Travel Destinations

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Best of Athens in One Day

Parthenon Acropolis Golden Hour One Day in Athens

Admittedly one day in Athens isn’t enough to really get to know the city, but oftentimes travelers to Greece spend very little time in Athens before heading out of the city to explore other parts of the mainland or one of the hundreds of islands.  So if you do only have 24 hours in Athens, it is best to have a game plan before heading out so you can see as much as possible in a short time.

Psyri Neighborhood at Night One Day in Athens

It was no different for us when we traveled to Greece.  We had a few hours in Athens the day we arrived before leaving the next day for our off-road trip through central Greece.  We returned to Athens for one night and half a day, when we took our Athens food tour, before leaving again to explore Crete, and then at the end of our trip we had one full day to devote entirely to Athens.  While much of our time in Athens was scattered, our well-planned one day in Athens provided the perfect, albeit brief, overview of the city covering many of the more popular Athens tourist attractions.

National Archaeological Museum of Athens

Artemision Bronze National Archaeological Museum of Athens One Day in Athens

Start your day at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.  While every other site in this article can be reached and explored on foot, this museum is a little bit outside of the city center and is best reached by metro (Omonia stop on line 1 (green) or line 2 (red)).

Greek civilization is one of the oldest in the world and it is displayed step-by-step in this all-encompassing museum.  You can explore the museum on your own, but I highly suggest paying extra for the guided tour (50 euros split between however many people join the tour).  Our guide Andromachi did a wonderful job of tying thousands of years of history into one neat little package, all in one hour.

Mycenaean Gold National Archaeological Museum of Athens One Day in Athens

Our tour started with the Stone Age in 6000 BC when Gaia, goddess of earth, was the main god worshipped during a time when women were revered because their bodies had the magical ability to give birth.  We were surprised to learn people had gold jewelry in the Stone Age.  Men wore the symbol of the female and women wore the symbol of the male.

We moved on to the Cycladic period, 3000 BC, when the ancient Greeks built boats and sailed to Egypt.  The Greeks have a great way of telling stories, even ancient ones.  Andromachi told us how the Greeks arrived in Egypt, saw the pyramids, and asked the Egyptians how they were able to build such wondrous structures.  The Egyptians pretty much told the Greeks, y’all need to stop using those stone tools and start using these super cool bronze tools.  And that’s how the Greeks moved into the Bronze Age.

Mask of Agamemnon National Archaeological Museum of Athens One Day in Athens

The National Archaeological Museum of Athens was built over 120 years ago to house the Mycenaean gold written about by Homer as well as other Greek antiquities.  One of the most well-known of these gold objects is the Mask of Agamemnon, though archaeologists now believe the mask was created a few hundred years before the time of Agamemnon

A heart-breaking exhibit of Mycenaean gold is that from the burial of a queen who died giving birth to twins.  There was a large gold crown for the queen, full-body gold coverings for the babies, and 1,000 gold rose pedals used to cover the queen and her babies.

Wine Jug with Dipylon Inscription National Archaeological Museum of Athens One Day in Athens

Some other interesting pieces in the museum include a wine jug that has engraved on it what is believed to be the oldest existing example of writing using the Greek alphabet.  The Dipylon inscription on the wine jug roughly translates to say, “Now I belong to the man who is the best dancer.”  

Artemision Jockey National Archaeological Museum of Athens One Day in Athens

The museum also displays the Artemision Bronze, believed to be either Zeus or Poseidon, which is one of only five bronzes in existence from the period 500 BC and was found in the sea of Cape Artemision.  Another impressive bronze statue is that of the Artemision Jockey from 140 BC.  This bronze was saved, in pieces, from a shipwreck in Euboea.  The statue is of a young jockey on a galloping horse, expressing so much movement and emotion.

Syntagma Square and the Changing of the Guard

Greek Parliament Syntagma Square One Day in Athens

After the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, grab the metro at Omonia and take line 2 (red) two stops to Syntagma, where you can visit Syntagma Square in front of the Greek Parliament and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  

Evzones Syntagma Square Athens in One Day

The draw of this square is the hourly changing of the guard ceremony.  The guards, Evzones, wear the traditional kilts, red hat, white stockings, and shoes with pompoms, called tsarouhi.  You can even take a picture with one of the guards, but don’t try to make any funny poses or you will be reprimanded.  The ceremonial changing of the guard occurs on Sundays at 11:00.

Temple of Olympian Zeus

Temple of Olympian Zeus One Day in Athens

Walk along or through the National Garden to get to the Temple of Olympian Zeus.  The construction of this temple started as early as 515 BC, but progress was halted multiple times.  It was finally completed by Emperor Hadrian and was inaugurated in 131-132 BC.  The Temple of Olympian Zeus was one of the largest in the ancient world.  It started to fall apart in the 5th century AD.  Only 16 of the original 104 columns survive, one of which fell in a storm in 1852 and continues to lay in pieces on the ground.

