2 days in Athens, itinerary for first time visitors

The most historic city in Europe with 3,000 years of history, Athens is known as being the birthplace of Western Civilisation. Today it’s both historic and hectic, combining an intoxicating mix of both the ancient world and the modern world that is inseparably intertwined with ancient ruins standing beside modern cafes and metro stations, office buildings looking out across some of the world’s most iconic architecture – One minute you’ll be walking in the footsteps of Socrates, the next stepping back into modern day Greek culture as you grab a frappe and slip on your sunglasses to walk amongst the sleek and stylish students!

This 2 day Athens itinerary will allow you to see the highlights of Athens but rest assured, you’ll be back to explore its back streets more thoroughly one day!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. This means that should you click on certain links, and then subsequently purchase a product, I will receive a small commission.

How to get to and from the airport of Athens

Athens International Airport (Eleftherios Venizelos) is located 35km (22miles) from the city centre with a range of public transport methods available to suit all budgets. Journey times range from 30 minutes to 60 minutes, depending on mode of transport and traffic.

Metro

Line 3 (the blue line) takes you from Athens airport straight to the city centre (Sigtama Square). The metro operates daily from 06.30-23.30 with trains running every 30 minutes. Stops are clearly identified in English and Greek to ensure a hassle-free journey.

Time: 40 minutes

Cost: 10 EUR

Proastiakos – Suburban Railway

Electric trains depart Athens Airport Station every 15-20 minutes between 05.52-22.50 taking you to the Central Railway Station in Athens (Plakentias Station) located in the district of Kolonos/Colonos. If not staying in the Kolonos area, you can switch to the metro and continue to the city centre using the same ticket.

Time: 40 minutes

Cost: 10 EUR

Express Bus

4 express bus routes operate 24/7 every 30-60 minutes from the Express Bus Station with more frequent schedules during the peak Summer months.

X95 takes you from the airport to Syntagma Square

X93 takes you from the airport to the Intercity Bus Station

X96 takes you from the airport to the port of Piraeus

X97 takes you from the airport to Elliniko Metro Station

Time: 40 – 60 minutes depending on traffic

Cost: 6 EUR

Taxi

Yellow taxis wait in the designated waiting area right outside of the exit on level 3 of the Arrivals Hall – Just follow the signs. There is an official flat rate fee from the airport to the city centre to ensure you are not ripped off. A tip of 5-10% is welcome but not required.

Time: 30 – 60 minutes depending on traffic

Cost: 38 EUR daytime or 54 EUR between midnight-5am (the charge is determined by the time of arrival at the destination not the time of departure).

Private Airport Transfer with Welcome Pickups

If you pre-book a Welcome Taxi your driver will wait for you outside of the arrivals hall with a sign bearing your name plus a bottle of water and a map of the city, he/she will also help get your luggage to the car.

Time: 30 – 60 minutes depending on traffic

Cost: 40 EUR daytime or evening fare or 56 EUR between midnight-5am.

For more information and to book your private transfer check here.

Athens Itinerary: How to spend 2 days in Athens

2 days in Athens: Day One

The Acropolis

What to do in Athens in 3 days

The place where democracy was born, how could the Acropolis not be at the top of the list?! Most people mistakenly think that the Acropolis and the Parthenon are one and the same, but they’re not. The Acropolis means ‘upper city’ and refers to the rocky hill that has been inhabited since 5,000BC, it’s here that 3 temples sit including the iconic Parthenon. Entering through the Beule Gate and then the Propylaia Entrance, you’ll pass the Temple of Athena Nike. Pause to enjoy the views overlooking the city as you get your breath back after the climb up and take a moment to reflect that you’re now walking where modern civilization began.

Tip: Try to visit the archaeological site of the Acropolis as early as possible in the day to avoid the crowds (and the heat during the summer months).

The Parthenon

Athens- Best Places to Visit in Spring in Europe

The most iconic temple in Athens, and the most photographed temple in the city, the Parthenon was built between 447-432 BC to honour the cult of Athena the virgin at the height of Athenian democracy. Walk around the ruined exterior admiring the towering Doric and Ionic columns and the carved scenes of the sculpted frieze that runs around the top.

