It felt like a shame not to visit the capital city on my first trip to Greece, and so despite hearing mixed reviews of Athens, we decided to spend a few days exploring the city before heading off to the islands like most tourists do – and I’m so glad that we did.
‘You should go straight to Santorini’, said my parents who fell in love with the idyllic island after their visit there. And so insistent was their argument that I was beginning to worry I might’ve actually made a mistake by not arranging our whole week trip on the island, but as it turns out, I actually ended up liking Athens much more than Santorini.
If you’re on the fence about whether or not to make the stop, I’m here to try and convince you why you should. And if you’re already planning on a visit, then here’s how you could spend 48 hours in Athens.
How to reach Athens from the Airport
Athens airport is located a little out of the city, but it’s still easy to get a transfer once you’ve arrived. Aside from booking a private car or taxi, the metro station nearby will take you directly into the centre from the airport. But if like us, you happen to land on a rare day where there’s a strike on the trains(!), there’s also the X95 tourist bus outside the airport which goes directly to Syntagma Square in the centre. The journey takes about an hour and costs €6 each way.
What to do in Athens – Day 1
Visit the Acropolis
Unless you’re someone who strictly only travels off the beaten path (yay for you), the first stop you’ll probably look to make is the Acropolis – and understandably so, as the most iconic landmark in Athens and, dare I say, perhaps all of Greece.
As with any city break, it’s best to avoid popular landmarks like the Acropolis at peak times, aka midday. And if you’re going during the warmer months, I can also recommend avoiding the inevitable midday heat, as there’s very little shade at the site.
A basic entry ticket to the Acropolis costs a relatively pricey €20, which gets you to the main site plus the Theatre of Dionysus nearby.
Located on the top of a hill in the heart of the city, the vast Acropolis site offers not only incredible Grecian history, but also panoramic views of the city too.
It doesn’t matter how many of them I visit, ancient sights like these will never cease to amaze me.
The perfect stop before or after a visit to the Acropolis is the Areopagus Hill nearby. We walked straight past it on our way there but later spotted the crowds gathered on the huge rock from the top of the Acropolis.
There are steps leading to the top, but be careful as it’s quite rocky and slippery in parts once you reach it. Free to visit, the hill offers great views of the city as well as back to the Acropolis, meaning it’s the perfect photo stop – as was evident by the shirtless guy I saw here who was having a full-on model-style iPhone photo shoot, no doubt, ‘for the Gram’.
We actually visited the museum before the Acropolis itself, but whenever you decide to do so, the museum makes a great stop to learn more about the main landmark as well as Athen’s history.
Entry costs only €5, though weirdly can’t be purchased along with the Acropolis ticket.
For coffee and snacks after your visit, I also loved the Little Tree Books and Coffee shop located in a quiet street nearby.
Filopappou Hill / Hill of the Muses
If you love photography when travelling, the top of Filopappaou Hill is the perfect place to watch the sunset and get those ‘golden hour’ photos.
Not only does this spot offer unbeatable views back to the Parthenon, but you’ll also be able to catch a glimpse of the coast on the other side too. It doesn’t cost a penny to visit, and takes around 15 mins to walk to the top.
Head to a rooftop bar
In among the incredible historic sights and vantage points, Athens, while grungy, also has hidden pockets of achingly cool bars and restaurants tucked away on the back streets.
I loved stopping for a drink at some of the rooftop bars which all seem to look out back to the city’s prized landmark, the Acropolis, and you should definitely stick around for a few drinks too. It makes the perfect rest stop after a hard day’s sightseeing, and is also a great place to watch the sunset over the city, and sit among the locals as the night comes to life.
Try Couleur Locale in Monastiraki, and, although it’s not a rooftop bar, I can also recommend a beer in Six Dogs, which is probably the hippest (I’m aware of how old I sound saying that) drinking establishment I’ve stepped foot in.
Day two in Athens
Go shopping in Plaka
I’m not really one for shopping when travelling (or when I’m at home) but I enjoyed strolling through the neighbourhood of Plaka and its winding streets. As the old historical area of the city, the neighbourhood is a lovely and quaint place to visit despite being quite commercial.
Mostly lined with tourist-led cafes, restaurants and shops, I enjoyed walking through the village-like streets and being in the hustle and bustle of the city – especially as we’d based ourselves in a quieter residential neighbourhood.
Spend a few hours here and wander through, and even if the shops don’t interest you, the many street cats you’ll find here will.
Try the local food
For a capital city, eating out in Athens is incredibly affordable, especially if you embrace the traditional Greek souvlaki and gyros – grilled meat kebabs and skewers wrapped in a warm pita bread with fries and salad. Mmm. One of the most popular spots for one is at Kostas, a tiny hole in the wall food establishment near Syntagma Square frequented by locals and tourists alike. Choose from pork, beef or cheese, and pay only €3.50! Told you, super affordable.
Another top traditional Greek treat you must try is loukoumades, which are deep-fried balls of doughy goodness finished with your choice of sweet or savoury toppings – honey, cinnamon and nuts are the traditional choice. For the best in town, head to Lukamades and wash it down with a delicious freddo cappuccino, which, together with tzatziki, I consumed my body weight in while in Athens.
Not all restaurants cater for veggies and vegans in Athens, but for a spot of meat-free eating, I can recommend Avocado near the centre and their delicious smoothies.
After spending most of the morning eating around the city, we headed to the National Garden next to walk off our breakfast binge. Despite the almost year-round sunshine and dry humidity, Athens is also quite green, and located right in the centre is this peaceful spot which is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Among the peaceful greenery is also a little animal pen in the middle with adorable goats, rabbits and even a turtle pond.
Walk all the way through the park and you’ll come to the grand Panathenaic Stadium which I loved and can highly recommend a visit to.
As the home of the modern day Olympics, the Panathenaic Stadium is where the first games were held, and nowadays where the Olympic torch sets off from at the beginning of every event.
For only €5 each, the entrance fee comes with a free audio guide to take you around the incredible sight of the horseshoe-shaped stadium.
If you don’t mind heights, you can also climb all the way to the top of the seats and walk the length of the stadium. There’s also a tunnel underneath which was once used by athletes to enter and exit the track, and now hosts a small museum inside with lots of memorabilia from the Olympic games.
For the best photo opp, there’s also a podium at the front of the stadium for you to pose on. Anyone who knows me will agree that is the closest I’ll ever come to being any kind of sportswoman…
And there you have it!
Have you been to Athens? What have I missed from my visit? Tell me in the comments and I’ll add it in!