Planning an Athens itinerary can sometimes seem like an afterthought when mapping out a longer trip to Greece. Although some of the main images that the word Greece inspires for travelers are Athens and the Acropolis, few people spend more than a day in the capital city or outside of the port.
For most people, Greece is synonymous with the Greek islands such as Mykonos, Milos, Corfu and Santorini with vast deep blue seas, and dream-worthy sunsets. With 2, 3, or 4 days in Athens, you’ll manage to get to know the heart of this special country, its people, and the birthplace of Democracy. Read on to design your perfect itinerary for first-time visitors to Athens.
How Many Days in Athens?
So how many days to spend in Athens are ideal? I guess it all depends on the depth of interest in your trip. The capital of Greece is quite a condensed city, yet with plenty of things to do and areas to explore outside of the heart of Athens.
In 1 day, you’ll be able to explore the main area of the center of the city and wander around the Acropolis. With 2 days in Athens, you’ll be able to explore the center of the city at a much slower pace and maybe check out another museum.
Spending 3 days in Athens is ideal to do the city justice and get a better feel for what it is today. And with 4 days in Athens, you’ll have the chance to get out of the city and take a day trip to one of the nearby areas rich in ancient history as well as beauty. If you have even more time, you can also go on a day trip somewhere further afield, such as to Meteora or Delphi.
Getting To & Around Athens
Getting to Athens
Chances are you’ll most likely be arriving in the city by plane or by ferry. While there is a train station in Athens, it’s more for local commuter routes so we’ll be skipping train transport in this article.
If you’re arriving in the city by plane on this Athens itinerary, you’ll be arriving at the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport. The airport is 27 km from the city center and there are a few ways of reaching it.
The metro line 3 runs directly from the airport through the center, stopping at various points throughout the city. You can reach the metro from the airport by about a 3-minute walk outside the terminal.
The journey is just under 40 minutes from the airport to the city. A special airport ticket is required, so keep this in mind while purchasing!
It is possible to take a taxi to the city from the airport. But keep in mind that if you arrive after midnight, taxi costs increase to over double what you would pay earlier in the day. You can also organise a transfer in advance here.
If you’re arriving by ferry from one of the Greek islands, you’ll be arriving at the Piraeus port. Fortunately, there is a metro stop at the port making it easy to transport you onwards to your destination in the city. You can book ferries in advance here.
Getting Around Athens
The center of Athens and its sites are quite small, making it a walkable city. If you’re just spending time in the more touristy part of the city, it’s pretty easy just to walk between destinations.
Otherwise, the public transportation system in Athens is great and using it can keep your Greece trip cost lower. Buses run throughout the city during the day and night making it an efficient way to manoeuvre around the city.
The metro system has 3 lines that have points throughout the city which is one of the most ideal ways to get around Athens.
Tickets for both the metro and busses can be purchased at any metro station kiosk for 90-minute tickets once validated.
From Athens, there are also quite a few solid day trip options and although there isn’t a flourishing train system, there is a good bus system. The KTEL buses are more like charter buses connecting Greece. They tend to be on time and have good routes and frequent journeys.
If you’re hoping to go onward to the Greek islands from Athens, the Piraeus port is one of the main ports in Greece making it the perfect place to begin your Greece itinerary.
2, 3 or 4 Days in Athens Itinerary
From eating classic Greek home cooking, mingling with the locals, and really getting to know the character and history of this city, this 2 to 4 day itinerary in Athens is full of history, fun, and delicious food.
Day 1 – Acropolis & Ancient Athens
The best way to begin your time in Athens is to enjoy a classic Greek breakfast. Greek breakfast tends to be coffee of any sort, (although classic Greek coffee or “freddo” iced espresso tends to take reign) and a pie.
Hop into any fourno (bakery) and grab the most appealing pie for you. I recommend either ham and cheese pie or bougatsa (a custard pastry!)
As we will head to the Acropolis later today on day 1 of this Athens itinerary, there’s no better way to begin the day than by learning about this famous Ancient landmark at the Acropolis Museum.
The Acropolis Museum is home to the majority of the archaeological findings from the Acropolis and it’s truly an impressive collection of history.
