My travel wishlist is LONG…but at the top has always been Greece. With their ancient culture/sites and the clear blue beaches, who doesn’t dream of traveling to Greece? In a perfect world I would’ve taken a few weeks to travel to all the major spots: Athens, Thessaloniki, Sparta, Corfu, Santorini…done it all. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that kind of time off; so I had to pick one place….and I chose Athens–heart of it all! And today I’m sharing my Athens Travel Guide with you…start planning for next summer…
When travel I plan my trip using the city’s Trip Advisor Guide to make sure I hit all the major sites, which for Athens was A LOT. So today with my Athens Travel Guide I’m narrowing down the TOP must-see sites, sharing GREAT tips for Athens, as well as outlining the perfect itinerary for a 3-day stay (leaving you plenty of time to hit another major spot in Greece).
Athens Travel Guide
– Ancient Ruins –
I’m a firm believer that every trip/vacation you take should be enriching. So even though it’s tempting to sit on a beach all day when visiting Greece, make an effort to see some ancient historical sites. Soak up a little culture!
First on the list, the famous Acropolis, a spot full of historic sites from Ancient Greece. At the top of the hill you will find the Parthenon, Temple of Athena, Erechtheion, and Propylaea. Don’t just admire the ruins; stop and read the information placards–you can learn a little about the foundation myth of Athena and Athens. If you enter from the North Ticket Gate don’t forget to visit the sites on the south side of the hill, including: Odeon of Herodes Atticus, as well as the Theater of Dionysus…along with various remains from other buildings.
While admiring all the ancient ruins, don’t forget to take in the view!
Once you’re done inside the actual Acropolis (gated area) don’t forget the various nearby sites. On the North side of the hill you can follow the trail to Aeropagus–a giant rock on the side of the hill, another place situated within the tales of Greek mythology. Then on the South side of the hill you can follow the path all the way to the main street. There you can go see the Olympieion, Temple of Zeus, and Hadrian’s Arch.
- Go EARLY – The earlier the better. Lines start getting long and the weather starts getting HOT. You don’t want to spend half your day in line or the sweltering heat!
- This all seems like A LOT for one morning, but really it gets done fast, and then that whole area is out of the way; so you’re not circling back to the same spots.
- Visit the Acropolis Museum the same day you see the Acropolis. The museum fills in a lot of the gaps missing from the ruins (and can help you see what it once was). It also has a lot of information regarding the Parthenon. It’s a great way to connect the dots (before or after) you visit the Acropolis.
Next on the list is the Ancient Agora. The political, cultural, and economic center of this ancient city! While most of this area is completely ruined, it’s interesting to read as many of the information plaques as possible to get an understanding of ancient times. The Temple of Hephaestus in this area is one of the few structures almost completely preserved–a great site to see! While not as old as the surrounding structures, you can also visit the Church of the Holy Apostles, an awesome structure from the middle Byzantine era.
Inside the agora they have reconstructed the Stoa of Attalos to create the Agora Museum. It’s an awesome chance to be able to view an example of the buildings that once were, and inside it houses some cool remnants from this city center.
- Go early – again it gets HOT. Also the park will close if temperatures rise too high. You don’t want to miss out!
- It may seem repetitive, boring – and yes rubble on the ground is. But read the plaques, try to imagine the way it once was and the amazing city that once lived there!
The Roman Agora is another great site to wander through ancient ruins. While it’s not as large as the Ancient Agora, there are some great remains within this area. Here you can view two almost completely preserved structures: the Tower of the Winds and the Gate of Athena, and right around the corner you’ll find Hadrian’s Library.
- Both these sites: Roman Agora & Hadrian’s Library close earlier than most other spots – keep that in mind when planning your trip.
- They are smaller sites, and in n my opinion they could be skipped if necessary
- OR plan on seeing them through the gate (what I did) and not actually visiting. You can easily fit them in while wandering Monistiraki one afternoon.
