A city often overlooked by travelers bound for the dazzling islands that dot its coast, Athens is somewhat of an enigma. It’s quirky and curious, grungy and endearing, edgy and charming, and it’s this mix of characteristics that make the sprawling metropolis not only a worthy destination in its own right, but such a captivating and fun one.
With its celebrated ancient wonders, neighbourhood squares, bustling markets, impressive museums and vibrant street life, Athens effortlessly blends the past and present to create an alluring destination that spoils visitors for choice. Whether you are planning a visit or just dreaming of Greece (who could blame you!), be sure to spend a day in the city getting a feel for its ancient history and cultural life before moving on to explore further afield. You won’t regret it!
How to spend a day in Athens
Here’s the scoop on how to experience Athens in a day, exploring the ancient wonders and not missing out on discovering what really makes the city tick!
Climb to the top of the Acropolis
If there’s time to do only one thing in Athens, let it be the Acropolis. Standing high above the city and visible from almost everywhere in Athens, nothing can prepare you for the grandeur and wonder of this ancient complex. I’m sure we spent every minute at the Acropolis wide-eyed and open-mouthed, completely stunned by the spectacle. Go early to avoid the crowds and the heat. Make the hilly ascent, marvell at the ancient Parthenon, stare into the depths of the amphitheaters and explore all the ruins. After, be sure to take some time to just sit and enjoy the incredible panoramic views of the sprawling city of Athens below.
Get lost in the Plaka
The historic heart of Athens and the city’s oldest neighbourhood, the Plaka is my absolute favourite area in the city. Situated under the Acropolis and extending almost to Syntagma Square, the Plaka oozes charm and has retained much of its original character. It is perfect for its maze-like streets, shops, street musicians, galleries, cafes and restaurants, so take some time to wander and find somewhere for a leisurely lunch of delectable traditional Greek fare. There’s no shortage of it in the Plaka!
Enjoy the Greek Cuisine
In short, Greek food is SPECTACULAR. Avoid the midday heat and retreat to the shade to enjoy a leisurely lunch at one of the Plaka’s many restaurants. Food prices are a little more in this area of Athens, particularly along the main pedestrian streets of Kydathineon and Adrianou, but you can easily avoid those and still find an extremely reasonably priced lunch. Feast on spanakopita, gyros, souvlaki and Greek salad – don’t hold back, try everything and regret nothing!
Explore the city’s streets
So much of the city’s beauty lies within its maze of cobbled streets, so be sure to leave a little time after lunch to wander the labyrinth, explore the shops and discover what really makes the city tick.
Find quiet sanctuary in the National Gardens
From the Plaka neighbourhood, walk to the heart of modern Athens with a visit to Syntagma Square and the magnificent Greek Parliament building (you might even time it well to see the changing of the guard!). From there, enter the beautiful and verdant National Gardens. Enjoy the shade and the peace and quiet – it’s the perfect pause away from the bustling city, while still being in the city! Head south through the Gardens to reach the Old Olympic Stadium and the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Stroll around Old Olympic Stadium
The Panathenaic Stadium held the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and is built entirely from marble. For architecture and history lovers alike, it is an incredible site to visit in Athens, and the top of the stadium provides the most stunning view of the Acropolis sitting high above the city – certainly worth every step of the steep climb to the top!
Marvel at the Temple of Olympian Zeus
The largest temple of ancient times, you can’t miss this striking wonder smack in the heart of the city. 700 years in the making, 15 of its spectacular Corinthian columns still stand today and make a strong visual impact among the modern day city of Athens. It is really difficult to grasp their immensity through photographs alone, so you’ll just have to see it for yourself!
Sail Away on the Aegan Sea
Take the metro, bus or a taxi to the harbour, board a ferry or cruise boat and sail away on the Aegean Sea to the Greek Islands. It’s beautiful any time of day but especially so when the sun is setting over the sea and all the sights of Athens are bathed in a golden glow.
Athens is a city that simultaneously captivates and amazes – is it on your bucket list? What would you add to a one day itinerary?
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