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How to Spend A Day in Athens
Both ancient and edgy, Athens is Europe’s oldest capital and the birthplace of modern democracy. The spectacular Acropolis dominates the skyline and is as connected to the modern city as it ever has been. At street level, the Greek capital has become cool and contemporary, with open-air restaurants, street art and live music on every corner.
With some of the best historic architecture in the world, surrounded by the throb of modern day life, Athens will have you gasping in wonder and crackling with energy as you discover the city.
In our Athens travel guide you’ll find information and tips for visiting all the most important must see Athens attractions, with an interactive map, organised to make the best use of your time.
We also share recommendations for central places to stay, ideas about where to eat local food, and tips about how to make the most of Athens in one day.
When to Visit Athens
April and May will bless you with perfect weather for visiting Athens. Even into late spring, the city will be quiet and you’ll be able to find good deals on accommodation, tickets and attractions.
July and August are the hottest and most crowded months in the city, when the Greek population also take their annual summer holidays. This is the most expensive time to plan a trip to Athens, with accommodation charging a premium. Book hotels and tours well in advance.
Explore Athens in Autumn when it will be warm in the day, with little rain, and you’ll be able to find good deals on accommodation and tours as the summer season comes to a close.
Winter can be a good time to visit if you’re happy to live with unpredictable weather. Attractions may not be open and tavernas and bars will be quite, and possibly closed in tourist locations. Winter can bring snow to Athens, so be prepared when you pack!
Where to Stay in Athens
For Road Trippers
Driving into central Athens is really not for the faint hearted. Not only are the roads incredibly busy, the drivers are loud and aggressive and don’t give an inch. You also have to contend with Athens low emizions zones, although rental cars are not affected for the first 40 days of the hire period. If you’re in your own car or a motorhome, check the LEZ rules here.
Modern and stylish, The Athens Gate Hotel is perfectly located for the Acropolis and old Athens district of Plaka, as well as being on an easily accessible road into the city.
With the main Athens attractions within a few minutes walk and stunning views of the Acropolis and Temple of Olympian Zeus from the rooftop restaurant, this is a great spot to relax after a day in Athens.
InnAthens is a haven in the centre of Athens, steps from Syntagma Square and the historic district Plaka, and some of the city’s best restaurants, bars and nightlife.
This elegant boutique hotel enjoys a neoclassical style with modern minimalist touches, making it a tranquil and restful place to spend 24 hours in Athens.
Motorhomers in Greece should stay at Camping Athens, the only site within striking distance of the city. There is a regular bus (number 15) which goes from just outside into the centre, from around 5am in the morning until late. The journey will take around 45 minutes.
What to See & Do in Athens
Our one day Athens itinerary is very walkable, and you’ll be able to complete the route without needing the Metro or other public transport.
Or, if you prefer to have your day organised for you, check out this popular and highly rated Athens in a day private sightseeing tour and place yourself in the hands of a local English speaking driver who knows all the top spots, and best things to do and see in Athens.
Athens One Day Itinerary Interactive Map
How to use this map – Use your fingers (or computer mouse) to zoom in and out. Click or touch the icons to get more info about a place, and click the arrow in the box top left to open the index. To add to your own Google Maps account, click the star next to the title of the map.
If you want to see and appreciate this UNESCO behemoth of ancient Greek architecture, get there early! The Parthenon, considered one of the world’s most significant cultural monuments, and surrounding Acropolis, is best seen in the morning light, before most of the crowds arrive. The Acropolis opens at 8am, and ideally, you’ll want to be at either the main entrance or the southeast entrance, ten minutes or so before then.
The southeast entrance can be reached by wending your way up the south slope of the Acropolis, on the Acropolis Musuem side of the hill. This entrance doesn’t show on Google Maps and consequently it’s usually quieter, especially if you already have a ticket. Just head towards the east end of Dionysiou Areopagitou, and you’ll see the tracks heading up the hill.
The main entrance is grander and uses the paved boulevards and pathways, shaded by olive trees, from the car park on Rovertou Galli. We suggest going in one way, and leaving the other. This means you’ll get to experience the whole sight, and have views of the Acropolis from different angles and perspectives.
