Enjoy all city life has to offer with this trip to Athens and Thessaloniki. Spend the first few days getting to know the capital's vibrant neighborhoods and flavors. Then switch gears and explore Greece's second city, Thessaloniki, where you'll find a fascinating blend of cultures, a storied past, and an excellent food scene. Although you'll get a taste of Greek city life, you'll also venture out to archaeological sites at Delphi and Pella for another dose of history along the way.

Highlights

  • Snap the perfect picture on a photo safari around the capital
  • Consult the oracle at the sacred site of Delphi
  • Roam around Thessaloniki's Byzantine Ano Poli neighborhood
  • Visit the birthplace of Alexander the Great at Pella
  • Take a cooking class with a view of the Acropolis

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Athens, Welcome Wine Tasting Athens
Day 2 Good Morning Athens Bike Ride Athens
Day 3 Acropolis and Ancient Greek Mythology Tour Athens
Day 4 Athens Food Tour Athens
Day 5 Day Trip to Delphi Athens
Day 6 Athens Photo Safari Athens
Day 7 Athens to Thessaloniki Thessaloniki
Day 8 Thessaloniki Walking Tour Thessaloniki
Day 9 Pella and Vergina Royal Tombs Day Trip Thessaloniki
Day 10 Explore Ano Poli Thessaloniki
Day 11 Return to Athens, Cooking Class Athens
Day 12 Museums and Cape Sounion Sunset Tour Athens
Day 13 Depart Athens  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Athens, Welcome Wine Tasting

Monastiraki Square and the Acropolis
Monastiraki Square and the Acropolis

Welcome to Greece! You'll begin your trip in Athens, home to both the iconic Acropolis and so much more. The mythology of this spectacular city precedes it, with towering temples to Classical deities and the ruins of ancient marketplaces rubbing shoulders with lively nightlife, crowded flea markets, and contemporary cuisine. Make the most of your time in the city at some of these spots:

  • Check out the views of the can't-miss Parthenon. (Pro tip: The Parthenon is the temple, the Acropolis is the hill.) This temple to Athena has enchanted visitors since its construction was completed in 438 BC. It's probably the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of ancient Greece and is visible from many of the city's high points.
  • Stop at the sprawling National Museum for a crash course in ancient iconography. Be sure to seek out the room housing the Antikythera mechanism, essentially an ancient astronomical computer.
  • Visit a smaller archaeological site at the Tower of the Winds, then stroll down neighboring pedestrian Aiolou Street to stop at shops and cafes. 
  • Find your perfect souvenir or sun hat in the busy stalls of the Monastiraki flea market. 

In the evening, you'll sit down to drink to your upcoming adventure with a wine tasting in a bar in downtown Athens.

Day 2: Good Morning Athens Bike Ride

Get around on your new wheels
Get around on your new wheels

Say kalimera with a good morning bike ride around the city. You'll wheel past many of the highlights of the city over the course of 3.5 hours, complete with a coffee break at a cafe. Your guide will tell you about all the spots you pass, such as the Panathenaic Stadium, National Gardens, the Agora, Keramikos, and of course the Acropolis, along with insider tips on the best spots to eat and drink in Athens and plenty of breaks to take in the views.

Put those tips into practice by spending the rest of your day in the posh Plaka district, also known as the neighborhood of the gods. One of the city's oldest neighborhoods, the area features neoclassical architecture in both its homes and shops. When hunger strikes, find a spot at one of the outdoor tables lining the streets. Diners feast on Greek favorites such as the classic horiatiki salad, souvlaki, lamb dishes, and more. Go mezze-style to try them all.

For photography enthusiasts (or those who prefer to sleep late), it is also possible to take the bike ride in the late afternoon rather than the morning, when the soft light is great for pictures.

Day 3: Acropolis and Ancient Greek Mythology Tour

Ancient columns
Ancient columns

Experience the ancient stories surrounding you with today's guided mythology tour. You'll meet your guide and storyteller at the Temple of Olympian Zeus, then head to landmarks around the city including the Acropolis, ancient cemetery at Kerameikos, and the Agora. The myths that founded the city and are featured in its retellings for generations will accompany as you go, with stories of Zeus, Athena, Poseidon, Dionysus, and more. Hear both the stories themselves and the historic facts behind them, adding resonance to the archaeological ruins you will visit during this four-hour tour.

Make your way over to explore the Acropolis Museum on your own after your tour (or join a guide if you'd prefer). Named one of the ten best museums in the world by National Geographic, this modern museum houses a multitude of artifacts removed from the hill of the Acropolis for safekeeping to provide insight into ancient religious practices and daily life. Linger for lunch in the museum's cafe, with views of the artifacts' former hilltop home.

As night falls, you may be able to visit the Athens Observatory to learn about the constellations overhead and take a look through the telescope. Its hours vary seasonally and by day of the week.

