What to see and do in Athens if you have one, two, or three days? This city guide will walk you through the best places to visit in Athens, when to visit, how to get there, where to sleep, how to get around, and where to eat. Enjoy!
Athens, the oldest European capital city, brimming with culture and history is undoubtedly one of those cities that you have to visit at least once in a lifetime.
On our very first visit, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this sprawling, historic metropolis. Having read so many mixed reviews, we thought to check it out for ourselves and planned a 3-night stopover in the city whilst en route to our Greek Island-hopping vacation.
Alas, we were so glad that we kept Athens as a firm fixture in our itinerary. With so many incredible historic sites, a colorful history that includes Greek Gods and mythology and not to mention the delicious cuisine, Athens impressed.
As such, I’ve decided to put together this Athens Travel Guide to hopefully help you plan the perfect getaway to this gorgeous Greek capital!
How To Get To Athens
The first step in planning your trip to Athens is navigating how you will get there. There are several ways to get to this ancient city. The best option will depend on where you are coming from and how much time you have.
If you’ve traveled around Europe before, you’ll know there is a regular schedule of flights from most of the 44 countries’ capitals.
Flights are also an efficient option from international cities like London (3h 35 min direct), Paris (3h 10 min), and Frankfurt (2h 45 min).
The prices of flights do tend to fluctuate according to the season. The summer months of July and August often see increased fares. However, last-minute deals are often found too.
Keep reading to find out more about the best time of year to visit.
If you have a little more time to spare and are in Greece or combining your trip with a few surrounding countries then a coach/bus is another good option. The time and distance will depend on where you are departing from. Ticket prices are also fair due to these factors.
Greece has some of the most beautiful islands and so, naturally speaking, ferries are one of the best ways to and from the islands, to the country’s capital. We, for instance, decided to make Mykonos our first island visit and as such traveled to Mykonos from Athens by ferry.
If you have the time and money, traveling by boat emphasizes that ‘the magic is in the journey, not the destination.’ Ferries to Athens can also be caught from Italy, Turkey, as well as many other Greek islands.
Getting Around Athens
Athens can be an overwhelming city due to its size. If you fly into Athens, you’ll notice, from the bird’s-eye view, just how large this city is.
Despite its large size, the city is easy to discover on foot. Most of the city’s main attractions are close to one another. Staying in the right location (I highly recommend the neighborhood of Plaka), will allow you to easily walk to the city’s famous sites. In fact, during our stay in Plaka, we never once made use of any public transport apart from the Hop on Hop off city sightseeing bus tour we booked.
For longer journeys, Athens also has an efficient and easy-to-navigate public transport system. Just a short bus, tram, or metro ride, and you’ll find that a metro stop will be close to the venue you’re wanting to visit.
When To Visit Athens
Greece is arguably beautiful all year round. There are pros and cons to visiting Athens during different times of the year.
The summer months of July and August are when Greece’s temperatures are at their highest. These two months are also the country’s peak season, where there is a large increase in tourist numbers and during which time you can also expect higher prices overall.
The milder months from mid-April to late June, and from early September until late October, still have warm weather. Temperatures average between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius. Additionally, prices are lower, and there are fewer tourists.
Where To Stay In Athens
If you’re visiting Athens for the first time, you may not know which areas are the best to stay in. I’ve got you covered with some incredible accommodation options.
The Electra Metropolis is in a superb location. It’s in the heart of Athens and is a short 200m walk from Syntagma Square. The hotel offers a rooftop pool and modern rooms with balconies. Not to mention the incredible views out over the Acropolis from their rooftop bar.
If you prefer staying in self-catering accommodation, then an apartment is a great option. Hellenic Hospitality House offers exquisite, fully furnished flats. The flats have balconies, modern bathrooms, and a rooftop terrace.
Make use of the kitchenette and cook up a travel-inspired recipe. Or, make your way to the Monastiraki Flea Market just 400m from the apartment.
