- Uncovering Ancient Antiquities
- Sampling Culinary Delights
- Seeing Surreal Sunsets
- Uzo, Lots of Uzo
At the heart of the Mediterranean, lies an ancient treasure, Athens. The capital of Greece, Athens is one of the longest inhabited cities in the world. This historical gem of Europe is home to a plethora of ancient cultural treasures and attractions. Even if you have to do Athens in 2 days (and it deserves more) this Athens Itinerary will have you hopping; Believe me, you wont run out of things to do in Athens in two days!
…these relics of a bygone era intertwine with modern life…
Although Athens is a bustling, vibrant, modern city there’s no way to overlook its ancient roots. Walking down the street ruins appear in some of the most unlikely places — Below office buildings, inside subway (metro) stations, the middle of a street. Indeed these relics of a bygone era intertwine with modern life making Athens the worldly city we know today.
While its possible to do Athens in 2 days, you’ll truly need a full two days in order to experience everything I’m going to list here. I spent four days during my trip and still didn’t run out of things to do in Athens. In any event, discussing it with other travellers it seemed Athens was always being mistakenly (in my opinion) overlooked. To this end, it came down to only having 1 or 2 days in Athens at the start or end of their Greek vacations; As if the city was an afterthought to more desirable locations on the Greek Islands.
So, let’s take a quick tour of this 7000 year old city named after the Greek goddess of wisdom!
Best Things to Do In Athens Itinerary – Day 1
Take in Sunrise, The Perfect Wake Up Call
Alright, I know… Getting up before sunset wasn’t part of your plans for this vacation. One on hand you could sleep in, enjoying that comfortable, warm,luxurious bed; But, on the other, you could experience what may be a once in a lifetime sunrise. That is to say that watching the sun come up over the Acropolis is a transcendent experience; And just the right thing to get you in the mood for exploring this ancient city!
The hike to the top of Philopappos hill isn’t overly difficult. That being said I did use maps on my phone a couple times to ensure I was making the correct trail choices. If in doubt head up hill! Once you reach the peak of the hill you’ll be greeted in no uncertain terms by the Monument of Philopappos. Often overlooked, just past the monument a rocky outcropping makes the perfect place to watch the sunrise and photograph the Acropolis!
Breakfast & An Acropolis Museum Adventure
A sunrise like that is bound to make you hungry! A brisk walk through the lush park downhill to the Acropolis Museum will afford you a variety of choices of nearby restaurants for breakfast or coffee. Enjoy a stress free meal as the city comes to life while waiting for your next stop, the Acropolis Museum to open its doors.
The museum, re-opened here in its new location in 2007, is a national treasure. Built sympathetically above and around ancient Greek ruins seemingly to show them off the building and architecture are worth the admission alone. Unquestionably, however, its the treasures inside it’s walls and they stories they tell that make this one of the best things to do in Athens.
Explore The Acropolis
You’ve put in the time to see the sun rise over it. You learned its secrets at the the Museum. Now it’s time to get up close and personal with the Acropolis of Athens. One of the most obvious things to do in Athens, the Acropolis ends up being quite busy. Therefore planning your visit for early in the day is the best bet to avoid the crowds and take everything in with a bit of solitude. On a longer Athens itinerary I’d suggest visiting the Acropolis first thing in the morning. However, when trying to do Athens in 2 days I feel like suggesting going without visiting the Museum first would be a disservice.
The Acropolis, defined as “a citadel or fortified part of an ancient Greek city, typically built on a hill.” is home to many different temples. The Parthenon is the most well known of the bunch and carries with is a storied past. Built during over 15 years starting in 447 BC it was dedicated to the Goddess Athena, the patron of the city of Athens.
The Parthenon stood for nearly 2000 years before being converted to a mosque by Ottoman conquerors in the 1460’s. In the late 1680’s now a Ottoman munitions dump, the Parthenon was struck by shelling igniting her quarry.
