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There are so many things to do in Athens, Greece, that you won’t be able to cover everything in one day. Athens is a wealth of culture and civilization, a city full of vestiges, but also modern in an original way. As visiting the Acropolis is one of the main objectives of most people, it will be part of my list of things to do in Athens. Nonetheless, I’d gladly trade it for a walking tour of lesser-known streets and neighborhoods of Athens.
The main things to do in Athens, Greece, in two days include climbing the Acropolis of Athens, a visit to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, visits to the Ancient Agora and the Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library, The Archaeological Site of Lykeion (Lyceum), sunset watching on the Lycabettus Hill, enjoying a Greek Frappe in Piraeus, and having a late night drink or two in Plaka.
- Getting To Athens & Getting Around
- Things To Do in Athens in Two Days
- Where To Stay in Athens
Getting To Athens & Getting Around
Athens, the capital city of Greece is very easy to reach from most European cities. Whether you come from the US or from within Europe, The Eleftherios Venizelos International airport will be your entry gate to Greece. The airport is big, but it is very well organized, allowing travelers to find their way around with ease. There will be signs in both Greek and English languages, so you don’t have to worry you won’t understand a word.
Although huge lines may form in case of multiple simultaneous landings, they move very fast. You can expect to be out of the airport in about 30 minutes from your landing. Beware, though, in case you need to take a local flight to an island or to anywhere else in Greece, you should keep in mind that getting to the city center will require another 30 minutes by taxi, or one hour by metro or bus.
Taxis operate on a flat rate of 38 Euro to the center of Athens (after midnight, the price becomes 50 Euro). If you need to get to Piraeus to take a ferry for the next leg of your journey, you’ll need to pay 45 Euro. Taxis would also take you to Rafina, Nea Makri or Marathon, but you can expect to pay 55 Euros (that’s what I paid to get to Nea Makri in the summer of 2017, so you should check to see if this price is still valid).
If you have enough time on your hands and you want to enjoy some sightseeing, you may want to take the bus.
Bus number X95 goes to Syntagma Square. Depending on the traffic, you’ll need one hour (more or less) to get to Syntagma. Monastiraki, Plaka and the Acropolis are all within walking distance. If you need to get from Athens airport to Piraeus, you’ll have to take bus number X96. You’ll find bus tickets inside the airport, in the waiting area, just before you exit – there’s a desk with an English speaking clerk. Here’s the Athens Airport Buses official website.
The metro is also an excellent option for those who don’t want to spend that much on taxi.
Things To Do in Athens in Two Days
Most things to do in Athens relate to culture and ancient civilizations. There are ruins everywhere, so you’ll find plenty of photo opportunities to beef up your Instagram account. At the same time, Athens is a modern city, with graffiti, dirt and luxury stores, with bars, restaurants and coffee shops, and with the traffic jams we all know from our home cities. While two days are not nearly enough to unveil the beauty and the spirit of this place, they will allow you to see most of the archeological treasures and to get a glimpse into the local lifestyle.
Visit the Acropolis of Athens
Visiting the Acropolis is something that requires you to get over the fact that there are going to be crowds doing the same thing as you. The best piece of advice I can give you is to either go outside the high season (which is from June to late September). If this isn’t possible, ensure you get up really early the day you want to climb the Acropolis or buy a skip the line ticket and tour like this one, here. Beware that the price of this tour doesn’t include the price of the two entry tickets to the Acropolis and to the New Acropolis Museum.
If you wish to see Acropolis with its monuments but you don’t want to visit the museum, you can get your skip the line Acropolis ticket with audio guide from here.
If you don’t want to buy a guided tour or an audio one, you can still skip the line by purchasing a special ticket that’s valid for the Acropolis of Athens and its slopes, the Ancient Agora of Athens and its museum, the Roman Agora of Athens, the Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos, the Archaeological Site of Lykeion, Hadrian’s Library and Olympieio (the Temple of Olympian Zeus).
This special ticket is available at all above listed objectives. All that you need to do to skip the line at Acropolis is to purchase your ticket from any other objective. The Ancient Agora and the Roman Agora are fairly close to the Acropolis entrance, so I’d buy the ticket from one of them. Once you have it, head over to the Acropolis to beat the crowds. Keep in mind that the Acropolis tour may take anywhere between 90 minutes and two hours. I wouldn’t rush it, as the ancient monuments and views are too impressive to see them in a hurry.
These special tickets are valid for five days. Visiting all of these objectives within the time frame of one day isn’t the best thing to do, so you may want to save a couple of them for another day.
