Europe is known for its historic destinations, and they don’t get much more historic than the city of Athens. The capital of Greece, Athens is an ancient city with thousands of years of history. Amazingly, much of that history can still be experienced today thanks to the many ancient landmarks that have survived to this day. It’s hardly surprising then that Athens has long attracted tourists keen to see these ancient wonders with their own eyes. With the help of this Athens itinerary, you can join them in experiencing these marvels in just 2 days.
Best Time to Visit Athens
Choosing the right time to visit any destination can play a big part in your enjoyment of that place. Much like other popular places in southern Europe (such as Rome or Florence), the best time to visit Athens is typically during the shoulder season which runs both from April to May, as well as from September through early November. These are the times of the year when the weather is nice and temperate, without tourist numbers being too high. It’s also the best time to visit if you’re looking to combine Athens with a trip to the Greek isles.
In summer, you’ll find Athens at its busiest with tourists, even though locals go on vacation during August. That, coupled with the extreme heat which comes with the summer, can be a bit of a deterrent.
Alternatively, even though other parts of Greece, such as the islands won’t be much fun in winter, Athens is a little different. While it can get quite cool in Athens and even snow on the rare occasion, you can still do all the historical and cultural sightseeing without having to worry about crowds.
How to Get Around Athens
Though Athens is an ancient city, it’s not actually all that big or spread out. All of the city’s major attractions are mostly located close together within only a few neighborhoods, meaning walking between them isn’t a problem.
Despite all that, there may be times while visiting Athens when you’re tired of walking or it’s not the best approach to get where you need to go. Thankfully, the city has a network of metro trains, buses, and trams that will help you easily get around during your 48 hours in Athens. Probably the most useful form of public transport is the city’s metro network, with its three lines that link the city centre and beyond.
There are a number of rechargeable ticket types as part of the new Ath.ena system, but the cheapest fare is a 90-minute trip for €1.40. Although one of the city’s metro lines runs between Athens Airport and Syntagma Square, you need a special €10 ticket to make the 40 minute journey. The cheaper option to get to and from Athens Airport is the €6 airport express bus, but its travel time can be up to 70 minutes.
If you’re arriving to Athens by ferry, you’ll be coming in to the city of Piraeus, the next city over from Athens. Thankfully, Piraeus is also connected to the city centre by metro, so reaching the city from Piraeus isn’t too difficult.
Recommendation: Another great way to explore Athens is on a hop-on hop-off bus tour. You get to see the best of the Greek capital’s famous sites while enjoying audio guide commentary as you ride.
Accommodation in Athens
Making the right decision on where to stay in Athens can have a big impact on your enjoyment of the trip. After all, you don’t want to travel far just to go sightseeing, or to find dinner. You’ll find that the best places to stay in Athens are central neighborhoods like Plaka, Monastiraki, or Psirri, as they’re close to so many of the city’s attractions. Kolonaki is another good choice thanks to its bars, restaurants, and cafes.
For a luxurious stay in the centre of Athens, treat yourself with a stay at the Electra Metropolis five-star hotel. Ideally located a short walk from Syntagma Square, the hotel offers comfortable and spacious rooms and features a rooftop pool and terrace views of the Acropolis.
A more affordable mid-range alternative is the Attalos Hotel, close to Monastiraki Square. It too has a nice rooftop garden and offers guests clean and spacious rooms with air-conditioning.
If you’re looking to keep to a budget but still want to have Athens at your doorstep, then City Circus Athens is the place for you. In the neighborhood of Psirri, this hostel provides boutique style and cleanliness at backpacker rates and even has its own on-site restaurant. For more ideas on hostels, take a look at our guide to the city’s best hostels.
For more accommodation options in Athens check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 2 Days in Athens Itinerary
Although there’s plenty to see and do in Athens during a longer visit, it’s certainly possible to cover the best places to visit in Athens in only a matter of days. To take you through the best of Athens, we’re going to venture around the city’s biggest highlights in the city’s ancient center, taking in a few interesting yet different neighborhoods along the way. While this visit will include a lot of ancient attractions, you’ll also get a feel for city life in Athens and see some spectacular views as well.
However, before we get to our Athens itinerary and the best things to do in Athens, we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and, trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
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With that important point covered, it’s time to delve into our Athens travel itinerary and get to the good stuff. That of course means what to do in Athens in 2 days to make the most of your time there.
Athens Itinerary: Day 1
With only a weekend in Athens, there’s no time to waste and it only makes sense to start with the city’s most popular attractions. We’re going to start at the center of Athens’ most historic sites around the Acropolis and its surrounding neighborhoods, prepare for a day full of pretty streets and ancient ruins.
