Athens in a Day: A Locals Guide to the Perfect Day in the Greek Capital

Seeing Athens in a day is an ambitious aim. The Greek capital is bursting at the seams with historical and archaeological sites. 

This is the birthplace of democracy and the cradle of Ancient Greek civilization. It seems that every time you turn a corner in Athens, you are met with another ruin. 

So can you see Athens in a day? Honestly, it is not preferable. 

At the very least, you ought to dedicate three or four days to an Athens itinerary. That being said, sometimes you simply don’t have the time. 

So, if your schedule is restricting and yet, you want to make the most out of the time that you do have, the below itinerary has you covered. It takes you to the most important Athenian landmarks and provides you with a little taster of life in Athens. 

Hopefully, it will inspire you to come back for more next time around. 

Athens in a Day 

Athens in a day
Athens in a Day

If you are hoping to see as much of Athens in a day as possible, it’s important to be strategic about where you are basing yourself. Opting to stay in a central Athenian neighbourhood like Koukaki or Thissio places you right at the heart of the action. 

Grab Breakfast and Head Out 

From here, it is just a short walk to the first point of call: The Ancient Acropolis. Start your day with breakfast and a strong Greek coffee. 

Opt to have breakfast at your hotel if you like. Alternatively, there are several noteworthy places around the city that are loved by locals and make a nice (and tasty!) place to start your day. 

If you’re staying in the Koukaki area, consider having a coffee and a pastry at Little Tree Books and Coffee (Kavalloti 2, Athina). This quaint premises is a coffee shop and bookstore combined. 

Sink down into one of the cosy, oversized armchairs as you sip a steaming hot cappuccino, and tuck into a sweet treat. If you’re looking for a more substantial breakfast, head to Kinono (Falirou 48, Athina). 

Kinono serves up all of your favourite Mediterranean and Western breakfast choices. Think eggs benedict, shakshuka, etc. 

Sufficiently stuffed? It’s time to head to the Acropolis.  

Marvel at the Ancient Acropolis 

The Ancient Acropolis is so spectacular that it almost made it into the list of being one of the seven new world wonders. This is a must-see during your day in Athens. 

No matter how touristic the site may seem, or how many times you’ve seen the Ancient Acropolis photographed in travel literature and on social media, it doesn’t fail to take your breath away when you arrive.   

Try to arrive here around 9 am so as to escape the crowds and the heat of the midday sun. This is especially important if you’re visiting Greece in the summer months. Try and purchase your ticket online in advance if you can so as to skip the queues. 

You might be surprised by how expansive the Acropolis site actually is. There is more here than just the Parthenon and indeed, the complex consists of a number of different shrines, ancient temples, and theatres. 

Once upon a time, every Greek city had its own Acropolis. The Athens Acropolis is the most globally renowned but the second-most famous is the Acropolis of Lindos in Rhodes. 

While most Greek acropolises had defensive purposes, the purpose of the Athens Acropolis was primarily religious. It was dedicated to the Goddess Athena.

Check Out the Exhibits in the Acropolis Museum 

No visit to the Acropolis is complete without visiting the nearby Acropolis Museum. Visiting here enables you to put what you’ve seen at Acropolis Hill in context.

The various exhibits here are organised in chronological order. It is just unfortunate that the majority of the Parthenon marbles are not on display here but instead are at the British Museum in London. This is a topic of much controversy. 

The “New” Acropolis Museum first opened its doors in 2009 and replaced its 19th-century predecessor. The sleek, transparent glass building was designed by Bernard Tschumi Architects. 

Meander Along Dionysiou Areopagitou Street 

Dionysiou Areopagitou street is a long, cobbled promenade that runs from Hadrian’s Arch to Filopappou Hill and Thissio. It eventually becomes the Thiseon street of Apostolou Pavlou. 

Meandering down here at a leisurely place is pleasant. Not only will you see tourists walking along this promenade as they hop between Athens’ historical sites, but even locals enjoy strolling along this region as they meet for coffee or walk their dogs on their lunch breaks. 

Not only is this street scenically beautiful, but it is also always buzzing with life and personality. Every day, dozens of local street vendors set up their stalls here to sell all manner of weird and wonderful handicrafts. 

Every few paces, you will see a musician singing or playing some form of instrument, and street food vendors preparing corn on the cob, steaming hot cups of salep, and grilled meats. Most importantly though, walking along Dionysiou Areopagitou takes you to the next destination: The Ancient Agora. 