It’s hard to describe the sheer scale and beauty of the site – it really does take your breath away as you walk through the Propylaea, the huge and ancient gateway to the Acropolis site. On your right is the tiny Temple of Athena Nike, and as you follow the stairs up towards the Panatheanaic Way, the majestic columns of the Parthenon begin to emerge.
As you circle the building, the pediments, metopes and the frieze, with their elaborate carvings, reveal themselves in all their glory.
The views from around the temples of Athens and the port of Piraeus below are panoramic, but they won’t hold your gaze for long.
You’ll find yourself drawn time and again to the ancient buildings around the plateau of the Acropolis, including the Porch of the Caryatids at the Erechtheion, the Temple of Poseidon and Themistocoles’ Wall.
You’ll probably want to spend at least 90 minutes here, wandering, taking photos and immersing yourself in the architecture and atmosphere.
Look out for Athena’s olive tree on the western side of the Erechtheion, and the Statue of Athena Parthenos, for which the Parthenon was built.
On the south slope of the Acropolis are the splendid Theatre of Dionysos, the Asclepieion, a temple built around a sacred spring, the colonnade of the Stoa of Eumenes (a stoa is a covered portico) and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, known as the Herodian, build in 161CE, and completely restored between 1950 and 1961.
The Acropolis Museum
The new Acropolis Museum is on Dionysiou Areopagitou and displays many of the surviving treasures from the temples. The museum focusses on the Acropolis as it was in the 5th century BCE, at the height of Greece’s artistic achievements.
The state-of-the-art building itself is worth seeing, with glass floors exposing the subterranean ruins and vast floor-to-ceiling windows on the north side of the building, sharing constant views of the Acropolis itself.
Best to see three or more sites – Acropolis and Six Archaeological Sites Skip the Line Combo Ticket which includes the Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, Temple of Zeus, Aristotle’s School, Hadrian’s Library, and Kerameikos Ancient Cemetery.
Best for the Acropolis & Acropolis Musuem – Acropolis & Musuem Skip the Line Tickets with Audio Guide
Best for the Acropolis only – Acropolis Skip the Line Tickets with Audio Guide
Best guided tour – Acropolis Guided Tour with Skip the Line Tickets to discover the history and myths of ancient Athens from a professional guide, and explore hidden spots on Pnyx Hill, and admire views of the Aegean Sea.
Best walking tour – Early Morning Acropolis & Plaka Guided Walking Tour to beat the heat and crowds with an early morning tour of the Acropolis, and learn about the history of this iconic site from a professional guide.
Best for families – Mythology Tour for Families to see the Acropolis and Ancient Agora, and learn about Greek gods and heroes with interactive activities designed for families.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
Once the largest temple in Greece, the Temple of Olympian Zeus has only fifteen of the original 104 Corinthian columns remaining – and one fallen since 1852. Building of the temple started in the 6th century BCE, but wasn’t actually completed until some 700 years later by the Roman emperor Hadrian, in 131CE.
Admission to this site is included in the Acropolis and Six Archaeological Sites Skip the Line Combo Ticket.
Nearby is Hadrian’s Arch, built in the same year as the temple was completed, of Pentelic marble. What was once a gateway now stands alongside Leof Vasilissis Amalias, one of Athen’s busiest roads.
Greek Parliament Building
It’s a short walk through the cool and shady National Garden to the Hellenic Parliament building, which was originally the Royal Palace. From the balcony, the constitution or syntagma was declared on the 3rd September 1843, sealing the fate and future of Greece. In 1935 the palace became the seat of the Greek Parliament.
In front of the building, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded by evzones, presidential guards in traditional uniforms. They change every hour on the hour, and on Sundays at 11am, the new platoon marches from their barracks and along Vasilissis Sofias to the palace.
To see evzones without the crowds, head for the Presedential Guard on Irodou Attikou, and nearby Presedential Palace. Here you can really see and admire the fustanella or white skirt and pom-pom shoes the guards wear, which takes inspiration from the clothing worn by the klephts, mountain fighters in the Greek War of Independence.
Next to the parliament building is the modern Syntagma Square, named after the constitution and generally considered to be the centre of the city. The square holds an important place in the psyche of the city, both from an historical and social perspective.
Syntagma Square is one of the most popular places in Athens, is the starting point of most of the city’s demonstrations, and also hosts concerts and festivals.