The explosion badly damaged the structure…
The explosion badly damaged the structure and to this day archaeologists are still attempting to piece together what time and war have torn apart. In fact, you’ll notice as you visit the varying colors of the Parthenon, the beige/cream marble is original but the bright white sections have been handcrafted, using period techniques recently for the reconstruction.
Other temples such as the temple of Athena Nike are less visited and well worth your time, if you’re a photographic minded traveller like myself bring your patience as getting a shot without other tourists is difficult at best!
Join an Athens Walking Tour
No need to complete for a window seat. No locking a bike up at every stop. Walking tours are the best way to get intimately acquainted with with this magnificent city and a great way to help see Athens in 2 days! Strolling through the cobblestone streets of Plaka passing ancient ruins as Athenian life bustles around you is an experience not to be missed.
My walking tour of Athens lasted about 3 hours and I really enjoyed and appreciated the history behind the classic sites and even some of the more mundane things we passed on the tour. This surefire addition to your Athens itinerary will quickly put you in touch with this cities heartbeat. It’s amazing to get an insider perspective and local insight from the guides.
Free and paid walking tours depart multiple times daily from all parts of the city. Well worth the price of admission (free) a 5-10 euro tip was graciously accepted but not expected at completion… Cheap Entertainment, and In my mind, it’s one of the best things to do in Athens.
Feast in Athens’ Plaka Neighborhood
It’s said that there’s an island in the heart of Athens. You might think I’d be crazy to go along with that idea. But it’s true! Plaka, is a breathtaking Athenian neighborhood that would feel right at home on the Greek islands. While its a popular tourist spot and one of the most suggested things to do in Athens, it hasn’t lost its true character. Plaka’s narrow pedestrian streets, charming cafes and abundance of greenery & flowers will leave you wishing for more. Basically it’s an escape from Athens right in the heart of the city!
I Hope you’re hungry! Unfortunately when trying to see Athens in 2 days you just won’t have time to sample everything this city has on offer and an Athens itinerary isn’t complete without food. Amazing food! I may or may not be drooling right now as I think about it. If you haven’t yet it’s time to get a simple but delicious Greek salad, a fresh and creamy moussaka, fish of the day or succulent rack of lamb. Wash it down with liberal amounts of wine and ouzo before finding one of the small local cafes for an evening coffee and baklava!
Sunset on an Athens rooftop
While trying to experience Athens in 2 days some people would have you retiring early.Being well rested is great and all. But then again, how often do you simply sit back and experience a sunset? How often is that sunset in Greece or for that matter over the Acropolis? It needs to be done!
The ‘A for Athens’ hotel, on the edge of the lively Monastiraki square has a great open air rooftop bar though you wouldn’t know it from the outside. The small bar/restaurant fills up quickly due to the stunning views of the Acropolis; It doesn’t hurt that they mix a great drink too. Get here early in order to grab a seat by the railing and add this stop to your Athens itinerary. Don’t forget your camera bag!
Best Things to Do In Athens Itinerary – Day Two
See Sunrise at Areopagus Hill
Another Acropolis sunrise. It may be the photographer in me but I never get tired of experiencing a city as it awakes. An early morning walk from your hotel to Areopagus Hill (mars hill), a prominent marble outcropping on the northwest side of the acropolis is exactly what the doctor ordered. Climbing the slick, time worn marble steps to the summit of the hill you’ll be treated to an impressive sight.
To the north Athens sprawls out before you. To the East the prominence of the Acropolis and its temples overwhelms your view.
According to Greek mythology, it was here that Ares (the Greek god of war, known as mars to the Romans) was tried by the gods for the murder of Poseidon’s son. It is this legend that gives the hill its various names. The Hill is also prominent in the bible as the location that Paul the Apostle delivered his famous word about the identity of “the unknown god” which is remembered with a brass plaque at the base of the hill.
