Dilemma – you’ve only got a day in Athens and you want to get a real feel of the city. I’ve got your back! During our week in Attica, Greece, on this year’s family holiday, we only had one day in the capital city. I did my research in advance, got some recommendations from my friend Immi, and I was ready to discover Athens.
Get the Metro to Monastiraki Station
The best way to travel into the city centre is to drive to the end of one of Athens’ metro lines and get the train in. If you need to drive into the centre for some reason, make sure you park in a private car park.
There are a few metro stations you can choose. Acropoli is the closest to the Acropolis, Thissio has the most scenic walk into town, or Monastiraki lands you right in the main square.
Shop in the markets
There are a whole bunch of markets in this part of Athens. Ifestou is your best bet for a flea market, whilst Mitropoleos has all the tourist stalls. If you head down Ermou to Agias Theklas you’ll find Melissino’s, “The Poet Sandal Maker”, where you can have your own customised sandals made. If you get there early enough you can pick them up the same day!
Lunch: Souvlaki from Kosta’s
You’ll find this place on pretty much every foodie post about Athens. Kostas (κωστα) is the go-to Souvlaki joint, as the queue of locals will demonstrate. Souvlaki are basically meat skewers, which you can get still on the skewer or in a pitta, with fresh tomatoes, onions, lettuce, tons of herbs and sauce. To enjoy the local way, order two pittas with chips.
Dessert: Deep fried dough balls from Lukumades
Turns out Athenians love dessert! There are gelaterias and doughnut shops everywhere, but Lukumades is the place to go. Fried dough balls topped with sprinkles (icing sugar, cinnamon, etc) or filled with chocolate or cream are the speciality. We had ours filled with chocolate praline, with enough in a punnet to feed the whole group as the perfect side to iced coffees.
Plaka is the Old Town of Athens. This leafy, hillside district is woven with cobbled streets and dotted with tiny churches and trendy cafes which spill onto the steps. We cut through it on our way to the Acropolis Museum, but I wish we’d been able to spend more time exploring.
Check out the Roman Agora
If you’ve been to Rome then the Roman Agora in Athens will look familiar, built in the 1st century BC during the reign of Julius Caesar. The entrance sits on the western end where you’ll see the Gate of Athena Archegetis. The most famous monument in the agora is the eight-sided Tower of the Winds. This sundial, water clock and weathervane was also built in the 1st century BC by astronomers.
Visit the Acropolis Museum
A ticket into the Acropolis Museum will set you back 10 euros each, but it’s worth it to fully appreciate the Acropolis itself. Inside you’ll find excavated objects that ancient Athenians used in everyday life, sculptures from archaic temples, and on the 3rd floor, the Parthenon gallery. This is where you can view the frieze of the Parthenon, put together with exactly the same dimensions as the cella of the Parthenon. This means you can walk around the 3rd floor and get a sense of the narrative of the story of the Panathenaic Procession. The frieze has been pieced together with a combination of the original blocks and cast copies of the bits that are in other museums like the British Museum and the Louvre.
Climb the Acropolis
The Acropolis can be seen from all over Athens, and it’s the one thing you can’t miss on your visit. This ancient citadel sits on top of a rocky hill, proudly displaying the remains of some seriously old buildings. To truly appreciate the historical significance, watch this documentary – The Secrets of the Parthenon.
Top tip! To avoid the queues from the main entrance by the Acropolis Museum, walk round to the entrance on the western side of the hill. You can still buy your tickets here, and you’d have to walk the same distance anyway whichever entrance you use.
Have your mind blown by the Parthenon
The Parthenon is the biggest building still standing on the Acropolis. Don’t be surprised to find it at least partially covered in scaffolding. This monument needs some serious upkeep, and there’s a lot of repairs going on from a botched restoration attempt done in the early 1900s.
Another reason it’s best to go to the museum and watch the documentary before visiting the Acropolis and seeing the Parthenon is that there isn’t really that much information given once you’re up there. As you can see, it’s pretty sparse.
Take loads of selfies
The height of the Parthenon and other remains on the Acropolis make it difficult take take photos that really capture it – but that didn’t stop us from trying!
Get the best view of Athens
Head to the flagpole at the eastern end of the Acropolis to get what has to be the best view over the city. I for one hadn’t truly appreciated the size of Athens, and found it breathtaking to see the extent of this metropolis sprawled between the hillsides.
Climb Areopagus Hill
As you exit the ticketed area of the Acropolis, don’t miss the unassuming rocky outcrop to your right. This is Areopagus Hill, or Ares Rock, a mythologically significant rock where the Apostle Paul is said to have delivered his speech from the book of Acts.
Top tip: The steps carved into the rock are really slippery and dangerous – go for the metal stairs instead.
Chill out: Granita from Klepsidra Cafe
On your way down from the Acropolis you might be craving something to cool off – it’s hot up there! This is when you want to head to the most colourful cafe in town – Klepsidra. Hidden on the stone steps of Plaka, this cafe is surrounded by brightly painted houses, and climbing plants. Obviously the menu features many cold beers and sodas, but what you really want to order is a granita – slushies made from fruit sorbet.
Dinner: Moussaka from Taverna Platanos
Just round the corner from the Roman Agora is Taverna Platanos, one of the oldest tavernas in Athens. Hidden away from the bustle of the city in a quiet leafy square, this family-friendly restaurant is the perfect way to end your day in Athens with some authentic Greek dining.
We sat under the green canopy and enjoyed perfectly seasoned feta, juicy Greek olives, and fluffy flatbread dipped in fresh tzatziki, followed by satisying plates of moussaka and chips. Dessert came on the house – thick creamy Greek yoghurt topped with homemade carrot marmelade – sounds odd but it was delicious!
After our amazing meal, we headed back to the metro and made our way home. If you’re lucky enough to be staying in Athens, this would be a great time to head to a rooftop bar to enjoy a drink and admire the Acropolis lit up at night.
Got a second day?
Here are some others things I really wanted to do but couldn’t quite fit in:
Monuments: Panathenaic Stadium, Zappeio Hall, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch, Archeology Museum, Keramikos Archaeological Site, Temple of Hephaestus
Views: Filopappou Hill, Lycabettus Hill
Shopping: Martinos Antique and Fine Art Gallery, Varvakios Central Market, Mavriki & Co, I-D Concept Stores
Food & Drink: So many! Check out Athens For Foodies, it has tons of great recommendations.
We all loved Athens. I for one wished I could go back and do another day. The food was delicious, especially if you’re partial to a kebab or a doughnut, the city was vibrant and busy but not chaotic, and the Acropolis really is a spectacular sight.
Have you been to Athens? What was your most memorable moment?