72 Hours in Athens
Welcome to our 3 days in Athens itinerary! 72 hours is perfect to make the most of this city. Planning a trip is fun but time consuming, however with this Athens Travel Guide you won't have to spend much time thinking about what to see in Athens. Just follow our suggestions and we are sure you'll have an amazing time. Enjoy!
Athens is more than just the golden hues of its scattered ancient sites, but a gritty and creative city worthy of deeper exploration. It’s both emblematic and evolving; a living museum and a lively metropolis, and far more worthy of the few hours it is given as people pass by on the way to the infamous Greek islands.
Here, you can walk through thousands of years of history, indulge in generations old traditional cuisine, and find yourself lost within all manner of artistic ventures, including street art, boutique wears, and an all-hours, year-round social scene.
Day 1 – The Ancient, Historic Centre
No trip to Athens is complete without joining those who pilgrimage here to see the classical highlights that symbolise the cradle of civilization.
Start at the Acropolis rock, the citadel on the hill symbol of Athens and retrace history to 447 BC as you marvel at the very heart of the ancient city – the Parthenon temple, dedicated to the goddess Athena. Look down and imagine the Greek stage alive with performances of tragedy at the Odeon of Hercules and the Theatre of Dionysos before exploring them at foot level. When you exit back onto the pedestrian walkway, look out for a rocky mound inviting you to climb its uneven steps (there is a modern stairway for easier access). This is Areopagus Hill and in the daytime provides another incredible photogenic view of the Acropolis and the wider metropolis. At night, locals come up here to hang out with friends, lovers come to find a secluded corner, and the air is filled with the hum of music and the toast of a good drink.
Head down to the Grand Promenade pedestrian street – said to be the longest in Europe and one of the best examples of the city’s neoclassical architecture – that spans the streets of Dionysiou Aeropagitou and Apostolou Pavlou. Filled with street performers and flea markets stalls, and lined with cafes, it’s an atmospheric stroll filled with the creativity of local daily life.
In the direction of the Thissio metro station, this walkway will lead you pass the Acropolis museum, whose modern design reflects the image of the ancient site in its glass exterior, to blend them as one. Inside, Greece’s most magnificent antiquities from the Hellenistic to the Roman periods are bathed in bright, natural light and displayed with glorious precision. Head to the top floor’s glass atrium and stand face-to-face with the mighty Parthenon.
For another Acropolis view (it never gets boring), visit one of the city’s much-loved high points- Filopappou Hill. It’s grassy paths, man-made walkways and monuments (such as the Prison of Socrates) scattered throughout the woodland make it feel like quite the adventure.
Back onto the pedestrian street you will eventually pass the Ancient Agora (where democracy was born) and later, the Roman Emperor Hadrian’s Library and the Roman Agora, which are best accessed from Adrianou street right near the metro station. The necropolis of Keramikos also sits just behind the metro.
This street brings you full-circle to the oldest neighbourhood of Athens called Plaka, a scattering of old houses in ottoman and neoclassical styles, with pretty balconies and elegant details. Lose yourself in the narrow streets before tackling the shopping paradise of Adrianou Street, with everything from traditional sandal makers to boutique Greek designer stores. Forget Me Not is great for high quality and creative memorabilia and souvenirs and Brettos Wine Bar is an institution here for those having worked up the need for a refreshing drink or an afternoon of wine or ouzo tasting. This rainbow-bottle filled bar was founded over 100 years ago – a colourful hideaway in this old part of town.
The real secret spot here is the ‘village in the city’ area called Anafiotica, built by masons from the island of Anafi who came over to Athens as construction workers back in the 1800’s. There’s one entrance up on Stratonos street marked by a small white memorial stone. Follow the stairs up and enter the blue and white streets of island life for one of the best panoramic views of the city.
Day 2 – The Modern City
Start your exploration at Syntagma Square and take in the modern-day city. Get to the Parliament building on the hour to see the infamous Changing of the Guard. These young men on national service are specifically chosen for this high-profile duty at the Monument of the ‘Unknown Soldier’.
Behind the parliament buildings are the National Gardens, the only large green oasis of the city, with all manner of winding walkways to follow. Visit the beautiful architectural structure of the Zappelo Palace and the adjacent gardens.
If you exit the National Gardens on IrodouAttikou, you will pass Maximos Mansion (the Prime Minster’s official residence) and the Presidential Palace (former Royal Palace) as you stroll towards the Panathenaic Stadium (off the main road of Leof Vasileos Konstantinou). This is the venue of the very first Olympic Games in 1896. From here you can also view the columns of the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch, whose entrance is just a few minutes walk from here.
