How many days in Athens for first-time visitors?

How many days in Athens for first-time visitors?

How many days in Athens should you spend the first time you visit Athens? Around 3-4 days is the perfect amount for first-timers and this detailed guide covers all the essential Athens sites.

Here’s how to see the major sights in central Athens, the most important ancient sites, and the must-see museums.

Find where to stay to most easily visit the major sites on your Athens itinerary, and practical information about how to get around Athens and not spend your time queuing for tickets.

If you have more time to spend, there are dozens of exciting day trip options to take from Athens and we’ll cover these as well.

Is Athens Worth Visiting?

🎭 Athens is one of the most vibrant capitals in Europe and is worth spending at least three days visiting this unique city.

🎭 Athens is ancient and ultra-modern at the same time, packed with historical sites, world-class museums, good nightlife, great street food and street art, and a second-to-none urban lifestyle.

🎭 Athens is quintessential Greece too – home to some of the most impressive world heritage sites incorporated into the daily lives of Athenians, a global Mediterranean and Aegean Sea port, and a fantastic city to live in and visit.

🎭 Everywhere you go in Athens, there is a Greece from different epochs – ancient, medieval, and modern times intertwined with a contemporary city which means you’ll never get tired of exploring Greece’s capital city.

Practical Information about Visiting Athens

  • With more than 3 million people, Athens is a sprawling city and requires good planning to see its best charms.
  • I would suggest staying in well-positioned neighborhoods and starting off your sightseeing with Athens’ crown jewels – the Acropolis and its surroundings.
  • After that, depending on the time you have, expand your visits to essential museums like the Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum, the downtown central areas of the cities, and then to the different hip districts, locals’ favorite bars and restaurants, and art galleries to feel the beat of the real city.
  • Athens is a year-round destination, but best visited outside the months of July and August when it’s too hot and crowded. (See all about the weather in Greece in May).
  • Although many of Athens’ important monuments are within walking distance from each other, it is good to know that the city offers safe and great public transport links.
  • Several metro lines are complemented by buses and trams and all work with a single-type ticket. I suggest you stock up on 90-minute single-fare tickets (€1.20) to be ready to hop on/off as you wander around the city.
  • The alternative is to buy a pass for the “Hop On, Hop Off” tourist buses. The best one of these (almost 2000 great reviews and very inexpensive) is the Athens, Piraeus, and Coastline: Blue Hop-On Hop-Off Bus ticket which is valid for 2 days.
  • Taxis and Ubers are also relatively inexpensive for short rides.
  • Learn how to say “thank you” in Greek
  • Learn how, when, and how much to tip in Greece as well as the legal drinking age in Greece and the drink-driving limits.

 

What is the best length of stay in Athens?

I would go for 4 days, which leaves you with 3 days to explore the city as well as a day trip to some of the beautiful Greek Islands or mainland Greece’s historic sites.

What is the minimum stay in Athens?

It all depends on what you want to see in Athens, but for me, 2 days is a minimum for a comfortable stay and sightseeing. In 2 days you can see the main ancient sites, sample lots of great food, and wander around downtown.

The more days you have, the better.

Is it worth spending only one day in Athens?

It is, if you are visiting Greece via Athens, but can’t spend more time seeing the Athens attractions.

The first time I visited Athens it was an accidental 5-hour stopover and I spent it at the Acropolis – it’s the most incredible stopover I’ve ever had!

I would avoid traveling specifically to Athens only to spend a day here, but I’ve also spent a lovely day at the Acropolis Museum, the National Archaeological Museum, and the Museum of Cycladic Art.

Where to Stay in Athens to most easily see the major sites?

Athens’ famous landmarks are in the city center – in or close to Plaka, Monastiraki, Psyri, and Koukaki areas.

Photo looking down at a narrow street in the Plaka district, Athens, Greece
Plaka district, Athens, Greece

Staying in Plaka is magical as you will walk out from your accommodation to marble-paved narrow streets full of century-old houses, a city center vibe and pedestrian lifestyle, views of the Acropolis, and plenty of museums, tavernas, shops, and bars to choose from.

Photo of the suburb of Psyri with a close up of the exterior of its famous "House with the Caryatids", Athens, Greece
Psyri with its famous “House with the Caryatids”, Athens, Greece

Staying centrally will help you visit the main attractions without spending a few hours daily in moving around.

Even better, the ancient Athens area of the city center is serviced by several metro stations (Acropolis, Monastiraki, and Syngrou–Fix) that are within easy walking distance for the moments you want to venture out to other main historical sites.

