Summer can be extremely hot and dry during heatwaves, but this rarely happens. Winter is definitely low season, with the occasional rainy or snowy day, but also an ideal time to save money while enjoying the city without countless other travelers and tourists.
Whilst peak traffic hour can be a bit smoggy on the main roads, on most sunny days the skies are azure blue.
At first glance, Athens seems entirely to be composed of nasty, four- to six-story concrete buildings, lacking character and badly in need of a paint, but if you look beyond that, you will find little gems tucked in amongst the grey. The areas at the foot of the Acropolis, Anafiotika, Plaka, Monastiraki and Thissio are home to many wonderful Neoclassical buildings, trendy and traditional cafes and shops, narrow winding streets, and incredible views of the Acropolis. Little Greek Orthodox churches are tucked in amongst the concrete, often in the most unexpected places. These are usually beautifully decorated with icons and brass fixtures inside, but make sure you're appropriately dressed (no short sleeves or bare legs is a good rule of thumb, as a mark of respect).
For the best views of Athens, head to the top of Lycavittos Hill. You can either walk from Kolonaki (the path starts 15 minutes from Evangelismos metro stop, and will take 30 minutes to talk up the winding, but paved and not steep, path) or you can take the funicular railway from the top of Ploutarchou Street in Kolonaki. Either way, be sure to wear flat shoes, and bring lots of water in the summer! From the top you can see the whole city, the port of Piraeus and, on a clear day, the island of Aegina and the Peloponnese. Have a drink at the cafe there, and pay a visit to the chapel of St George.
If you're lucky enough to be in Athens for the Easter Weekend, you'll see the spectacular sight of hundreds of people making their candlelit way down the hill on Easter Saturday night as part of the Easter Vigil procession.
Although a huge city, Athens has relatively few shopping malls or large department stores; the small, family run shop still conquers all. Souvenirs are of course available everywhere that tourists go. Other shopping opportunities are antiques, museum reproductions, embroideries and other folk art goods, and Greek food and drink products.
While Athens is generally a very safe city, there have been a huge number reports of pickpockets on the Metro (especially at the interchanges with the line from Airport), buses and in other crowded areas, including Plaka. You will notice that natives travel with their hands on their bags and pockets and keeping their bag in front rather than on their side or back, which unfortunately is not without reason. You will probably be warned about pickpockets by hotel staff and friendly waiters, but this may be too late. Be extremely cautious and split all your documents, cards and money into different places. Street crime is rare; when it happens, it's most commonly purse-snatching from women walking away from banks and ATM machines.