3 days in Athens is a good amount of time to have an initial introduction to the Greek capital and all of the wonderful things that it has to offer. While you could easily spend a week in Athens and still leave feeling as though you haven’t seen everything, three days in Athens is sufficient to see the city’s main historical sites, districts, and coastal areas.
This 3 days in Athens itinerary has been written by someone who has lived in Athens for years. It enables you to see both the main attractions and off-the-beaten-path parts of town that really enable you to scratch beneath the surface of the city.
Visiting Athens, Greece
Athens Greece is one of the oldest cities in both Europe and the world. It has been continuously inhabited for more than 3,000 years and is the birthplace of both democracy and one of the world’s greatest civilisations.
Athens was the leading city of Ancient Greece in the First Century BC. However, it has not always been the country’s capital.
Few international people realise that Greece struggled under the control of the Ottomans for centuries. The charming Peloponnese city of Nafplio was the capital of Greece for a period.
It wasn’t until after Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Turks in the 19th century that King Otto decided that Athens should become the country’s capital.
Modern Athens is not the most beautiful city in Europe. Decades of economic crises, poor city planning, and higgledy-piggledy building layouts have led to a somewhat obscure appearance.
Athens does not have the same opulence and grandeur as say, Paris, Rome, or Budapest. But what the city does have is personality and character.
Athens is a diamond in the rough and if you know where to look, you will uncover its treasures. Some of the areas and attractions that make Athens special are often overlooked by and unknown to most tourists which is a shame. Few people ever get to appreciate the true charm of Athens.
Three Days in Athens Itinerary
Days one and two of this three days in Athens itinerary focus on exploring the city’s central districts. Day three takes you to the beach towns of the Athenian Riviera.
Public transport in Athens is very convenient and reliable. However, if you opt to stay in a relatively central part of town, you can get around entirely on foot for the first two days.
Day One: Historical Highlights of Athens
Start your first day in Athens by waking up bright and early. Have breakfast in your hotel if it’s available, or opt to treat yourself by stopping by one of Athens’ many excellent breakfast and brunch places.
Unfortunately, a lot of Athens breakfast and brunch spots don’t open until after 10 am. Our first stop today will be the Acropolis and it is best to arrive as early as possible to escape the crowds.
So, you may want to check the opening time of any breakfast place that interests you. Alternatively, grab a coffee and a Greek pastry from a local bakery and then stop for brunch after visiting the Acropolis site.
Breakfast/Brunch in Athens
The Underdog (Iraklidon 8) is an Athens institution. This specialty coffee shop in Thissio awaits on Iraklidon, a narrow street that veers off from Apostlou Pavlou boulevard in central Athens.
The baristas here are widely recognised as being among the best coffee brewers in Greece and indeed, the world! In fact, they have entered international contests and won awards for their coffee-making skills so you can feel assured you are in good hands here.
Treat yourself to an international breakfast classic, like eggs benedict or Croque madame. Or alternatively, try something with a contemporary twist. For instance, the huevos pochados (poached eggs, mashed potatoes with bacon, asparagus, mushroom ragout, and toasted bread) are to die for.
Kononi (Falirou 48) is another local favourite. The airy Bohemian eatery serves classic breakfast dishes from around the world, right in the shadow of the Acropolis.
Visit the Acropolis
No matter how many times you see the Acropolis on Instagram or in travel media, nothing compares to arriving here and seeing it with your own eyes. The Acropolis opens at 8 am so ideally, you should be here right as it opens.
Purchase your admission ticket online in advance to save having to wait in line. You may want to consider purchasing an Athens combination ticket.
This ticket includes admission to several of Athens’ main historical sites. Namely, the Acropolis and its Museum, the Ancient Agora and its Museum, the Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Kerameikos, and the Archaeological Site of Lykeion.
The ticket is valid for five days. You can opt to hire a guide or do an audio tour like this one if you feel that you want a little more information. However, that really is not necessary.
The Acropolis site is more expansive than many realise. Enter through the grand monumental gate of the Propylaea and stroll along the regal columnated walkways.
From here, you will pass by several interesting ruins on your ascent towards the Parthenon. Look out for the Theatre of Dionysus – an ancient theatre constructed by Peisistratos in the 6th century CE.
There are several impressive temple structures scattered around Acropolis Hill, with the piece de resistance being the Parthenon. The temple, dedicated to Athens patron Goddess Athena dates back to 447 BC.
