Athens is a city of many layers. Sprawled across seven hills with the sapphire Aegean glittering in the distance, the city allows you to wander around the remnants of 2,500-year-old streets and gaze at exquisite temples built by the ancient Greeks for their deities.
But there’s an edgy buzz to the Greek capital, too, with cool designer shops, bustling markets, and a thriving culinary scene. This is a living city, not a museum. Locals of all ages gossip over strong, gritty coffee in the local kafenio, street art dazzles in the most surprising places, and even the humblest-looking taverna lays on a feast for the gods.
Three days in Athens should allow you enough time to take in the most important temples and a handful of the many museums. This is a walkable city, provided you pace yourself in the hotter months and factor in frequent stops for refreshments. If you can, plan a few day trips to the surrounding countryside, the nearby Saronic islands of Hydra, Aegina and Poros, and the chic beaches of the Athenian Riviera, too.
If you’re heading to this fascinating city soon, here are a few suggestions of what to see and do during your three days in Athens.
3 p.m.: Explore the Acropolis
Acropolis Hill, a steep, wooded bluff topped by the gleaming white Parthenon, beckons from every angle and is, without a doubt, Athens’ biggest attraction and one of the most important landmarks in Greece. The Parthenon is also an icon to Athenians themselves, as every rooftop terrace and balcony is seemingly angled towards its beauty.
But there are other treasures to uncover on this vast archaeological site. So waste no time. The crowds arrive mid-morning and tend to thin out by late afternoon, with the site closing at 7:30 p.m. in the summer. Pack water and sun protection and head for the southern gate at Dionysiou Areopagitou street.
First, you’ll come across the magnificent Theater of Dionysus, regarded as the birthplace of Greek drama, nestled on the southern slopes of the hill. Dedicated to the god of wine, the theater dates back to the 6th century BC.
The works of the great poets Euripides and Sophocles were once performed there to a sizable audience—in the third century BC, the stone amphitheater seated some 17,000 spectators. The ruins you’ll see today are mainly Roman, as they enlarged the space so that they could hold gladiator fights.
Head up the steps to the Propylaea, the grand entrance to the Parthenon. Enjoy stupendous views on a clear day, all the way beyond the port of Piraeus to the hazy mountains of the Peloponnese.
Built in the fifth century BC and the largest Doric temple in Greece, the Parthenon is a monument to the inhabitants of Athens and is dedicated to Athena, goddess of wisdom and war. It’s astonishingly beautiful and you’ll want to walk around and admire it from all angles.
Two other temples worth visiting are the Temple of Athena Nike and the Erechtheion, built on the holiest point of the hill. The Erechtheion is easily recognizable by the Caryatids, six intricately sculpted statues of maidens that support the roof. Note that these are replicas; the five originals are in the Acropolis Museum, although the sixth is in the British Museum in London.
Below the Acropolis is another beautiful stone theater, Herodes Atticus, built by the Romans in 161 AD. Today, it’s used for outdoor performances from classical music to ballet.
5 p.m.: See the Ancient Agora
Head back down the hill to the Ancient Agora, which looks like a jumble of rocks and broken pillars but is the remnants of ancient Athens. More than 2,500 years ago, this was a bustling city center and the hub of social activity. Today, it’s a peaceful spot with the scent of wild herbs in the air and lizards basking on ancient stones.
You’ll see all sorts of archaeological finds in the Agora Museum, which is located in the two-story Stoa of Attalos, an early shopping mall built around 150BC.
On the northwest side of the Agora, the magnificent Temple of Hephaestus is another remarkably intact ancient Greek temple. It was built in 450 BC and dedicated to Hephaestus, god of fire, and Athena, who, in addition to war and wisdom, was also the goddess of craft.
8 p.m.: Lose Yourself in Plaka
The tangled, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood of Plaka that spreads out from the base of Acropolis Hill is dismissed by some as touristy, but the fact is that it’s simply gorgeous. Mnisikleous, the prettiest street, is one long staircase covered in pastel-colored houses draped with vines, scented jasmine, and cascading bougainvillea.
Sit at one of the jauntily colored tables and chairs from the many tavernas spread along the steps. Or go shopping for arts and crafts, but be aware you’ll have to sift through a lot of touristy trinkets.
Check out Amorgos, a vintage treasure trove on Kodrou Street, or Byzantino on Adrianou Street for delicate gold replicas of ancient Greek jewelry. Also on Adrianou Street is Forget Me Not, a fantastic emporium of contemporary Greek design and cool memorabilia.
9 p.m.: Dine With a View
Can’t get enough of that mesmerizing view of the Parthenon? It makes sense that on the first of your three days in Athens you’ll want to take it all in, so have dinner tonight at one of the city’s many rooftop restaurants.
The Electra Roof Garden, on the eighth floor of Plaka’s Electra Palace Hotel, offers fine Greek-Mediterranean fusion dishes including sea bass with orzo and pappardelle with wild mushrooms and Greek truffles—all against the dreamy backdrop of the floodlit Acropolis.
11 p.m.: Brandies at Brettos
The distillery of Brettos, in the heart of Plaka, on Kidathineon Street, is a favorite with locals and a cool place to come for a nightcap. You’ll sit at long, communal tables and have the chance to sample liqueurs, brandies, and ouzos from family recipes dating back more than a century. Brightly colored backlit bottles lining the whitewashed walls add an Insta-worthy ambiance.
8 a.m.: Breakfast at Yiasemi
Head back to Plaka in the morning for breakfast at Yiasemi, a popular neighborhood café on Mnisikleous, spread over different levels. You’ll be entertained by a pianist playing Greek classics while sampling the vegetarian buffet, fresh juices, artisanal coffees, and the can’t-miss, legendary lemon pie.
