Athens is a city that needs no introduction. This ancient metropolis is the birthplace of democracy and western culture in general, not to mention the glorious civilization of ancient Greece whose achievements remain relevant to this very day. It is clear that such a city has a lot to offer, and indeed you can walk its streets for days and not see everything, but if you only have one day in Athens do not despair – with a good Athens itinerary you can easily see the most important sights and enjoy the charm of this incredibly old city at the same time. We’ve got one such itinerary right here, so read on!
What’s the best time to visit Athens?
When it comes to weather conditions, you should know that the fact Greece is a Mediterranean country plays a major role in its climate. Winters are predominantly mild (although it can get a bit chilly sometimes), while summers can be quite hot. Summer is also peak season in the city, so maybe the best time to visit Athens would be April or May, or late September, if you want to avoid crowds and heat.
But summer has some aces up its sleeve. Take the Athens & Epidaurus Festival, for example – a festival dedicated to theater and plays performed in this real-live ancient theater. If you’re a music fan, you will want to watch out for Ejekt or the ADD Festival (this one takes place in May), but there are plenty more events to choose from, especially in the warmer part of the year.
A few facts about Athens
The history of Athens is almost 3500 years long, although there is evidence to suggest that people have been living in this area all the way back since 11000 BC. Today, while the city itself is not that big (about 660,000 people), the metropolitan area around it is absolutely massive and is home to almost 4 million people.
In 1896, Athens hosted the first Olympic Games of the modern era, and the city was also the host of that event in 2004.
Obviously, the city is where the greats such as Plato and Socrates, Hippocrates (the one from the Hippocratic Oath), writers Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, Herodotus and so many more lived and worked that we couldn’t possibly fit them all in this small paragraph. The impact of ancient Athens on our lives today is still immeasurable.
One Day in Athens Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Athens.
Start your day with some Greek yogurt
You may have tried Greek yogurt earlier in your life, but there’s a big chance it wasn’t as good as the one they serve in Stani Cafe. This small local cafe bar with 80 years of tradition serves some of the best Greek desserts and the most delicious Greek yogurt made of sheep milk, served with honey and walnuts.
The yogurt is so very creamy and thick, plus they’re very generous with the toppings. They also serve an amazing espresso and other variety of coffees prepared with sheep milk. Stani Cafe is open daily from 6:30 AM to 10:45 PM, Tue-Sat. On Sundays it opens an hour later, and on Mondays it’s closed.
Wander around Varvakios Market
After you finish your delicious Greek yogurt, continue further south following the Athinas Street – the central street of the Monastiraki district – until you reach the Varvakios Market. This is the city’s main market, and if you love seafood you’re in for a real treat here because there are dozens of fishmongers here with some excellent produce.
Pretty much everybody shops here, from top-tier chefs to students looking for something nice and affordable, so you can always expect a lot of people, on top of all the vibrant colors and amazing smells. The market is open every day from 7 AM to 6 PM, except on Sundays when it’s closed.
Taste Greek delicatessen at Ta Karamanlidika tou Fani
Greek yogurt may be super delicious, but it’s not a real meal that will make you forget all about your hunger for a while. Luckily, there’s one place pretty close to the Varvakios Market that serves all sorts of meze (small portion) dishes for everyone’s taste. Even though Ta Karamanlidika tou Fani is famous as an artisanal meat deli offering all sorts of Greek meats and sausages and therefore also great meat dishes, some of their vege options such as warm aubergine salad with feta cheese or their grilled cheese with tomatoes are extraordinary.
If you prefer regular breakfast and you want to have classics like scrambled eggs or eggs Benedict – Zampano offers both great food and a beautiful interior. Coming here is one of the best things to do in Athens if you’re looking for a delicious meal.
Wander around Monastiraki
After you fill your belly with some delicious food, it’s time to explore some of the best areas of Monastiraki. The first one is around Iron Square – trendy cafes, charming souvenir shops and concept stores as well as its relaxed vibe make this square a favourite area for both tourists and the locals. Spiti Mas (tiny, but cute) and Little Kook (they have beautiful decorations) are some of the suggestions for a coffee break or a dessert.
The busy Monastiraki Square is another great area to check out. Hectic streets and busy shops abound, although some may find the crowd around this area a bit overwhelming. Those who like to stay away from the crowd should definitely check out some of the rooftop bars around the square – A for Athens, 360 Degrees and Anglais. Those who enjoy crowds should definitely check out the small flea market shops where vendors sell literally all sorts of decorative items and households. On Sundays, the flea market vendors occupy the whole area around Avissinias Square, so in case you’re into rare finds, there will always be plenty of things to see there.