There is no shortage of hills to wander up in Athens (including the Acropolis). BUT one that’s a definite MUST is Philopappos Hill. It is a great place for a morning walk. Start up the path, and your first sight is the Prison of Socrates. Take the path to left all the way to the top of the hill, and you’ll find the Philopappos Monument, not to mention AMAZING views of the city. Head back to the main path and follow it to the right to Pnyx, an important site for the creation of democracy.
- This is a great idea for an early morning because the hill is always open!
- Start your walk from the old city, Plaka. This area is beautiful and finding your way to the hill is a great chance to wander through this area. And on your way back stop in one of the cute cafes for breakfast!
- If you start your walk from Plaka (to Philopappos Hill) you’ll also walk the trail along the north side of the Acropolis hill. From there you can see the Ancient Agora and visit Aeropagus.
– Museums –
Athens is a HUGE city. This means there are a TON of museums. Whatever your interest, you will probably be able to find a museum to fulfill your desires. In fact, I suggest visiting one museum a day to be sure you are enriching your life while on vacation! Below are the 3 museums I visited on my trip and my recommendation for each…
A definite MUST when in Athens. Make sure to visit the Acropolis Museum in conjunction with visiting the Acropolis (either before or after). If you go before, it’s a great explanation for what you are going to see while touring the Acropolis. It gives great history of the Parthenon, as well as an AMAZING visual representation of the friezes. The artifacts and models within the museum also help one to visual what all the structures atop this hill once were and looked like (and helps you to keep them straight). However, going before may ruin some of the magic of the Acropolis. Going after makes more sense to fill in the holes you have and explain what you’ve just seen.
- There’s no lines and an empty museum if you go right when it opens, since everyone is visiting the Acropolis.
- Going to the Acropolis in the morning is better (for heat/crowd purposes), which means visiting the museum after. So their might be a line and little bit of a crowd, but it’s worth it!
National Archaeological Museum
The National Archaeological Museum is ranked as one of the must-see destinations in Athens. BUT I was not impressed. It was a nice way to spend an afternoon escaping the heat but definitely not a MUST. Most of the artifacts are severely destroyed, with little to no explanation of what you’re a viewing (probably because they can’t know with what’s left). That being said there are a few great statues and exhibits. Worth doing if you have the time, but something you can skip.
- In the summer this museum is open late (until 8 pm). I suggest going there at night after you’ve exhausted the day. Or as a short afternoon adventure to keep cool when temps rise too high.
- The museum probably takes about 2 hours to complete at a slow pace if you read about some of the items that pique your interest.
Byzantine & Christian Museum
The Byzantine & Christian Museum was AWESOME! It had some great pieces of art, along with interesting historical stories. Exploring religion while on vacation is an interest of Caleb’s and something we always do. Athens was a great place for this! If you’re into religion or Byzantine art this museum is GREAT – definitely worth a visit.
- This museum is another site that closes early, I think before 3 pm. Keep that in mind when planning a visit.
– Beach –
You can’t visit Greece without at least one trip to the beach…and why would you want to? In fact, I suggest hitting the beach each afternoon when the weather gets too hot to handle. It’s a great way to relax from a day exploring and have some fun in the sun. These beaches are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen with their crystal clear blue water! For our beach day we hit up Astir Beach, & it was AMAZING!
- A lot of the beaches are private and cost money, but it’s worth it to have your own umbrella (shade) and lounge chairs!
- The further south you go, the harder transportation is. There’s always buses though (but long).
- The Hop-On Hop-Off Bus has a beach route (but this option is expensive and only every hour). It may be worth it to try a cab: your own schedule & faster
- If you’re not a fan of the ocean try Lake Vouliagmeni – PLUS some of the prettiest beach views across the street!
– Shopping –
Shopping is never a MUST when on vacation, but definitely something we like to indulge in (am I right?). Athens is a major city, and thus has some major shopping (malls). BUT don’t forget to check out the tourist areas to get those souvenirs! Wander through the streets of Plaka while you’re shopping for the best magnet. You can take in some old city charm, stop for some drinks, and even catch a few cute boutiques worth stopping in! Or take a walk trough Monistiraki, another huge tourist shopping area. If you head east from the square, you’ll find great vintage/flea market style stores with more affordable hidden treasures!