Things to Know when Visiting the Acropolis
Bring a hat and make sure you wear your most comfortable walking shoes. Sunscreen is also a must.
Bring water. If you forget, you’ll be able to buy some from the drinks stall by the entrance, but that will be overpriced. Beware that you won’t find any bottled water once you pass the Acropolis gates, and that there’s no shadow up there. There are some drinking fountains where you can refill your bottle, should you have one. However, you have to climb the whole hill of Acropolis to get to these drinking fountains. Bring your own water and refill your bottle once you get to the top.
Even if you get up early to be among the first visitors, you’ll still need to put up with the crowds. We made this effort, we only did the line for about 15-30 minutes, but you can see from my photos, below, what we found up there.
2020 Update: Crowds are a thing of the past now, with all social distancing measures in place. Before planning for your trip to Athens, you should check the latest recommendations issued by the Greek government
Many people wonder whether Acropolis and the Parthenon are one and the same thing. Acropolis is the name of the entire hill where the Parthenon and the other two temples are built. The Parthenon is a temple dedicated to Athena Parthenos, one of the many goddesses in the Greek mythology.
Others want to know whether the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum are the same thing. They are not! The Acropolis of Athens is the hill that hosts all those ancient temples. The Acropolis Museum is at the bottom of the Acropolis hill, in the Makriyianni area, just where the the pedestrian walkway of Dionysiou Areopagitou Street begins.
Your entry ticket grants you access to the entire complex built on the top of the Acropolis hill (not the Acropolis Museum). Nonetheless, there are some restoration works going on in the area, so not all monuments are truly photogenic at any given time.
Inside the Acropolis enclosure there will be signs explaining you what each monument is. However, if you’re interested in learning some historical facts, you’ll be better off with booking a guided tour. Like this, you’ll find out lots of interesting facts about the Parthenon, about the temple of Athena Nike and about the Erechteum.
Visit the Temple of Olympian Zeus
Olympieio, or the Temple of Olympian Zeus is among my all time favorite things to see in Athens Greece. Located fairly close to the Acropolis, Olympieio is one of the largest temples built by ancient civilizations. In fact, the archeological site consists from a group of pillars that are still erect and some fragments of building scattered around this central structure. The Temple of Olympian Zeus is easy to spot from the top of Acropolis, as it is really huge and it stands apart from all buildings in the area.
While standing nearby the giant pillars, I had the same feeling as in Luxor, in Egypt. Humans are really small, so they have been trying to make up for this by erecting stunning buildings, temples and monuments.
Taking a walk around the site will require 10-15 minutes, but you’ll surely stay longer, as you’ll want to take some dozens of photos. There are some trees on the side, so you’ll be able to rest in the shadow to recharge your batteries.
Visit the Ancient Agora and the Roman Agora
Located between Monastiraki and Acropolis, the Ancient Agora is a huge archeological site where lush greenery and remainders of this ancient civilization coexist. It can be the perfect place for a rest after visiting the Acropolis, on your way to the bars, restaurants and shops of Monastiraki and Plaka. Beautiful and less crowded than the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora still boasts one of the oldest buildings still erect, which is the Temple of Hephaestus, the God of fire, metalworking, stone masonry and sculpture.
As you work your way up the Ancient Agora, you’ll see the Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles. The church is beautifully restored, but I’m not sure whether you can enter (as far as I remember, I found it closed)
The Ancient Agora Museum is located inside the restored Stoa of Attalos, and the access is included in your entry ticket. Here you’ll find lots of statues and even more heads of statues. It’s like all headless statues in the world could find their heads here. The best part about this museum is that it has air conditioning. This will be a very nice refreshment after walking in the heat of the day.
The Roman Agora is also very close to Monastiraki and Plaka. Much smaller than the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora is home to the Tower of the Winds and to an old mosque that hasn’t been restored just yet.
Both sites are included in the price of the combined ticket for Acropolis. As they are way less busy than other tourist objectives, these sites are the perfect spots for you to purchase your ticket without having to do the line.
I loved walking along the pathways of the Ancient Agora, so I took my time to enjoy it. I think the visit to both sites took about two hours. However, you can make it only 40-50 minutes, if needed so.
Visit Hadrian’s Library
Hadrian’s Library is also on the north side of the Acropolis of Athens, nearby the Roman Agora and Monastiraki Square. It is a smaller site, so you won’t need more than 10 minutes to visit it. It is worth a quick look, though, because it will allow you to get a better understanding of the ancient culture and civilization that shaped our world.