Top 10 Things To Do And Places To Visit In Athens Greece
No Athens travel guide is complete without a list of the best sites and activities. And while the list of top things to do in Athens is long, I’ve condensed it into ten of my favorites.
1. Visit The Acropolis
This iconic site is at the top of every Athens’ bucket list. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, New York has the statue of liberty, Agra has the Taj Mahal, and Athens has the Acropolis.
The Acropolis is made up of three historic temples; the Erechtheion, the Temple of Nike, and, the most famous, the Parthenon. There is also the theatre of Dionysus to gush over.
These partially standing limestone structures are on top of a hill overlooking the whole city. The views are breathtaking from the top, and you get a sense of how vast the city spreads.
The importance of the Acropolis lies not only in its grandeur but also in Greek Mythology that surrounds it. You will find this mythology displayed in the buildings through plasterwork.
Top tip: The Acropolis is arguably Athens’ most famous attraction, so lines at all the various entry points get long. Be sure to get there as early as possible or buy tickets online to avoid crowds. It is also a good idea to wear comfortable walking shoes. The walk-up can be tiring, especially in Greece’s warmer months.
2. Temple Of Olympian Zeus
The Temple Of Olympian Zeus, also known as The Olympieion, was built in 174 BCE. An incredible feat for ancient times, it is located on the southeast side of the Acropolis.
The ambitious columns stand proud at over 17 meters high and are decoratively capped with ornately carved marble.
3. National Archaeological Museum
Get your history and culture on at the National Archaeological Museum. Along with the Acropolis Museum (pictured above), it is considered one of the most important museums in the world for its displays of ancient Greek art. The collection of antiquities and sculptures demonstrates how modern art and philosophy are rooted in Greece.
The current museum buildings were established in1889. And although the building suffered through the world wars and a devastating earthquake in 1999, it still stands strong today. It boasts both permanent and temporary exhibitions for the public to learn from and enjoy.
4. Explore The Area Of Plaka
The neighborhood of Plaka is in Athens’ old town, clustered near the Acropolis. The winding narrow alleyways are scattered with cafes spilling out onto the sidewalks. There is a genuine Greek village feel with a plethora of family-owned and run restaurants and shops.
Take some time out from the hustle and bustle of the busy tourist attractions and relax at a cafe or Plaka restaurant. Be sure to enjoy delicious Greek food, like Greek yogurt, and traditional drinks, such as wine or Ouzo.
5. Relax On A Beach
Crystal-clear beaches may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Athens. Those thoughts are usually reserved for Mykonos, Santorini, or Corfu beaches. However, Athens has some incredible beaches which are easily accessible by taxi or tram.
Astir Beach is considered a luxury beach and is a 20-minute drive from Athens city center. Beds and cabanas can be pre-booked, and free WiFi is available to visitors.
6. Enjoy panoramic views of Athens from Lycabettus Hill
What I remember most about Athens are the breathtaking views you get to enjoy as you look out over the city as well as the Acropolis tower out from it. And what better way to enjoy these stunning vistas over Athens than from Lycabettus Hill, the highest point in the city?
In saying that, these incredible views are not the only drawcard to visiting Lycabettus Hill. Nestled up top you will find the 19th century Agios Georgios church, as well as the St. Isidore Church, set a little way down. You can also enjoy a bite to eat for lunch from the café terrace or book a dining experience at the Orizontes restaurant to take advantage of the views at night.
To get up to the top of Lycabettus Hill you can opt to either walk and enjoy the scenery as you hike up or for those facing mobility challenges you may choose to take the Funicular all the way to the top too.
7. Lake Vouliagmeni half-day trip
If you happen to be spending a couple of days in Athens, then why not head out of the city and explore Lake Vouliagmeni, a popular day trip option from the city?
Not only is the landscape stunning, with its beautiful rock formations and crystal-clear waters, but this lake is considered somewhat of a natural and geological wonder. The brackish and warm waters of this lake consist of both seawater as well as underground thermal springs flowing into the lake and offering up healing and revitalizing properties. Not to forget the Garra or ‘Doctor Fish’ that will happily nibble away at your skin and offer natural exfoliation too!