The square is always buzzing with people in the many bars, cafes and restaurants, enjoying the street life and lively atmosphere. The area around the square is full of fast food restaurants and family run tavernas, so it’s also a great spot for lunch!
After lunch, wander through the Plaka district, the old historical neighborhood of Athens, whose streets are cobbled, atmospheric and lined with sidewalk cafes, tiny shops and family run tavernas. You’re heading for pretty Monastiraki Square in the shadow of the Acropolis, and a key meeting point for Athenians.
This jumble of architecture, culture and streets is a fascinating place to observe Athens life – from fruit sellers, street musicians, markets stalls and tiny shops, and everything in between, this place is a microcosm of Athens culture.
Make sure to see the Tzistarakis Mosque, which was built in 1759. It is now a museum of handicrafts and it houses a collection of pottery from Greece, Cyprus, Ottoman and modern Turkey.
A three minute walk from the square is the Monastiraki Flea Market, held in Avissynias Square, a quirky and fun place to shop in Athens. The flea market takes place every Sunday, but the area is home to lots of antique stores and unusual shops which are open daily.
On the north side of the Acropolis and close to Monastriaki Square is Hadrian’s Library. These are the remains of not just a library, but music and lecture rooms built by Hadrian in the 132CE, as part of his grand plan to rebuild Athens. Laid out in a typical Roman Forum style, there was a pool in the centre of a courtyard surrounded by 100 columns.
The site has been utilised through history as a customs building, a small prison, and King Othon’s barracks. Under Ottoman rule, the site served as the seat of the Turkish governor, before being lost to building and expansion. It was rediscovered in 1885 during excavations after a great fire destroyed a considerable number of buildings in this quarter of old Athens, known at the time as the Old Market.
Today, the entrance façade survives and gives an idea of the scale of the building. Part of the interior wall of the east wing still stands where the original niches for documents can still be seen. Architectural elements of the two churches built in the 7th and 12th centuries are still visible, including parts of their mosaic flooring.
Admission to this site is included in the Acropolis and Six Archaeological Sites Skip the Line Combo Ticket.
The Ancient Agora
The Ancient Agora was the centre of Athens political, social and commercial life. Today, the site has been cleared until only classical Greek architecture remains.
Make sure to visit the Stoa of Attalos and Agora Musuem to find out how the Agora was used on a daily basis, the photogenic Temple of Hephaistos, to which you can get quite close, and the charming Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles.
Admission to this site is included in the Acropolis and Six Archaeological Sites Skip the Line Combo Ticket and the Mythology Tour for Families.
The Temple of Poseidon
South of Athens is Cape Sounio, and right on it’s tip overlooking the Aegean Sea is the Temple of Poseidon. Perched on a cliff above the water, the 5th century temple is one of the most important monuments from the Golden Age of Athens.
According to Greek mythology, Poseidon’s importance and power is second to only Zeus, the god of war. As the god of the sea, the mariners and fishermen of ancient Greece prayed to Poseidon to keep them safe from storms and shipwrecks and often left animal sacrifices and other gifts at the temple.
Sunset is one of the best times to see the temple, as the day cools and the sun dips behind the horizon. Your photos of the temple with the setting sun highlighting its beauty will be a wonderful reminder of your time in Athens.
This highly rated Sunset Trip to Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon takes you to the temple with an archaeologist guide, so you can learn about the history of the temple and culture of the Athens Riviera.
Bar Hop in Monastriaki & Plaka
From the terraced cafes and rooftop bars, with views of the Roman Forum, which line Adrianou, and the live music in the bars of Mnisikleous, otherwise known at the Athens Stairs, these historic districts are lively, friendly and the perfect place to enjoy a drink, eat some traditional Greek food and listen to local music.
Sure, it might be a little touristy, but if you only have one day in Athens, and you want an easy and fun evening in an atmospheric part of town where you’ll be able to understand the menu, then Plaka and Monastriaki totally fit the bill!
Other Greece Travel Ideas
Where to Eat in Athens
This family run taverna on Apollonos doesn’t look much from the outside, but you’ll receive a warm welcome and enjoy delicious home-cooked, authentic and seasonal Greek food made with passion – and very reasonably priced. Aspro Algo serve all the favourites like Greek salad, tzatziki, stuffed vine leaves, moussaka and souvlaki.