9 a.m.: Antiquities at the Acropolis Museum
Head back to Acropolis Hill, where everything you’ve seen so far will fall into context at the dazzling Acropolis Museum, one of the best museums in the world. The starkly modern structure, which opened in 2009, showcases the thousands of finds by archaeologists excavating the slopes of Acropolis Hill, with the main focus on the 5th century BC.
The first exhibit is an immediate attention grabber, as you’ll walk over glass floors that reveal the streets of an ancient Athenian neighborhood below. Don’t miss the new section, which opened in 2019, that allows visitors to stroll on raised walkways through an entire district of ancient mansions, water cisterns, and mosaic floors.
The sloping passage up the light-filled museum emulates the stroll up the sacred hill, and you’ll see incredible displays of vases, religious items, and statues artfully arranged. On the top floor, the Parthenon Gallery is an extraordinary atrium, displaying the relief-carved blocks of the exquisite frieze that once topped the columns of the Parthenon. This exhibit is at eye level, allowing you to admire the intricacy of the work up close.
1 p.m.: Lunch on the Roof
Book ahead for a table at the museum’s excellent rooftop restaurant, which serves reasonably priced Greek specialties using fresh, locally sourced ingredients with the Parthenon always in view. There’s a generous selection of highly palatable Greek wines by the glass, too.
2 p.m.: Stroll Through Syntagma Square
Wander along to Syntagma Square, considered the heart of the city, which is overlooked by the neoclassical Greek Parliament building. Here, guards in traditional uniforms—check out the pompoms on their shoes—perform the solemn ceremony of the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
From Syntagma, wander through the National Garden to the all-marble Panathenaic Stadium, the setting of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. It’s here that the Olympic torch is lit before it begins its journey to wherever the Games are located.
You’ll also see the Temple of Olympian Zeus, built in the 6th century BC. Only 15 of its original 104 columns remain. The temple construction was abandoned when the money ran out and the structure was only completed by Hadrian around 700 years later, hence the large statue of the Roman emperor, who also added a massive marble gateway, Hadrian’s Arch, close to the temple.
4 p.m.: Sunset at Sounion
If you’ve got time on this Athens three-day itinerary, head out of town to the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion. Located 48 miles away, the temple is best reached via a private car and driver.
This enchanting, milky-white marble ruin is perched high on a cliff facing the sunset. The ancient Greeks believed storms were caused by the wrath of Poseidon, god of the sea, and would use the temple to make animal sacrifices in the hope of attracting calm sailings.
Today, Sounion is a peaceful place cooled by sea breezes. Famous visitors include British romantic poet Lord Byron, whose name is carved on one of the slender Doric columns.
9 p.m.: Indulge in Seafood on the Beach
After taking in the sunset at the Temple of Poseidon, have your driver deliver you to Panorama, a seafood taverna right on the water in the suburb of Vouliagmeni. Athenians head here in the summer to bask in the swanky beach clubs and dine late into the night at the waterfront restaurants.
Panorama, as the name suggests, has divine views, straight out to sea, and features a wonderful meze. Ask to see the catch of the day in the kitchen before selecting your freshly caught entrée.
10 a.m.: Browse for Souvenirs at Monastiraki Market
Make your way to the cobbled Ifestou Street, jam-packed on Sundays with bargain hunters checking out the weekly flea market. This whole neighborhood has an edgier feel, as many of the walls are festooned with street art and there’s always a lively buzz. You’ll find vintage clothing, vinyl, books, leather goods, olive oil products, candles, worry beads, and street food stalls galore.
1 p.m.: Souvlaki at Savvas
An Athenian institution since 1922, Savvas claims to be the city’s oldest kebab restaurant. The Monastiraki branch on Ermou Street opened in 1960 and still does a roaring trade in salads, hot and cold mezze dishes, and above all, tasty kebabs served on flatbreads with yoghurt and tomato sauce.
Don’t miss trying the cheese pie, moussaka, and falafel, or gyros, traditional Greek fast food—pita bread layered with tzatziki, onions, tomatoes and spiced meat. There’s a shaded terrace or a sunny roof garden from which you can gaze at the Acropolis while finishing up your lunch.
2 p.m.: Discover the National Archaeological Museum
While the Acropolis Museum is all about the riches unearthed around Acropolis Hill, the National Archaeological Museum is devoted to ancient Greek art, housing priceless pieces from archaeological sites right across Greece.
Lose yourself in Greek history, dating back as far as the Neolithic era, in a treasure trove of delicate pottery, intricate jewelry, fabulous frescoes from Santorini, sculptures, and bronzes.
5 p.m.: Head to the Top of Mount Lycabettus
The sharply pointed limestone outcrop of Mount Lycabettus, which means “hill of wolves,” is the best place from which to take in your final panorama of Athens. A zig-zag path from Plutarchio Street leads through fragrant pinewoods and cactus and prickly pear up to the summit of the city’s highest point at 910 feet.
The climb should take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, but in the heat of summer, most people opt for a ride on the funicular that whisks you in three minutes to within 300 feet of the top.
There’s the tiny, whitewashed Chapel of Agios Georgios perched at the summit, but you’ll no doubt be distracted by the views, beyond Piraeus to the Saronic Gulf and the Peloponnese, and across the sprawling city to the Parthenon.
Take a ringside seat on the café terrace at the top, order an ice-cold Mythos beer, and wait for sunset when the city’s monuments light up, one by one.
9 p.m.: Enjoy Classics With a Twist
Sample classy Greek dishes with a contemporary twist at Vassilenas on Vrasida Street. What started as a humble taverna has evolved into a chic, cosmopolitan restaurant. Dishes are beautifully presented, from prawns with orzo pasta and smoked tomato to homemade vegetable pie and sea bream carpaccio. There’s also an impressive wine list; the perfect end to three days in Athens.
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