Whilst the lake does include many services and amenities, for the ultimate private experience consider booking into the exclusive Privè Area with its private sun loungers and dedicated service too.
Located just over 20 kilometers from the center of Athens, you can reach Lake Vouliagmeni by either taxi, car, or by taking the 122 bus that departs from the Ellinikon metro station.
8. Admire the sunset from the Temple of Poseidon
Undoubtedly one of the most significant historic sites in Greece and located around 70 kilometers to the south of Athens at Cape Sounion, the Doric Temple of Poseidon, built around 444-440 BC in honor of Poseidon, the Greek God of the Sea is worth a visit.
Although you can only admire the temple ruins from afar, the temple as well as the gorgeous landscape that overlooks the glistening Aegean Sea is the perfect spot from which to take in an incredible Greek sunset!
So, why not go ahead and book a half-day Sunset Tour to the Temple of Poseidon and make the best of your visit from Athens?
Surely that will just kickstart a newfound love for road-tripping around Greece.
9. Explore the Monastiraki neighborhood
The vibrant and bustling neighborhood of Monastiraki is, along with Plaka, one of my favorite places in Athens. Although popular amongst many tourists and visitors, I’d still highly recommend a visit.
With Monastiraki square at its heart, the entire area is worth exploring. Wander through the side streets and quirky alleyways, visit the Monastiraki flea market or explore some of the best sights located here, including the Tzistarakis Mosque, the Ancient Agora of Athens, and Hadrian’s wall to name but a few.
10. Book a sailing adventure
The allure of the Aegean Sea’s crystal-clear waters has been luring visitors for decades. But, what many visitors to Greece don’t realize is that you don’t have to go island-hopping to experience and enjoy the turquoise waters that Greece is so famous for.
Instead, why not top your visit to Athens off with a memorable full-day or half-day sailing experience? Whether you want to sail along the coast for 4 – 5 hours or enjoy a sunset sailing cruise along the Athens Riviera, there’s an option for all preferences and budgets.
Traveling as part of a group or celebrating a special event? Then why not hire out an entire boat and enjoy a full-day private sailing experience from Athens to Aegina Island?
Editor’s tip: If you have more days to spend in the city, check out our post on unique experiences in Athens.
Best Restaurants In Athens Greece
There are thousands of restaurants in Athens, Greece. When in Greece, do and eat as the Greeks do. With so many options available to eat, drink, and be merry, it can be overwhelming to choose. Here are a few must-try Athens restaurants.
Unique Dining Experience
Dinner in the Sky is one of Athens’ most unique dining experiences. Diners are suspended above the city and Acropolis on a crane and platform. It is a fine-dining restaurant in the air. Expect to enjoy a six-course meal and a memorable Athens sunset all at once.
Traditional Greek Cuisine
Located in the center of the city, Karamanlidika tou Fani serves up traditional Greek meze and cured meats – authentic and traditional charcuterie that packs a flavourful punch! There are vegetarian options available on the menu for those who prefer not to eat meat.
Did you like this guide to the best places to visit in Athens? Keep reading:
- Which Is The Most Picturesque Greek Island On The Aegean Sea?
- Climbing Up Monasteries In Meteora and Other Greek Tales
- 7 Ways to See the Most Beautiful Sunsets in Mykonos
- Planning A Perfect And Romantic Getaway to Santorini
- 10 Facts You Should Know About Mykonos Before You Visit
- How A Leap Of Faith Quickly Landed Me A Job In Athens
- A Brief Guide To The Charming Hydra Island
- A Comprehensive Guide to Zakynthos Island
Born and raised in South Africa, Marco Santos from Travel-Boo, together with his partner moved to sunny Lisbon over 3 years ago. With an absolute love for Europe, he is on a mission to rediscover his own Portuguese heritage along the way. Marco has set out to blog and share his passion for traveling through and exploring both Portugal, Spain, and throughout Europe, through his blog Travel-Boo.