The perfect 2 days in Athens
As the home of the Acropolis and the birthplace of democracy, you might think that a trip to Athens would be history, history, and more history. But this buzzing capital city also has a modern edge that’s worth exploring, from boundary-pushing restaurants to a dynamic art and design scene that just keeps growing. Best of all: You can experience the highlights in the span of two days.
To help you navigate this sprawling, chaotic metropolis, we’ve alternated visits to ancient landmarks with stops in cool neighborhoods where you can slow down and sip the ouzo. All along the way, we’ve included highly rated picks from the Tripadvisor community to make sure that your trip is as iconic as Athens itself.
MORNING: Head to the heavens
Start your day at one of the most famous landmarks in Athens: the Acropolis, a citadel built to house the gods that sits high above the city on a rocky hill (the ancient Greeks considered this to be closer to heaven). But everyone else is going here, too. To dodge the crowds and midday heat, get there first thing when it opens at 8 a.m. and buy tickets in advance so you can skip the long lines at the entrance. A couple more tips: Use the southeast gate, which is a little less crowded than the main entrance, and avoid the free-admission days held on various Sundays throughout the year and holidays.
We recommend booking a tour that includes admission, but if you want to save money and explore on your own, you can get tickets directly through Tiqets. (Pro-tip: Bundle in tickets to the Acropolis Museum and other sites, so that you can skip lines all over town.) There’s a convenient Acropolis subway stop (Acropoli), but if you want to ditch some of the steep uphill walk, a taxi can take you closer to the entrance. The Acropolis is massive, so give yourself at least two hours to take in the major ruins like the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Theater of Dionysus, and the dazzling views of Athens.
Round out the experience at the Acropolis Museum, just a seven-minute walk away. This modern masterpiece houses a huge collection of artifacts, including the Parthenon frieze, the Caryatids from the Erechtheion, and fascinating underground excavations that show what life was like in ancient times. Plan to spend a couple hours exploring the exhibits, then grab a bite at the excellent on-site restaurant, which overlooks the Acropolis and showcases food and wine from different regions of Greece. Or take a two-minute walk to a local spot like Guarantee (for one of the best sandwiches you will eat anywhere), the famed Takis Bakery, (where there’s always a line for treats like pistachio baklava), or the sophisticated GH Attikos Restaurant (where the rooftop tables have spectacular Acropolis views).
Travelers say: “A large part of the center of Athens is pedestrianized, mainly around the Acropolis and the archaeological sites, so walking is always the best way to see and appreciate Athens.”—rebel-diver
ACROPOLIS TOUR OPTIONS
- The highly rated Athens Walking Tours offers a number of ways to see this legendary landmark, including the Skip the Line Acropolis of Athens Tour, a group tour with commentary from a licensed guide and, as the name suggests, skip-the-line access.
- Got kids who love Percy Jackson? This junior demi-god is the Harry Potter of Greek history and the narrator of a popular fantasy fiction series. Greek Mythology Tours runs a fun Family Acropolis & Acropolis Museum Tour inspired by Percy Jackson, which includes entry fees plus a peek into the past via 3D iPads.
- On the Acropolis & Athens Highlights Bike Tour, you’ll get a guided visit around the city on an e-bike with a licensed guide.
AFTERNOON: Immerse yourself in the ancient world
Before venturing into modern-day Athens, spend some more time in the past at the Ancient Agora, located in the shadow of the Acropolis. This was the heart of old Athens—home to a marketplace, government buildings, and religious sites—and the playground of famous philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
Plan to spend a couple hours wandering through the Agora’s ruins, including the amazingly well-preserved Temple of Hephaestus, which dates back to the 5th century B.C. Covered with intricate carvings, the temple was dedicated to the god of metalworking and craftsmanship. Another highlight: the beautifully restored Stoa of Attalos. Once lined with shops, this covered walkway was the Fifth Avenue of ancient Athens. Duck into the museum and check out the sculptures and relics discovered here, from pottery to coins.
Got the shopping bug? Nearby is the Monastiraki Flea Market, a jumble of little shops selling the typical souvenirs (T-shirts, laurel leaf headbands, togas). But there are a few gems scattered throughout the Monastiraki neighborhood, like Martinos Antique and Fine Art Gallery (for museum-quality collectibles), Kilo Shop (for vintage clothes), and an outpost of Mon Coin Studio (for contemporary ceramics). If you’re here on a Sunday, locals turn up to hawk vintage pottery and old books, while artisans and jewelry designers also set up stalls.
