One of those destinations that tops many bucket lists is Athens, Greece. Why? This Greek capital, the birthplace of Western civilization’s form of democratic government, is packed with things to see and do including historical sites, culture, Greek food and friendly locals.
After almost two years of planning to celebrate my granddaughter’s high school graduation, my daughter, 18-year-old granddaughter and I embarked on a first-time trip of a lifetime to Europe for a Mediterranean cruise on the Enchanted Princess. We opted to arrive 48 hours early to tour Athens before boarding our cruise.
All three of us agree, while the entire travel adventure was amazing, Athens was our favorite. We also agree that 2 days in Athens is not enough time for sightseeing, and we want to return soon.
Athens for 2 days is not enough time, but if that’s all you have, you’ll need to be strategic about how you spend your days. Here’s a suggested itinerary that will help you see the most important historic and cultural sights and still have some time to relax, sample the many Greek cafes and restaurants, and enjoy the city.
Keep reading our 2-day Athens itinerary with our suggestions of how to get around and things to do and see.
Quick Overview of Athens, Greece, The Birthplace of Western Civilization
I’ve always loved history, especially the Western Civilization era, and particularly, the history of Ancient Greece. The capital of Greece, Athens, is one of the oldest and most important cities in the world. It’s located on the Attica Peninsula, which juts into the Aegean Sea.
Athens has a long and rich history, dating back to the Bronze Age and was a major center of culture and learning during the Classical period. It is home to many of the most important archaeological sites in the world, including the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and the Temple of Zeus.
Athens is also a vibrant and modern city with a population of over 3 million people, and it is a major commercial and financial center. The city is home to many universities and colleges, and it is a popular destination for students and scholars from all over the world. (In fact, my granddaughter mentioned adding Athens to her wish list of places to study abroad.)
Neighborhoods of Athens
Before exploring Athens, get a general idea of the most popular neighborhoods and what they offer.
This is the oldest neighborhood in Athens, located at the foot of the Acropolis. It is a maze of narrow streets lined with shops, restaurants and cafes and is the perfect place to visit after exploring the ruins.
This neighborhood is located south of Plaka, and is known for its Monastiraki flea market and its Byzantine and Ottoman-era buildings. (We recommend exploring this neighborhood on Day 2.)
This is the central square in Athens, and home to the Greek Parliament House and its Hellenic Parliament, surrounded by Neoclassical buildings.
In front of the Parliament Building in Syntagma Square is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guarded over 24 hours a day by the Presidential Guards, Evzones, in traditional uniforms.
Tourists can watch the Changing of the Guards daily every hour on the hour, with Sunday 11 am the most impressive ceremony with a full guard corps.
This neighborhood is located to the south of the Acropolis and is home to the Thissio flea market. It is more residential than Plaka or Monastiraki, and this is where we stayed during our 2 days in Athens.
We enjoyed this neighborhood and its friendly and welcoming locals. Our first stop upon arrival in Athens was at Dama Kaupa, an all-day cafe, bar and restaurant with relaxed indoor and outdoor seating. The owner Andres took excellent care of us, recommending neighborhoods to visit including nightlife options. It’s here that my granddaughter enjoyed her “first drink.”
Another favorite was a local wine bar and restaurant,Caravin Wine Bar, where we met the two lovely owners, Anna and Leoni. Both were knowledgeable about local Greek wine. We tasted wine and shared a delicious Greek Cheese & Deli Platter, and made this our last stop in the evening.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Consider staying in an Airbnb. We booked 2 nights in a beautiful two-bedroom “Stone House Under Acropolis,” located in the Thissio neighborhood. A bonus was the view of the hilltop ancient Greece ruins. It was perfect!
This upmarket neighborhood is located to the north of the Acropolis, home to many embassies (important to note in case you encounter any passport issues), boutique and designer shops, and high-end restaurants.
This residential neighborhood is located east of the Acropolis. If you’re looking for a more authentic Greek experience, this is a great place to stay.
This neighborhood is located west of Monastiraki and is known for its nightlife and alternative vibe.
This is a middle-class neighborhood, home to many artist types, as well as lively cafes, restaurants, bars, and shops.
Most notably it is also home to the Panathenaic Stadium, dating back to the 4th century BC and home to the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. This multi-purpose stadium is the only one in the world made entirely of marble. It is also a short distance from the National Gardens.
Day 1: Ancient Athens: Historical Sites, Museums, Temples, Archaeological Sites
All Day Hop-On, Hop-Off Double Decker Bus
If committing to an all-day museum and ruins tour is not your thing, yet you still want to explore Athens, consider booking a one-day Athens Red Hop-On Hop-Off Bus. With limited time, this is perhaps the best way to take in the city.
Learn the history and culture of Athens from the comfort of your sea via onboard multilingual audio guides. Visit the city’s many monuments. Shop ‘til you drop at boutiques, flea markets, and souvenir shops at stops along the way. Visit museums and ancient temples, including the Acropolis and Parthenon, at your leisure. And of course, enjoy people-watching.