Hadrian’s Arch

Hadrian's Arch One Day in Athens

Just outside of the Temple of Olympian Zeus is Hadrian’s Arch.  Hadrian’s Arch was erected at the same time the Temple of Olympian Zeus was inaugurated.  It was built to honor Hadrian for his public works and it marked the boundary between the new and old city.  On the west side of Hadrian’s Arch was inscribed, “This is Athens the ancient city of Theseus,” and on the east side, “This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus.”  The arch was converted into a gate in 1778.

Stroll the Plaka and Monastiraki Neighborhoods

Ermou and Monastiraki Square One Day in Athens

From Hadrian’s Arch you’ll cross the busy Vas. Amalias Avenue and enter the popular Plaka neighborhood.  Meander through the Plaka and Monastiraki neighborhoods, passing sites like the Clock of Kyristos, Roman Agora, and Library of Hadrian to get to the Ancient Agora.  You can even take a slight detour and walk part of Ermou, Athens’ shopping street, and pass through Monastiraki Square with its little church right in the center of the square.

Ancient Agora and the Museum of the Stoa of Attalos

Headless Statue of Emperor Hadrian Ancient Agora One Day in Athens

The Agora was the heart of the ancient city of Athens, the center of democracy, and the world’s first parliament.  The Stoa of Attalos has been reconstructed and now houses the museum with items found in the Agora, including artifacts related to Athenian democracy like the tools used for ostracism, the act of temporarily banishing corrupt politicians from the city.

Acropolis Museum

The New Museum Acropolis Museum One Day in Athens

To make sure you get 360-degree views of the Acropolis, continue circling the Acropolis counter-clockwise by following Apostolou Pavlou, a tree-lined street with outdoor eateries and stands selling souvenirs, and Dinyssiou Areoragitou through the ritzy Anafiotika neighborhood to get to the Acropolis Museum

View of Acropolis from Acropolis Museum One Day in Athens

The Acropolis Museum was first created in 1863 and was on top of the Acropolis, but the new Acropolis Museum was completed recently, in 2007.

Parthenon Exhibit Acropolis Museum One Day in Athens

We found that the best way to explore the Acropolis Museum is to start at the top floor and first watch the short film about the Acropolis.  The museum has a very well put together exhibit on the top floor that mimics the Parthenon, with metal columns representing the stone columns of the Parthenon and the statues and carvings salvaged from the Parthenon, plus some reproductions, displayed in the exact same way they would have originally been on the Parthenon.

Original Caryatids from Erechtheion's Porch of the Caryatids Acropolis Museum One Day in Athens

A floor below contains five of the six caryatids, female figures, which acted as columns of the Erechtheion’s Porch of the Caryatids.  The Erechtheion is one of the smaller ancient Greek temples on the Acropolis.  The exhibit one floor below that contains a number of sculptures and artifacts found in the slopes of the Acropolis.


Parthenon Acropolis One Day in Athens

We saved the best for last, the Acropolis.  There is a method to this madness.  The Acropolis gets hot and crowded, which does not make for a fun viewing experience.  The best times to visit the Acropolis are first thing in the morning or at the very end of the day.  As I’m not a morning person, the end of the day was a better choice.  The crowds are far less at the end of the day, the temperature is cooler, and the light for photos of both the temples and the city below is best late in the day.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus Acropolis One Day in Athens

The Acropolis is the huge rock that juts out of the center of the city of Athens.  The Acropolis was always an important religious center and sacred.  Temples were first built on the Acropolis in the 11th century BC.  The Parthenon, dedicated to the goddess Athena, the namesake of the city, was completed in 438 BC and surprisingly took only nine years to build.  The frieze was completed after only another six years.

Erechtheion Acropolis One Day in Athens

The Parthenon had to first be reconstructed in 267 AD when it was destroyed by a fire.  The Parthenon continued as a temple to Athena for a couple more hundred years until it was ordered that all pagan temples were to be closed.  The Parthenon was later converted into a Christian church, then a Roman Catholic church, and later an Islamic mosque.  In the 1600s the Parthenon sustained the most devastating damage when an explosion occurred.  Finally in 1801 the Earl of Elgin came and removed sculptures and demolished buildings.  Today the Parthenon is in the midst of the very long process of restoration.