The museum is located directly below the Acropolis and offers some of the most impressive views of the Acropolis from below. You can also see the Temple of Olympian Zeus nearby.
The visiting hours and ticket costs are split into seasons; summer and winter. If visiting Athens in winter, the season is from 1 November – 31 March with reduced hours and ticket fees. The summer season is from 1 April – October 31 with lengthened opening hours.
If you plan on visiting the Acropolis and numerous other Athens landmarks and museums, then it can also be worth purchasing the Athens City Pass to save a bit of cash.
Making its first appearance in the 5th century BCE. and the star of the show, the splendor herself, the Acropolis. Most people think that the temple on the hill in central Athens is the Acropolis when in actuality it’s the Parthenon.
The Acropolis is the hill rising above the city that was quite common in most towns and cities in ancient Greece. You can get an incredible view of Athens here. If you’re just spending 1 day in the Greek capital, the Acropolis is a must-see during your stay.
The Acropolis hosts the Parthenon as well as some of the other most striking pieces of ancient Greece; the Propylaia, the Temple of Athena Nike, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Old Temple, and the Erechtheion among others.
Visits to the Acropolis are also divided into seasons. The summer season from April-October allows visitors between 8 AM-8 PM with the last entry at 7:30. The winter season is from November-March and closes earlier at 5:00 with the last entry at 4:30.
If you’re interested in learning more during your visit, you can organise a guided tour here. It’s such a dense area with so much information and a guide or tour can really enhance the experience.
Also, keep in mind if you’re visiting during the summer months that there is no shade once you reach the top and it can become extremely warm. Either come early in the morning or later in the evening if the direct sun is something that you struggle with. Regardless of when you visit, this is no doubt one of the best things to do in Athens.
Roman Agora, Ancient Agora & Hadrian’s Library
Nearby you’ll also find a few other important pieces from Ancient Greek history and architecture. The Roman Agora, the Ancient Agora of Athens, and Hadrian’s library are all located near each other and are between the Plaka and Monastiraki neighborhoods.
It’s truly interesting wandering these areas of everyday Athenian life and imagining what life was like almost 2,800 years ago.
If you’re interested in visiting these sites as well, you can purchase a combined ticket which allows access to all of these sites.
Wander Around Plaka & Anafiotika
After your dive into Ancient Greece, a great way to wind down your first day in Athens is to stroll around the classic Athenian neighborhood of Plaka.
In this neighborhood sitting beneath the Acropolis, you’ll find gift shops, clothing shops, delicious taverns, and ideal spots to have a drink and do some people-watching.
Another unique neighborhood worth spending some time in is the residential neighborhood of Anafiotika. It’s quite small and pretty tricky to find, but once you’re there you’ll feel as if you’re in a village far off on a Cycladic island.
From the winding stairs and paths to some of the most gorgeous views, I highly recommend adding Anafiotika to your Athens itinerary. It’s difficult to find, but first, make your way to Plaka and then plug Agios Georgios church at Stratonos into your GPS. You’ll then be on your way!
Sunset at Filopappou Hill
Looking for the best spot in Athens to watch the sun go down? Head to Filopappou Park and follow the signs and crowds to make your way up the hill looking over the city.
Here you’ll find one of the best views of the city and the perfect spot to bring a bottle of wine and good company to watch the sunset.
Day 2 – Central Athens
Benaki or Archaeological Museum
If classical Greek sightseeing wasn’t enough for you on day 1 and you’re hungry for more with 2 days in Athens, you’re in luck as Athens is the place to be. A few of the other best museums are the Benaki Museum and the Archaeological Museum.
The Benaki Museum is located in the center of the city near the National Garden and is home to over 100,000 artifacts from Ancient Greece. The museum has different opening hours depending on the day and tickets are €9 for normal entry with reduced ticket options available.
The Archaeological Museum is located near the Victoria metro station and is known to be one of the greatest museums in the world. This museum is also the largest in Greece with important artifacts from prehistory to late antiquity.
Hours vary depending on the time of year as well as the cost of your ticket; summer season tickets are are more expensive.