Temple of Zeus / Hadrian’s arch
The temple of Zeus is often bypassed by people tight on time. Even when trying to do Athens in 2 days I feel this place has a spot on your Athens itinerary. While only a fraction of the once immense temple is still standing and some of the reconstruction seems questionable the temple is a must as far as things to do in Athens. If only to experience the sheer size and scale of the columns (once numbering 104) that made up the largest temple in ancient Greece.
Next to the Temple of Zeus you’ll find Hadrian’s Arch. Commonly known locally as Hadrian’s gate it was once part of the ancient city walls and spanned the main street into central Athens. Built as tribute to the Roman emperor Hadrian this marble arch towers at nearly 20m tall and worth the quick pit stop along your route.
Play in the Panathenaic Stadium
I’ve never been to the Olympics. That’s not easy for me at admit being that they were held only an hour away in 2010. Being in Athens I wasn’t going to miss seeing the Panathenaic Stadium, which hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.
Built in 144AD, hand carved into a marble hillside and able to seat 50,000 people the Panathenaic Stadium is a sight to behold. I couldn’t help but imagine myself experiencing one of the earliest international sporting events in human history. Entry to the stadium (and its small museum) is paid. During my visit I chose to photograph it from outside and move on so as not to miss the sunset I was aiming for.
Shop Syntagma Square
Arguably THE center of modern Athens, Syntagma square is a hub of commercial and social activity. The wealth of shopping, restaurants and hotels adorning the edges of the square alone makes this one of the top things do do in Athens. Add in the fact that the presidential palace, Hellenic parliament and other important landmarks are so close by and you have somewhere that deserves a place on ony Athens itinerary.
Arrive by Metro if you aren’t staying locally (the station is below the square) and enjoy the free subway museum before emerging into a verdant and historic square. Fountains, shade trees and benches dot the square and provide purchase for the social activities that seem to congregate here. Locals and tourists alike flock to the square to see and be seen and its active well into the evening.
Experience the Changing of the Guard
Uniquely Athens, witnessing the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier has become one of the top things to do in Athens. Providing a 24-hour honor guard, this prized ceremonial assignment is carried out by the Evezones (or presidential guard). While many might laugh at the pleated kilt like uniforms and pom-pom adorned shoes, make no mistake, these are highly disciplined soldiers of an elite Hellenic (Greek) infantry unit.
During the changing, the guards who have until now remained motionless (aside from scaring off tourists who venture too close), begin a routine of stomping, swinging their limbs and marching in unison, possibly to get the blood circulating again. As they finish, the new soldiers complete the same ritual before taking their places at either side of the Tomb.
Get Lost in the Sunset at Mount Lycabettus
Rounding out your Athens itinerary and one of my favorite things to do in Athens; Watch a sunset over this stunning city. Close to your previous stops around Syntagma, Mt Lycabettus is, in my opinion the best place available to see a sunset during your 2 days in Athens!
If walking, be smart and give the the hill enough time. I cut my time close to sunset and didn’t quite realize what a big hill I’d be climbing. My 20lb camera bag became a real pain in the hot sticky evening air.
I ascended the mountain through the hilly neighborhood streets to the west, however; In hindsight, there is a beautiful trail to the south of the hill or hell, even a cable car… I wish someone had told me! Either one would have saved my poor legs!
The well reviewed Orizontes Lycabettus restaurant sits atop the hill with panoramic views across Athens from its terraces. It’s perfect spot for a romantic evening dinner or dessert before or after sunset. Slightly downhill from the restaurant sits the quaint little chapel of Saint George. Grab a snack of freshly roasted nuts from the vendors gathered near the perfectly placed viewing platform and wait for the show to start! A perfect addition to your Athens Itinerary!
Now head back to your hotel, maybe grab a late night Gyro, and get some rest! Unfortunately that’s the end to your 2 days in Athens itinerary! While there are plenty more things to do in Athens you simply won’t have time to see it all!