Visit the Ancient Agora

Stoa of Attalos, Ancient Agora
Stoa of Attalos, Ancient Agora

The Ancient Agora, in all of its glory, is often overshadowed by the Acropolis. But the truth is that visiting this site is just as rewarding. 

The Ancient Agora helps you to imagine what Athens was like all those millennia ago. Here you are literally walking in the footsteps of Greek Philosophers like Socrates. 

In Ancient Greek, an “Agora” was a marketplace. The purpose of the Ancient Agora was for both civil meetings and as a place of commerce. 

Perhaps the most notable thing to see here is the excellently preserved Temple of Hephaestus. This is the best-preserved Doric temple in the Greek world and was dedicated to Hephaestus, God of metal workers and fire, and Athena Ergane, Goddess of pottery and crafts. 

The Agora Museum is housed within the colonnaded Stoa of Attalos. This structure was originally built in 159BC. Sadly, after it was destroyed by the Herulians in 267 AD, it was almost completely rebuilt in the 1950s. 

Have a Charcuterie Lunch at Karamanlidika 

For lunch, pass through the vibrant, graffiti-laden district of Psyri, taking in the sights and sounds of city life as you go. Head to Karamanladika at Sokratous 1. 

This is a Greek meze spot with a twist. If you don’t know, a Greek meze restaurant is comparable to a Spanish tapas place. 

You head inside and order lots of little dishes as opposed to tucking into one main meal. This enables you to sample lots of different national delicacies at once. It is perfect if you are short on time, as you are with only one day in Athens! 

The special thing about Karamanlidika is that they pride themselves on their selection of charcuterie products – cold cut meats and cheeses. In particular, many of the cuts that they offer originate from Northern Greece. 

It is interesting to try things like pastourma and soutzouki. These are preserved, cured sausages flavoured with an array of spices. 

Order a bespoke charcuterie board along with a carafe of locally-sourced Greek wine. Little meze plates like Aubergines & zucchini with feta cheese, in spicy Kappadokian sauce, or Isli kefte karamanlidiko with yogurt sauce make nice accompanying dishes to share among your dining companions. 

Pass by Athens Central Market 

With only a day in Athens, we don’t have an awful lot of time to get lost in central Athens’ labyrinth-like network of city streets and piazzas. However, you can pass through Athens Central Market en route to our next stop: Anafiotika Plaka. 

Varvakios Agora (Athinas 42) is Athens’s oldest market. It first opened its doors in the early 20th century and has been delighting locals and tourists ever since. 

You can find virtually every ingredient under the sun here. Fresh fruits and vegetables, wheels of Greek cheese, fresh meat, and fish. 

Most locals come here to purchase meat from the butchers or fresh fish. It should be noted that some of the scenes you may witness here are not for the faint-hearted! 

The little streets and passages that veer off from Varvakios Agora are also very interesting. In particular, keep an eye out for Evripidou Street. 

Evripidou is perhaps Athens’ most multicultural promenade. Many of the businesses here are owned by people who have relocated to Greece from Syria, Armenia, and other parts of the Middle East and Central Asia. Some of the spice markets here are more reminiscent of what you would expect to see in Morocco, as opposed to the Greek capital. 

Discover a Secret Neighbourhood Beneath the Acropolis 

Hidden away in the unsuspecting streets behind old Plaka is Athens’ best-kept secret: Anafiotika. Few visitors to the city even know of the existence of this neighbourhood. 

So, aside from the occasional traveller that has done extensive research, you will seldom see many other tourists here. Anafiotika is special because of the architecture and style of the buildings. 

Everything is whitewashed with blue roofs. It looks like something that you would expect to see in the Cyclades, as opposed to what you would expect to see in downtown Athens. 

Why is that? Well, after Greece finally obtained independence from Turkey in 1821, King Otto wanted to rebuild Athens so it would become a grand, impressive capital city. 

Workers from across the country headed to Athens to assist in the rebuild. Many of those came from the Greek island of Anafi. 

They created their houses and churches to look like those in their hometown. Look out for the charming church of Agios Georgios tou Vrachou – one of the most beautiful in Athens. 

The church of Agios Symeon is on the outskirts of the district. It is rumoured to have performed miracles and so, you may find devout locals praying, or leaving offerings to the figurine. 

Hang Out in Old Plaka 

Plaka is the ancient district that sits adjacent to Monastiraki and Syntagma. It is one of the oldest parts of the city and has been occupied for more than 2,500 years.

This was known as the “Turkish district” during the days of the Ottoman occupation. You will see several signs pointing to Greece’s Ottoman-ruled past as you explore Plaka. 

