Athens is one of my favorite cities in Europe. The Greek capital is probably the oldest in Europe with monuments dating back well before the time of Christ. The city often gets overlooked by travelers hastily going to places in the Cyclades like Mykonos and Santorini and that’s a shame. There is a lot to do in Athens and you can definitely spend some time here.
I’ve spent extended time in Athens and have stayed in the city for some time. For the purpose of this post, I won’t get into the digital nomad / long term stay side of Athens but rather focusing on how to plan your trip to Athens as a tourist.
If you’re planning to stay in Greece for a longer time, make sure to read my Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini Itinerary. Conversely, if you don’t fancy visiting the most touristy and overdeveloped islands in the Cyclades, read my guide to the more beautiful and less touristy islands in the Cyclades.
How long to spend in Athens?
Oh my how tough this question is. I’ll keep it simple. If all you care about is just seeing the main sites like the Acropolis and other ancient monuments, you only need a day to see the town.
However, if you want to see the real Athens, then you’ll need much longer. I spent three nights in Athens and felt like I barely scratched the surface. Athens is one of those towns like Mexico City that I feel like is less of a touchdown and check off all the sites type of town but rather one that I could spend weeks or even months living in to really get a feel for the energy of the city.
In essence, it’s the juxtaposition of the ancient with the modern that really enthralls travelers like myself. The modern concrete Jungle every which way until you look up and see an ancient monument almost 3,000 years old.
The city is absolutely gigantic and houses 1/3 of the entire population of Greece. From the top of Mount Lycabettus, you can see Athens stretch on as far as the eyes can see which makes you feel like you’ve seen so little just walking through the typical Monastiraki streets.
What to do and see in Athens
There are so many things to do in Athens that you’re likely not going to get around to everything during your stay. Compared to other European capitals like Rome or Paris, there aren’t as many “European city” things to do like big cathedrals, galleries, picturesque streets etc. However, there are many unique things that you’ll find in Athens that can’t be found in other cities.
For a list of everything to do in Athens, make sure to read my What to do in Athens guide. Here is a summary of a few of the top highlights you must do while you’re in Athens!
- Acropolis Museum
- Ancient Roman Agora
- Hadrian’s Arch
- Temple of Zeus
- National History Museum
- Lycabettus Hill
- Walk around Monastiraki
- Temple of Poseiden day trip
Athens 1 day Itinerary
If you’re staying one full day in Greece, I would focus on the most important and most famous Greek ruins like the Acropolis and a few other sites. The Acropolis is a must visit no matter how much time you have in the city. Not visiting the Acropolis is like not visiting the Pyramids when you visit Cairo.
Without a doubt, the main sight of interest in Athens will be the Acropolis. This is one of the original seven wonders of the world and is one of the most well preserved ancient Greek monuments in the world.
The name Acropolis is Greek for the highest point in the city (Akro means high, and polis means city). Essentially, every town in Greece has an Acropolis because it is just the highest point in the town but of course Athens is a bit more famous than that.
The Acropolis consists of the Parthenon which is the iconic ancient Greek temple that is pretty much the only picture necessary to describe Greece, various other temples, and theaters. It’s very impressive and will check off all the boxes for your Ancient Greek fix. However, in the end, I’d still say the Pyramids of Giza were much more impressive.
You can spend a lot of time here depending on how into the history you are but generally I think 1-2 hours is enough. During the summers, you can expect a large crowd at all times of the day. The best way to avoid the crowds is to come here in the very early morning or stay until it closes.
It’s hard to take a bad photo here so shoot away!
Admission Cost: €20 in the summer months, €10 between Nov and Apr
Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday From 8am to 8pm
*You can purchase the Athens Pass for €30 which will allow you to visit numerous sights in Athens including the Acropolis. Definitely worth it if you plan to do most things.
The Agora, while not in the Acropolis, is a must visit sight as well. It’s the most well preserved Ancient Greek temple in all of Greece. After seeing the Acropolis which is almost half gone, the Agora offered a glimpse of what these buildings looked like fully standing.
The Agora, translating to “a place of gathering”, was once dotted with statues, shops, markets, schools and it was the place Socrates used to lecture his young disciples.
The whole complex only takes about 20 minutes to see but is well worth the visit especially if you’ve purchased the Athens Pass.
