welcome to the oldest capital of Europe, Athens. you might think 3 days in Athens are not enough... and you would be right. There are a million and one itineraries about Athens, and if you are looking for extensive lists of things to tick off - this article in not for you.
This is the itinerary that I would recommend and curate for a friend, for someone that loves to take steps slowly, admire the surroundings, think of the meaning behind art, people-watch, eat local food, talk to strangers, but most of all this is for the travellers that want to allow the unexpected to happen.
This is one of the reasons why I never extensively plan ahead my travels. The truth is, the magic happens in the sponteneity. Also - we have a baby now, lol!
Athens can be romantic, historic, multi-sided, and beautiful, or just another dirty capital that has too many tourists and just a little bit too much! You see where I am going with this...
Let's get into it...
Day 1 in Athens
- Guided walking tour
- Visit to the arachaelogical museum of Athens
- Walk around Anafiotika & Plaka
- Watch the sunset at Mars Hill
- Dinner at Monastiraki Square
No matter what city you are visiting I recommend starting a trip to a new place with a city tour. And that's exactly what you should do in your first day in Athens.
Whether it is a free walking tour, paid tour, bike tour or anything tour... the choice is yours! Get in early and explore. Most guides I have come across are extremely qualified (Master's in archaelogy, greek history, fine arts... level of qualified), and will show you a side of Athens that you will never get to discover alone.
The second reason why you should always have a city tour is the food recommendations. Greeks can be very casual about dining etiquette but never about food quality!
Ask your guide what are their favorite local spots. This will come particularly handy if you have any dietary requirements or dishes you want to try. Some of my favorite spots around Athens are holes in the wall that are almost impossible to find if you are not looking for them!
After lunch we are heading to the National Archaelogical museum of Athens.
This is one of the museums that most people skip yet it can be the highlight of your Athens itinerary.
I will not spoil all the surprises but the treasures you will find here are comparable to none. Expect to have a lot of moments of "oh my... that's so famous!"
After wondering around the museum and taking everything in let's head to Anafiotika and Plaka. These are some of the most picturesque neighborhoods around Athens.
In the mid 1800s workers from the little island of Anafi (right next to Santorini) were brought to Athens to refurbish the palace of then King Otto. Today this is the Parliament building at the center of Syntagma Square.
They were known for being master craftsmen, and built their homes in Anafiotika in the same style as in the cycladic islands, so get prepared to get a greek-island feeling.
Plaka is the most colourful part of Athens, with lots of boutique stores and bougainvillea lined alleyeways to explore. Take your time and wander around. Don't forget to take a look inside the many little chapels and churches of the area, they may look simple on the outside but are full of treasures on the inside!
Lastly, let's head to dinner. I would highly recommend you plan ahead for a reservation at one of Athens' rooftop bars. Making your way down to Monastiraki square you will find an all time favorite, A for Athens.
Dining with the spectacular view of the Acropolis by night is a travel memory to treasure forever.
Day 2 - Athens itinerary
- Morning walk - breakfast at a bakery
- Acropolis and Acropolis museum
- Ancient Agora
- Walk in the gardens
- National Gardens
- Change of the guards in Syntagma
- Kallimarmaro stadium
- Play in the Herodotus the Atticus
Get ready for your second day of your Athens trip! Today you will explore some of the highlights of Athens.
To start, I would highly recommend to head to a local bakery and experience the life altering experience of fresh greek savory pastries (picture homemade spanakopita). Don't forget to pair that will a aroma-full greek coffee, or one of the specialty iced (or fredo) coffees you will find in most Athenian corners.
Let's talk about the elephant in the room, the Parthenon. The short answer is yes, you should absolutely visit this magnificent temple, and the accompanying Acropolis museum. It's way more than meets the eye and you will get to experience first-hand what life in ancient Athens would be like.
I have visited both more than four times and I still find more to discover! The only word of caution is the weather. Summers in Athens can be very hot, so planning to go up the Acropolis hill as early as possible is the best strategy here.
