Growing up half Greek, I heard my fair share of all things Greece. My grandparents used to spend the summer there and my mom has been over a dozen times, yet somehow I never got the chance to go. When my mom was invited to a wedding in Nafplio, a coastal town in the Peloponnese, I jumped at the opportunity to tag along. Lucky for me, she gave me full reign over the itinerary. First stop, Athens!
Day 1 – Athen’s Most Famous Site
When a city is known for a particular landmark, it’s hard not to head there first. I recommend starting at the main Acropolis entrance and exiting through the side entrance, which puts you close to the Acropolis Museum. You may also want to buy the combo ticket which permits entry to the following sites within five days:
- The Acropolis (duh)
- The Ancient Agora of Athens and the Museum of the Ancient Agora
- Kerameikos and the Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos
- The Temple of Olympian Zeus (Olympieio)
- The Roman Agora of Athens and the Tower of the Winds
- Hadrian’s Library
- Aristotle’s Lyceum
And now a brief recap of the Acropolis for the history buffs. The Acropolis was first settled between 4000-3000 BC and people continued to live there until the late 6th century BC. All of the buildings were destroyed by the Persians before the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC. The Acropolis was rebuilt, but various conflicts and lack of preservation caused damage to the remaining buildings, including an explosion in the Parthenon when the Venetians attacked the Turks in 1687. The Acropolis became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the late 1980s and restoration efforts continue to this day. Unfortunately for us, the front of the Parthenon was covered in scaffolding!
Here are some of the major sites at the Acropolis other than the Parthenon.
- Propylaia: The grand entryway to the top of the Acropolis. Be careful walking up, the marble can be slippery!
- Temple of Athena Nike: A temple dedicated to Athena as the goddess of Victory (aka Nike). This temple was built between 432 to 421 BC and is located on the left when facing the base of the Propylaia.
- Porch of the Caryatids at the Erechtheion: Six columns sculpted as maidens rather than regular columns. The Caryatids are the most famous feature of the Erechtheion, which contains the Temple of Athena Polias and the Tomb of King Erechtheus.
- Odeon of Herodes Atticus: A theater built by Herodes Atticus of Marathon for his wife Regilla in 161 AD. You can still see live performances here in the summer. Not going to lie, I’ve heard they’re boring.
- Theater of Dionysus: A theater from the 4th century BC. Famous works from Sophocles and Euripides were performed here.
The Acropolis Museum
The Acropolis Museum is the perfect way to end your trip to the Acropolis. The museum, which opened in 2009, is actually built on top of an ancient Athenian neighborhood with walkways overlooking the ruins. The air-conditioned museum provides a nice break after exploring the ruins. You can expect to see items discovered at the various archaeological sites of the Acropolis. A highlight is the original Caryatids from the Erechtheion.
Dinner and a Stroll through the Plaka
After the museum, we ate at a yummy restaurant called Greek Stories. They had all the classics and some delicious items we had never even heard of. After dinner, we walked through the oldest section of Athens – the Plaka. The Plaka is filled with restaurants and shops so I definitely recommend spending some time as you walk through. While this is a touristy area, it has more of a cultural feel than other areas in central Athens.
We didn’t arrive at our hotel until about 3pm so we had an abbreviated first day. Aside from the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum, you may also want to check out the Ancient Agora before starting on your tour of the Acropolis.
Day 2 – Athens Walking Tour
This walking tour is based on one from Lonely Planet. I added in a few additional stops so it’ll take about half a day to complete. Here’s a link to the original tour, but I’m providing the version with my additions below.
Syntagma (Constitution) Square is centrally located in Athens and has housed the Greek Parliament since 1934. Outside of Parliament are the evzones (presidential guards) standing at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Make sure to check out the Changing of the Guard which takes place every hour.
National Gardens and Zappeio Palace
Next, walk through the National Gardens for some much needed shade. Towards the south of the Gardens is the Zappeio Palace which opened in 1888 prior to the first modern Olympic games.
Continue onto the Panathenaic Stadium, the only stadium in the world built entirely out of marble. The stadium was initially built in 330 BC for the Panathenaic Games. It was rebuilt in marble by Herodes Atticus in the 2nd century AD and eventually abandoned until 1869. It hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics and served as a venue for the 2004 Olympics. I highly recommend doing the audio tour here.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
Backtrack to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the largest temple in Greece which began construction in the 6th century BC and was completed in the 2nd century AD by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. You can use the combo ticket from the Acropolis to enter this site. Next to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, you will see Hadrian’s Arch.
Sites of the Plaka
Continue onto the Plaka where you’ll see the Church of Agia Ekaterini, a Byzantine church from the 11th century with Roman ruins in front. Next, you’ll see the Lysikrates Monument, built in 334 BC.
Continue up the hill to the Anafiotika Quarter set at the base of the Acropolis. You might feel like you’re in the Cyclades when strolling through the winding streets and whitewashed buildings of this 19th-century neighborhood built by masons from the island of Anafi. This quiet neighborhood is a nice change from the busyness of Central Athens.
Roman Agora and Hadrian’s Library
After passing through Anafiotika, continue down the hill to the Roman Agora. You can enter this site with the Acropolis combo ticket. Inside the Agora is the Tower of the Winds, a weather station built at the end of the 2nd century BC.
Close to the Agora is Hadrian’s Library, a site that can also be entered with the combo ticket. The library was created by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 132 AD.
Monastiraki Flea Market
Head to Monastiraki, an area filled with shops, shops, and more shops. The Monastiraki Flea Market is popular on Sundays but you can enjoy the shops and restaurants any day of the week. This is a good place to take a lunch break.
Lycabettus Hill isn’t exactly close to Monastiraki but if you like to walk as much as I do, it’s still walking distance! Take the funicular to the top and enjoy amazing city views that extend all the way to the coast. At the top, you’ll also find a 19th-century church, a cafe, and a restaurant. This is a great place to watch the sunset.
Dinner at Cafe Avissinia
Head to the roof of Cafe Avissinia for a delicious meal with unbeatable views of the Acropolis. We came early in the evening and had no problem getting a table on the roof without a reservation, but it filled up fast as the night went on.
Athens is a city rich in history where you can keep coming back and finding something new. However, two days in Athens is still a good amount to see the main sites and get a feel for the city. Whether you’re enjoying a glass of wine and kebab at a restaurant in the Plaka or taking in the views at Lycabettus, Athens has something for everyone.