Day 4: Athens Food Tour

Olives for sale
Olives for sale

Meet your guide in Syntagma Square to start sampling the best of what the city's street food stalls have to offer. You'll learn about the Mediterranean diet and its potential benefits while strolling the city streets in neighborhoods you may not have discovered yet and exploring bustling open-air markets.

Say good morning with Greek coffee at one of the city's landmark coffee houses, then pick up some street snacks to sample on the go. Venture into the aromatic Varvakios Market, the largest and most popular fish, meat, and vegetable market in the city, and explore the city's main spice street. Sample olive oils, honey, cheeses from around the country, cured meats, olives, and more. Everything from baklava to souvlaki is available to appeal to even the pickiest eaters.

If you haven't had your fill of adventuring during the afternoon, spend your evening in the Koukaki neighborhood. This area's off-the-beaten-path wine bars will introduce you to a wide selection of Greek wines amid friendly crowds, or if you're with the whole family a selection of great local restaurants await.

Day 5: Day Trip to Delphi

The Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi
The Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi

Today, you'll seek out the oracle during a day trip to the ruins of Delphi, once home to priestesses of Apollo who Ancient Greeks believed could predict the future. After being transferred from your hotel to Delphi (about 2.5 hours from the city), you'll take a guided tour through this sprawling archaeological site, with stops such as the Treasury of the Athenians, the Temple of Apollo, and expansive theater.

Explore the ruins or venture up an ancient footpath once used by worshippers of the god Pan, who started from the temples of Delphi and proceeded to Corycean Grotto for their religious rites, surrounded by the valley of olive trees and views of the Corinthian Gulf and peaks of the Peloponnese on your way. 

Outside of the ruins, you'll head to an old town district that used to serve as the leather tanner's district. One of Greece's last bellmakers keeps his workshop here; if you're lucky, he may be on site for a visit. Lunch will be served under the plane trees in the town square, with cheeses, Amfissa olives, and traditional home cooking.

Head indoors after lunch to the museum, a short downhill walk away. Wander through its halls to find the bronze Charioteer of Delphi, marble Sphinx of Naxos, and what may be the first recorded notation of a melody once inscribed on the walls of the Athenian Treasury.

You'll be transferred back to Athens in the late afternoon to rest up or spend the evening out and about in the city.

Day 6: Athens Photo Safari

Capture contrasting colors
Capture contrasting colors

Keep your camera batteries charged and lenses prepared for today's private photo tour of Athens. You'll definitely have the best Instagram feed of any of your friends after four hours with a professional photographer taking you around to their favorite spots in the city. 

Your photo guide will take you to some of the city's most interesting and photogenic locations around the downtown center. They'll also provide tips to help you improve your photography skills and potentially build your own portfolio, along with a break for a coffee or other refreshment. After all, no vacation album is complete without the mandatory cafe table shot.

Day 7: Athens to Thessaloniki

Walkable streets in the city center
Walkable streets in the city center

Take a quick flight to history-rich Thessaloniki in the north. 

The day is yours to explore with a self-guided walking tour, so you can pick and choose based on your interests and time of arrival. You'll start with history, scoping out the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Byzantine churches and the Roman agora, which hosted traders from around the Mediterranean for thousands of years. 

Continue to the modern food and flower markets amid the riots of color and flavor on view. Don't miss the opportunity to sample the bougatsa, a typical semolina-based dessert. Keep going on to the crypt of Saint Dimitrios, a subterranean space recently discovered below the church. You'll learn about the range of cultures that have shaped Thessaloniki as you go, including Ottomans, Christians, and Jews.

End your trip at the top of the White Tower. This fifteenth-century structure is one of the city's most famous landmarks and its unofficial symbol, and is home to both a history museum and views across the water.

Day 8: Thessaloniki Walking Tour

The Rotunda at the Galerius Palace Complex
The Rotunda at the Galerius Palace Complex

Today you'll explore Thessaloniki's many sights on foot. Start your tour at the top of the mid-century modern OTE Tower in the Thessaloniki International Exhibition Center, one of the city's most recognizable landmarks. From here you'll enjoy 360-degree panoramic views of the city while your guide explains its historical background. You'll also have a chance to sip on traditional Greek coffee and nibble on some snacks before continuing on.

Head down towards the Ottoman-era White Tower on the waterfront, where your guide will share tales of its gruesome history. Next, you'll make your way to the ruins of the 4th-century Galerius Palace at the heart of the city. You'll explore the throne room, the atrium, the basilica, and the Arch of Galerius. Continue on to the impressive Rotunda, which is said to be the best-preserved pantheon outside of Rome. A close look at the walls will reveal spectacular mosaic work.

Finally, you'll visit the Byzantine Church of St. Panteleimon and the tiny Church of the Savior, which is also called the Chapel of the Transfiguration of Christ, where you'll learn about their historical significance to Thessaloniki. 

Spend your evening at your own pace.