Psyri & Monastiraki Neighborhoods
Lively Psyri and Monastiraki are both two central neighborhoods that can’t be missed during your Athens itinerary. With 2 days in Athens, you have the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in the excitement of the city center.
From Monastiraki station, you can wander around the markets that have a certain feel almost like Arabic markets. Then head to Ermou street to do some shopping if you fancy.
Afterward head to Psyri which is full of cafes, artisanal stores, bars, and music-filled Greek taverns. Don’t forget to look around while you wander as there are some truly beautiful and interesting works of graffiti art in Psyri (among the rubbish ones).
Lunch at Lithos Tavern
As all of the walking and shopping is bound to make you hungry, it’s the perfect time to stop for some lunch. Lithos Tavern in Psyri is the perfect place to fill your classic Greek food needs and rest your feet. I recommend the Moussaka or maybe some classic Greek mixed grilled meats.
Syntagma Square & Changing of the Guard
After lunch, make your way to Syntagma Square and the Parliament building of Greece. This is just about a 15-20 minute walk away from Psyri and many Athenians would call this the main square of the city.
At all times of the day and night, there are soldier guards standing watch on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the presidential and parliament buildings.
These soldiers wear traditional Greek uniforms inspired by what was worn during the Ottoman Period and change positions with other soldiers every hour.
During the changing of the guard, you’ll witness a uniquely coordinated and almost dance-like motion as positions are changed. It’s quite a remarkable experience to witness and a must-see.
Drink With a View at Attic Urban Rooftop
Modern-day Athens is synonymous with wonderful views as well as creative cocktail bars. A great place to enjoy a nightcap and wind down on your second day in Athens is to make your way to the Attic Urban Rooftop.
Here you’ll enjoy some of the most spectacular views of the Acropolis under the moonlight as well as a tasty drink and/or food.
The best way to reach Attic is from Monastiraki square and a 5-minute walk away. From there, you’ll take a lift up to the 7th floor and you’ll reach the Attic Urban Rooftop.
Day 3 – A Foodie’s Paradise & Wander Outside of the Center
If you’re spending 3 days in Athens, you’ll have the chance to dive deeper into the food culture of the city as well as more of the unique neighborhoods the city has to offer.
Food Tour or Central Market
A food tour is a perfect way to get a better look and taste of the food scene in Athens. A guided tour with a knowledgeable local will take you to key foodie places in the city to try tasty local foods.
If you prefer to skip the food tour and would prefer to do something independently, I’d suggest heading to the Central Municipal Athens Market to get a taste of what food and life are like for a local Athenian.
One of the most impressive sites to visit in Athens is the Panathenaic stadium, which can be looked over by tourists due to the Acropolis!
The Panathenaic stadium is located in the Pagrati neighborhood of Athens and is the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble.
The stadium was built primarily for the Panathenaic Games in 330 BCE with a capacity of over 50,000 seats. It hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896 as well as multiple sports during the games and other ceremonies.
You can just take it in from the outside or pay an admission fee to wander around inside.
Whilst the city of Athens may truly be a concrete jungle, there are a few green areas available to get away and get a breath of fresh air in nature.
The National Gardens of Athens are located about an 8-minute walk away from the Panathenaic Stadium and are comprised of around 38 acres of greenery and different flora.
Here you’ll also find a handful of ancient ruins, statues, and different memories of Greece’s past; modern and ancient. It’s free to enter the gardens and the entry gates are open every day from 6 AM – 7 PM.
Explore a Different Neighborhood
If you’re looking to get to know different parts of the city and stray away from the crowds, this is the perfect time to explore deeper. Two of my favorites are Glyfada and Exarcheia.
The neighborhood of Glyfada is likely the biggest neighborhood and residential area in the southern suburbs and by the Athenian coast. Known as the home to many ex-pats, Glyfada is bursting at the seams with restaurants, cute cafes, bars, and things to do.
This is also the perfect place to head to if you want to spend some time at the sea; whether in the water or just by walking and taking in the Greek waters and sunset.
Glyfada can be reached by bus but the best way to reach Glyfada is by the tram system (leaving from Syntagma square.)