Theatre of Dionysus

The ancient theatre of Dionysos Athens
The ancient theatre of Dionysos Athens

Built in the 4th century, this amphitheatre could hold 17,000 people and is the oldest of the 3 architectural temples located at the foot of the Acropolis on the South side. Thought to be the world’s first theatre, the birthplace of the classic Greek tragedies, it was used for performances as well as festivals that honoured the god Dionysis.

Odeon of Herodus Atticus

Herodus-Atticus-theatre
Herodus Atticus theatre

Another iconic monument on the Acropolis, the Roman Theater of Dionysus which dates back to 161AD is certainly worthy of photographing but you should also see if your trip coincides with one of the live performances that take place in the Summer. If it does, pre-book your tickets so you can sit on the marble seats to watch a classical theatre performance, ballet, or pop performance in what is considered one of the best open-air theatres in the world.

Acropolis Tickets

A variety of tickets are available depending on how many of the sites on and around the Acropolis you want to visit.

If you just want to visit the Parthenon, tickets cost 20 EUR from April 1st to October 30th and 10 EUR from November 1st to March 31st. You can buy Acropolis tickets online ahead of time at the official e-ticketing service of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports.

If you enjoy guided tours to learn more about the history of a place,  I recommend the Acropolis of Athens Early Morning Guided Tour which starts at 8:30 am. Note that the price doesn’t include the entrance fee to the Acropolis. Another option is the Acropolis Entry Ticket and Welcome Walk. This gets you skip-the-line entry plus a 30 minute introductory talk.

There is a special ticket package that allows you to visit most of Athens ancient monuments costing 30 EUR (15 EUR reduced) and lasts 5 days. This is valid for the Acropolis of Athens, Ancient Agora of Athens, Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos, Hadrian’s Library, Kerameikos, Museum of the Ancient Agora, North slope of the Acropolis, Olympieio (Temple of Zeus), the Roman Agora of Athens, and the South Slope of Acropolis – Perfect if you know you want to see it all!

The Acropolis Museum

the Caryatids at the Acropolis Museum
the Caryatids at the Acropolis Museum

Consistently rated as one of the best museums in the world, the new Acropolis Museum with its glass walkways and panoramic city views contains a wealth of archaeological finds from the Parthenon and surrounding temples.

Spread across 4 floors, the ground floor houses the auditorium, temporary exhibitions, and the ancient artefacts that were found on and around the Acropolis Slopes including a collection of theatrical masks from the sanctuary of Nymphe.

The first floor covers the Archaic period, a must-see being The Moschophotos – One of the first examples of marble being used in Ancient Greek architecture, the painted marble statue depicts a man carrying a sacrificial calf.

The second floor contains the multimedia centre plus shop and restaurant whilst the piece-de-resistance is the third floor aka the top floor, from where you can enjoy panoramic views of the Acropolis and Parthenon from the huge glass panel windows whilst seeing the artefacts found at the Parthenon itself.

 If you are interested in a guided tour of both the Acropolis Museum and the Acropolis, I recommend the Athens, Acropolis and Acropolis Museum Including Entry Fees. This 5-hour guided tour includes skip the line entrance tickets to both sites and a guided tour as well. It also includes a visit to the Panathenaic stadium and the Royal Gardens.

Plaka

Traditional houses in Plaka - a 3 day Athens itinerary
Traditional houses in Plaka

Explore one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Athens as you wind your way up, down, and around the picturesque quintessentially Greek streets of Plaka and forget, for a moment, that you’re in the middle of Athens as the white-washed houses, snoozing cats, and blooming bougainvillea are sure to remind me of the Greek islands!

Mostly pedestrianised, the area is full of charming restaurants and cafes, neoclassical houses, diverse souvenir shops, and superb city views along with a wealth of street art. Stop for a drink, snack, or meal and enjoy some people watching as you soak up the atmosphere and rest those tired legs! Don’t forget your camera, and don’t hesitate to climb the steps to explore what’s around the next street corner, you won’t be disappointed.