To start off on the right foot and to get a quick sense of the city, our first stop is Monastiraki Square. An important central square, you’ll be able to catch a first glimpse from here of the Acropolis rising above the city. Monastiraki Square also has its own landmarks which are worth checking out , from the historic Pantanassa Church and Tsisdarakis Mosque, to the considerably older Roman ruins of Hadrian’s Library.
But what Monastiraki Square and the wider neighborhood is known for is shopping. Off the square you’ll find the Monastiraki Flea Market, a group of pedestrian shopping streets selling everything from souvenirs, to clothes, to religious icons.
Streets of Plaka and Anafiotika
From Monastiraki it’s time to start heading clockwise around the hill of the Acropolis and soak up the charm of Plaka. This historic neighborhood sits directly below the Acropolis and is a maze of some of Athens most picturesque streets.
Paved with stone and tiles, these narrow pedestrian streets often have vibrant bougainvillea, and other flowers creeping up the walls and hanging overhead. These beautiful and vibrant streets are also home to some scenic staircases that link the different levels of the neighborhood, as well as classic taverns, and cafes with outdoor seating.
Within the area of Plaka, Anafiotika is a small but delightful little neighborhood that you’re also going to want to explore. Found below the northeastern edge of the Acropolis, the area is known for its charming little houses and whitewashed exteriors that will remind visitors of the homes out on the Greek isles. This is because the original residents of Anafiotika tended to be people from the Cycladic islands who moved to Athens for work.
Ruins of the Acropolis
In Athens, the hill of the Acropolis is a constant presence. This large rocky outcrop has been the center of Athens for millennia and the ruins are still there to prove it. An ancient citadel, many of the city’s most famous landmarks were built there, all the way back in the 5th century BC. There’s little doubt that visiting the Acropolis is one of the best things to do in Athens and something you simply can’t miss.
Recommendation: To get the most out of your visit to the Acropolis we highly recommend you book a tour with a knowledgeable guide. There are no signs at the Acropolis and unless you are well versed on Greek mythology, you might have a hard time figuring out what you are actually looking at.
Before you actually reach the top of the Acropolis, you’ll encounter two impressive landmarks in their own right, the Theatre of Dionysus, and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Set into the hillside, the theater is made up of a semicircle of marble seats facing the stage. Though not confirmed one hundred percent, it has been said that this was the world’s first theatre. On the same side of the hill you’ll find the Odeon, also a stone theatre, but far better preserved and restored than the Dionysus, with a full stone back wall. The Odeon is still used for concerts to this day.
Once you’re on the Acropolis, there are three main landmarks to see besides the fantastic views from the citadel walls. The first as you arrive is the hill’s western gateway known as Propylaea, which you pass through to reach the top. From there you have the Parthenon, ruins of an ancient temple and perhaps the most famous attraction in Athens. To its north you’ll find Erechtheion, an incredibly well intact ancient temple and its artful Porch of the Caryatids. Make sure to also find the Sacred Olive Tree here, this tree is said to be a descendant of the original olive tree which the goddess Athena planted there herself.
Insider Tip: Given the number of historic sites you’ll be visiting during this trip, it may be a good idea to purchase a combined or package ticket there, rather than a ticket for just the Acropolis. If you visit in winter though, it will likely be cheaper to buy things separately, as ticket prices for the Acropolis are reduced in winter. Check out our guide on how to buy tickets to the Acropolis for more information about the different options available to you.
While everything is fresh in your mind, it’s best to head over to the amazingly in-depth Acropolis Museum to fully grasp the history of everything you’ve just seen at the Acropolis. The museum has exhibits that focus on different parts of the Acropolis, like the Gallery of the Slopes and the Parthenon Gallery, as well as sections that focus on specific time periods like the Archaic Acropolis Gallery. Within the exhibits you’ll find statues, sculptures, friezes, and even ancient everyday items like perfume bottles. Be warned, you could end up spending hours here!
Recommendation: Ticket lines can get quite long, especially during high season, so make sure you buy your skip-the-line ticket online in advance.
After the landmarks of the Acropolis, the second most famous area for ancient ruins in Athens is the Ancient Agora. As the central marketplace or place of gathering, the Agora was the beating heart of ancient Athens. Today you can visit the Agora, and thanks to the excavations and recreations, get an idea of just how extensive it once was.
While many of the former buildings of the Agora, like the Odeon of Agrippa, are at best outlines of what they once were, and have perhaps only a few columns or statues, there are two big landmarks which are still standing, the Stoa of Attalos and the Temple of Hephaestus. The Stoa of Attalos with its long row of columns was restored in the 1950s and now houses the Agora Museum.
The Temple of Hephaestus however, has managed to survive mostly intact over the centuries, even though it was built in the 5th century BC. It’s this temple as well other remains in the Agora that really give you a sense of how big and important the city of ancient Athens must have been.