Here are some of the stops on this affordable on-your-own tour.
Athens Route Stops:
- Stop 1 – Syntagma Square
- Stop 2 – A Melina Merkouri / Plaka
- Stop 3 – A Acropolis Museum
- Stop 4 – A The Acropolis & Parthenon (Interchange: Piraeus route)
- Stop 5 – A Temple of Zeus
- Stop 6 – A Parliament / National Gardens
- Stop 7 – The Four Museums
- Stop 8 – The National Gallery
- Stop 9 – A Ancient Olympic Stadium
- Stop 9 – B Parliament / National Gardens
- Stop 10 – National Library
- Stop 11 – National Archaeological Museum
- Stop 12 – Omonoia Square
- Stop 13 – Karaiskaki Square
- Stop 14 – Monastiraki Square
- Stop 15 – Kotzia Square
Morning: Visit the Acropolis
For those who prefer a more in-depth experience exploring Ancient Greece, one of the most iconic landmarks in the world is the Acropolis, rising up above the city center on a rocky hill, inhabited since the 4th millennium BC. The Parthenon, built to honor the Greek goddess, Athena, is perhaps one of the most recognizable and frequently copied buildings in the world from the Classical Greece era.
Both of these landmarks continue to undergo extensive renovation with many of the artifacts moved to the Acropolis Museum in Athens and London’s British Museum.
Take your time exploring this hilltop with its archaeological ruins and learning about Ancient Greek history in Athens.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Visit the Acropolis early, preferably at the 8:00 am opening before cruise ship tourists arrive by the thousands, and in the summer months, before the heat of the day. Book an early morning skip-the-line guided tour via GetYourGuide to save more time
Choose from two entrances into the Acropolis:
- The western end of Acropolis is the main entrance which is notoriously busy with long waits to purchase tickets.
- Smaller ticket office at the southeastern corner of the Acropolis, less crowded, but still possible lines.
Entrance Fees: Purchase tickets in advance to save time. Choose from two ticket options for entrance; 2023 pricing during my trip:
- (1) Purchase ticket for entrance only into Acropolis
- Summer: April 1 to October 31 – €20
- Winter: November 1 to March 31 – €10
- (2) Purchase combo ticket into the Acropolis plus six more archaeological sites admission into the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Kerameikos, and Aristotle’s School.- €30 summer and winter.
More Ticket Options: You can also purchase an entrance ticket into the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum through GetYourGuide.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Free admission: March 6, April 18, May 18, last weekend of September, October 28, and every Sunday from November 1 to March 31. Purchase Tickets on the official Visit Greece website.
Afternoon: Visit the Acropolis Museum
Next up, a visit to the Acropolis Museum to view its collection of artifacts from the Acropolis – and escape the heat of the summer months.
Head to the museum’s second floor to enjoy a traditional Greek meal in the restaurant overlooking the Acropolis. Or stop for a drink, a coffee or a light meal in the café with a view of the archaeological excavation.
Purchase Line Tickets online or at the museum entrance: General Admission 2023 pricing: Winter Season (1 NOVEMBER – 31 MARCH) 10,00 € / Summer Season (1 APRIL – 31 OCTOBER) 15,00 €
Evening: Sunset Dinner on Mount Lycabettus
After a long day, if you still have energy left, plan to capture the sunset view from atop Lycabettus Hill, standing over 900 feet above sea level, surrounded by the Aegean Sea. Access Mount Lycabettus either by a mini-trek walk (not for the faint-hearted!), cable car, or car (there’s a parking lot next to the open theater). Make dinner reservations at the upscale Orizontes restaurant, also with spectacular views.
Prefer returning to your accommodations? Explore one of the neighborhoods near your hotel or vacation home, for an authentic Greek dining experience. Ask the locals for suggestions.
Day 2: Explore Monastiraki, Food Tour and Shopping
One of the oldest neighborhoods in Athens, Monastiraki is located at the heart of the city south of Plaka, and its square is known as a meeting place for Athenians. It has multiple rooftop bars, restaurants, and shopping.
Book a Local Food Tour
I am a self-confessed foodie, and I LOVE booking local guided tours! Local guides are familiar with the culinary scene and often take their guests behind the scenes to meet local chefs and other local food vendors.
Do your research, read the reviews, note where the tours will take you, and then decide which tour to choose. Here are several points to consider before booking:
- Does the tour fit into your budget?
- Is it easy to get to especially since travelers are new to the area? Is it walkable from where you are staying, or will it require local public transportation, such as a bus, train or taxi?
- Is the tour really local? Is it hitting all the local spots you are interested in?
- Will there be a lot of walking? This is particularly important if you’re bringing family or friends with mobility concerns.
- Summer months are HOT…and humid, so keep that in mind when booking walking tours.
Traditional Greek Food Tour in Hidden Athens
On our first Athens visit, I definitely wanted to experience and taste all the traditional Greek food possible. After researching, we booked the small group Traditional Greek Food Tour in Hiddens Athens.