The best luxury hotel in Athens is definitely The Grande Bretagne, a grand old hotel of the highest standing among the Athens’ elite. If it’s too pricey, check out these other Athens hotels with fantastic views of the Acropolis.

Must-see places in Athens, Greece during a 4-day trip

Here’s my essential list of ancient sites, museums, and major attractions.

1. Acropolis area and Museum

This is the core of Athens’ ancient city complex and one of the world’s most visited ancient landmarks. It consists of the ancient citadel on the Sacred Rock, as the Greeks call the hill on which the Acropolis complex is built.

Photo of the Erechtheion monument on the Acropolis of Athens, Greece
Erechtheion on the Acropolis of Athens, Greece

Besides the Parthenon, the main temple devoted to the goddess Athena, you will see The Erechtheion (with the iconic caryatide) and the Propylaia (monumental ceremonial gateway to the Acropolis).

At the base of the hill, you will see the ancient Odeon of Herodes Atticus, where events are still held regularly, so check out the program.

You might be lucky and attend a live classical theatre performance while visiting Athens. Next door is the Theater of Dionysos, another part of the ancient Acropolis complex.

The major section of this part of town is the famous pedestrian Dionyssiou Areopagitou Street, one of the most sought-after addresses in Greece with stunning townhouses overlooking the Acropolis, street vendors, and a cheerful Athenian atmosphere.

Photo of tourists descending the steps from the Acropolis on lively Dionyssiou Areopagitou street, Athens, Greece
Lively Dionyssiou Areopagitou Street, Athens, Greece

Finally, the Acropolis Museum is located at 15 Dionyssiou Areopagitou. It is a world-class museum of the city’s most famous landmark and a must-visit even if you are just passing through Athens.

Caryatids-from-the-Erechtheion-Acropolis-Museum
5 of the original Caryatids from the Erechtheion on the Acropolis of Athens, Acropolis Museum, Greece

2. The National Archaeological Museum 

The National Archaeological Museum is Greece’s biggest museum and a must for all history lovers.

The funeral mask of Agamemnon from ancient Mycenae, National Archaeological Museum, Athens
The funeral mask of Agamemnon from ancient Mycenae, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Built during the 19th century in neoclassical style, it houses the world’s most important antiquities of Greece’s ancient history.

These include the fabulous Mask of Agamemnon, discovered in ancient Mycenae, but there are so many other incredible things to see, I can’t even start on a list of them all!

3. The Parliament Building and Surrounds 

The Parliament Building is the former Royal Palace.

This wonderful palace is in the heart of downtown Athens and is where the ancient city and historical quarters meet contemporary Athens.

Photo of the Changing of the Guards in front of Parliament, Evzones at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Syntagama Square, Athens, Greece
Changing of the Guards in front of Parliaments, Evzone at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Syntagama Square, Athens, Greece

It is a destination in itself, with a Tomb of Unknown Soldier just under it, and also a place where the famous changing of the guards is performed.

Next to it are the former royal gardens, nowadays National Garden, a proper Oasis of Eden in downtown Athens.

4. Monastiraki

The central suburb of Monstiraki is the old commercial part of Athens, an area full of artisan ateliers, craftsmen’s shops, flea markets, and wonderful views of the Acropolis.

There are some lovely hotels here with amazing views of the Acropolis.

Monastiraki Square, Athens
Monastiraki Square, Athens

Syntagma Square leads down from the Parliament Building to the Monastiraki area.

5. Ancient Agora of Athens (and Stoa of Attalus)

There are two Agoras in Athens, one Greek, and one Roman. The most ancient Agora of Athens is the Greek Agora.

The Agora of Athens, Greece
Agora of Athens, Greece

Set in the foothills northwest of the Acropolis, this Agora archaeological site is the best-preserved example of an Ancient Greek Agora – a place of commercial, political, and social gatherings and most likely the very spot where democracy came to life for the first time.

The-Stoa-of-Attalus-Athens-Greece
Stoa of Attalos, Ancient Athens, Greece

Its museum (Museum of the Ancient Agora), located in the Stoa of Attalos, showcases artifacts of everyday life from Ancient Greece. Read a detailed guide to all of Athens’ must-see archaeological sites here.

6. Panathenaic Stadium 

The Panathenaic Stadium is also known as Kallimarmaro which means, “the beautiful marble. “

It is an ancient athletic stadium and the only stadium in the world built out entirely of marble. It hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.

Read a detailed guide to all of Athens’ must-see archaeological sites here.

7. Benaki Museum

The Benaki Museum is a privately established museum dedicated to Greek civilization from ancient times to contemporary days.

Benaki Museum, Kolonaki, Athens, Greece

Located in one of the city’s most stylish townhouses in the elegant Kolonaki area, it is a must for every visitor.