Hopefully you haven’t gotten too ruined-out by all these ancient sites, because there is one more to see before the day is over. A few hundred meters from the Agora, you’ll find the site of Kerameikos, another huge sprawling ruin complex. What makes Kerameikos a little different is that this area straddled the city limits, so you’ll find ancient city walls and also the remains of a cemetery.
Sunset from Areopagus
After all that walking and history, it’s time to relax with a nice sunset. While there are plenty of rooftops you could pay to go to, the best free view is the rocky outcrop of Areopagus. Sitting below the Acropolis, it’s a popular spot and easily accessible, offering some great views of the sunset as well as the city of Athens in general.
Athens Itinerary: Day 2
To get a well-rounded feeling for what Athens is like, your second day here will give you a chance to explore beyond the ancient center of Athens. That way, you get to mix things up, with both modern and ancient sites.
Perhaps the most famous square in all of Athens and the modern city’s most central point is Syntagma Square. Sitting right across from the Greek Parliament which is housed in the Old Royal Palace, the square is named after Greece’s first constitution and has long held both social and political importance.
For visitors, the square is both scenic and also a good reference point to get used to, given the metro lines and buses that run from there. With its fountain, park atmosphere, and view up to Parliament, this is a pretty part of modern Athens. Be sure to also head across to the front of Parliament to watch the traditional changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside.
Zappeion and National Garden
Behind the Greek Parliament building, you’ll find the sprawling National Garden, a park full of fountains, playgrounds and walking trails. After spending so much time among city streets and tourist attractions, a stroll through the park offers a nice change of pace. It’s also here that you’ll find the Zappeion, a 19th century building with quite a pleasant neo-classical look.
Ancient Greece contributed many things to modern society, but surely one of the most beloved is the Olympic Games held every four years. This ancient competition was revived in 1896, with Athens being the first to host. One of the venues for the games in 1896 was this Panathenaic Stadium, itself an ancient stadium that was excavated and rebuilt much like the games were.
It’s other claim to fame is that it’s the only stadium in the world completely made of marble.
Insider Tip: If you’re looking for another view across Athens, climb your way up to the top of stand 21 to see many of Athens’ landmarks.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
Back across the road from the Zappeion, you’ll find yet another ancient Athenian ruin, the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Whereas temples up on the Acropolis were dedicated to Athena and Poseidon, this ancient temple was dedicated to the god Zeus, ruler of Olympus, the home of the gods. It took over 600 years for the temple to be completed in the 2nd century A.D. but only one century for it to be left abandoned.
Roman Agora and the Tower of the Winds
For one last stop in the ancient city, venture back over near Monastiraki Square and find the Roman Agora. Once the Romans had invaded Greece and started building over the Ancient Agora, this other agora was used. On a visit today, you’ll pass the still-standing Gate of Athena Archegetis, various columns, and remains.
The most important feature here though is the Horologion of Andronikos Kyrrhestes, which is better known as the Tower of the Winds. This marble clock-tower was basically an all-in-one weather station, with sundials, a weathervane, and a water clock. A further sign of how advanced and ingenious the people of ancient Greece were.
Leaving the ancient center of Athens behind, make your way out to the lovely neighborhood of Kolonaki. Resting against the side of Mount Lycabettus, this leafy neighborhood has some seriously steep streets but also plenty of bars, restaurants, and shopping. It’s a very different side of Athens than somewhere like Plaka, but interesting nonetheless. Kolonaki might be a good place to spend your last evening in Athens!
From Kolonaki, the only way is up, which means up to the top of Mount Lycabettus. The city of Athens was built on seven hills, two of which you’ve visited when you went to the Acropolis and to Areopagus. Mount Lycabettus is the third, and is actually the highest point in the city of Athens. From Mount Lycabettus you’re able to look out over the entire city from its awesome viewpoint. With good weather you can even see all the way out to the city of Piraeus on the coast.
Beside the viewpoint, the top of Mount Lycabettus features a little white church and a somewhat fancy restaurant. To get up Mount Lycabettus you have two options open to you, either a steep hike up, or the far gentler option of taking the funicular.
Day 3 and Beyond
If you have more than 2 days in Athens we highly recommend you take a trip outside the city and explore some of it’s surroundings. There are plenty of amazing sights not too far away from Athens that are worth adding to your Athens itinerary. To get you started, here are some of the most popular day tours from Athens:
- Delphi Day Trip from Athens
- Hydra, Poros, and Aegina Full-Day Cruise from Athens
- Mycenae and Epidaurus Full-Day Tour from Athens
- Temple of Poseidon and Cape Sounion Tour from Athens
There you have it – the ultimate Athens itinerary with all the sights and places you’ll be able to visit when visiting Athens in 2 days. No doubt you’ll leave this ancient wonder with some great photos and memories.