Tips for seeing Athens in 2 Days
Remember that there are thousands of things to do in Athens and you’ll only get to experience a few of them. Forget the worry of trying to fit absolutely everything into you Athens itinerary, it just won’t happen. In order to see Athens in 2 days you’ll want to heed these tips:
- First and foremost, Take every opportunity to say “It’s all Greek to me!” when you can’t read something.
- Comfortable shoes are a must! The cobbled streets and uneven ancient sites can take a quick toll on your feet and back if you don’t have a supportive pair of shoes.
- You can see the Acropolis from practically anywhere in Athens. Don’t get suckered in to staying at a hotel simply because it has a view of the Acropolis!
- Pack water! I visited at the end of the year (September) and still had to compete with 30°C temperatures. Bring a bottle of water with you. You’ll be happy you did when you see tourist prices near most of the cities attractions!
- The Greeks will be more friendly and eager to help if you try to speak some Greek as well. Kalimera = Good morning, Kalispera = Good Afternoon & Efharisto = Thank you. Watch their smiles light up as you attempt it!
- Athens is a major city, with this comes the need to be smart. While I had no problems during my trip it’s well known that pickpockets and con-men are quite happy to prey on tourists. Keep your wits about you and travel smart!
Where to Stay in Athens
It goes without saying, if you’re visiting Athens you’ll want to be close to all the attractions it has to offer. Some of our favorite places to stay in Athens include:
The Electra Palace Hotel in the center of historic Plaka has clean, bright, and well appointed rooms with a rooftop pool and a view of the Acropolis to kill for! Just steps out the front door you have beautiful pedestrian streets with delicious restaurants, many of Athens’ top sights and even the metro station!
Plaka is the Perfect area to stay in while visiting the Greek capital!
A little further from the center (a little, as in 300m or so) we had many recommendations to check out Royal Olympic Hotel. The rooms are ornate and full of marble & the view from the rooftop restaurant is to die for. Located just steps from the ruins of the temple of Saturn and Rhea and the beauty of the National gardens this hotel is a sure choice for visiting Athens over a couple days!
Getting To Athens / Getting Around Athens
Taxis, buses, trams and private transfers are all options for getting around in Athens. Undeniably though, the cheapest and easiest system to use is the Subway (metro). When discovering Athens in 2 days the metro will be your best friend. Buy the reusable metro card from the automated teller machine at the first station, load 10-15€ and be off on an adventure learning the ins and outs to a new city’s public transport.
From the Airport
Upon exiting the airport your goal is to head to the large overhead pedestrian walkway next to the Sofitel hotel. Cross the street and use the escalators or elevator to gain access. at the end of the walkway you’ll find the TrainOSE ticket booth and automated ticket machines. Buy you tickets, validate them and head down one level to the platforms to await your train. a 30 minute ride will have you in the city center ready to see Athens in 2 days!
From Piraeus Port
Piraeus port is the Greek gateway to the islands. If you’re just returning from sailing the islands (check out Hydra Greece) and plan to tack this Athens in 2 days itinerary onto the end of your vacation then you’ll want to grab the metro into town. Piraeus station is about a mile (15 min walk) from the cruise ship port but only minutes from most of the ferry docks. From Piraeus station a 20 minute ride on the green line will have you in metro Athens. Be aware of your hotels location you may need to change to the red line at Omonia station.
Athens Metro Map
And That’s Athens in 2 days!
Of course, with seeing Athens in 2 days you’ll only be able to gloss over all the things to do in Athens. these 2 days in Athens should have given you a fairly well rounded feel for the place, next time you visit Greece perhaps you’ll give it a better chance to win you over! A longer Athens Itinerary will let you delve deep into the never ending history of this place.
With any luck this Athens Itinerary has helped you explore its ancient ruins, its monuments, its museums, restaurants & quirky neighborhoods! Did we miss something you think should be on a list of the best things to do in Athens? If so drop us a comment below!