If not for the collections, then for the rooftop bar and restaurant. (I have to admit – I come for the rooftop bar!)

8. Museum of Cycladic Art 

The Museum of Cycladic Art hosts 5000-year-old artifacts from the Greek Islands, showcasing the cultures of ancient Greece and Cyprus.

Photo of the National Archaeological Museums' Boxing Boys Fresco from Ancient Akrotiri, Santorini
Boxing boys fresco from Ancient Akrotiri, Santorini, 1550 BC

I don’t like visiting hundreds of museums in a few days – they give me sensory overload – but I love the whole vibe and aesthetic of the Cyclades, so this museum is a must for me.

Some of the best frescoes from one of my favorite ancient Greek sites, Akrotiri on Santorini, are here.

Get your skip-the-line express entrance ticket here

9. The Temple of Hephaestus 

The spectacular Temple of Hephaestus is a Doric-style structure and the best-preserved ancient temple in the world.

10. The Temple of Olympian Zeus

The Temple of Olympian Zeus is the ancient ruins of the once magnificent structure celebrating the Greek ancient god Zeus. From the original 100+ 15-meter columns, only a handful remains today.

11. Mount Lycabettus

Mount Lycabettus is a sugar pile-like hill in the center of Athens and a place to take a cable car to reach the famous chapel of wonder-performing Agios Georgios and a top-hill café and restaurant.

Athens cityscape with Mount Lycabettus, Athens, Greece
Athens cityscape with Mount Lycabettus, Athens, Greece

Amazing cityscapes and Aegean Sea views for when you’re over Greece’s ancient sites, museums, and galleries.

12. Church of Panagia Kapnikarea

The Church of Panagia Kapnikarea seems to be on the way of the people strolling the shopping street of Ermou, but it is actually one of the oldest churches in Athens (11th century) and a most important part of the city’s Byzantine heritage.

Bonus Site: The Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art

This newest addition to Athens’ museum scene (opened in 2019), displays the world-famous art collection of Basil & Elise Goulandris. The museum offers the finest global assemblage of international and Greek painters and sculptors.

4-days in Athens Greece itinerary

How to organize your time in Athens to see all of these wonders, along with great food and drink suggestions and locals’ tips?

No matter how many days in Athens you are able to spare, follow this day-by-day itinerary to cover them all plus more.

Swap the days around if it suits you, but I would always see the Acropolis and surrounding area first.

Day 1 – Acropolis Area and National Gardens

(this day is all on foot, so wear comfortable shoes)

Start your exploration with a Greek morning staple in your hand – a cappuccino or espresso freddo – and head to the Acropolis area for the best part of the city’s ancient sites.

Acropolis tickets – get yourself a skip-the-line ticket beforehand to save precious time (especially worthy during the hot summer days) and visit the Parthenon and the sites first, before the sun gets too high.

The panoramic vistas are just amazing and on a clear day, you will see Athens rolling out to the seaside.

Photo of the Acropolis view from the Philopappos Hill, Athens, Greece
Acropolis view from Philopappos Hill, Athens, Greece

TIP: The best place to photograph the Acropolis is from the adjoining Philopappos Hill, just a short stroll from the Acropolis through a lightly forested area.

Once in and around the Acropolis, do not miss the Odeon and the small Athena Nike temple, a masterpiece by the ancient architect Kallikrates.

Photo of the view from the Acropolis over Athens city with the Acropolis museum in the foreground, Greece
View from the Acropolis over Athens city with the Acropolis museum in the foreground, Greece

From there, either make a lunch break in the trendy Koukaki district below the Acropolis.

Veikou Street is dotted with great eateries, but if you prefer a snack, grab one of the best toasted sandwiches in Athens – Guarantee at Veikou 41, or continue straight to the Acropolis museum.

Photo of brightly colored popular eateries around Veikou Street in Koukaki district, Athens, Greece
Popular eateries around Veikou Street in Koukaki district, Athens, Greece

In the Acropolis museum, marvel at the different rooms where the artifacts found around the Acropolis from the Greek Bronze Age to the Byzantine period.

But most of all, you’ll be delighted at the marble replicas from the Parthenon Frieze, (while we all await for the originals to be returned from The British Museum!)

Photo of the Pathway between the trees around the National Gardens towards Zappeion Hall, Athens
Pathway around the National Gardens towards Zappeion Hall, Athens

Take a coffee break if you’re still not sufficiently caffeinated (and satisfy your sweet tooth at Vanilia Bistro (at Veikou 40).

Now it is time to visit the National Garden and the ancient site of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, along with the Zappeion Hall and the Panathenaic Stadium across the street.

