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This is the new Athens: With a forward-thinking heritage at its core, a historic city is building global partnerships

Athens has a unique place in the world: a starting point for exploration and wonder, the city has been a capital of global culture for thousands of years.

Today, this legacy is proving more important than ever and earning international attention. In 2022, Athens was named the World’s Leading Cultural City Destination – the first global distinction for the city at the World Travel Awards.

In fact, Athens scored many wins during the 2022 award season. Athens was crowned Best Destination for MICE, Europe 2022 at the Business Destinations Travel Awards 2022. This is Athens was recognised as Europe’s Leading City Tourist Board at the World Travel Awards 2022. Athens ranked 6th in Europe and 8th in the world for international association meetings according to the International Congress and Convention Association Annual Report 2021.

International awards follow from investment and action, like the development of resilient infrastructure, the creation of new metropolitan parks, and the installation of energy efficient LED lighting throughout the city. Athens is restoring its urban lungs at Lycabettus Hill, at the National Garden and at Strefi Hill. Families with strollers and wheelchairs have more space to roam thanks to wider sidewalks and new sensors designed to prevent cars from parking on sidewalk ramps.

Athens has a cultural heritage that is also a unique global heritage. The City of Athens is building partnerships that will protect this legacy and ensure it remains accessible for future generations. That’s why the City of Athens has a destination management and marketing strategy that prioritises cultural management, sustainable tourism, accessibility and resilience.

This strategy is holistic. It recognises the benefits of tourism development as well as the challenges that need collaborative work. The message was clear during the recent launch of “Athens: The City is the Museum” in partnership between the Greek Ministry of Tourism, the City of Athens, and Google Greece.

The project utilises the power of Google Maps to help visitors move beyond destinations, exploring new routes through the city with a series of curated audio walks. These immersive experiences highlight the city’s cultural identity through local voices, giving visitors an innovative way to see Athens through their eyes.

The city’s strategy brings the focus of tourism back to Athenians – their voices and vision for the city, as well as the quality of life of residents. In order for visitors to be happy, first residents need to be satisfied. A great city to visit must be a great place for residents to live.

Accessibility is a core mission of This is Athens, the official visitors’ guide of the City of Athens, online at thisisathens.org. In 2022, This is Athens launched a AAA accessible site and travel itineraries designed for residents and visitors with mobility and vision impairments. In the coming years, the city will add new routes that explore the revived park at Plato’s Academy that is one of the hidden gems of Athens, and a brand-new Museum of Athens.

The destination strategy promotes the city’s journey toward sustainability in order to reach the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 61% by 2030. Athens joined the Global Sustainable Tourism Council as a Destination Member and completed the GSTC assessment in March 2022 with excellent results, setting an agenda for further investments and trainings for the local industry. These initiatives orient local tourism partners toward the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in support of holistic practices with the local community at heart.

This vision for the future is making waves in the private sector and helping to bring jobs and investment. The local start-up ecosystem is breaking barriers year after year, with major investments in homegrown talent from international firms and the first Greek unicorn valued over a billion dollars. Record-breaking investments in new hotels are bringing historic Athenian buildings back to life through renovation and preservation. This new style of Athenian hotel is focused on community-based experiences and innovative urban luxuries that help visitors to connect with the city while reducing carbon emissions.

The City of Athens is supporting initiatives in sustainable meetings and hospitality by building partnerships across the industry. The Greek Meetings Alliance is a great example. Three major stakeholders from the Greek MICE industry joined forces in 2022 to develop a strategy for the future of conference tourism and promote Greece as a destination for high-quality conferences and events. The Alliance will boost the economic impact of the MICE industry by creating jobs and opportunities for investment.

The Alliance will create a unified voice for the tourism industry, expanding the range of historic partnerships that have put Athens on the map as a year-round, all-season destination. In 2016, the City of Athens established This is Athens & Partners, a coalition of major stakeholders from the local industry, including Aegean Airlines and the Athens International Airport, Lamda Development, TEMES and Lampsa Hellenic Hotels S.A. The common strategy supports the inclusion of a diverse range of voices and a growing range of products.

There is a similar idea behind the revival projects led by Athens Partnership, the city’s vehicle for private-public collaboration that is helping to create and restore neighbourhood parks, water fountains, and sustainable infrastructure. At the same time, the City of Athens partnered with the Athens Traders Association to support 111 businesses upgrading their storefronts for energy efficiency.

The growth of the local film industry is proof of the many great advantages that Athens enjoys as a leading destination, including archaeological sites and museums that are some of the most recognisable in the world, while also highlighting incredible local talent and expanding global networks. The Athens Film Office brings movie and television productions to Athens from major studios like Netflix, Apple TV, and Amazon, creating opportunities for Athenians to compete on the international market by offering master classes in film production and supporting the development of cutting-edge skills for the local market.

This strategy is starting to pay dividends by attracting visitors, talent and investors to return to Athens to take part in the historic journey. It’s creating opportunities to invest in the city’s forward-thinking heritage, and launching the journey toward sustainable urban growth.