How to Spend one day in Athens

one day in Athens

Welcome to Athens! The capital city of Greece is a place where ancient history and modern vibrancy collide in an exciting fusion. What I love about Athens is how it is much more walkable it is than some of the larger European capitals like London or Paris. This means it is possible to walk to the main sights from the city centre. Although I would recommend at least 3 days in Athens, it is possible to spend one day in Athens and see the Acropolis and some other ancient ruins, as well as soak up the atmosphere and experience some gorgeous Greek cuisine.

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So, what did I get up to in Athens? Well, I hiked up the Acropolis to visit some of the most amazing Greek temples in the world (including the Parthenon) and brushed up my knowledge in the Acropolis museum. I visited Olympion, the temple of Zeus. I also had time for a visit to the Ancient Agora where I discovered my favourite Greek temple Hephaestus (even the roof and some of the freizes are still intact). After having a little time to stroll through the streets of Plaka and peruse a few souvenir shops, I finished my day off with a gorgeous Moussaka and an Aperol Spritz!

Acropolis Athens
Heading up to the Acropolis

Now, my expectations were low for Athens. I knew I was going to totally love the Ancient Greek temples. But from what I had heard from other travellers, Athens was smelly, busy and dirty – many of them couldn’t wait to get out.

Let me reassure you….that is totally not the case! Perhaps they were comparing Athens to the Greek islands too much, which is a totally different travel experience. My experience of Athens was that it was full of happy people who couldn’t wait to serve you and look after you in their bars and restaurants. The streets were clean, the roads were modern and the metro was easy to use. Tie all that in with the accessibility of everything, with all the main ancient Greek archaeological sites in one walkable area, and you’ve got yourself the dream city for history buffs and temple seekers!

In this one-day journey, I invite you to traverse the captivating streets, delve into the tales of antiquity, and immerse yourself in the soul-stirring ambiance of Athens. From iconic landmarks to hidden gems, this extraordinary city promises an unforgettable experience for every intrepid traveler. Prepare to embark on a day filled with awe-inspiring wonders and timeless discoveries in the heart of Athens.

But, is one day in Athens enough? And what is the best time to visit Athens?

Is one day in Athens enough?

In short, I would recommend at least 3 days in Athens to cover all the main sites and get a good feel for the neighbourhoods with the nightlife, bars and restaurants on offer. I stayed in Nea Makri on the Athens coast for 5 days and spent three out of the 5 days exploring Athens. I felt that this was the perfect amount of time – I left without feeling that I had missed anything major and feeling that I had enough time to enjoy the vibes.

However, the good news is that if you only have one day in Athens, then you will be able to cover the Acropolis and a couple of other major sights as well. It’s not going to allow you to experience al of the ancient ruins, but it will be enough for you to see the best (Parthenon and Hephaestus) and enjoy some drinks and a meal in the Greek capital.

The Erechtheion
The Erechthion, Acropolis, Athens

You may like to visit just for the Archaeological sites of the Acropolis and then move on to your next destination. One day in Athens is a good idea as a layover for onward flights. You might also like to get a taster for Athens in one day, with the view to return and see the rest.

Overall, if you were to ask me ‘Is one day in Athens worth it?’ I would answer yes it totally is, but do spend more days there if you possibly can!

What is the best time to visit Athens?

Athens gets extremely hot during the summer months – we went in June and it was almost already too hot to climb the Acropolis around 10am! June to August in Athens can be too hot for most people – expect temperatures often exceeding 30°C (86°F). Additionally, it tends to be quite crowded with tourists. If you don’t mind the heat and crowds, summer can still be an enjoyable time to visit, especially if you plan to take advantage of the beautiful beaches near Athens. I like to stay by the beaches around Marathon and Nea Makri.

The best time to visit Athens is during the spring (April to early June) and autumn (September to October) seasons. These months offer pleasant weather with mild temperatures, making it ideal for exploring the city’s outdoor attractions and historical sites. The temperatures range from around 15°C to 25°C (59°F to 77°F). In spring, you can expect blooming flowers, lush greenery, and fewer crowds compared to the peak summer months.