Erechtheion’s Porch of the Caryatids Acropolis One Day in Athens

After viewing all the angles of the Parthenon and the other temples on top of the Acropolis, it is nice to just take some time to sit, relax, and take it all in.  The Acropolis provides 360-degree views of the sprawling city of Athens, all the way to the sea.  While enjoying the view, you can also enjoy the sounds of the city.  Some of those sounds include sirens and traffic noises, but they’re also the sounds of birds chirping, church bells ringing, and music.

View of Athens from Acropolis One Day in Athens

When it’s time for the Acropolis to close, you’ll hear guards blowing whistles and asking people to start heading towards the exit.  If you wait until the very end, you’ll see the military march up the steps to enter the Acropolis and make sure everyone is gone.  If you haven’t had enough of the Acropolis yet, head to one of Athens’ rooftop bars for more views.

Where to Eat in Athens

Plaka Restaurants One Day in Athens

Of course amongst all this sightseeing, you’ll need to find some nourishment.  There are numerous restaurants and eateries throughout Athens.  Here are a few restaurants we tested in Athens’ popular neighborhoods.

Fire Breather Outside Diodos Archaias Agoras Restaurant One Day in Athens

Diodos Archaias Agoras (ΔΙΟΔΟ – ΑΡΧΑΙΑΣ ΑΓΟΡΑΣ) – This restaurant is part of a row of restaurants between the Thisio and Monastiraki neighborhoods northwest of the Acropolis at 19 Adrianou Street.  The restaurant serves a number of traditional Greek foods, provides a view of the Acropolis from over the Agora, and sometimes even gets some added entertainment, like a fire breather.

Outside Aischilou Grill House Psyri Restaurant One Day in Athens

Aischilou Grill House Psyri (Αισχύλου Ψητοπωλείο Ψυρρή) – If you’re looking for meat, meat, and more meat, with the possibility of sides of salads and seafood, Aischilou Grill House in the Psyri neighborhood at Aishilou 14-16 is the place for you.  You can order kebab, souvlaki, gyros, lamb, or a mixture of meats with the mixed grill.  What I really loved about this restaurant was the décor.  The walls were plastered with old Greek movie memorabilia.  They also have live bouzouki music at night and a little dancing.

To Kaveneio (Το Καφενείο) – To Kaveneio is a traditional coffee shop on a narrow sloping street in the middle of the Plaka neighborhood at Epicharmou 1.  They have tables inside and outside, are open all day, and also sell small plates, making it the perfect place for lunch while exploring Athens. 

Thanasis Souvlaki Restaurant One Day in Athens

Thanasis Souvlaki (Ο Θανάσης) – Thanasis came highly recommended by our waitress at Point α Bar as the best place for souvlaki.  Her opinion was confirmed when we asked a storekeeper for directions.  Thanasis Souvlaki is in Monasteraki at Mitropoleos 69.  The restaurant has been around for decades and is popular with the locals.

Air Lounge Bar and Restaurant Fresh Hotel One Day in Athens

Air Lounge Bar and Restaurant – If you’re looking for a break from traditional Greek food, but don’t necessarily want to eat non-Greek food (a conundrum I know), head to the rooftop restaurant and bar of the Fresh Hotel Athens.  Air Lounge Bar serves modern Greek food with a side of Acropolis view.

Where to Stay in Athens

Fresh Hotel Lobby One Day in Athens

If you’ve got a full day to spend in Athens, you’ll also need a hotel.  We loved our stay at the colorful Fresh Hotel in Athens.  The Fresh Hotel is located just north of the Psyri neighborhood.  The area is covered in graffiti and street art, but feels very safe.  There are always people out and about, even late at night.  Psyri, Monastiraki, and the shopping street of Ermou are an easy walk from the hotel.

Fresh Hotel Room One Day in Athens

Rooms are modern, minimalist, and very comfortable.  The white rooms are accented with bright colors like green curtains, red glass enclosed showers, and orange shower curtains.  After staying in a number of hotels throughout central Greece, I was also very appreciative of the number of easily accessible outlets in the room which we could use for charging our phones and camera batteries and also of the strong wifi.

As mentioned above in the dining section, the hotel has a very good rooftop restaurant and bar.  They also serve a very nice breakfast in the morning with Greek pastries and yogurt, fresh-squeezed orange juice, eggs, meat, bread, cereal, and more.

Greek Flag One Day in Athens

So there you have it, what I think is the perfect itinerary for one day in Athens.  There are so many things to do in Athens, but these provide a great overview of the city and the history of Athens.

Thank you to the City of Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau, Fresh Hotel, and Tripology Adventures for hosting our time in Athens and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.  This post contains affiliate links.  If you book through them, it costs you nothing extra and we earn a small commission which goes towards running this website and bringing you more travel stories.

Travel the World: A guide to seeing Athens Greece when you only have one day.

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Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.