The National Gardens are 24 acres of downtown Eden. Stroll around its gazebos and cottages and discover hidden fountains surrounded by lush vegetation and the people of Athens enjoying themselves.  

Photo of the terrace and plantings of tall palm trees at the entrance to the National Garden, Athens, Greece
Entrance to the National Gardens, Athens, Greece

If staying in Plaka, take a Lysicrates Street back and check out the ancient Arch of Hadrian on one side of the street and the ancient Lysicrates Monument and its lively square on the other side.

Photo of the Lysicrates Monument, Athens, Greece
The Lysicrates Monument, Athens, Greece

Next climb to the Anafiotika part of Plaka, a hillside neighborhood resembling in architecture and layout a Cyclades island.

Photo of a narrow and hilly street of Anafiotika suburb with the Acropolis of Athens above, Athens, Greece
Street of Anafiotika with the Acropolis of Athens above, Athens, Greece

Finish the day by going to Nolan (Greek-Asian fusion by Greek-Japanese chef Sotiris Kontizas) or Byzantino Taverna (typical Greek food).

Day 2 – Syntagma Square, Ermou Street, Monastiraki, Psiri, and the National Archaeological

(another day on foot, no transportation needed)

Start your day with fresh juice from Salt or Sugar (Chairefontos 10) before heading to Syntagma Square for the changing of the guards’ ceremony.

The Evzones, a special unit of the Hellenic army, guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in perfect stillness, only to change every hour, on the hour. The special livery (even more pompous than the usual one) ceremony is every Sunday at 11 am.

TIP: Continue to the nearby historic 11 flower shops, flanking the Parliament building since 1932, to watch the guards marching to their spot with spring flowers in the background.

Head down along Syntagma Square to reach Ermou Street, the main shopping street of Athens, for a taste of the real living and breathing city.

As the street is downhill, just follow it till you reach the Kapnikarea church.   

Exploring Athens means losing yourself in the Monastiraki and Psyri area, making sure to check out those tiny shops and ateliers, go through the wonders of Athens’ antique shops, and sample lots of street food (and deli shops like Karamanlidika tou Fani).

You’ll pass (especially in Psyri), unique Athens street artists, and you can learn more about Athens Street Artist locations here, and the best Athens Street artists here.

Photo of the long, covered portico of the Ancient Agora Museum in the Stoa of Attalos, Athens, Greece
Ancient Agora Museum on the Stoa of Attalos, Athens, Greece

Continue your day around the Hadrian’s Library, Ancient Agora, and the Roman Agora (with my favorite The Tower of the Winds all-marble ancient meteoroidal tower) before going to the Athens Central Market (Varvakios market) for another dose of the real living city of Athens.

Photo of the Tower of the Winds with the Acropolis of Athens above, Athens, Greece
Tower of the Winds, Athens, Greece

TIP: Don’t miss the famous Diporto tavern, set in the basement of an uninhabited building since 1887, not changing much. No more than two or three dishes, washed down by the white wine from the wall-leaning barrels for the perfect, yet unlikely, gastronomic experience.

Photo of the entrance to the unique Diporto tavern, Athens, Greece with its tables, chair, and white and green paint scheme
Entrance to the unique Diporto tavern, Athens, Greece

Leave your afternoon free to stroll through the amazing National Archaeological Museum, where some of the most famous ancient artifacts are, including the Mask of Agamemnon.

Get an express, skip-the-line entrance ticket to the National Archaeological Museum

Day 3 – Goulandris Museum, Museum of Cycladic Art, Benaki Museum, Pangrati, and Kolonaki areas

Feast on bougatsa and Greek coffee for breakfast (best done at Bougatsadiko Psirri, Pl. Iroon 1 where you can also watch the master bakers make this sweet custard filo-based pastry) before getting to Goulandris Museum (take the trolleybus no. 2 or 4 or 11 and get off at the station Ag. Spyridon) for a visit.

A photo taken of Athens at night - a Crowd  drinking and talking around the Hotel Chelsea bar, Athens, Greece
Athens at night – Crowd around the Hotel Chelsea bar, Athens, Greece

Since Goulandris is in the Pangrati area, Athens’ trendiest neighborhood, go for a stroll and visit the famous Hotel Chelsea café bar, lively Varnava Square and check out the house of Greece’s Nobel Prize poet Giorgos Seferis in Agras Street.

From there, if you feel like walking through the lush forest of the Ardittos Hill above the Kallimarmaro stadium, just hit Archimidous Street and continue up passing pine, eucalyptus, and cypress trees until you reach the top where the high court of ancient Greece was located.