Autumn is another excellent time to visit Athens, as the weather remains pleasant with temperatures ranging from around 15°C to 28°C (59°F to 82°F). The city also hosts various cultural events and festivals during this time, adding to the vibrant atmosphere.

A few words of advice about visiting Athens

If you plan on spending one day in Athens, then I would recommend that you stay overnight in an Athens youth hostel or boutique hotel so that you wake up in the middle of the city centre, preferably somewhere near to the Acropolis or Monastiraki. I recommend Athens Backpackers, Baloo hostel or the Nubian Hostel Athens. This means that you can make the most out of your day in Athens.

If you are travelling into Athens from the coast or airport, then the key is to get there BEFORE 8am to climb the Acropolis when it is less crowded and when the heat of the day has not yet fully set in (you do NOT want to be climbing the Acropolis in the July or August midday sun).

Visiting the Acropolis Athens
Climbing the Acropolis in Athens – don’t go too late in the day, it can get very busy!

If you are travelling into the city for just one day and have all your luggage with you then I would recommend using a baggage drop off store in the city centre. We used the left luggage on Monastiraki square next to Icy Roll, but there are plenty of options for left luggage in Athens, which means you don’t have to cart your heavy bags around with you.

Here is a summary of my top tips for Athens….

  • Start the day early (8am and head straight to the Acropolis) – you should plan to spend at least two hours there.
  • If coming to Athens by Metro go to MONASTIRAKI as this is the closest to the main tourist attractions.
  • Buy your tickets at the main Acropolis ticket booth and then head round to to the second entrance to the Acropolis which is round the side by the Acropolis Museum – this entrance is less busy.
  • Choose to focus on either the Acropolis plus the Acropolis Museum OR the Acropolis plus the Ancient Agora and the temple of Hephaestus for one day in Athens – anything more will be a bonus.
  • Bear in mind that the time of year and temperature will effect how much you can see within one day.
  • Take plenty of bottled water and wear sun hat and sun cream (it can get very hot in Athens especially in the summer and you will risk heat stroke if you are not protected).
  • Make sure that you stop for souvenir shopping and something to eat in Plaka – a hip and cool district in Athens full of gorgeous shops and restaurants.

What to pack for Athens

  • A good camera with spare batteries and a smartphone with battery pack for backup – mine is a Canon Powershot.
  • A gimbal if you intend to do videos (beware of using this at the Acropolis – they may not allow it).
  • Sturdy walking boots and comfortable mid weight walking socks (I like Bridgedale) – there is a lot of walking in Athens especially the Acropolis itself which has some uneven ground.
  • Sun cream (factor 30 recommended such as Ambre Solaire) and after sun.
  • Sun hat or baseball cap to keep the heat off your head.
  • Refillable water bottle such as the Lifestraw – there are plenty of places in Athens you can refill your water bottle.
  • Comfortable cotton clothing such as lightweight walking trousers or Capri pants and T shirt or linen top.
  • The Lonely Planet Pocket Athens guidebook – I love to have something to read that is separate from my tech. I paperback book is not affected by no WIFI!
  • Swimming costume, swim shorts or bikini – just in case you want to cool off in a rooftop pool or head to one of the coastal beaches!

lonely planet pocket Athens

Getting around in Athens

Athens is a very accessible city with an easy to use public transport system. The Athens metro was very accessible. You can get tickets for the metro via the ticket machines and you can select English as an option. Remember to tap your ticket in and out to validate it. Head to ‘Monastiraki’ metro station because it’s walkable to all of the main historical sights from there.

If you are looking to get taxis, just beware of some rip off taxi drivers. We arranged a transfer from Athens Airport to our hotel (Thomas Hotel) and it was a pre-booked price of €35. Our driver told us that the price was double because it was after midnight. We said we had booked it through the hotel and would check with them. Of course, when we checked, they told us that €35 was indeed the right price for a transfer at that time.

As I have already mentioned, the good news is that Athens is a very walkable city. Once you are near Monastiraki square, everything can be done on foot from there.

visiting the parthenon
Here we are enjoying the amazing ancient architecture of the Parthenon

How to Spend 1 day in Athens

This itinerary for one day in Athens is rather packed! I actually spread these activities over 2 days, but it is possible to fit them into one day as long as you don’t mind getting up early and doing a lot of walking (just remember those walking boots).