EVENING: Views and dancing
There’s nothing like sipping a cocktail at a rooftop bar overlooking the Acropolis as the setting sun lights up the scene in a palette of pinks and purples. A prime spot hidden on a backstreet in the Monastiraki area is Couleur Locale Athens, which is set to a DJ beat and heats up as the night goes on. Looking for a more laid-back vibe? The retro Anglais is a glamorous flashback to 1960s Athens.
In Greece, nobody really eats out until 10 p.m., but here’s a pro-tip: If you haven’t made a reservation somewhere, show up early and you just might get in. For dinner, hop in a taxi and head to the Plaka district, a crowded, bustling area with cobblestoned streets and open-air tavernas lining a maze of pathways that snake up the hillside. Get into the Athens vibe at Geros Tou Moria Restaurant, a 90-year-old family-owned spot with live music, dancing, and a menu of Greek classics (lambchops, chicken souvlaki). Or for amazing home-cooked food, there’s Taverna Saita (don’t miss the grilled octopus), with tables spilling onto the street.
Worthy detours along the way
MORNING: A blast from the past
Get your second day started at the National Archaeological Museum. Founded in 1829, this awe-inspiring neoclassical space is one of the world’s most important museums, housing an impressive collection of artifacts from ancient Greece: pottery, jewelry, weapons, you name it. Two pieces not to miss include the Mask of Agamemnon (a gold funeral mask that’s been called the “Mona Lisa of prehistory”) and the Antikythera Mechanism (a mind-boggling astronomical device that was used to predict eclipses).
Travelers say: “[The National Archaeological Museum holds] pieces that I’ve only seen in history books, and to see them up close is just a delight to all the senses.”—EspBing
AFTERNOON: Graffiti and frescoes
Athens is a city of neighborhoods, each waiting to be explored. Not far from the National Archaeological Museum is edgy Exarchia, a self-governed district that’s home to activists, artists, and writers. Lined with narrow streets, the area is known for its impressive graffiti and an increasingly cool food scene. Browse the English versions of the classics at the independent bookstore, Aiora Press, visit the farmers market if you’re here on a Saturday, and stop for lunch at La Cantina Street Food (with casual bites from around the globe) or Salero (a Mediterranean cafe in a 1930s Bauhaus building where the theater crowd hangs out).
For panoramic views of Athens, the Acropolis, and the sea beyond, make your way to Mount Lycabettus (also called “Lykavittos”). This is the highest point in the city, and while you can get here on foot, we recommend saving your energy and taking the Lycabettus Funicular to the peak.
At the summit, there are a handful of restaurants, cafes, and the highly Instagrammable Chapel of St. George. Built in the 19th century, this tiny chapel is a beautiful example of Greek Orthodox architecture that is straight out of Santorini, with its white-washed exteriors and colorful interior frescoes. Relax at the summit with a glass of Greek wine on the terrace of Orizontes Lycabettus and enjoy the stunning panorama.
FOOD TOURS IN THE CITY CENTER
- Calling all food lovers. The Dimitris and Savvas of Athens dining experience includes a seven-course meal to remember made with local ingredients in a private home in Monastiraki with spectacular Acropolis views.
- Athens Walks Tour Company runs the Gourmet Food Walking Tour in Athens—an adventure for your tastebuds. You’ll stop in several locations for tastings and learn about this city’s rich culinary heritage.
- Love the food you’ve been eating all weekend? You can learn to make it at The Greek Kitchen’s Athens 4-Hour Cooking Class with Central Market Visit. During this hands-on experience, you’ll shop for ingredients and make authentic dishes like vine-leaf wraps.
EVENING: Ending on a high note
Cap off a whirlwind day in the Kolonaki neighborhood, a stylish area known for its designer boutiques, sleek art galleries, and inventive restaurants. Depending on what time you get here, you might be able to stop at the Benaki Museum, which was founded in 1930 by an art collector who transformed his mansion into a cultural space for the rest of the world to enjoy. Or get your shopping fix along ritzy Voukourestiou Street at trailblazing stores like Zeus + Dione, which puts an updated spin on Greek artisanship in clothes and home goods.
Your last night is the night to splurge. The place: Papadakis Restaurant, run by celebrity chef Argiro Barbarigou. Her dishes, like white grouper with truffle and octopus stew with sun-dried tomatoes and thyme honey, draw a mix of A-listers from all over the globe as well as in-the-know locals. End the evening with a cocktail at a sultry music spot like Jazz in Jazz or Minnie the Moocher, a jazz bar that’s been an Athens institution since 1931.