Have a souvlaki at Kostas for lunch
Greek food is one of my favorite foods in Europe. To eat something quick and delicious, make sure to try the Greek street food like gyros and souvlaki. Since you’re only here for a day, it’s best to have a quick lunch so you can have time to explore the rest of Athens sights.
Kostas is famous for its tender grilled cubes of pork meat wrapped in a delicious pita served with tzatziki sauce. Gyros are very cheap in Athens (€2.50) so you will never break the bank.
If you want something more than just street food, I would venture over to the local restaurant called Atlantikos which is not far from the Roman Agora. This restaurant is a local no frills no thrills restaurant (my favorite style) specializing in seafood. The prices here are very reasonable and you will be amazed at how delicious the seafood and Greek meze can be.
Visit the Plaka and Anafiotika
The most unique part of Athens has to be the Anafiotika neighborhood. This neighborhood is located right at the base of the Acropolis with perfect views over the city. It features houses built in the traditional Cycladic style that you’ll find on beautiful islands like Mykonos and Santorini.
I love the Cyclades and everything about the islands so what a surprise it was when I could find the iconic white stone houses in the middle of Athens! In the early 19th century, King Othon hired the best builders from Greece to refurbish his palace. These builders came from the Cyclades and from the island of Anafi (hence the name). The king let the builders stay at gifted them land nearby to the Acropolis where they build homes for their families in the traditional style.
You can find the neighborhood high up in the Plaka district of Athens and it’s the perfect place for some nice photo opportunities. You’ll have to walk through Plaka to get to the Anafiotika neighborhood. Along the way, stop for a quick coffee on the idyllic steps of the Plaka at Klepsýdra or Dióskouroi and soak in the Athens air.
Enjoy rooftop drinks with views of the Acropolis
For golden hour, head to one of the many rooftops in Athens with beautiful views of the Acropolis. This is one of my favorite things to do in Athens as I think the view is absolutely beautiful.
The best bars to do this are A For Athens and Couleur Locale. Both bars serve great drinks with a laid back vibe looking out at the Acropolis.
Dinner in the city
Finally, to end a great day, enjoy a delicious dinner of Greek food out in the city. There are countless Greek restaurants in Athens ranging from local but vibrant restaurants to upscale and fancy. Monastiraki and Psyri have endless restaurant options for you to choose from.
Head over to a place like Lithos Taverna, Bandiera, or Maiandros and feast away. Greek food is known for its fresh ingredients, generous portions, and delicious flavors. It’s very easy to overdo it because you want to try everything.
If you still have energy after dinner, go enjoy a cocktail at one of the world ranked cocktail bars at places like Baba Au Rum or the Clumsies!
Athens 2 day Itinerary
With two days in Athens, you can see a lot more sights and also spread out your sightseeing. The one day itinerary is a bit hectic and relies on a lot of things going right (not crazy hot weather, not crazy large crowds etc.). With this two day Athens itinerary, you can see most of the sights without rushing too much.
I would schedule a two day itinerary with the following:
Day 1: Acropolis, Acropolis Museum, Temple of Zeus, Roman Agora
Day 1 of the two day itinerary starts off with the Acropolis like in the day 1 itinerary. You can spend more time here to really soak it in. As always, I recommend visiting the Acropolis in the early morning before the crowds get there, or for sunset before it closes.
After you’re finished with the Acropolis, spend 1-2 hours touring the Acropolis museum where you’ll learn about the different artifacts discovered around the Acropolis over the centuries. Finally, make your way over to the Roman Agora to finish the day.
If you are visiting in the summer, make sure to book a show at the Odeon Amphitheatre which was one of my favorite things in Athens.
Day 2: Olympic Stadium, Walking Tour, National History Museum, Lycabettus Hill
On day two, start your day out with a perfect Greek pastry of spanakopita. There are endless bakeries in town but if you are staying in Monastiraki, make your way to Bougatsadiko Psirri which is famous for their bureks and spanakopitas.
After a quick breakfast, make your way to the temple of Zeus for the Athens free walking tour.
I’m a big fan of free walking tours in cities and Athens is no different. The free walking tour I did here was incredibly informative and I learned things that I definitely would not have learned if I hadn’t gone.