Ancient Agora

Temple of Hephestus, one of the best preserved temples
Temple of Hephestus, one of the best preserved temples

Continue your journey through time and history as you stroll around the ruins of the majestic Agora (not to be confused with the Roman Agora). This site was the commercial hub of Ancient Athens, the Agora (marketplace) being the focal point of all social, economic, political and intellectual activities containing shops, market stalls, and schools (It was here that Socrates used to lecture his students).

The site also contained temples and statues, the Temple of Hephaistos, being the most recognisable monument on the Agora site today and the best-preserved temple from antiquity.

The Psiri Neighborhood

restored house in Psyri
restored house in Psyri

End the day (or start the night) in Psiri which was once the most dangerous neighbourhood in Athens but is now one of the quirkiest and most fashionable. Walk the vibrant streets to discover the street art, pop into the art galleries, and watch the craftsmen at work in their small artisan shops using methods that have been passed down from father to son through the centuries. If you’re hungry, stop at one of the meze restaurants where you’ll often find live music in the evenings. If Greek Blues (Rembetika) isn’t to your taste, head to one of the bars and dance to the beats the DJ plays.

 Alternative Option: Mythology Highlights Tour

According to legend the whole at the top of the temple was created by Poseidon
According to legend the whole at the top of the temple was created by Poseidon

If you have a penchant for the Greek Gods and want to learn more about this side of Ancient Greece whilst visiting and learning about the most important ancient monuments, skip a self-guided or general guided tour of the Acropolis and take the Mythology Highlights Tour that lasts 4 hours.

Operating daily in English or French, your guide will take you around the Acropolis, the Zeus Temple, the Ancient Agora, and many more places on a systematic tour where you’ll learn all about the Greek Gods and their role on Ancient Greek society.

Read about my experience of the Mythology Highlights Tour.

Find here more information about the Mythology Highlights Tour.

2 days in Athens: Day Two

Syntagma Square- Change of the Guards

change-of-the-guards

You’ve visited the heart of Ancient Athens, now it’s time to see where the heart of modern Athens lies with a visit to busy and bustling Syntagma Square! A great place to watch the locals shopping or socialising, this is where the famous changing of the guard ceremony starts/ends, the traditionally dressed presidential soldiers (known as Evzones) marching from their barracks to stand on guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Parliament Building. The changing of the guards ceremony takes place daily every hour on the hour with a longer ceremony each Sunday at 11am.

National Garden

National-Garden

As the transport hub of Athens, all the honking horns and exhaust fumes can be a bit much after the peace up on the Acropolis slopes earlier in the day so if you need to escape the hustle and bustle of Syntagma Square after watching the changing of the guards, step into another world with a visit to the 15.5 hectares National Garden where you’ll find turtles, peacocks, and ducks inside a tropical paradise!

Panathenaic Stadium

Panathenaic stadium - three days in Athens
Panathenaic stadium

The birthplace of the Olympic Games, the Panathenaic Stadium dates back to the 4th century and is the only stadium in the world to be made entirely from marble. With a capacity of 60,000 spectators, the stadium was used as an events and competition venue for male athletes, the original Olympic Games starting in 1896. Sit on the marble seats and imagine watching the athletes of bygone years participating below. 

Temple of Zeus

The temple of Olympian Zeus
The temple of Olympian Zeus

Also known as the Olympeion, this ruined ancient Greek temple was erected to honour the Zeus, king of the Olympian Gods. It stands smack bang in the middle of the city and is quite a sight to see with the modern world rushing past this huge historic monument that took 700 years to build. The temple originally boasted 105 17metre tall Corinthian columns though today, only 15 columns remain standing.

Arch of Hadrian

Hadrian's Arch
Hadrian’s Arch

Also standing in the centre of modern day Athens, just outside of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, is the Arch of Hadrian, otherwise known as Hadrian’s Gate. Dating back to 131AD, this symmetrical triumphal arch was made from Pentelic marble and constructed to honour the arrival of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. When built, it spanned an old road, linking the streets of Ancient Athens to the more modern streets of Roman Athens.

