Planning Your Trip to Athens
Even if you only have a few hours in ancient Athens, you have time to visit the world-renowned Acropolis—and you might even add on the Royal Palace or Hadrian’s Library if you have a full day. With more than 1 full day in Athens, consider a day trip: there are plenty of ancient ruins just outside city limits, or vineyards producing wines on soil that has been cultivated for millennia.
Once you expand to several days, it pays to go on a tour with a local expert, who can take you to the city’s best markets and tavernas and tell you what to order, or show you the sights by bike and even give you photography tips.
A note about your last night in town: While travelers to other parts of Greece have routinely skipped Athens on the way back, it all depends on how comfortable you are with a tight transfer. It may mean skipping a final night on one of the islands, but it will also mean peace of mind. Consider taking an evening flight back to Athens and booking your final night in an airport hotel. That way you’ll be able to arrive at the airport for your return flight home refreshed, well-rested, and stress-free.
When’s the best time of year to visit Greece? Read all about it here.
Athens in An Afternoon
If you’ve got just one afternoon or evening in Athens, your first stop will undoubtedly be the Acropolis, the hill towering over the city that includes the Parthenon, a temple to Athena constructed in 438 BC. Just utter the words “Ancient Greece,” and most people will immediately get an image of this iconic structure.
What many travelers aren’t aware of is that it’s actually the anchor point for an entire complex of buildings, each worth a visit. These include an ancient theater, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Erechtheon, famous for its Caryatids – columns shaped like women that hold up one of its porches – and the Acropolis Museum, responsible for displaying and preserving all of the archaeological finds of the Acropolis.
Athens in 24 Hours
Although you could easily spend an entire day just at the Acropolis, there are plenty of other historic and modern sights to keep you occupied. The National Archaeological Museum is full of antiquities from all over the country, attesting to the brilliance of the Ancient Greeks, many of whom were far ahead of their time when it came to art, architecture, philosophy, and technology. Another ancient site – the Tower of the Winds – is an octagonal marble clock tower that was actually part of the Roman forum, and therefore a remnant of yet another great ancient civilization that made this land the center of the world.
If you’d rather see how the modern half lives, reserve a few hours to wander around one of Athens’ buzzing neighborhoods, including the up-and-coming Pangrati neighborhood, or the Psyrri area, known for its nightlife and mezze, or small Greek appetizer plates. Monastiraki flea market is open every day, selling everything from painted icons to leather sandals to cheap souvenirs, with an entire separate street for antiques and vintage goods. It’s a great place for people-watching, wandering, and hunting for bargains alongside some of the city’s savviest locals.
Athens in 2-3 days
Once you know you’ll be spending at least 2 full days in Athens, you can add a day trip to your itinerary. This may seem counterintuitive, since you’ll be leaving Athens and going on to your next Greek adventure in such a short time, but there are plenty of nearby destinations that make more sense when you’re based in Athens and are more convenient without an overnight.
A popular day trip option is Delphi, a major archaeological site on the slopes of Mount Parnassus that includes the Temple of Apollo and the Sacred Way, a path leading up to it flanked with columns, as well as an ancient amphitheater and an archaeological museum preserving and displaying many of the site’s smaller treasures, including stele, friezes, the Sphinx of Naxos and the bronze Charioteer of Delphi. This is a great option if you want to dig deep into Ancient Greek and Roman history, but kids will also love the chance to play and explore outside. Want a more in-depth look at what to do in Delphi? Read all about it here.
Other options include a visit to Cape Sounion at the southern end of Attica, where jagged cliffs are crowned by the remains of the Temple of Poseidon. Although it is a very long day trip and at least one overnight is ideal, Meteora is also an option, where a cluster of Eastern Orthodox monasteries balance precipitously atop a dramatic rock formation, just as they have for a thousand years. Over the centuries, these holy places have sheltered monks, hermits, and pilgrims; today they are a UNESCO World Heritage Site that welcomes countless awed tourists. Read more about Meteora here.
For a different, more low-key day out of the city, consider visiting some of the vineyards surrounding Athens. Part of the wine-producing region of Attica, this area has growing grapes since antiquity. Vineyards offer both red and white varietals, but you can also try the classic Greek retsina. Read more about Greece's vineyards and wine regions here.
Athens in 4-5 days
If you have up to 5 days in Athens, consider joining a tour that will allow you to see the city through a new lens, or observe it through a particular theme. An Athens food tour will whisk you through bustling markets and to some of the best street food stalls so you can taste cured meats, olives, and cheeses, honey and olive oil, and Greek coffee and baklava. A private photography tour will have you revisiting some sites like the Acropolis and adding new ones, all with the aim of teaching you how to capture one of the most photogenic countries in the world on film.
If you’ve found yourself still dreaming of the Acropolis, go on a Greek mythology tour that will let you explore the site in depth and reveal its secrets. After all, you can never learn enough about Zeus, Athena, and Poseiden, just like you can never spend enough time at this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For more ideas of what to do with 5 days in Athens, take a look at this itinerary.