There is a combined ticket that you can buy for the Acropolis and other archaeological sites (7 in total) for €30. Even if you don’t manage to see all of them, if you use it for at least 3-4 sites then it is worth getting the combined ticket. If you feel that you will only manage the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum then just buy the single Acropolis ticket (€13) and then the ticket to the Acropolis Museum (€15). You can buy tickets to the Acropolis museum in advance online here.

Morning: Acropolis and Acropolis Museum with brunch in Plaka

8:00 AM – Start your day with a visit to the Acropolis, the iconic symbol of Athens. On the way up you will see some impressive ancient amphitheatres including the Theatre of Dionysus and the Theatre of Herodes Atticus. The ascend the hill and marvel at the grandeur of the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, and the Temple of Athena Nike. Allow yourself at least two hours to explore the ancient ruins and soak in the panoramic views of the city below.

Theatre of Herodes Atticus
The Theatre of Herodes Atticus, Acropolis, Athens

10:00 AM – Descend from the Acropolis and head towards the nearby Acropolis Museum. Discover the rich history and archaeological treasures housed within its modern architecture. Don’t miss the impressive Parthenon frieze (top floor) and the Caryatids from the Erechtheion (first floor). Allow a further two hours for the Acropolis museum (expect the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum to take a full morning at least).

12:00 noon – Take a leisurely stroll through the historic neighbourhood of Plaka. Wander through its charming cobblestone streets lined with neoclassical buildings, quaint shops, and traditional tavernas. Enjoy a delicious Greek brunch in one of the cozy local cafes (I headed to Kafeneio To 111).

Kafenieon to 111 Athens
Kafeneio To 111

Afternoon: Ancient Agora, Monastiraki Square and the Roman Agora

1:00 PM – Make your way to the Ancient Agora, the bustling marketplace of ancient Athens. Explore the ruins of the Temple of Hephaestus and the Stoa of Attalos. Hephaestus is my favourite ancient Greek temple because the roof is still intact and so are many of the freizes around the top. Also take some time to admire the fascinating artefacts in the onsite museum and imagine the vibrant life that once thrived in this historic gathering place.

2:30 PM – Head towards Monastiraki Square, where you’ll find a vibrant mix of shops, markets, and street vendors. Explore the bustling Monastiraki Flea Market, known for its eclectic range of antiques, souvenirs, and local crafts. There are some impressive souvenirs on offer including centurion hats, Greek statues and even penis bottle openers!

3:30 PM – Walk towards the Roman Agora, located just a short distance away. Explore the ruins of the Tower of the Winds, the Gate of Athena Archegetis, and the Fethiye Mosque. Enjoy the serene atmosphere of this ancient site, which offers a glimpse into the Roman era of Athens.

Is Athens Worth visiting yes
Temple of Haphaestus, Ancient Agora

Evening: Psirri and the nightlife of Monastiraki

5:00 PM – Head towards the vibrant neighbourhood of Psirri, known for its lively atmosphere and trendy bars. Explore the narrow streets adorned with colourful street art and enjoy a refreshing drink at one of the local establishments. Immerse yourself in Athens’ modern nightlife scene.

8:00 PM – End your day with a delicious Greek dinner at one of the traditional tavernas in the Plaka or Psirri neighbourhoods. Indulge in authentic Greek dishes such as moussaka, souvlaki, or fresh seafood, accompanied by a glass of local wine or ouzo.

10:00 PM – If you have the energy, visit the Monastiraki neighbourhood once again, where you’ll find a vibrant nightlife with live music venues and rooftop bars. Experience the lively atmosphere and enjoy some Greek music and dancing before calling it a night.

Additional Activities in Athens

If you are lucky enough to be able to spend more time in Athens, I would recommend that you also visit the temple of Zeus (Olympeion), Kerameikos (ancient city ruins), Hadrian’s library and Aristotles school (Lykeion).

Further Reading

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