Although the Parthenon attracts all the glory, on your way up the Acropolis hill you will get to see lots of smaller temples and beautiful architecture. Remember, this was the holiest place in ancient Athens, every four years the people of Athens would celebrate with a massive feast, called the Panathenian procession. Take note of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, we will come back to it!
Next, the Roman agora of Athens. The agora is were Athenian everyday life took place. Walking around you will be following the footsteps of ancient philosophers, such as Socrates and Plato that you heard about in classical studies. Some say the agora is even more significant and beautiful than the Parthenon, and there are lots of arguments to support this claim.
I will let you decide for yourself.
At this stage you might feel you need a break from the ancient world, and some good food to replenish energy from walking around. Luckily, some of the best local restaurants in Athens are just a few steps away.
For the rest of the afternoon take a slow walk around Athens. Depending on what kind of traveler you are you might find that you want to prioritisise different things.
Here are some of my suggestions:
For the history lovers: head to Syntagma square to watch the change of the guards and then slowly make your way to Kallimarmaro (or Panathenaic) stadium and the olympic museum inside it. This is where were the first modern Olympics were held.
💡Quick tip: if you are planning to visit as many archaelogical sights and ruins as possible (which is a great idea) you might want to get a combination ticket ahead of time!
For the romantics: grab an ice-cream and walk around the national gardens (found right behind Syntagma square).
For the ancient Greece lovers: visit the temple of Olympian Zeus to super-charge your Athens itinerary with ancient sights. On the way you will pass Hadrian's Arch!
For those that like to mingle with the locals: Head to Pagrati and plateia Varnava. A favorite amongst locals, this little square comes alive in the evening with lots of bars and restaurants filling up with locals. Don't be afraid to make new friends!
Lastly, to finish off the night head to a show at the Odeon of Herodus Atticus. This might take some planning in advance, but it will be the experience of a lifetime. During the summer months there are several plays, operas and shows that are scheduled in the odeon.
This is a must-do for any lovers of art, and one of the most thrilling experiences I ever had in Athens.
If your dates don't match the shows, do not despair. Have a look at your other destinations on your itinerary and ancient theaters that might be hosting events at the same time.
- luggage storage
- Sounio & beach time
- Kerameikos Cemetery
- Lyvabettus hill
- Benaki museum
There are two ways to think of your last day in Athens.
If you are not visiting the greek islands, you might want to take a day to visit the Athenian riviera, and the ruins of the temple of Poseidon in Sounion. Most beaches are a 45min drive away, unfortunately the metro doesn't go all the way to the seaside.
Alternatively, you can take some time to enjoy everything you didn't have time for in the city!
You might already know a few things you want to add to your Athens itinerary by now, but if you want some extra inspiration, here are a few of my favorites.
Make your way to Benaki museum, it will take you to an incredible trip of Greece through art. Just a few steps away the upbeat neighborhood of Kolonaki is a great spot to lunch and shop.
💡 Quick tip: you might want to take some time to check for a luggage storage place to avoid having to carry everything around Athens. Gentle reminder that traveling has its annoying logistics too!
Take a food tour of Athens. In case you missed out on getting that one extra thing that looked super-delicious this is your chance!
Kerameikos cemetery - another highly underrated spot in Athens. In the antiquity, kerameikos used to be an art district. Chances are a lot of the pots and artefacts you have been admiring were made here. In later years it was transformed into a cemetary. Luckily, it's also included in the Athens combination ticket.
Mount Lycabettus - Athens was built on seven hills and chances are you have visited the majority of them already (hint the Acropolis is one of them!). The best (and busiest) time to visit Lycabettus is at sunset, but you will enjoy spectacular 360 views of Athens any time of the day!
Building an itinerary for Athens can be as packed, or as relaxed as you want it to be. Have you been to Athens before? If so, let me know here, would love to hear what was your favorite part to discover.