Exarcheia is most well known as one of the edgiest and most alternative areas of the city. To many Exarcheia is just referred to as the “anarchist” neighborhood of Athens but there’s a lot more to explore if you dig deeper.
Here you’ll find crowds of students, artists, intellectuals, and all those looking to experience life and the city through more of a unique lens. There’s delicious food here, jazz bars, and independent local finds of all sorts.
Day 4 – Day Trip to Cape Sounion or Marathon
If your Athens itinerary consists of 4 or more days in the city, I recommend trying your best to get out of the city to one of the many nearby towns to experience a different side of Greece. I suggest different locations depending on the time of year you visit as well as your interests.
Cape Sounion is located around 48 miles south of Athens and is the southern tip of the Attic Peninsula. While the entire area is full of idyllic views and things to see, the main attraction of Cape Sounion is the Temple of Poseidon.
The Temple of Poseidon is a temple dedicated to the god Poseidon and is an important part of ancient Greek history. The temple looks out over the vast blue seas and standing at this southern tip of the Attic region surrounded by ancient monuments makes you feel like you’re in your own version of the Odyssey.
There’s a cafe at the monument as well as nearby restaurants if you decide to make a longer day out of it. Visiting in the cooler months is ideal as it isn’t as crowded, and make sure to stay for sunset. The views are sublime.
To reach Cape Sounion you can either rent a car and transport yourself there or take public transport. Another option is to take part in a guided tour such as this sunset tour that will pick you up from your accommodation and return you there at the end of the day.
The public bus system outside the city is KTEL and buses from central Athens to Sounion will depart near the Victoria metro from a bus stop across from Pedion tou Areos. The journey takes around 2 hours. You can find bus timetables here.
Another great option for a day trip from Athens is to visit the Ancient town of Marathon and nearby areas. We all know a “marathon” as the 26-mile race that happens all over the world, but it was actually inspired by the ancient and epic battle of Marathon.
This battle then led to the legend of Philippides. Philippides was the Greek messenger who supposedly ran to Athens from Marathon, hence the 26-mile race today.
The town has many things to do from the Archaeological Museum of Marathon, Marathon Lake, the Marathon Run Museum, and my favorite, Schinias beach.
Schinias beach is a long sandy beach on the northern side of Marathon surrounded by the sea on one side and the lush pine forest of Schinias on the other.
The water is clean and warm, the environment is friendly, and it’s one of the best places to get some forest bathing and sea bathing all in one day.
The beaches are much cleaner and better kept than those near Athens and also incredibly cheaper to visit. There are different options for restaurants and taverns on the beach, making it a solid option for a summer day trip from Athens.
To reach Marathon and Schinias from Athens, you’ll also want to take a KTEL bus. It’s about 45 minutes away from the center of Athens and you’ll take the bus from the Pedion Areos by Viktoria Station going to Marathon and get off at Marathon Beach.
From there, you’ll walk north along the coast until reaching Schinias. Tickets can be purchased when boarding the bus.
Where to Stay in Athens
Athens Ivy Suites – This centrally-located hotel is an excellent choice for mid-range visitors to Athens. They have a range of lovely rooms available and there is also an on-site bar and a wonderful terrace boasting views over the Greek capital. Click here to see their availability
The Modernist Athens – Those looking for luxury in the Greek capital are sure to love this beautiful 4-star hotel. Perfectly located for exploring all Athens has to offer, they have a number of luxe, modern rooms available and plenty of amenities to ensure your stay is a great one. Click here to see their availability
101 Adrianou Apartments – If you’d like the privacy and convenience of your own apartment with all the benefits of staying in a hotel, then this aparthotel is an excellent choice. There are a range of flats available depending on your group size and it has a great location for exploring the city. Click here to see their availability
City Circus Athens – For those travelling to Athens on a tight budget or solo, this hostel is a great option. Offering both dorm beds and private rooms, they have a great location, excellent common areas and they organise social events, as well. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Athens hotels!
Arguably the oldest city in the world, Athens today is a unique capital city worth visiting before or after heading to the Greek islands. Although it may have a lot of grit, you’re bound to have an exciting visit to Athens filled with great music, sites, history, and tantalizing food.
Are you planning a trip to Athens? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!