Stop by the “New” Acropolis Museum
The “New” Acropolis Museum first opened its doors in June 2009 and was designed by Swiss American architect Bernard Tschumi. Your Acropolis admission ticket includes entrance to the museum and it is certainly worth visiting as it helps you to obtain some background information about the ruins of Acropolis Hill.
The contemporary museum space is stunning, and there are some interesting artifacts on display that have been recovered from the area. Unfortunately, some of the pieces are replicas as the originals are on display at the British Museum in London.
There is a very nice coffee shop on the top floor of the museum. If you need a coffee break, the view from up here is excellent and this is a good place to stop for a Freddo cappuccino or a hearty slice of spanakopita.
Meander Along Dionysiou Areopagitou
Dionysiou Areopagitou is the cobbled pedestrianised street that runs parallel to the Acropolis. It links the historic site to the busy boulevard of Leof. Vasilissis Amalias in the south, and the cobbled walkway of Apostolou Pavlou in the North.
Wander along this promenade as you make your way towards Thissio. There are always street vendors here selling everything from Greek street food to handicrafts and hand-painted ceramics.
During the summer months, street performers entertain the crowds by singing, playing instruments, and smashing plates. Meandering along here is a pleasant experience in itself.
You will also pass by the hills of Filopappou and Areopagus. The former is an excellent viewpoint atop a hill with a monument dedicated to Greek-Roman Emperor Philopappos.
The latter once served as the high court of appeal for judicial cases in ancient Greece. Follow the signs until you arrive at our next stop: the Ancient Agora.
Visit the Ancient Agora
During the Classical era, the Ancient Agora was the civil centre of Athens. It was the main rendezvous point for city residents, speeches would be given here, and Greek Philosophers like Socrates would wander around barefoot spreading their wisdom with the masses.
You should dedicate at least 1.5-2 hours to exploring the site. Turning right immediately after entering the complex, you are met with the impressive Temple of Hephaestus.
The temple was constructed by Iktinus in 449 BC – around the same time as the Parthenon. It was built in honour of Hephaestus – God of metal workers, and Athena Ergane – Goddess of pottery.
The Stoa of Attalos is the grand colonnaded building on the left of the entrance. It contains the fascinating Agora Museum.
It was originally built in 159BC. However, it was largely destroyed in 267 AD so what stands today was largely reconstructed in the 1950s.
Regardless, the Stoa of Attalos as it stands today remains impressive. Explicit care was taken to reconstruct the site to be the same as the original, even going as far as using the same building materials and sourcing them from the same places.
Have Lunch at Karamanlidika
From the Ancient Agora, head to Karamanlidika (Sokratous 1). It is only two blocks away.
This is an Athens institution. Karamanlidika specialises in serving charcuterie boards that showcase the very best of Greek agro products.
They serve a wide range of cold cuts and cheeses from across Greece, with a special focus on produce from in and around the little village of Drama, Northern Greece. If charcuterie is not your cup of tea, the extensive menu here also serves up all of your favourite Greek classic dishes.
Check Out Evripidou Street and Athens Central Market
Head to Evripidou street – a colourful shopping street in the heart of Psiri. This is one of the best spots in town for window shopping or procuring unapologetically Greek souvenirs.
A lot of the stores here sell deli and agro produce and provide great photo opportunities. Envisage pastourma and cured meats hanging from ceilings, etc.
There are a lot of lilliputian stores, stores selling handmade cosmetics and bath products, stores selling antiques, etc. You will also find a lot of spice stores here, with shelves filled with jars of colourful powders stacked up to the ceiling.
They are more reminiscent of what you would expect to see in the Middle East! The Athens Central Market (Varvakios Agora) is the largest and oldest traditional market in Athens.
The covered market predominantly sells meat and fish and some of the scenes here are arguably not for the faint-hearted. But the Varvakios Agora provides a great glimpse into true Athenian life.
Watch on as restaurateurs purchase the meat for their eateries, and as yiayias haggle over the prices of ingredients for that all-important Greek Sunday dinner. If you cross Athinas street, you will find a great fruit and vegetable market on the other side.
Beautifully presented, polished fruits and vegetables can be purchased by the kilo or half a kilo for excellent prices. Many of the stores in the area sell fresh and stuffed olives, cheeses, and halvas. The vendors are typically more than willing to cut you a sliver to try.
Go for Coffee in Iroon Square
Part of the fun of visiting a new city is found in simply taking the time to get lost among its streets and passageways. The same is true when spending 3 days in Athens.
The city’s Psiri district is home to some of the most vibrant street art in the city. Allow yourself time to wander freely and then when you fancy a break, stop in Iroon Square.