Most notably, the Fethiye Mosque which now houses a photography exhibit, and the bathhouse of the winds. Mnisikleous street is home to Plakas famous stairs.

These are known as “skalàkia” by locals and are arguably one of the most photographed parts of the city. This is a nice place to stop for a drink or a coffee if you so wish. 

Enter the Roman Agora 

The Roman Agora is a 1st Century BC marketplace that was built by no other than Julis Caesar himself, along with his Roman cohorts. In its day, this was an open-air marketplace. 

It was filled with shops, stalls, fountains, and a courtyard. You can be in and out of the Roman Agora in less than 20 minutes but it is interesting to explore nonetheless. Better still, entrance to the grounds costs only 2 euros. 

Check Out Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus 

The Arch of Hadrian (131/132 A.D.)  is a triumphal arch close to Syntagma Square. When it was first built, it acted as a gateway separating the old and new parts of Athens. 

On one side, an inscription states “This is Athens, the city of Theseus.” On the other, it says “This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus”. 

You don’t need to spend a lot of time here. Just snap a few photos, admire how one of Athens’s most historic gateways is now surrounded by one of the busiest, most chaotic roads in the city, and continue onwards to the Temple of Olympian Zeus.  

Enjoy Dinner and Drinks in Downtown Athens 

Sampling sumptuous Greek cuisine is as much of an Athens highlight as the seeing of the sights. Even with only a day in Athens, there are a plethora of ways you can spend your evening here. It all depends on your personal preferences. 

For traditional dishes with a contemporary modern twist, head to Mavro Provato (Arrianou 31). This eatery is in Pagrati, a little on the outskirts of town. 

However, it is well worth the journey to get to and it will cost no more than a few euros in a cab. Order a selection of mezedes to share among your dinner companions, or opt for a generous main. 

When the sun goes down, Athens really comes alive. The Athenian nightlife scene has something to offer for everyone – from alternative rock bars in Exarchia to cosy jazz clubs in the Mets, and rooftop cocktail bars in the city centre. 

When you only have one day in Athens, you want to do something magical that you could only do in Athens, right? So, head to one of the various rooftop bars that offer unparalleled views of the Acropolis as it is illuminated by hundreds of twinkling lights. 

Athens 360 is one of the best-known rooftop bars. It also doubles as a fine dining establishment, though its central Monastiraki location means that it is often full of tourists. 

Instead, head to Couleur Locale (Normanou 3). This eclectic locale is tucked away down an old passageway lined with antique stores and furniture shops. 

It looks like a questionable area at first. Turn left and head into the elevator. When you arrive at the roof terrace at the top, you’ll be met with house music, perfectly blended negronis, and one of the best Acropolis views in the city. 

Where to Stay During Your Day in Athens 

There are a plethora of accommodation options in Athens to suit every travel budget and style. If you only have a day in Athens, consider staying in the central districts of Plaka, Koukaki, and Thissio. 

Psiri, Monastiraki, and Syntagma are also great and central. However, depending on the specific street you stay on, these areas can get noisy at night and you should be careful when walking home in the evenings. 

A number of reputable Athens hotel suggestions to consider are detailed below. 

The Foundry 

The Foundry (Sarri 40) is arguably one of Athens’s most unique hotels. It sits inside a large industrial building that was previously used as a font foundry dating back to the 1930s. 

Today, the premises have been converted into chic apartments that still contain subtle hints of their former industrial purposes. Vacation apartments boast exposed brick walls, and 12-foot ceilings, combined with stylish modern furnishings. 

Each apartment has been decorated to a different theme. The property also boasts a scenic roof terrace from where you can have breakfast or a champagne lunch overlooking the Acropolis. Click here to check the latest prices and availability at The Foundry Athens. 

Cocomat BC Koukaki 

Cocomat is a relatively new brand of Greek luxury hotels, with a number of properties around the Greek capital. The company started in 1989 when its original purpose was to produce comfortable luxury mattresses.

They then moved into the hospitality space, with their specialist mattresses being at the forefront of their offering. The contemporary property is filled with thought-provoking art installations and stylish furniture. 

The piece de resistance of the property is the rooftop pool. Guests can enjoy a fabulous buffet breakfast during their stay to be enjoyed at either the ground floor restaurant or in the rooms. Click here to check the latest prices and availability at Cocomat BC Koukaki.  

Final Thoughts 

Do you have any additional questions about spending a day in Athens? Is there any aspect of planning your trip that you are uncertain about? 

Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. I’ll respond to you as soon as I can. 

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