Ever since I started this journey of travel blogging, I’ve received numerous questions regarding planning and how to build itineraries for different cities. Recently, I received a question that sparked this post:
“I have one full day in Athens, Greece before heading to my next destination. What is the best itinerary for such a short amount of time?”
After I gave my lengthy answer, it dawned on me that Athens is a great jumping off point for lots of places in the Mediterranean and many others might have this same issue. In fact, we met a couple on the train on our way into Athens from the airport with this exact scenario. They would have one full day of Athens sightseeing before jetting off to the islands. So what should you prioritize? How do you maximize your time so you’re not just standing in lines all day? Here we go!
Let’s start with a few logistics
Where should I stay?
No matter where you end up, make sure it’s near the Acropolis and preferably near a metro stop. This isn’t mandatory and if you find an amazing Airbnb that you must stay in, by all means, go for it, but you will save lots of time by focusing on this area. We stayed at The Divani Palace Acropolis Hotel and it was the perfect location. We were about 3 blocks from the Acropolis metro stop (where you’ll come in from and leave to go back to the airport) and we were within walking distance to everything worthy of seeing in the city. We booked this hotel after realizing that we had some extra Chase Sapphire Reserve points (so if you have this card, check out this hotel!). If you don’t have this card already, give it a look. You’ll get a 50,000 point bonus by going through this link which equates to about $750 when used to book travel. It’s the best card for those looking to travel more.
Here are a few more options around the same area:
Do I need to purchase any guided tours?
NO! Download the Rick Steves Europe app on your phone and download all of his Athens guides. This is how we saw Athens and it couldn’t have been better (and it was free!). Once you have these downloaded, you can use them without data or WiFi as you wander around the ancient sites. Make sure you remember your headphones! We did the Acropolis, Ancient Agora, and Athens Walking Tour. We were running out of daylight by the time we got to the walking tour, so we just started it at Hadrian’s Gate and still saw so much of the city that we wouldn’t have seen without it. The beauty of his audio tours is that you can pause, skip ahead, or even skip a section if you’re not interested. They are perfect!
How do I get from the airport to the city?
This is one thing I didn’t think would be that hard. There should be a train connecting the two, right? Yes, sort of. There is a train, but you have to go outside the airport to get to it. It’s not marked very well, so just look out for signs for a train and a big escalator going up to a covered walkway. We stumbled upon it after reading this exact description in another blog. There should be quite a few people walking that direction as well. Once you reach the ticket booths, ask to buy a round-trip ticket to Athens. This way you don’t have to worry about buying one on the way out. You’ll take the train all the way to Syntagma Square (about 30 minutes), then switch to the metro that will take you to the Acropolis station (if you are staying at the Divani Palace or a hotel around it). Regardless of where you stay, your hotel should have directions on their website. Remember, their alphabet is different so you won’t be able to read the maps inside the trains (unless you know Greek!). But the audio announcements will alert you to the stops.
Athens in One Day—Full Itinerary
07:30am: Leave your hotel to grab a frappe and a bite to eat. Make sure you have your phone and headphones.
- Coffee Dive Acropolis had the best frappes. It’s about a
block from the Divani Palace Acropolis Hotel.
- If you want to save money, swing by a convenience store when you arrive to Athens to purchase some light breakfast items and water. Ok! Anytime Market is right around the corner from the Divani Palace Acropolis Hotel. We had a small refrigerator in our hotel room so we were able to purchase refrigerated items.
08:00am: Ascend the Acropolis!
You’ll want to be sure that you start your day at the Acropolis no matter what. There will be fewer crowds and less heat (if you’re going during a warmer month).
Make your way to the south slope entrance to buy tickets. I would recommend buying a combo ticket for the Acropolis and the other sites around it. Even if you only go to the Acropolis and Ancient Agora, it will still be cheaper than buying individual tickets.
You’ll start your Rick Steves tour as soon as you pass through the gate heading towards the Theatre of Herod Atticus.
10:00am: Make your way to the Ancient Agora
If you have a combo ticket, you should be able to walk right in and begin your second Rick Steves audio tour. We entered through the back and had to get our bearings, but it was pretty easy. In addition to the audio, Rick includes a map so you can find everything worth seeing. You’ll wander around the site and walk through the small museum as well. I especially appreciated Rick’s commentary on the museum; I hate wandering through museums not knowing what I’m looking at.
11:30am: Time to refuel! (Lunch)
We researched restaurants around the Acropolis and found a great place with a great atmosphere. There are so many touristy restaurants around the Acropolis trying really hard to pull tourists in. They will even stand on the other side of the street trying to entice you to dine at their restaurant. It’s annoying and it honestly makes me not want to eat at those places! There was one restaurant that didn’t do this to us and it was directly across from the New Acropolis Museum. Yard Restaurant is the perfect place to grab a bite to eat after an exhausting morning. We walked up and a very nice lady told us to take a look at the menu and just let her know if we are interested in eating there; no pressure. We did eat there and had wonderful food and great service. If it weren’t so hot, we would have eaten on the patio. I highly recommend this place to anyone looking for a bite to eat around the Acropolis!