Sitting outside and having a coffee is essentially the national sport of Greece. There is a great bakery on the corner of Iroon Square called Bougatsa Thessalonikis.
They sell a range of coffees and pastries but the main reason to come here is to try their bougatsa. Bougatsa is a sweet Greek pastry, commonly enjoyed at breakfast, that is prepared by stuffing layers of filo pastry with sweet semolina custard.
It is typically served topped with a generous dusting of cinnamon and icing sugar. Oftentimes when you pass by Bougatsa Thessalonikis, you will be fortunate enough to see the pastry chefs rolling out the dough and spinning it above their heads!
Order a bougatsa slice and a coffee. If you want to enjoy your coffee like a true Greek, order a Freddo espresso or Freddo cappuccino and thank me later.
Hadrian’s Library and the Roman Forum
A brief walk across the city takes you to Hadrian’s Library and the Roman Forum of Athens. Both sites are small but are worth a quick visit.
Entrance to both sites is included in your Athens combination ticket. Hadrian’s Library was an intellectual centre built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian.
Meanwhile, the Roman Forum was the city’s marketplace during the Roman era. It was built by Emperor Augustus between 19 and 11 BC. You can see both sites in less than 15-20 minutes each.
Spend an Evening in Old Plaka
The last stop on day one of this 3 day Athens itinerary is old Plaka. This is one of the oldest parts of the city and has a rich history dating back over 2500 years.
During the days of the Ottoman Empire, this part of the city was known as the “Turkish” district. Several old mosques and madrassas still remain from this period.
Head towards the infamous Plaka steps at Mnisikleous 22. The stone stairway is one of the best places to spend an evening in Athens.
Restaurants and bars line either side of the stairway and Greeks and tourists alike come here to sit on the stairs, indulge in some good food and have a sangria or two. A lot of the eateries here focus on meze plates.
These are small plates comparable to Spanish tapas. The idea is that you order several small dishes and share them at your table.
Kolokithokeftedes is a good choice – these are delicious zucchini fritters. Equally nice are Smyrna meatballs served in a tomato sauce, or tomato keftedes.
There are also several bouzouki spots in Plaka. To Perivoli T’Ouranou is a local favourite place to go for live music. So too is Stamatopoulos Tavern (Lisiou 26).
Day Two: Offbeat Districts and Greek Charm
Day two of this 3 days in Athens itinerary takes you to see the last of the city’s historical highlights that we didn’t get a chance to see on day one. It also takes you to some offbeat areas that most tourists don’t know about.
There is no need to get up incredibly early today. Rest as long as you need, have coffee or breakfast, and then don your comfiest shoes ready for another day of adventure in the Greek capital.
See the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Gate
The Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Gate are situated right beside each other so we will start day two of your 3 days in Athens with those. Both sites are accessible from the busy Leof. Vasilissis Olgas Boulevard.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus has been a prominent fixture in the Athens city skyline for thousands of years. It actually took several centuries to build and was only in use for a very small period of time.
Construction was eventually completed by Roman Emperor Hadrian in 131CE. This was once a grand temple dedicated to the God Zeus, decorated with 104 spectacular Corinthian columns and shimmering gold statues.
Today, only 17 of the columns remain and the site is small. But visiting the site is worthwhile and helps you to envisage the former grandeur of this temple.
Admission to the site is included in your Athens combination ticket. Nearby, you will find Hadrian’s Arch – a grand triumphal arch that was constructed in 131 BC to thank Emperor Hadrian for his contributions to the city.
Snap a few quick photos of the arch. It makes an interesting contrast against the busy highway and the modern city in the background. Then, continue onwards to Syntagma Square.
Watch the Changing of the Guards at Syntagma Square
Syntagma Square is the main central plaza of Athens. Perhaps its most notable sight is the pastel yellow 1843 Hellenic Parliament building that faces the main square.
Here, you will perpetually find Evzones guarding the building and the tomb of the unknown soldier. The Evzones are an elite group of Greek guards that are best known for their eccentric attire.
An Evzones uniform consists of a wide-sleeved white shirt (ypodetes) paired with a frilly blue kilt-like garment (foustanella). The items are supposed to represent the colours of the Greek flag.
Every hour, on the hour, there is a changing of the guards. If you happen to be here at 11 am on a Sunday, there is an even more elaborate changing of the guards’ ceremony.
Explore Monastiraki Market
Ermou is Athens’ answer to the high street. This busy pedestrianised street runs from Syntagma Square in the south, all the way up to Thissio via Monastiraki square.
