I’m obsessed with Greece.
It took me years of travel to finally step foot in the country, but as soon as I did, it was love at first sight. Something about Greece is so healing for me. It calms my overactive mind, soothes my worries, and leaves me feeling healthier and stronger than ever. Greek food is one of my favourite cuisines in the world.
During my most recent visit to the country, I decided it was about time I spent several days in Athens. With a history nerd for a boyfriend combined with my adoration of cities that receive bad write-ups, I was confident we’d love it.
Obviously, we did.
I adored Athens and I’ve been talking it up to everyone I’ve spoken to since. This city is magnificent! With great street art, incredible food, colourful neighbourhoods, and so much history, I think it’s the perfect destination for a European city break.
I spent three days wandering the streets of Athens and came away thinking it’s a great length of time to spend there. Today, I’m excited to share my three-day itinerary with you guys.
Let’s get stuck in.
Day One: Begin Diving Into Athen’s History
The first thing you should do in Athens is a no-brainer: buy your combined ticket.
For €30, you’ll gain access to all of the main attractions in Athens, including the Acropolis, so you’re going to want to get your hands on one. Not only will you get to explore the Acropolis, but you’ll also be able to enter the Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library, Aristotle’s School, Kerameikos, and the Olympieion — you can visit each of these once over a five-day period, and you can buy the ticket at the entrance to any of them.
As we were serenaded by the screeching sounds of a teenager learning to play Despacito on his accordion, we queued up at the Ancient Agora to buy our ticket.
The Ancient Agora was built in the 6th Century BC and was once the centre of life in ancient Athens. Used as a marketplace and gathering spot, this was where you’d have found people like Socrates, Aristotle and Plato having a wander around town. Almost all of the commercial, political, and social activity took place in the ancient Agora.
We kicked off our explorations with a wander around the Temple of Hephaestus, known as the best-preserved temple in Athens. And it sure was impressive when you consider that it was built in 415 BC — it was still in great condition.
The views were pretty acceptable, too.
Aside from the Temple of Hephaestus, the Ancient Agora is also home to your standard ruin remnants: collections of rocks, stumps, and fallen-down walls, hinting at the temples and stalls that would have once stood here. But, as always with ruins, you’ll have to use your imagination, because it is still a pile of rocks on the ground.
There’s the Stoa of Attalos here, too — built in the 2nd Century BC, although since reconstructed — which currently acts as a museum for the Ancient Agora. The Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles, which was built inn 1000 AD, is one of the few structures in the Agora that’s still standing.
Before arriving in Athens, I kind of assumed it would feel like a poor man’s Rome, but at this point, I was well and truly eating my words. Athens was pretty goddamn awe-inspiring.
Next, make your way over to the Kerameikos Cemetary, which is another site that’s included in your combo pass. This spot was one of the most important regions of ancient Athens. Once used as a neighbourhood for pottery and painters, it used to be the place where famous Athenian vases were produced.
It was later transformed into a cemetery, which was one of Athen’s most important.
As you walk around the site, you’ll also be able to spot pieces of the Themistoclean Wall, which was built in 478 BC to protect the city from the Spartans.
I’m convinced that it’s impossible to have a bad meal in Greece: their cuisine is too delicious to mess up. I’ve yet to have a meal that wasn’t excellent in this country, whether I’ve been sat beside a congested motorway or dining in the most touristy parts of Athens.
The latter was exactly what we opted for at lunchtime, and it should have been terrible.
I settled on the most touristy restaurant on the most touristy of streets, with touts outside, and a menu in English with photos of the dishes. What can I say? We were starving by this point, so decided to give in and eat an overpriced, poor meal.
Except it was amazing! Because Greece.
While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend heading to a touristy restaurant for any of your meals in Athens, I suspect you won’t be all that disappointed if you do end up there. Eat anywhere in Athens! It’s always going to be delicious.
With stomachs satisfied by kebabs, we set off to hit up the second Agora in Athens. The Roman Agora was built in the 1st century BC, financed by Caesar and Augustus, and like the ancient Agora, was used as the city’s marketplace. You enter the site through the Gate of Athena Archegetis, which was built by Julius Caesar and dedicated to the goddess Athena.
The most well-known and well-preserved building is the Tower of the Winds: a large octagonal marble tower that functions as a sundial, weathervane, and water clock. It’s believed to be the first meteorological station in the world, and worth having a look inside.
One of my favourite neighbourhoods in Athens was Plaka, so you’re going to want to head there after the Roman Agora. If you’ve been to Athens before, you’re probably not surprised to hear Plaka was one of my highlights — everybody who visits this city falls in love with this neighbourhood!
Plaka is all about clean colourful streets, bustling cafes, and amazing places to eat. It’s touristy as hell, and busy for a reason, but I still loved spending an afternoon cafe-hopping through the picturesque streets and taking photos of all of the colours.
While you’re in Plaka, you have to check out Anafiotika’s white-washed buildings and narrow streets for an insight into what Greek island life is like. The buildings look a lot like what you’ll find on Santorini.
Grab dinner in Plaka or in a restaurant overlooking the Acropolis. You’ll have an early start tomorrow, so you’ll want to get an early night.
Day Two: All Acropolis, All the Time
Against popular belief, I highly recommend saving the Acropolis for your second day in Athens. As tempting as it is to head straight to the most iconic building in the city, there’s several reasons why you should hold off until later.