Visit the Archaeological Site of Lykeion (Lyceum)
The Lyceum (Lykeion) is the archeological site of Aristotle’s philosophy school. It is located further away from all other monuments and sites included in the special ticket, so you may be tempted to skip it. Don’t! Just leave it for another day if you’re really tired. In order to get to the archaeological site of Lykeion, you need to pass by Syntagma square, and walk along Vassilissis Sofias Avenue, and then on Rigillis street.
There’s not much left of this ancient school of thought, but there’s a special charm to this place, particularly if you are a philosophy lover. Visiting the Lyceum won’t require more than 10-15 minutes, unless you want to sit there for a while and think about the great works and teachings of Aristotle.
All the above are enough things to do in Athens for one day. Take into consideration that you’ll start early and you’ll need a lunch break. I’d say you can cover the Acropolis (without the museum), the Temple of Zeus and the two Agoras before lunch time. After lunch, visit Hadrian’s Library and then go to Syntagma Square and to the Lykeion. If you are hungry as you finish your Acropolis adventure, save the Ancient Agora for after lunch. For a more relaxed visit, assign one day to see the Acropolis (and the museum), and do all other sites included in your combined ticket the next day. Like this, you’ll also be able to visit the Archeological Museum of Kerameikos, which is further away from Monastiraki.
Climb the Lycabettus Hill
While on the Acropolis, you’ll notice two hills that stand out from the Athens landscape. One of them is Philopappou Hill, also known as the Hill of the Muses, and the other one is Lycabettus Hill, which is the highest point of Athens.
In fact, the city is built on seven hills. If you are up for a challenge, you can try to climb all of these hills in one day. That would be one of the coolest things to do in Athens.
While the Lycabettus Hill offers an impressive panorama of Athens, the experience is deeply commercial and touristy. As the golden hour is the best time to be on top of the hill, you’ll have the “pleasure” to share your space with crowds of people. All tourist guides recommend their readers to get here by sunset, so you can rest assured you won’t be alone. Everybody will be waiting for the lights of the Acropolis to come on. Some will even place their cameras on tripods in the most convenient spot and they won’t move any longer, ignoring everyone else trying to enjoy the views. Nonetheless, the breathtaking scenery is well worth putting up with tourist crowds.
The access to the top of Lycabettus Hill is by funicular. Unfortunately, the closed tunnel won’t allow you to see anything. Apparently, there’s also a walking path to the top, but I missed it for some reason. This will go to my Athens to do list for the next time.
Have a Greek Frappe and a Walk in Piraeus
The port of Piraeus is so lively and welcoming, that it is worth spending at least half day strolling around on the narrow streets on the hills around it. The seafront promenade is very beautiful and scattered with lots of bars and restaurants. It feels good to watch the blue water and all those beautiful yachts and the cruise ships coming and going. I could spend many a day doing just this.
If you want to visit Piraeus, you’d better avoid driving, because parking can be a real nightmare. I had to take about three tours of the busy neighborhood before finding a place to park my car. If you want to avoid the frustration of not being able to get out of the car, take a taxi or use public transport.
Have a Late Night Drink and a Dessert in Plaka
Plaka is the place to be if you want to enjoy the buzzing life of Athens. There are hundreds of tavernas, bars and coffee shops full of happy people enjoying life and the company of friends. In fact, you should seek to find accommodation in Athens in this neighborhood, in order to be close to all important things.
Where To Stay in Athens
I highly recommend the Gazi Apartment. It is very close to Athens downtown, but in a quiet and friendly neighborhood. You’ll find some neat tavernas as you walk toward the city center. They are very popular with locals, very few tourists finding their way in this area. Monastiraki, Plaka and the Acropolis are within 30 minutes of walking. The nearest metro station (Kato Petralona) is at about 5-10 minutes of walking. From there, you have two stops to the Monastiraki station (the M1 metro line).
This apartment can accommodate up to four people. The two sleeping areas are separated by a big folding screen. There’s an open space kitchen, one bathroom and perhaps the largest balcony you’ve ever seen. You’ll be able to do yoga or to exercise on the balcony, or to simply enjoy your morning coffee.
Late check-in is possible, but you need to inform the host in advance, so that she comes to give you the key.
I’ll surely be staying at Gazi Apartment during my future trips to Greece. There are so many things to do in Athens that I can’t wait to get back. I haven’t told you anything yet about Glyfada and the beautiful beaches near Athens. I also didn’t mention the three lovely islands, Hydra, Aegina and Poros, which you can see in a one-day trips from Athens. Greece lovers, stay tuned, as more good stuff on Greece travel is coming soon.
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