Follow it from Syntagma to Monastiraki. Monastiraki square is characterised by a small church (Panagia Pantanassa) and a mosque without a minaret (Tzistarakis mosque). The latter is said to be cursed!
There are always a few stalls here selling everything from freshly roasted chestnuts to dried fruits and nuts. Pass briefly through the Monastiraki flea market.
A lot of what you will find here is your typical tourist tat but you will occasionally stumble across some interesting finds. For instance, komboloi beads, Karagiozis puppets, and backgammon sets make nice gift items.
Check Out the Street Art in Exarchia
Exarchia is one of Athens’ grittiest neighbourhoods, synonymous with Anarchist groups and the anti-police movement. Its reputation precedes it sometimes but you shouldn’t let that put you off.
Exarchia is safe most of the time and is one of the most unique districts in town. Here you will find some of the city’s best rock and dive bars, quirky stores selling vintage clothing and vinyl records, and some excellent tavernas that escape the eyes of most tourists.
Exarchia is perhaps best known for its street art. Some of the pieces here are very political but interesting nonetheless. Many are the works of renowned European graffiti artists like Ino and Borondo.
This is a good place to stop for lunch. Vergina (Valtetsiou 62) is a popular local taverna best known for its lahanodolmades (stuffed cabbage rolls) and an extensive menu. Ouzeri Lesvos (Emmanouil Benaki 38) is another good job, specialising in sumptuous dishes that originate from the island of Lesvos.
Stroll Through the Athens National Gardens
The Athens National Gardens are the Greek capital’s answer to Central Park. They make a pleasant place to take an afternoon stroll.
As you meander through, you will pass by stunning flower gardens and a small lake. Just outside, look out for the Zappion – a grand palatial building that is one of the best examples of Neoclassical architecture in Greece.
Visit the Panathenaic Stadium
The Panathenaic Stadium (Kallimarmaro) sits across from the Athens National Gardens. It dates back to 566 BC and is the only stadium in the world made entirely out of marble.
This was also the place where the first Olympic Games were hosted in 1896 and today, live musical performances are still hosted here occasionally. Admission to the stadium is €5 per person with concessions available.
Your ticket also includes entrance to the Olympic Museum which contains an array of promotional posters, torches, and memorabilia from Olympic ceremonies across the world. You can also climb up onto the seats of the stadium, or unleash your inner Mo Farah and do a victory lap around the track.
Have Dinner and Drinks in the Mets
The Mets Athens is a leafy, sleepy residential district that most people would never stumble across unless they had a specific reason to go there. It is situated behind the Panathenaic Stadium and is one of the most glamorous postcodes to have in town.
Some of the best cocktail bars and live music places in town can be found here. Kain (Anapafseos 1) is a lovely place to stop for an iced coffee or an evening drink. Meanwhile, nearby Metz (Mark. Mousourou 63) hosts live music almost every night of the week.
For dinner, you may want to consider dining at Mavro Provato (Arrianou 31) in nearby Pagrati. Their menu focuses on traditional Greek dishes with a contemporary twist.
Alternatively, check out Skyfall rooftop bar (Mark Monsourou 1), right by the Panathenaic Stadium in the Mets. This is one of the best places to see and be seen in the city centre.
You have unparalleled views of the Acropolis and the city skyline and the place does not even see a fraction of the crowds that you see at other more tourist-focused cocktail bars like A for Athens or Athens 360. Skyfall serves wonderful Mediterranean cuisine, drinks, and cocktails prepared by wonderful mixologists.
Day Three: Beach Towns of the Athenian Riviera
Dedicate day three of your three days in Athens to exploring the coastal towns of the Athens Riviera. A relaxing beach day provides you with some much-needed R&R after tiring days spent sightseeing.
The towns of Glyfada, Voula, Vouliagmeni, and Vari boast gorgeous public and private beaches, beach clubs, and upscale eateries. Even if you are spending your three days in Athens outside of the tourism season, it is pleasant to visit this area, enjoy a walk along the coast, and have a coffee watching the sea swell.
This area was designed in the 1950s and was created with the intention of being Greece’s very own Cote d’Azur. The likes of Frank Sinatra and Sofia Loren would vacation here so you know you are travelling somewhere special.
Take a Coastal Walk in Vouliagmeni
It is a little tricky to get to Vouliagmeni by public transport. You can take the bus but this does require multiple changes.
Firstly, you need to take the A3 bus or the subway to Elliniko station. From there, take the 122 bus to Vouliagmeni.