We walked by all the main sights and got lots of stories from the guide about Greek culture, history, and food. We even visited a neighborhood adjacent to the Acropolis that is a little mini Cyclades within the city. I had no idea this existed but really it felt like I was walking through a village in Milos. This is because builders from the Cyclades were known to be the best and were brought in to construct a lot of the official buildings back in the day. They settled near to the Acropolis and were allowed to build in whatever fashion they wanted.
I had totally forgotten Athens was the home for the 2004 Olympics (and of course the original Olympics). They built this giant stadium modeled in the traditional sense for the opening and closing ceremonies in 2004.
It has since been largely unused and just a relic from that those games. I’m not sure why they wouldn’t use such a beautiful structure but I guess it’s the same reason they don’t want to reconstruct any of the Ancient buildings?
Nevertheless, it’s largely just a giant stadium in the middle of the city nowadays that tourists can visit. It is €5 for the entrance fee and you can walk around the stadium to your desire. There weren’t many visitors at all during the times I visited so you can bet on taking some fantastic photos.
Don’t miss a visit to Mount Lycabettus which is the ultimate sunset spot in my opinion. It’s near to the city center and can easily be reached by foot or taxi. You can either take a cable car from the entrance for €5 or walk yourself to the peak. From the entrance of the cable car, it is only about 200m to the top and is not a difficult hike.
The views here are simply stunning as you can really grasp just how massive of a city Athens is. You can even see the Mediterranean from the viewpoint.
There is a cafe and restaurant here where you can buy cocktails to enjoy the view. The restaurant is very expensive but could be worth it if you’re keen for some nice views!
Athens 3 day Itinerary
If you have three full days in Athens, then you can really take it all in.
I would follow the two day itinerary as per the above section and add a day trip out of Athens for the third day. There are numerous day trips that are on offer from Athens to amazing nearby sights.
Some of my favorite places to go are the Temple of Poseidon (Cape Sounion), the temple of Delphi, and the Epidaurus Amphitheatre in the Peloponnese peninsula.
Day 1-2: Follow the same itinerary as above
As I already mentioned, if you have three days, simply follow my two day itinerary above.
Day 3: Temple of Poseidon
The Temple of Poseidon is located south of Athens at the very southern tip of the peninsula. This temple is incredibly beautiful as it is perched high up on the hill overlooking the Mediterranean. The temple was built in the 400s BC after the defeat of the Persian invasion.
Ancient Greeks, especially seamen, believed storms were signs of Poseidon’s wrath, and therefore the temple at Cape Sounion was a sacred place where sailors and the general population came to offer animal sacrifices and other gifts to appease him and find favor.
I would recommend visiting the Temple of Poseidon for the sunset. The sun setting over the Aegean with a view of a 2,500 year old ancient temple is just stunning.
You can either book a day trip to the Temple of Poseidon (specific day trips exist just for sunset), take a bus, or rent a car to visit the temple. It is a 1.5h drive from Athens city center or a 2h bus ride.
Where to stay in Athens?
Athens is blessed with so many different accommodation options. From the ultra luxury hotels to the most basic hostels, you will find what you need in Athens.
The best part? It is very cheap here. I highly recommend staying in and around the Acropolis. This includes neighborhoods like Plaka and Monastiraki square. This is where all the bars, restaurants, and tourist attractions are so it helps to stay close to everything. If you’re staying in the center, you can pretty much walk to all the points of interest.
Athens is blessed with a plethora of stunning Airbnbs. I was visiting in July and had my pickings of amazing listings all for under €100. You can even get apartments with rooftops or balconies that have a view of the Acropolis. I specifically targeted these because I had always envisioned staying next to the Acropolis after staying next to the Great Pyramids of Giza in Cairo.
My specific Airbnb was located just a 5 minute walk south of the Acropolis and offered unobstructed views! This neighborhood is definitely more of a local’s neighborhood but I loved it. It was only a 15 minute walk to the main part of Monastiraki square as well.
Getting out of Athens
If Athens is not your last stop in Greece and you need some inspiration, the logical next step is to visit the Cyclades islands! These are some of my favorite islands in the world and probably some of the most unique things you can see in Europe.
From Athens, you can take a ferry to the islands or you can fly to a larger island like Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, or Santorini. Whether you are just visiting one island or want to create an Cyclades island hopping itinerary by using the comprehensive Greek ferry system, there is an itinerary for everyone!