Our meeting point was directly opposite Monastiraki Square near the MS Roof Garden (one of the many rooftop bars and restaurants in Athens) at the entrance of the Monastiraki Metro Station.
Our GPS reported it was a 15-minute short walk, so we grabbed a coffee and tried to follow the GPS. But either we weren’t following the directions, or the directions were just not right. We gave up after getting nowhere, hailed a taxi (10 euros) and arrived in plenty of time.
Our tour guide Arela was simply amazing. She was professional, passionate and friendly, and even my skeptical daughter and granddaughter reported that it was one of our favorite tours.
We walked a lot but it was totally worth it, as we were swept up in the hustle and bustle of the fresh fish, meat and fruit markets, vibrant colors, street art, intoxicating aromas (some really yummy and others strong…), and street vendors selling their wares.
We met shop owners, restaurateurs, chefs, butchers, bakers, and coffee makers. We tasted olives, honey, fresh fish, and authentic Greek dishes including Greek salad, calamari, gyros, and we sampled Greek coffee at Mokka (est 1923), Greece’s national spirit Ouzo, and a traditional Greek dessert Bougatsa. At the end of the tour, we were hot, sweaty, and tired, but happy!
Afternoon: Explore Monastiraki Neighborhood
And now it’s time to shop til you drop. After parting ways with our lovely tour guide, we made our way to the square for shopping, mostly at souvenir shops, at the Monastiraki flea market. After a few hot hours in the mid-summer heat, we discovered that most restaurants and cafes were on a waiting list.
We continued to wander through the streets past boutique shops, more souvenir shops, until we came upon Hard Rock Cafe Athens. No wait, air-conditioning, cold beer and delicious nachos – we’re in!
If you have time, the Ancient Agora of Athens is located in central Athens, a 5-minute short walk from Monastiraki metro station.
Consider an Optional Day Trip or Two
Here you are in Athens, so why not add an optional day trip or two? Consider these options:
- Cape Sounion & Temple of Poseidon Sunset Tour: Explore Greece’s rich history with a half-day trip to Thorikos theater and Temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion with an archeologist guide. Witness a stunning sunset over the Aegean Sea.
- Many travelers use Athens as a home base and take the ferry or short flights to the Greek Islands. The ones closest to Athens are Hydra, Poros and Aegina, while Santorini is perhaps the most well-known.
Flying Into Athens, Greece
Athens, Greece, is perhaps one of the easiest airports to navigate. We whisked through airport customs, picked up our luggage, and were out looking for our car service in record time…just 20 minutes!
Navigating the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Greece:
- Read the signs. The airport is clearly marked with both Greek and English signs, so you should be able to find your way around easily.
- Use the maps. There are maps available at the airport, both in print and electronic form. You can also use your phone’s GPS to get around.
- Ask for help. If you’re lost or confused, don’t hesitate to ask for help from a member of the airport staff. They will be happy to assist you.
Tips to Navigate Arrivals, Departures, and Transfers
- Arrivals: Upon arrival at the airport, it’s a five-minute walk from the plane to passport control and customs, and the lines move quickly. After that, move on to the arrivals hall. This is where you will find the baggage claim area, as well as information desks, currency exchange offices, and shops.
- Departures: The departures hall is located on the other side of the airport where travelers find check-in desks, security, and the gates for their flight.
- Transfers: If connecting to another flight at Athens airport, go to the transfer desk, located in the arrivals hall. The transfer desk staff will help you find your way to your connecting flight.
Getting into Athens from the Airport:
Depending on traffic, it is approximately 35-40 minutes from the airport to downtown Athens.
- Taxi: Taxis are a convenient way to get to Athens from the airport, at a cost of about 40 euros (2023 pricing). The taxi stand is located outside the arrivals hall from Door 4 to Door 1. Always ask and agree upon the cost before loading into the taxi.
- Car Service: We pre-booked a private car at 54 euros (George the Famous Taxi Driver Of Greece) to take the three of us and our luggage directly to our Airbnb in the city center. Totally worth the extra cost and less stress. Our flight was slightly delayed out of Toronto, so I simply emailed the company about the delay. Our driver was waiting in the arrival hall with our name on a sign. Such a relief after the long flight!
- Metro Station: Located in the arrivals hall, the metro is the cheapest and fastest way to get to the city center of Athens from the airport.
- Bus: Several bus lines connect the airport to Athens. The buses stop at various locations in the city, including Syntagma Square and Monastiraki Square.
- Car rental: If planning on renting a car, you can do so at the airport. Several car rental companies are located in the arrivals hall.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Personally, while public transportation might be less expensive, hauling your luggage after a long, often red-eye, flight is the last thing I want to do. In addition, I’ve heard many stories of pickpockets, stolen passports and cash on public transportation. I’d suggest splurging and taking the taxi or preferably pre-booking a private car service in advance for less stress and safety.