To save time, you may prefer to take a cab. A taxi from central Athens to Vouliagmeni should cost no more than €15-17 one way which works out okay if there are several of you.
There is a pleasant walking trail that runs along the coast from Vouliagmeni Bay, along the sands of Vouliagmeni public beach, and to Lake Vouliagmeni. On your route, you will pass the little stone church of Agios Nikólaos.
Pack a towel, some sunscreen, some water and some snacks so you can spend some time at the beach if you like. When you feel hungry, head to Del Posto (formerly En Plo) at Leof. Poseidonos 4.
They have a wide variety of excellent brunch, lunch and dinner options. Not to mention, the view across the sea and out to the Saronic islands from here is unparalleled.
Hang Out at Vouliagmeni Lake
Vouliagmeni Lake is a brackish coloured thermal lake that is said to have healing properties. The lake is a rare geographical phenomenon. It is surrounded by dramatic rock formations and boasts a labyrinth of underwater caves and tunnels beneath its surface.
Admission is €15 per person during weekdays and €18 during weekends. It’s a little pricey but well worth it.
Enjoy swimming in the lake and relaxing beneath the private cabanas that surround it. If you want to treat yourself to a massage or a facial treatment, you have the opportunity to do so at the on-site spa.
When the sun sets, the ambiance here is truly magical. The Lake Vouliagmeni bar and restaurant boasts a la carte dining and an excellent selection of cocktails while Dean Martin classics play out over the speakers. Even if you are not particularly interested in visiting Lake Vouliagmeni during the day, stopping by during the evening is not to be missed.
Three Days in Athens Itinerary: Where to Stay
A three-day Athens itinerary gives you limited time to explore the Greek capital. So, for your convenience, it is better to try and choose the accommodation that is fairly centrally located if you can.
Athens boasts hundreds of accommodation options that suit every budget and travel style. Koukaki, Makrygianni, and old Plaka are charming places to stay.
Not only do they place you within walking distance of the city’s main attractions and historical sites, they are also some of the most picturesque parts of town. Syntagma, Psiri, Monastiraki and Gazi/Kerameikos are also very central.
However, these areas can be a little noisier depending on specifically where you choose to stay. You should also be careful when walking through central Athens at night.
Gazi, in particular, is very much the nightlife district of Athens known for its raucous clubs. Kolonaki is also a very nice area to consider. This neighbourhood, with its tree-lined streets and gourmet coffee bars, is considered to be the “Beverly Hills of Athens”.
A few reputable accommodation options that you may wish to consider during your three days in Athens are detailed below.
- AthensWAS hotel – boutique luxury hotel on Dionysiou Areopagitou
- Coco-Mat Athens BC – 5* hotel with gorgeous rooftop pool and Acropolis view in Koukaki
- The Foundry – Converted font foundry in old Plaka transformed into luxury apartments
- NEW Hotel Athens – Quirky art hotel designed by Brazilian architects and designers
- The Periscope Hotel – Contemporary modern hotel on the slopes of Mount Lycabettus
Three Days in Athens Itinerary: Getting into Athens
It is very easy to get from Athens airport to the city centre and you have a couple of options available to do so. Arguably the easiest option is to take the metro. However, you can also travel by bus, cab, or private transfer.
Take the Metro from Athens Airport to the City
The Athens airport metro is operational between the hours of 6.30 am and 23.30 pm. When you land at Eleftherios Venizelos airport, follow the signs for the metro/trains.
They will lead you out of the main terminal building and across the street. An Athens airport and city metro ticket costs €10 one way, or €18 for a return ticket.
You can also purchase multi-day Athena tourist passes for the buses and the subway. There is only one metro that departs from here so it is easy to establish where you need to go.
This is the blue line metro and it runs all the way from Athens airport to Monastiraki and Syntagma. Then, you can change to the red or blue line for Thissio, Acropol, etc as necessary.
Take the Bus from Athens Airport to the City
The X95 bus departs every 15 minutes or so from the bus stop outside of gates 4 and 5 at Athens Airport arrivals. The journey to the city centre takes approximately an hour, depending on the traffic.
Tickets cost €6 per person and can be purchased from a small ticket kiosk outside of arrivals. You can also take the X96 bus from here which takes you to Piraeus.
Do you have any questions about this 3 days in Athens itinerary or about planning a trip to the Greek capital generally? Don’t hesitate to reach out if you need to.
I will get back to you as soon as I can. Safe travels, and have a wonderful time in Greece!
Geia sou, Melissa xo