Worthy detours along the way
Know Before You Go
The peak season in Athens is June through August, which is also when the weather is at its hottest and the crowds are at their largest. The best months to travel here are March through May, and September and October when the weather is comfortable (lower temps, no rain) and there are fewer tourists. It can get cold during winter in Athens, with lows in the 40s from November through around February—though some people like to come during the off-season, since it’s the cheapest time for airfare and hotels.
Any day is fine to visit Athens, as restaurants and monuments are generally open seven days a week. Check on the timing for museums: Some spots are closed on Monday or Tuesday. Many small shops are closed on Sundays. On the weekend, there’s less traffic in the city, but it tends to be more crowded at popular locations like the Acropolis and the Agora. Be careful about public holidays, as well as the first Sunday of a winter month, when entrance to the major sites is free and huge crowds show up.
Museum opening times vary, with some places like the Acropolis Museum opening as early as 9 a.m. and others (like the National Gallery) not opening until 10 a.m. Closing times also vary: The Acropolis Museum closes at 10 p.m. on Fridays, while the National Archaeological Museum closes at 3:30 p.m. on weekends November through March. Shops tend to open around 9 or 10 a.m. and close anywhere from 6 to 9 p.m. Note that the more traditional shops close for lunchtime, from around 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.
When it comes to dining, lunch is the big meal of the day, and it’s usually eaten around 2 or 3 p.m. For dinner, Athens is a late-night city: Greeks eat dinner at home at 8 or 9 p.m., but when going out, 10 p.m. is more the norm, and many restaurants stay open past midnight.
Syntagma: Right near many cultural hotspots, the main square is home to one of the city’s most regal hotels: the Hotel Grande Bretagne, A Luxury Collection Hotel. Built in 1874, the 320-room property is all about Old World elegance; the 58 suites even have butler service. A buzzy opening: Xenodocheio Milos is a gastronomic hotel from Greek chef Costas Spiliadis, the founder of Estiatorio Milos, a restaurant with locations in New York and a number of other global cities.
Central Athens: Right in the middle of it all, this neighborhood is home to some affordable and stylish places like the new Moxy, an eco-chic hotel with an all-night bar and breathtaking views of the skyline and the Acropolis. A sleek, design-centric property, the Fresh Hotel has all-white rooms with pops of color and a small rooftop pool.
Kolonaki: This neighborhood is known for its trailblazing boutiques and restaurants, as well as a clutch of chic hideaways. A 1920s residence has been transformed into Shila, a six-suite bohemian guesthouse with a roof garden. Like the art and furniture? It’s for sale. In the former Canadian embassy, The Modernist caters to design lovers with its black-and-white rooms and amenities curated by plugged-in locals.
Syngrou Avenue: Sure, the nondescript neighborhood isn’t particularly attractive or centrally located, and you’ll have to take a taxi or a subway to get places. But in return, hotels along Syngrou Avenue give you large rooms and reasonable rates. Case in point: Grand Hyatt Athens, with two pools, a rooftop restaurant, and clean-lined rooms.
Public transportation: With just three lines, the Athens subway (a.k.a. Attiko Metro) is modern, punctual, and easy to navigate. It will take you to most of the places you need to go, connecting various points throughout the city center, the airport, and the ferry port (Port of Piraeus). The Metro runs daily from 5 a.m. to midnight, though some of the lines operate until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
By bike: Athens might not read as bike-friendly, but cycling culture is a thing here. There’s no public bike-sharing system yet—it’s reportedly in the works—so rent your own set of wheels from a company like Baja Bikes. Or head out on a guided tour with Athens by Bike. Cycling is also a great way to take in the majestic landscapes beyond the city center.
By taxi: Taxis in Athens are relatively affordable and easy to flag down on the street. Just make sure that the meter is running when you get in, as flat rates are not supposed to be used unless you’re going to the airport. If the driver won’t run the meter, get out and find another taxi. Uber is also available in Athens, but you won’t be riding in a private car—the service sets you up with a taxi.
Airport transfers: Located about 12 miles east of the city center, the Athens International Airport serves both domestic and international flights. From the airport, you can take a taxi or Uber to your hotel, or use the Metro, if you’re feeling ambitious. Metro Line 3 connects the airport with Syntagma Square, and the ride takes approximately 40 minutes, with trains leaving every 30 minutes.