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!
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How to get to and from the airport of Athens
Athens International Airport (Eleftherios Venizelos) is located 35km (22miles) from the city center with a range of public transport methods available to suit all budgets. Journey times range from 30 minutes to 60 minutes, depending on the mode of transport and traffic.
My personal recommendation is to pre-book a Welcome Taxi, where 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 and share information on the city.
For more information and to book your private transfer check here.
For more information check my detailed post on how to get from Athens airport to the city centre.
Athens Itinerary: How to spend 2 days in Athens
2 Days in Athens: Day One
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). Check here my detailed guide to visiting the Acropolis.
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.
Built in the 4th century, this amphitheater could hold 17,000 people and is the oldest of the 3 architectural temples located at the foot of the Acropolis on the Southside. 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 honored the god Dionysis.
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 and Tours
A variety of tickets are available depending on how many of the sites on and around the Acropolis you want to visit.
A great idea is a guided tour to the Acropolis: Here are my two favorites:
– A small group guide tour of the Acropolis with skip the line tickets. The reason I like this tour is that it is a small group one, it starts at 8:30 am, so you avoid the heat and the cruise ship passengers and it lasts for 2 hours.
– Another great option is the Athens Mythology Highlights tour. This is probably my favorite Athens tour. In 4 hours you will have a guided tour of the Acropolis, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and the Ancient Agora. It is great as it combines history with mythology. Please note that the tour doesn’t include the entrance fee which is €30 (Combo ticket) for the mentioned sites. It also includes a couple of other archaeological sites and museums that you can visit on your own the following days.
– Alternatively, you can buy your skip the line tickets online and pick them up near the South entrance.
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 center plus a 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 artifacts found at the Parthenon itself.
Explore one of the oldest neighborhoods 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 pedestrianized, 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.
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 recognizable monument on the Agora site today and the best-preserved temple from antiquity.
The Psiri Neighborhood
End the day (or start the night) in Psiri which was once the most dangerous neighborhood 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.
2 Days in Athens: Day Two
Syntagma Square- 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 socializing, 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 11 am.
As the transport hub of Athens, all the honking horns and exhaust fumes can be a bit much after the peace upon 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!
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 event 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
Also known as the Olympeion, this ruined ancient Greek temple was erected to honor 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
Also standing in the center 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 honor 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
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!
This bustling square with its church on the corner, street sellers, cafes, and colorful street art has narrow backstreets leading off from it that contain the famous Monastiraki flea market. On Sunday locals take to the streets with their tables full of wares. But no matter, if you can’t visit on a Sunday 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.
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.
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!