If you visit on Friday, you will find a farmer’s market along Archimidous Street. The best of Athens’s Michelin-star restaurants is in Pangrati too – the Spondi (Pirronos 5 Str.)

Photo of a gorgeous peach and green mansion int he Pangrati area of Athens, Greece
Gorgeous mansions in the Pangrati area of Athens, Greece

Take the Irodou Attikou Street back. Irodou Attikou is a stately street where the presidential mansions are on one side and the National Garden on the other, making it a perfect setting for a posh promenade.

Then decide to visit either the Museum of Cycladic Art or Benaki Museum for ancient Greek art and more.

Relax during the afternoon around the classic Athenian neighborhood of Kolonaki, where the high-end shopping, designer boutiques, and fancy restaurants are.

Photo of a Streetscape in Athen's elegant Kolonaki district, Greece
Athen’s elegant Kolonaki district, Greece

End your evening with gourmet street snacks at Dexameni, before treating yourself to a night out in an adjoining open-air cinema (Dexameni Outdoor Cinema), an absolute favorite summer pastime of Athenians.     

Photo of te outside Locals' fav Dexameni kafenio, Athens, Greece
Locals’ fav Dexameni kafenio, Athens, Greece

Day 4 – Day Trips from Athens

Athens attractions are many, but you can also make the best out of your last day in Athens and do an excursion to some of Greece’s best sites that are just a few hours away.

Lion Gates in ancient Mycenae, Peloponnese, Greece
Lion Gates in Ancient Mycenae, Peloponnese, Greece

Athens is a transport hub, so you can choose between a suburban rail system that goes all the way to the Peloponnese (great for visiting archaeological sites of Mycenae and Corinth) or even Meteora!

Or, you can take a ferry from the Piraeus port of Athens (now connected by metro to the Athens airport) and visit some of the nearby islands, like Hydra.  

City trams can take you to Vouliagmeni Lake or Glyfada and Voula beach areas. Or book a ride to Cape Sounion for the most amazing sunsets to top off your Athens visit.

Day Trip Suggestions from Athens

Argo-Saronic Islands

These islands close to Athens include Hydra, Aegina, and Poros.

🛥️ Best Day Trip to the Argo-Saronic Islands from Athens: FROM ATHENS: HYDRA, POROS, AND AEGINA DAY CRUISE WITH LUNCH

Photo from the top of Hydra Town looking over the town and the Sea, Hydra Island, Greece - close to the mainland and without cars - a perfect day trip from Athens
Hydra Island, Greece – close to the mainland and without cars – a perfect day trip from Athens

Central and Northern Greece

Delphi (together with the Treasury of the Athenians, Temple of Apollo, the Sacred Way, Stadium, Theater, and the Museum) or Meteora with the sky-high monasteries (the Monastery of the Holy Trinity was featured in the For Your Eyes Only James Bond movie).

🏛️ Best Delphi Day Trip from Athens: FROM ATHENS: DAY TRIP TO DELPHI AND ARACHOVA

🚞 Best Meteora Day Trip from Athens: FROM ATHENS: FULL-DAY RAIL TOUR TO METEORA W/ HERMIT CAVES

Ruins of Apollo temple in Delphi, Greece
Ruins of Apollo temple in Delphi, Greece

Peloponnese

Ancient Olympia, Ancient Mycenae, and Ancient Corinth are also incredible day trips from Athens close by in the Peloponnese region. If you have time for only one, I would visit Ancient Mycenae.

Temple of Apollo at Corinth, Greece
Ruins of the Temple of Apollo in Ancient Corinth, Greece

🏛️ Best Ancient Olympia Day Trip from Athens: ANCIENT OLYMPIA FULL-DAY PRIVATE TOUR FROM ATHENS

🏛️ Best Ancient Mycenae Day Trip from Athens: FROM ATHENS: MYCENAE AND EPIDAURUS FULL-DAY TOUR

🏛️ Best Ancient Corinth Day Trip from Athens: CORINTH HALF-DAY SMALL GROUP TOUR FROM ATHENS

Atticus (around Athens)

Athens Riviera including Vouliagmeni Beach and the Cape Sunion.

Photo of the sunset over the sea with the Temple of Poseidon in the foreground, Sounion, Greece
Sunset at the Temple of Poseidon, Sounion, Greece

My favorite southern Attica day trip is most definitely the completely awesome Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion overlooking the Aegean Sea – the sunset tours are incredible.

🏛️ Best Temple of Poseidon and Cape Sounion day trip from Athens: ATHENS: CAPE SOUNIO & POSEIDON TEMPLE TRIP WITH AUDIO GUIDE