12:30pm – 1:30pm (depending on how long lunch takes for you): New Acropolis Museum
I’m going to try to remain unbiased here for a second. The New Acropolis Museum contains a plethora of artifacts discovered and recovered from the Acropolis and the surrounding areas. Many of the artifacts are new to be on display, so if you’ve been to Athens before, there are probably things in there that you’ve never seen (even if you went to the old Acropolis Museum). They also have the original Maidens from the Porch of Maidens on display which was neat to see. However, we did not enjoy this museum and I will tell you why so you can make your own decision as to whether or not this will be worth your time.
- First, there are signs all over the place stating no photos with flash, however, as soon as we entered the exhibits I was constantly yelled at every time even I picked up my camera. So I have no pictures at all except for the Porch of Maidens, the only place I wasn’t yelled at. I checked on their website and their policy on pictures states, “Photography & filming is permitted in all Museum exhibition areas, except for the Gallery of the Slopes of the Acropolis and the Archaic Acropolis Gallery. No use of flash or any portable equipment such as tripod and lighting kit is allowed inside the Museum. The publication of the material in print and electronic media is not allowed.” Maybe it’s because I was using a DSLR, I’m not sure. So maybe you’ll get lucky and no one will say anything to you.
- There are no audio guides to purchase. I was fully expecting to be able to rent a headset with our tickets, but this was not an option. We would have enjoyed our experience much more with an audio guide that could tell us where to go and explain what we were looking at.
- The layout of the museum is chaotic. It’s very modern (read: open) and there are artifacts EVERYWHERE. There are random explanations of collections, but they are long with small text. The problem with this is people crowd around those explanations for long periods of time (since there’s lots of text) so it was hard for us to get close enough or even have enough time to read about everything. The Louvre did a good job with this by having laminated cards when going through each exhibit that can be picked up and read as you explore each room.
- I didn’t learn as much or get as much out of going through the museum as I did from the audio tour around the Acropolis. I’m thankful we did that first so at least we had some context as to what we were looking at in the museum.
My opinion: Skip this. Unless you have just been dying to see this museum and you need to check it off your list, it is just not worth the time. Again, this is my honest opinion. I tend to enjoy museums so I was pretty upset this museum didn’t live up to the hype.
3:00pm: Rick Steves’ Walking tour of Athens
We spent more time at the museum than I would have liked. We really tried to give it a chance by going through each room and sitting through all the videos. I wish we left earlier so we could have done the entire walking tour of Athens (we started our tour around 4:30pm). With the time we had, we decided to start our tour at Hadrian’s Gate. Since his tours are broken up into chapters, you can skip around or start at whatever site is closest to you. Wherever you start, do not miss out on seeing the Anafiotika neighborhood hidden beneath the Acropolis. It’s like wandering through a little Greek island with whitewashed buildings and brightly colored doors. It’s beautiful and one of the highlights of the walking tour. Just be sure to listen closely to Rick’s directions because it’s easy to get turned around in there.
5:00pm: Make your way back to the hotel for a break before dinner
Use this time to shower and prep your things for the next day. The day before we had to travel again, we always made sure our things were ready to go before we went to dinner just in case we got carried away and stayed out later than planned. It was nice to know we didn’t have anything to do but sleep when we got back to the room.
6:30pm – 7:00pm (depending on how long you want to rest): Head to dinner
The Divani Palace Acropolis Hotel has a beautiful rooftop restaurant with great food. We decided to have dinner here one night as a splurge. There’s a view of the Acropolis from there and it is all lit up at night. We enjoyed our dinner, but it wasn’t a must-do. If you’d rather spend your time dining at an authentic Greek restaurant where the food is cheap and incredible, head to Ambrosia. When we arrived in Athens, we asked our concierge where she would recommend as the best authentic Greek spot within walking distance of the hotel. She immediately recommended Ambrosia. As we always do, we looked up reviews and saw that there were quite a few negative ones. However, the negative reviews were all about the owners smoking in the doorway (smoking is very common in Europe and even more common in Greece). We decided to give it a try anyway and it was wonderful. The owners were smoking in the doorway, but we were seated far from the entrance in a courtyard so that was absolutely no issue. The food was incredibly fresh and delicious! We had this for dinner on our very first night, but if we hadn’t eaten at the rooftop restaurant in our hotel, we would have gone back there for dinner the second night.
Pictured: Ambrosia (top 2), Divani Rooftop (bottom 6)
9:00pm: If you still have energy, take a stroll around the Acropolis
At this point, we were wiped out and ready to get some sleep before our early flight the next morning. However, if you still want to go explore, wander around the Acropolis. There are lots of street food cart, vendors, and street performers.
So there you have it, one full day in Athens. This is based on our own experience with seeing Athens in one day. There are many more things you could do in the city. If you do the full walking tour, you’ll see Syntagma Square and several other things I didn’t mention. It’s all in what you want to prioritize.
I hope this was helpful! Let me know if there’s something you would add or take out in the comments below. There’s no such thing as “one size fits all” when it comes to travel itineraries!