Athens Central Market
The Athens Central Market, or Varvakios Agora, is a feast for the senses, and where you can find pretty much any local, fresh and seasonal food you could want. Located just off Evripidou Street, the centre of the building houses the fish market, the largest in Europe, where a fresh catch from the coast comes in daily, and there is also an excellent meat market.
Around the market are some great places to eat delicious Greek food, and it makes a good stop for lunch or dinner. Try Ouzeri Karayiannis for midday meze, the Greek version of tapas, including anchovies, smoked mackerel and mussels straight from the market.
Aris is small family run eatery in the market serving dishes whose ingredients are sourced straight from the market. You can also buy fish at the market and ask the restaurant to grill it for you on the spot.
Deep inside the meat market is Epirus, the famous magirio (workers’ canteen) loved by Anthony Bourdain, which specialises in soups like patsas (tripe soup) and casseroles.
A classic Athens open-air cafe, Maiandros at 47 Adrianou serves generous plates of traditional Mediterranean comfort food, like mousakka, gemista (stuffed tomatoes) and kleftiko, a delicious lamb dish cooked in parchment paper. You’ll also enjoy traditional music, a lively setting and Acropolis views.
Top Five Athens Travel Tips
- Many of the ancient Athens sites offer free entry on the first Sunday of the month, except in July and August. If you’re travelling on a budget, plan to visit Athens then.
- Sturdy walking shoes are a must for the cobbled streets and ruins. Pack quick drying clothes to help manage the heat if you travel in summer, and a cover up for visiting churches.
- When visiting aechaeoligical sites, using a tripod or attempting to use a drone will mark you out as a professional, and you may be asked to show your licence, or leave if you don’t have one.
- Healthcare in Greece is not provided for free to visitors – you really do need travel insurance when you visit Greece. We recommend True Traveller for their great customer service and inclusive prices.
- Tipping in restaurants and cafes is not expected in Athens, but if you do tip, it’s always appreciated. Round up the bill, or leave 10% if you’ve received good service and want to show your thanks.
More Than One Day in Athens
The National Archaeological Museum
Home to the world’s finest collection of Greek antiquities, the National Archaeological Museum displays more than 10,000 artefacts including sculptures and frescoes – you need a minimum of two hours to even being to do this musuem justice.
The jewel in the crown of the museum’s famous Mycenaean collection is the beaten gold mask of Agamemnon, the mythical king – but possibly real, no-one has been able to prove it either way – who attacked Troy in the 12th century BCE. There is also a Cycladic collection, an Egyption collection and the incredible Artemision Bronze, a larger than life bronze excavated from the sea off Evia in 1928.
The Panathenaic Stadium
Host to the world’s first modern Olympic Games in 1896, the Panathenaic Stadium is the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. Originally a racecourse, the stadium was rebuilt by Herodes Atticus, an Athenian Roman senator in 144 AD, and it had a capacity of some 50,000 seats.
After the rise of Christianity in the 4th century the stadium was abandoned, until it was excavated in 1869. After being restored, it hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896, and was again used as an Olympic venue during the 2004 summer Olympics. You can visit the staidum, the entrance fee of which gives you the right to run on the track, so you can have your own Chariots of Fire moment!
Go Greek Island Hopping
You can’t visit Greece without a bit of island hopping, and Athens is delightfully close to some of those island gems dotted around the sparkiling turquoise Aegean Sea. Take an island hopping cruise to Aegina, Poros and Hydra, three beautiful islands in the Saronic Gulf, and experince beach life in pretty Poros, stroll the cobblestones of Hydra town and discover ancient temples on Aegina.
Full Day Meteora Trip by Train
If you take one day trip from Athens, make it this highly recommended and well organized tour.
The name Meteora is derived from the Greek meteoros, which means ‘suspended in the air’. The extrodinary rock formations of the Meteora region seem to do just that, and then to add to the sheer spectacle of these stark pinnacles of rock, many are topped with Byzantine monasteries.
Take a day trip to Meteora with a guide, with round-trip train tickets to Kalambaka and onward transportation in a luxury minibus included. Get a panoramic view of all six UNESCO holy monasteries and enter three of the most popular ones. While exploring the region’s hidden gems, visit the hermit caves of Badovas.
With a professional guide to offer insights, an organized tour is the perfect opportunity to see more of Greece in less time!