Sunrise is the absolute best time to see the ruins, and who wants to spend their first day in a new city waking up at 6 a.m.? On top of that, the Acropolis is going to make every other site in Athens pale in comparison, so I recommend not hitting it up on your first day.
We got to the southeast gate at 7.30, half an hour before it opened at 8, and this turned out to be the best decision we could have made. When the gate opened, we rushed past everyone else, ignored every ruin and attraction near the entrance, and focused solely on racing up the hill.
Our determination paid off because we had the entire complex to ourselves for a solid five minutes. In this age of overtourism, getting to marvel over the Acropolis with nobody else around felt magical.
Below is what the entrance to the Acropolis looked like when we reached the top, with just Dave in the photo, and here’s what it was like half an hour later. Yes. Half. an. hour. later. It was unbelievable how many people ascended the hill in such a short period of time.
In addition to getting to the entrance half an hour before it opens, I recommend avoiding the main gate in favourite of the southeastern gate, close to the Acropolis Museum. Queues will be much smaller at the southeastern gate, so you’ll be able to make your way to the top of the hill before everyone else.
When you reach the Acropolis, snap a couple of photos then take a moment to appreciate what you’re witnessing, rather than checking it out from behind a camera.
Several minutes later, it’s time to start bracing yourself for crowds.
The Acropolis is the name given to the complex on top of the hill, and it’s made up of several individual buildings.
There’s the Temple of Athena Nike, the iconic Parthenon, the Old Temple of Athena, the Legendary Olive Tree of the Pandroseion, the Porch of the Caryatids at the Erechtheion… and on your way down, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.
Oh, and while you’re exploring all of the monuments on top of the hill, make sure to wander off to the sides to snap a photo of Athens from above. They ended up being some of my favourite photos from my time there.
Something that sounds boring but isn’t is the Acropolis Museum, and I recommend spending a couple of hours there.
As someone who identifies as a museum-avoider, I listened to the recommendations of everyone who had been, and made myself go inside. And I loved it. The museum houses tons of sculptures unearthed from the Acropolis, and it was fascinating to check them out.
You’ll also get to learn about how my country took the Parthenon Marbles, plopped them in the British Museum, and refuses to give them back to Greece. Sigh.
The Acropolis and accompanying museum will suck up most of your time, so it’s time to recover with a quick lunch.
Head to Syntagma Square next to watch the changing of the guard. This takes place every hour on the hour, so attempt to time your visit perfectly. The guards wear fun outfits, march around in unison, and generally make for interesting photos.
From Syntagma Square, wander over to the enormous National Archaeological Museum to get your history on. Again, I’m not a museum fan, but this one was seriously impressive and complements the ruins explorations you’ve done so far.
When you emerge from the museum, you’ll be in the achingly cool Exarchia neighbourhood, where I chose to base myself in Athens. And I loved this neighbourhood. Even if you’re not staying there, it’s well-worth a wander and meal in the evening. So many great restaurants and bars! I especially recommend Atitamos for Cretan food and Giantes for excellent meals all round.
Day Three: Everything Else
We’ll keep this day more chilled out, and spend most of the day crossing off the final remaining attractions on your combined pass. By this point, you’ve visited the Acropolis, checked out the Ancient and Roman Agoras, and still have a handful of attractions to explore. Fortunately, unless you’re huge on ruins, these can all be seen fairly quickly.
Start your day by heading to Monastiraki for some ruins, architecture, and shopping. If you’re looking to stock up on
tat souvenirs, this is the place to come. Opposite the Monastiraki metro station, you’ll find Hadrian’s Library and the Tzistarakis mosque — the former was built in 132 AD by Emperor Hadrian, and was the largest library of Athens. Today, it’s little more than a handful of columns, but you get free entry with your combo ticket, so it’s worth a wander around.
Beside the library is the mosque, which was built during Athens’ Ottoman rule.
Next, head to Hadrian’s Gate for the picture-perfect photo of the Acropolis framed by the archway. I loved the photo I snapped of this view! Just beside the gate is the Temple of Olympian Zeus, one of the largest temples in ancient Greece. To give you an idea of its size, in my photo, you can see just 15 columns. When it was built, there were over a hundred.
From the temple, wander over to the Panathenaic Stadium to check out the world’s only stadium that’s built entirely of marble. Built in 330 BC, it was also home to the first modern Olympic Games, way back in 1896.
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably well and truly tired of staring at archaeological marvels, so grab a souvlaki from Monastiraki and head to the National Garden for a relaxing stroll and rest.
If you were to ask me which of the sites from the combined ticket aren’t worth it, I’d have to go for Aristotle’s Lyceum. The ruins are far from impressive, relative to everything else you can see in Athens. The only reason to go is to see somewhere of great historical significance. This the school Aristotle founded in 335 B.C. and later taught at, along with Isocrates, Plato, and Socrates.
These days, it’s simply a bunch of rocks on the ground, so you likely won’t spend too much time staring at them.
To round off your time in Athens, you’re going to want to head to Mount Lycabettus to get one of the best views over the entire city.
If you’re into walking, go for the hike to the top. It’ll take around 20 minutes, but the path is steep. Otherwise, you can take a cable car or taxi to the top.
This is the perfect spot for sunset and looking down over the Acropolis and the sea.
And that’s how to spend three days in Athens!
Have you been to Athens before?
[photos of Plaka via: Svetlana Ryajentseva, colormaker/Shutterstock; sunset via Sven Hansche/Shutterstock; Lycabettus via Ppictures/Shutterstock; Panathenaic Stadium via: saiko3p/Shutterstock]