Day 9: Pella and Vergina Royal Tombs Day Trip

Alexander in engraved format
Alexander in engraved format

Hop on the road out of Thessaloniki to Vergina, roughly an hour away. You'll venture into ancient Macedonian history with this self-guided exploration to the Pella and Vergina archaeological sites.

Start at the ancient city of Pella, the capital of ancient Macedonia starting in the late 5th century BCE and birthplace of Alexander the Great. The site covers more than 15 square acres (40 sq km), where excavations have unearthed a variety of artifacts of daily life. The recently built onsite museum houses many of them, including mosaics, silver artifacts, weapons, statues, and maps dating back to the 4th century BCE.

Take a quick drive to neighboring Vergina, the first capital of ancient Macedonia (yes, before Pella) once known as Aiges. Explore the royal tomb of King Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, and visit the museum/tomb complex to see his burial artifacts such as gold jewelry, weapons, religious artifacts, and a gold larnax that likely contained the king's remains.

Return to Thessaloniki later in the day and stroll through the city's streets, stumbling upon some of its numerous UNESCO World Heritage-listed Byzantine cathedrals along the way.

Day 10: Explore Ano Poli

A city view from the castle
A city view from the castle

After breakfast in the city, head out to Ano Poli (Upper Town). Many of the city's main defensive structures were built here due to its hilltop position overlooking the city. It's also the only section of the city to have survived the great fire in 1917, preserving much of its history, and fringed by the original city walls. Some highlights include:

  • The Alaca Imaret, a fifteenth-century Ottoman monument decorated with the original ceiling frescoes that now hosts art exhibitions.
  • The Church of Osios David, a fifth-century Christian church that features a mosaic of the vision of Ezekiel and a rare depiction of an adolescent Christ.
  • The Byzantine Castle of Thessaloniki, also known Heptapyrgion or Yedi Kule, and former prison.
  • The peacocks of the 14th century Vlatodon Monastery.

Listen for the rebetiko music coming out of the tavernas, and take some time to stop and listen while lingering over a meal and taking in the views over the city and Aegean Sea.

In the late afternoon, take a relaxing stroll along Thessaloniki's seafront promenade, before settling into one of the city's excellent restaurants for dinner. Nea Folia and Sempriko are just a few of the numerous options.

Day 11: Return to Athens, Cooking Class

Craft an afternoon spread
Craft an afternoon spread

You'll head back to Athens in the morning after breakfast.

Once you've settled in, spend your afternoon acquiring some take-home skills with a cooking class. You'll visit a contemporary multi-use space home to four shops in one—a coffee house, pie shop, creamery, and kitchenette—and the perfect setting for your lesson. Discover local products from around Greece and experiment with traditional recipes to create your own twist on the classics. And, of course, sample all of it.  Savor the fruits of your labor on the rooftop while taking in views of the Acropolis and surrounding Plaka neighborhood. 

The evening is yours to spend as you will, whether you want to sneak in some last-minute souvenir shopping in Monastiraki or visit the wine bars of Koukaki for an end-of-trip toast.

Day 12: Museums and Cape Sounion Sunset Tour

Quite the dramatic setting for the temple!
Quite the dramatic setting for the temple!

Take a leisurely morning with breakfast and the opportunity to explore the city on your own time, revisiting any favorite shops or undiscovered archaeological sites. Or use the time to scope out some of the museums you may have missed earlier in your trip. The city has a whole slew to be explored, depending on what specialty speaks to you.

For more history and mythology:

  • Acropolis Museum
  • National Archaeological Museum
  • Museum of the Ancient Agora
  • Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos

Find some fine arts at:

  • Benaki Museum
  • Museum of Modern Art
  • National Gallery

Go off the beaten path at:

  • Museum of Cycladic Art, where you can also buy some truly unique souvenirs
  • The digital interactive museum at the Platonic Academy, next to the site where the actual Academy stood
  • Museum of Ancient Greek Technology in the center of Athens, featuring a working model of the Antikythera mechanism

In the afternoon, you'll head down to the Athenian Riviera, full of both history and stunning island views. Your adventure will take you along the coast to visit the Temple of Poseidon, providing you with historical background on the way. The views overlook the Saronic Gulf, with one of the best sunset perspectives Greece has to offer. Sip a complimentary beverage and take in the sunset while you listen to music and immortalize the moment with a Polaroid-style photo.

You'll be transferred back to your lodging in the evening just in time for a late (Greek-style) dinner. Or, if you're not ready to call it a night, you can request a drop-off at some of the most popular beach bars to dance until the sun comes up.

Day 13: Depart Athens

Wave to the city
Wave to the city

Time to say farewell to Greece. Enjoy your final Athenian breakfast and sneak in some last-minute exploring before your transfer to the airport.

Map

Map of Urban Adventures and History in Athens & Thessaloniki - 13 Days
Map of Urban Adventures and History in Athens & Thessaloniki - 13 Days