Work your way back to Syntagma Square and take in the bustle of the city’s main shopping avenue, Ermou, which leads all the way down to Monastiraki Square. On the way, stop at Agias Irinis Square and take your pick from one of the many cafes and restaurants for lunch or a coffee. Tailor Made, for a sandwich and coffee, is a local favourite. Those with a sweet tooth and with a penchant for traditional Greek sweet treats should head to the Loukamades (doughnut) store on Aiolou street, this short promenade is another bustling stroll of al fresco life and a popular hangout.
The crowds may pout into Monastiraki Square but it’s for good reason. Restaurants including the generations old Thanassis (known for its Souvlaki) line the side-streets, performers flock here daily and the square itself showcases the full history of Athens, from the Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and the modern-day. See if you can spot all the structures from these periods before heading to the well-signposted Monastiraki Flea Market for souvenir shopping.
Monastiraki is the ideal starting point for a wander through the Psirri neighbourhood, which you can access via Athinas Street, which has a distinctive cultural vibe of the east. Here you can wander the Central Market (Fishmonger’s Market) and feel the intense rush of preparation and transaction, stroll the centuries old stores of the Spice Market on Evripidou street, before veering off right into the heart of the neighbourhood’s winding streets.
You will notice a significant amount of street art in this area – the expression of modern Athens and its ultra political voice. There are various tours to uncover the best murals of the area, and which explore wider neighbourhoods such as Metaxourgeio.
Psirri is a great spot for nightlife, combined with the favourite haunts of Monastiraki including Six Dogs, Faust and the latest addition – The Clumsies cocktail bar.
Day 3–Further Neighbourhood Exploration
Athens’ neighbourhoods alone could take days to explore but two of the most interesting are Kolonaki and Exarchia – two completely different personas that sit side by side.
Upmarket and bourgeois Kolonaki, near Syntagma Square, turns the gritty vision of Athens on its head, where streets are lined with lemon-toned mansions and designer stores, and where the discreet aristocratic air of snobbery can be sought out while people watching at the independently owned coffee shops that line Kolonaki Square. The Greek holistic beauty brand, Apivita also has its flagship ‘experience’ store here.
Lunch in the local café at Dexameni Square that was once the meeting point of intellectuals in the 20th century or visit one of the many art cafes or upmarket wine bars that line Skoufa street, a thoroughfare that cuts through the very centre of Kolonaki.
From Kolonakiyou can attempt the small trek or take the funicular car up to Lycabettus Hill for a phenomenal sunset view or to see an open-air performance of an ancient drama at the Lycabettus Theatre. You’ll climb many rainbow painted steps up through the neighbourhood to reach the terminal, but it’s worth it to visit this forested mound – the highest hill in Athens. Dine or stop for a hilltop coffee at Orizontes, or visit the budget, more historical and traditional tavern option Flippou, which you will find it on Xenokratus street on straight path down from the car terminal.
Exarchia stands in stark comparison, and is known as the very centre of anarchy and outspoken political thought. The street art and other messages here are all to quick to highlight the fervency of the neighbourhood’s passionate residents, who have long been known as proud to fight for their rights. An artistic and student area, you can find cheap eats, thrift-style stores and lounge-worthy cafes on every mural-clad street corner. Exarchia Square is the best place to start.
The area of Gazi, in the western part of the central city, is the newest social offering and the lively student hub, with art galleries, theatres, funky burger bars and the lively rooftop Hipster Bar. Yet, just like all of Athens, the area’s past is still incorporated. The cultural events venue, Technopolis was once the industrial gas works that closed in 1983 – the chimneys and industrial workspaces now reinvented and pivotal to the new life around it. It is now a cultural centre and museum, concert and exhibition space and hosts the Meet Market (creative arts and crafts market) once a month.
Alternative Day 3 – The Athens Riviera and Coastline
For those who don’t have the time to venture out to the paradise Greek islands, there is still the chance to live the island life, without boarding a ferry. The 30-mile stretch of scenic coastline along the Saronic Gulf, known as the ‘Athens Riviera’, is just 25 minutes away from the centre of the city.
Jump on a bus or tram from Syntagma square, or hire a car, and explore the trendy beach favourites of Glyfada, Voula, Alimos, Agia Marina and the sunset over the temple at Cape Sounion. Alternatively, hire a yacht and your very own skipper to take you out on the water and cruise alongside the stunning Athens coastline – it’s a city surrounded by sea and something to be blissfully taken advantage of.