Athens Central Market

central market Athens

It must be time for a snack or lunch by now! Pretend you’re a local and shop for picnic supplies or sit down at one of the eateries inside the glass-roofed Varvakeios Agora as you watch the locals shopping for their meat, veg, and fresh produce. Let the Greek language wash over you as you watch daily Greek life at its best! 

Monastiraki District

Monastiraki-Square
Monastiraki-Square

This bustling square with its church on the corner, street sellers, cafes, and colourful street art  has narrow backstreets leading off from it that contain the famous Monastiraki flea market. On Sunday’s locals take to the streets with their tables full of wares but no matter if you can’t visit on a Sunday as the regular shops (think of a smaller version of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul) are diverse and perfect for browsing whether you seek antiques, religious icons, small sculptures and pottery, furniture, books, leather goods, clothes, shoes, luggage, music, or souvenirs.

Sunset Sounion Tour

day trip from Athens - Temple of Poseidon in Sounio
sunset in Sounio

End the day on a memorable high with a 4-hour evening tour to nearby Cape Sounion to visit the Temple of Poseidon before watching the sunset over the Aegean Sea with a glass of wine in hand. You’ll learn all about the importance of Cape Sounion in Greek mythology whilst also getting to see the elegant suburbs of Athens (the Greek Riviera!) and the splendid views of the Saronic Gulf on the 50 minute drive from the city.

Click here for more information and to book this tour

Alternative Option: The Original Athens Food Tour

Too much Ancient Greek culture and history for you? Skip the Temple of Zeus, the Arch of Hadrian, and perhaps also the Panathenaic Stadium (though all are worthy of seeing from the outside even if you don’t go in!) and start your day by discovering the city through your stomach!

This guided culinary tour starts with an authentic Greek breakfast (coffee and a bread ring or pastry) at a 100 year old cafe before taking you around the Athens Central Market to sample and buy meats, cheeses, olives, and other foods from the stalls. Eat souvlaki or gyros as you wander around, enjoy a meze lunch whilst sipping on local wine, grab another coffee, and allow your inner foodie to be indulged!

Find here more information about this Athens Food Tour.

Where to stay in Athens, Greece

Here are my picks for the best accommodations in Athens, Greece:

Athens is usually fully booked from April to November so book early for the best hotels and prices.

Budget Hotels in Athens

Here are my suggestions on budget accommodation in Athens (please avoid staying in areas like Metaxourgio, Omonia, Patission, Larissis Train Station and Vathis Square although they are cheaper).

Adam’s Hotel is centrally located in Plaka district just 400m from the Acropolis. It offers old fashioned rooms with air-condition, TV, free Wi-Fi and a fridge.

Arethusa Hotel is centrally located next to Plaka and 50 m away from Syntagma square with direct connections by metro to the airport. It offers simple, old fashioned rooms with air-condition, TV, free Wi-Fi, and a fridge.

Mid-Range Hotels in Athens

Titania Hotel is centrally located 5 minutes on foot from Syntagma Hotel. It offers renovated air-conditioned room with free wi-fi and great views of the Acropolis from its rooftop terrace.

360 degrees is located in Monastiraki square at the heart of the historic district. It offers modern rooms with all the amenities; air-condtion, TV, free-wifi and buffet breakfast with vegan options. Other hotel amenities include a rooftop bar-restaurant with breathtaking views of the Acropolis.

Boutique Hotels in Athens

Acropolis Museum Boutique Hotel is located in a restored neoclassical building close to the Acropolis Museum. It offers charming rooms with free Wi-Fi and eco-friendly mattresses.

Herodion Hotel offers elegant rooms next to the Acropolis and the Acropolis museum. Its rooms offer all the modern amenities you would expect from a 4-star hotel. There is also an on-site restaurant and bar that offers panoramic views of the Acropolis.

5 Star Hotels in Athens

Hilton Athens offers luxurious rooms and suites, the biggest swimming in Athens and a great rooftop bar with Acropolis views.

St George Lycabettus Hotel is located in upmarket Kolonaki square and offers spacious rooms with breathtaking views of the Acropolis. It is also a very family friendly hotel.

Check out my full post on where to stay in Athens.

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