Try the famous Greek souvlaki
It’s pretty hard to fit all great Greek dishes into just one day in Athens. However, if you’re into street food and want to try the best of Athens’ street food, the thing to do is to try Greek souvlaki – pork chunks or beef patty served in delicious pita bread with veggies and yogurt sauce. O Kostas, dating back to 1950, is the all time classic for the locals and the most popular place among travelers. However, due to its popularity, you should expect long queues, but no worries – you can try another great souvlaki at Ermina’s.
Explore the charming Plaka neighborhood
Located under the imposing Acropolis, the Plaka district is the city’s most picturesque neighborhood and one of the most popular tourist areas. It’s also Athens’ oldest neighborhood which contains some of the finest examples of traditional neoclassical and Cycladic architecture. Stroll its colorful alleyways, shop for some authentic souvenirs around Vyronos and Tripodon streets or stop for a snack break at the charming Plaka stairs on Mnisikleous street.
While in Plaka, don’t miss the Anafiotika area, just below the Acropolis hill. With all the houses painted white, the lush Mediterranean greenery in front and an abundance of the Greek taverns, you’ll easily pick up on island vibe and forget about the metropolis around you.
Climb the majestic Acropolis
Acropolis is probably the main attraction and an obligatory stop on your one day in Athens. This magnificent citadel overlooking the city contains several buildings of immense cultural and historical importance, with Parthenon (a temple of goddess Athena) standing out as the most famous example alongside the Temple of Athena Nike. This is ancient Greek culture at its very finest and no visitor can afford to miss it.
However, you may want to come here early in the morning to avoid crowds and potential heat. Tickets for this site alone are 20 euros, although for 10 euros more you can a combined other ticket that’s good for several other attractions and will last you five days. This is THE thing to see in Athens!
Walk the Roman Agora
Just north of the Acropolis, there is another incredible location that really should be on any decent Athens itinerary. The Roman Agora was constructed in the first century BC, by none other than Julius Caesar and Augustus. It was a gift from the Romans to the Athenians – a beautiful square that served as the city’s market.
If you walk through the area today, you can still see the colonnades that used to surround it and get a really good idea of what life used to be like back then. When Romans would build something they sure were sloppy. But apart from the Roman Agora, there is another very important sight here, one that also needs to be on your list of things to see in Athens.
Visit the Tower of the winds
Right on the Roman Agora is an imposing tower. It is called the Tower of the Winds it’s quite a fascinating thing to explore because this is considered to be the very first meteorological station in the world. It’s not certain when exactly this was constructed – first or second century BC – but the most important thing is that it’s in great condition, especially the frieze showing eight wind gods. You can enter, and you definitely should snoop around a bit – you don’t get to visit a tower more than 2000 years old every day.
Check out Hadrian’s Library
Another sight very much worthy of your time (and included in the ticket’s price) is Hadrian’s Library. Now, while it may not be in the best shape of its life, you can clearly see how massive the building was. Fascinating columns adorn its main entrance, and the building had plenty of reading rooms and lecture halls.
It’s very nice to see how much emphasis was on studying and knowledge in this city back in the day (emperor Hadrian was very supportive of that), and the library adds another fragment of information regarding everyday life in Athens. Kind of puts my old university building to shame. In any case, the place is close to other major ancient sites in the city, so it won’t take up much of your time here and it’s surely worth a visit.
Have a traditional Greek lunch at Greek House Attikos
Wondering what to do in Athens for dinner? Worry not – there are many great restaurants serving traditional Greek dishes all around the city. However, not many can beat the experience of Attikos Greek House’s terrace with the most exclusive views of Acropolis, Odeon and Filopappou Hill. The restaurant serves excellent traditional Greek cuisine with Corfiot influences.
Order one of traditional main dishes – roasted lamb in lemon sauce, meatballs in tomato sauce, garlic-heavy beef in wine sauce (sofrito), accompanied with tzaziki salad, grilled feta cheese in fig sauce and the fava spread (Greek version of hummus). Their house wine is very good and pretty affordable and goes perfectly with most of the food from the menu.
Learn more about the city’s history in the Acropolis Museum
The Acropolis Museum is not just the most popular museum in Athens – it’s also one of the most prominent museums in the world and its premises hide some of the best known works of classical antiquity. This museum is always at the top of lists of things to see in the city, so don’t skip it even if you’re spending only one day in Athens. It’s an outstanding place, an architectural masterpiece designed by the famous architect Bernard Tschumi and definitely the best place to learn more about the history of Athens and Greek era in general.