– Ideal Itinerary –
I tried to separate my adventure by type during my 3-day trip. Meaning day 1 = ruins, day 2 = beach, day 3 = museums. This made for some boring afternoons though, I would get tired with the ruins, too HOT on the beach, and bored wandering museums. The best trip would be spent with a little of each on every day – not to mention you’ll get more than 1 day of beach (which left me wanting MORE). The perfect 3-day itinerary would pair some ruins in the morning (early to beat the heat), spending the hot afternoon swimming, and then the early evening in a museum, with nights open to enjoy drinks & fun!
1st Day: Acropolis + Museum + Beach
2nd Day: Philopappos Hike + Beach + Museum
3rd Day: Agoras + Beach + Shopping
Of course, there is WAY more to do in Athens. And you should plan a trip around your interests. I saw many more sites than mentioned above (I would happen upon them while walking). Wandering around the city is a great way to see a lot that may not be mentioned in tour guides! And is a great way to fill your time…
Athens is rich with religious culture, especially Byzantine-style churches (which are always awesome). With Caleb’s interest in mind we visited any churches we passed in our wanderings! Find more on churches in Athens here.
Top on trip advisor’s list is Syntagma Square, home to the Greek Parliament and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Stop here to admire the large building, check out the changing of the guard (every hour), or head east to mainstream shopping. Notice the pleats in the guard’s traditional uniform: there’s 40, ironed in by hand every morning!
If you’re interested in the history of the Olympics, check out the Panathenaic Stadium. The stadium, built entirely out of marble, was home to the first modern olympics in 1896! It looks mostly like a normal stadium, but the seats of marble are quite interesting! (unfortunately I don’t have any photos, there was a concert setup in the middle while we were visiting – unattractive pics)
If you’re the type of person who enjoys the breathtaking views overlooking the city, try Mount Lycabettus. You can take a leisurely hike up the mountain and take in Athens. Or ride the funicular railway all the way up the mountain. At the top take in the views at dinner, check out the open air theater, or visit the Chapel of St. George.
– General Tips –
- As with most major tourist cities, Athens has a tourist information center. It is located near the South Entrance (ticket office) to the Acropolis. GO TO IT! They have a TON of information and a great one page sheet detailing the various sites, cost of entrance, and hours – a BIG HELP!
- You can pay separate entrance fees (tickets) to each attraction. BUT if you plan on doing A LOT or even multiple, get a “joint ticket” (not sure what it’s called). It’s a ticket allowing entry to multiple sites and is WORTH IT. Example: its 20 euros for entrance to the Acropolis, but the joint “site” ticket is 30 euros and includes: Acropolis, Roman Agora, Ancient Agora, Hadrian’s Library, Olympion etc.
- This “joint” ticket also exists for museums. I think it’s 15 euros, and it includes the National Archaeological Museum, Byzantine & Christian Museum, and a few others. It excludes the Acropolis Museum, BUT that entrance is only 5 euros.
- BRING YOUR STUDENT ID – if you have one – major discounts for students!
- Hop-On Hop-Off Tours. Anyone who regularly reads my travel posts knows I am a HUGE fan of these tours (usually). They’re a great way to see the city, not too bad in price, and give loads of historical information! However, I don’t recommend this tour for Athens. Most of the sites are situated close together and are walkable. And for anything a little further out, the metro is easy & cheap. BUT the beach line was pretty great! Not only did it take you an hour down the coast (stopping at various beaches), but it passes the old olympic village and has loads of information about this area.
- For stay, I recommend an Airbnb located in the old city (central). It’s cheap (if booked in advance), and puts you right in the center of it all. You can easily walk to most destinations, are close to metro lines, and have awesome options for restaurants all around!
My trip to Athens was AMAZING, the perfect end to a year of travel! I hope this Athens Travel Guide will help to make your trip even better!!! What do you think of my Athens Travel Guide? Let me know in the comments!