Athens, Greece is amazing. I landed here for the first after spending 2.5 weeks backpacking through Morocco and I honestly could have kissed the ground when I arrived and started to explore the city (you can read my real thoughts on female travel in Morocco here). Sure, Athens has a couple rough bits and yes, you do need to be aware of pickpockets, but I really enjoyed my time there. The lively squares filled with tavernas, the street art hidden around the corners, the cheap food options, and, of course, the incredible ancient history. I heard plenty of mixed reviews but, in my opinion, Athens is definitely worth a visit. From the Acropolis to the museums, the squares and the ruins, here’s how to spend 1 day in Athens, Greece.
Getting to Athens
Getting to Athens is pretty easy and possible by several modes of transportation.
You can arrive by plane, which is self-explanatory. The airport lies about 45 minutes outside the city centre, but you can hop on a train that will take you downtown. It runs pretty regularly, but not throughout the night so be sure to check the schedule ahead of time.
You can also arrive by ferry. Athens actually has two ports, (so keep this in mind, especially when booking ferries to/from the islands), however, Pireaus Port tends to be the most popular. Again, the train/metro connects Pireaus Port to Athens city centre.
It is also possible to arrive by train, bus, and of course, car. Needless to say, there are lots of options to get to Athens.
If you are coming to Athens as a group, or at an odd time, I highly recommend pre-arranging a transfer. They aren’t cheap, but they are better than taxis. Taxi drivers in Athens have a reputation for scamming tourists pretty badly. (I ended up paying 30 euro for a 10-minute ride when I got stuck). You can book a transfer between the hotel and airport here.
Getting Around Athens
Athens is a big city, but the parts you are probably the most interested in seeing are in the heart of the city and easily reached by foot. If walking isn’t really your thing, or if your mobility is a problem, you can take the metro around or consider taking one of the hop on hop off city bus tours. These buses will take you to all the main attractions and areas and have the added benefit of being aboveground so you can do some site-seeing along the way. It’s a great way to see the city, especially for those who only have 1 day in Athens.
How to Spend 1 Day in Athens, Greece
Early Morning at the Parthenon
Start your day early and head to the Parthenon for opening time, which is 8am. This is THE best time to visit to skip the crowds and get the Parthenon to yourself and I’m kicking myself for not listening when people told me that (I went before sunset and it wasn’t insane, but it wasn’t great). You’ll probably spend about an hour here, maybe more if you are a die-hard history fan. Just be careful climbing the steps- they are super slippery. Get your skip-the-line tickets to the acropolis here.
Join a ‘Free’ Walking Tour
I love free walking tours and think they are the best way to see a new city and, for those who only have 1 day in Athens, a free walking tour is a great way to see the highlights. This tour starts at 9:45am not too far from the Parthenon and the Acropolis, so you can definitely make it in time. The tour lasts about 3 hours, takes you to the main areas including The Temple of Olympian Zeus, Plaka, Monastiraki, Stytagma Square, Hadrians Arch, the National Gardens and more. You’ll also get to see the changing of the guard and some great viewpoints. It’s a lot of walking, but perfect for site-seeing on a short amount of time. PS: Don’t forget to tip!
Grab An Authentic Greek Lunch
By now, you’ll probably be pretty hungry and possibly be in need of a break which means it’s time to grab lunch. There are plenty of restaurants and tavernas around Athens that will cater to tourists, but if you are looking for something easy, cheap, and local then consider getting a Greek pie or gyros.
Greek pies are savoury and come in a variety of flavour though spinach and cheese is one of the most popular (and delicious). Gyros are another cheap and delicious choice; grilled meat (you can normally choose between chicken, beef, or lamb) stuffed in a pita with tomato, onion, tzatziki, and French fries. Both of these meals should cost you around 5 euros or less and can be found all over. For your best bet, ask your guide from your walking tour where he/she recommends before you leave.
Tip: Tap water is safe to drink in Athens and there are some public fountains around so bring a reusable water bottle.
Head to the Acropolis Museum
If you’re up to learning some more about the Acropolis, then head to the new Acropolis Museum. There are a couple of permanent exhibitions full of treasures, relics, and artefacts. There is also an excavation site which can be seen through the glass floors of certain parts of the museum. Get your skip the line tickets to the Acropolis Museum here.
Check out some More Ruins
If you chose to join the free walking tour, you’ll have passed by many areas filled with ruins that you can return to and explore on your own (for a price of course). Personally, I recommend visiting the Temple of Hephaestus. For me, I found it even more impressive than the Parthenon (at least up close). It dates back to the 7th century and is incredibly well preserved. It’s also my favourite place to get views of the Parthenon which, in my opinion, is best seen from below.
Explore Monastiraki Square and the Surrounding Neighbourhood
This was my favourite neighbourhood in Athens and while the square itself can be insanely busy, it does offer some pretty incredible views looking up to the Parthenon.
Monastiraki Square is also known for the flea market (though it’s not actually a flea market). It’s one of the best places in the city to shop for souvenirs and feels a little like a Middle-Eastern Bazaar. From books to t-shirts, jewellery to knickknacks, you can find all kinds of things in this area. Some of it is good quality, some of it is fake and made in China. Even if you aren’t planning on really shopping, it is fun to explore. Just keep an eye on your belongings in the crowds.
Take some time to meander down the nearby street as well. In this area, you’ll find some cool street art, funky cafes, and boutique shops. I wandered around here a lot on my own and felt very safe as a solo female traveller in Greece.
Grab a Sunset drink and a meal overlooking the Acropolis
As your 1 day in Athens comes to a close, you should find somewhere to watch the sunset and grab dinner. Remember, Greeks eat much later than North Americans so a sunset meal in the summer is the norm.
There are lots of restaurants in Athens, however, one spot that kept coming up as recommended by the locals was Couleur Locale, which is located in Monastiraki. This bar with a view serves up yummy cocktails as well as snacks and meals. Locals and tourists alike come here as it’s the perfect place to then see the Parthenon all lit up at night which is easily one of the best things to see in Athens.
Where to Stay for 1 Day in Athens
Spending the night? There is no shortage of accommodation options in Athens suitable for a variety of budgets. As mentioned earlier though, Athens can be a bit sketchy in parts so please take the time to read reviews and check the areas of the hotel or hostel (or Airbnb) you choose to stay in.
Looking for some suggestions? Consider:
Hostel: City Circus Athens (I stayed here, cool hostel with awesome rooftop views)
Note: Depending on what time you are leaving; it may actually be cheaper to stay at a hotel near the airport or port if you are flying out early in the morning. Taxi rides to either are very expensive when the metro isn’t running. I stayed Holiday Inn Athens Attica Airport Hotel when I left Greece which is close to the airport and has a free shuttle, it worked out pretty well.
Have More Time? Consider these Day Trips from Athens
One day in Athens is do-able, but it is fast-paced and there is more to see if you have the extra time. Personally, I found my one day in Athens to be enough for me and choose to spend my extra day going to Delphi on a day trip. It’s quite far; 3+ hour drive each way, but it was pretty incredible and definitely worth it.
Book your day trip to Delphi here.
Other day trip options include:
Athens is a great city, and while I’ll be quick to admit that for me, the highlight of my Greek itinerary were the islands, I absolutely think Athens is a must. Besides, when you can see and do so much with only 1 day in Athens, why wouldn’t you take a little time to explore it?
A Note on Travel Insurance in Greece
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine multiple times. While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance as they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found, plus, they are who I use and I have had great experiences with them. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.