The best thing about the museum is that it is fully transparent, which means you can look at the Acropolis itself while learning about its history and today’s significance.
Enjoy a beautiful sunset from Lycabettus Hill
Near the end of your day in Athens, you will want to go to Lycabettus Hill. Don’t worry, you won’t have to hike because a cable car goes to the top every 30 minutes. Now, this is a perfect spot if you’re here with your significant other because the view from up there is spectacular and the sunset is even more beautiful. And in case you miss a cable car, you can walk up the hill until you reach one of the viewpoints below the top viewpoint.
The view is just as spectacular, it’s free and you may escape some big crowd. One of the best things to see (and do) in Athens if you just want to chill out and relax a bit.
Enjoy the night in Athens
If you still have the energy to squeeze in a night out in your Athens itinerary, the city is more than happy to accommodate you. You can, for example, go to Tsakalof street or go back to Plaka. Blue Bird is an awesome pub where you can come and grab a few beers with your friends and just unwind in a very relaxed atmosphere. It has a great lively vibe and you will really get a great feel of what Athenians are really like here. Another good choice is Palio Radiofono – this bar is somewhat more intimate with excellent smooth jazz on the menu, but it is nevertheless a great place, particularly if you want a bar with a more calm atmosphere.
Where to stay in Athens?
2, Limpona Street, Athens, 10560
If you really want to live it up, Perianth Hotel should be at the very top of your list of places to stay. Its exquisite rooms with retro style but also with loads of modern features have bathrooms with black marble, and the breakfast is spectacularly good. Not only that, but the location is a very vibrant one, close to Monastiraki Square and full of great bars and restaurants where you can relax and enjoy.
28, Agiou Konstandinou street, Athens
Hotel Pythagorion will give you excellent value for your money. Comfortable beds, air-conditioning, plenty of bathroom amenities and a private balcony all make sure you get your much needed rest. The staff is exceptionally capable and friendly, and the location is very good – the hotel is close to the main railway station and a station of the underground, with the Acropolis being just 2 km away.
Niche Hotel Athens
21 Syngrou Avenue & 2 Vourvachi, Athens
Not only does Niche Hotel Athens provide you with an excellent location in the city centre, but it also has a great restaurant and can arrange a transfer from the airport if you need it or help you rent out a car. The rooms are bright with private bathrooms and plenty of additional features, such as a flat-screen tv, kettle and stuff like that. Oh, and the view is absolutely spectacular.
207 Ippokratous 2 floor, Athens, 11472
If, however, you’re looking for a hostel, Thanasis Place is probably the best place to stay in Athens. Great prices, great staff, great view and things like free WiFi, continental breakfast and airport transfer really make your stay here a pleasant one. They can even organize a hiking trip for you! What’s not to like about this place?
Day trips from Athens
The infamous oracle from ancient Delphi is still known to this day, but there is so much more to this place than just ancient myths. The archaeological site there is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Temple of Apollo is something you absolutely must see, and the museum there is full of incredible artifacts. If you want to explore ancient Greece, there is no better day trip from Athens for that than this.
Now, you don’t really think of the Middle Age when you think of Athens, but the Meteora monasteries are quite a sight to behold. This impressive complex is also on UNESCO’s World Heritage list and the train ride there will take you through beautiful scenery of the Peloponnese. This day trip is something very much different that what tourists usually expect, which is exactly why it’s so worth the time.
Greek islands are famous for their beauty and millions of people visit them every year. You can do that too by taking a day trip from Athens that will take you to Hydra, Poros and Egina. These peaceful location are a great way to spend a relaxing day and get to know Greece’s heritage just a little bit more. And having lunch in a restaurant by the Mediterranean sounds great, doesn’t it?
Temple of Poseidon
The Temple of Poseidon is on a spectacular location on Cape Sounion, on a mesmerizing cliff overlooking the sea below. The sunset there is something exceptional, so do come in the late afternoon if at all possible. Furthermore, the ride to the cape will take you through beautiful Attica and its picturesque scenery, and the images from this amazing day trip will stay with you forever.
Extra tips for visiting Athens
- If you don’t have a car with you, take advantage of the good metro system in the city. It’s quite reasonably priced, just like local taxis.
- Need some mobile phone data while in Athens? You can buy a sim card near many subway stations in the city centre for just a few euros.
- You decide how much you want to tip – people working in bars and restaurants have their regular salaries.
If you have any other propositions for this One Day in Athens Itinerary, feel free to share it in the comments below!
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).