Welcome to Athens, the cradle of Western Civilization and the birthplace of Democracy! It is one of the oldest cities still in existence, with over 3400 years of history behind it. Understandably, there are many things to do and many places to visit in the Greek capital; but since you only have one day in Athens, I’ll focus on a handful of my favorite places.
And since you will have so little time on your hands, I’ll make sure you have all the information you need for a carefree escape. This post is packed with the answers to all your questions and includes an easy-to-follow itinerary, that will help you see the most important attractions.
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One day in Athens – your complete guide
How to reach the center of Athens
Getting from Athens airport to the city center is an easy task, no matter your budget.
The fastest and one of the cheapest ways of getting to the city center (and the other way around), Athens International Airport is conveniently linked to the city center by metro.
The metro departs from the airport every 30 minutes, and a one-way ticket currently costs 10 EUR, while a return ticket is 18 EUR.
Expect to spend roughly 1-hour commuting.
Conveniently located in front of the airport’s arrival gate, the bus stop will be easy to locate. Bus number X95 will take you straight to Syntagma Square.
Tickets can be bought from the bus stop and cost 6 EUR one way.
You can also pay by card, but be sure to mention that in advance (Greek people are Mediterranean after all and tend to be a bit impatient).
Forget about timetables, transfers, or anything in between and take a taxi. It will leave you exactly where you wish to arrive, and you won’t have to worry about your luggage.
Just be aware that traffic can sometimes be hectic, and you don’t know how much time you will spend on your commute.
Take a normal taxi, from the taxi stand at the airport, or order an Uber since the car app has recently been allowed to enter the Greek market, but only in Athens.
The last and most convenient way of getting from the airport to the city center. By booking a private transfer or shuttle you will know the cost from the beginning, have it planned in advance, and won’t have to worry about language barriers.
When you compare it to the normal taxi, the cost won’t have to be so much higher, if you book ahead of time online.
When is the best time to visit Athens?
A great destination throughout the year, you can basically spend one day in Athens no matter the season or month.
However, it is worth knowing that the summer months can get extremely hot in Athens, with no precipitation and very high temperatures in July and August. On such days, walking around the arid city can prove to be challenging.
On top of that, these are also the most popular months with tourists. Expect the city to be packed, especially the main tourist attractions.
That being said, the best time to visit Athens in my opinion should be during the shoulder season – spring and autumn.
Even late in November or early in March, temperatures are mild and perfect for sightseeing.
How to get around Athens
With only one day on your hands, you should find it easy to get around on foot. This itinerary has been created with that in mind, and you won’t have to waste time commuting.
However, public transportation in Athens is good and you can get from one place to the other by subway or bus. Download the “OASA Telematics’ app for Android and iOS for bus schedules and routes.
Where to stay in Athens
Having stayed in Athens a few times now, I’ve learned the hard way that the city has some good and some poor areas.
Avoid at all costs staying in Omonia Square, even if you are traveling on a budget. I didn’t know that and we ended up in this sketchy part of town.
When your budget allows, choose to stay anywhere around the Akropolis, in Kolonaki – 5 minutes away from Syntagma Square, or around Lycabettus.
Novotel Athens is another good option when you prefer to stay at a chain hotel. We spent one night here and we absolutely loved the rooftop swimming pool and terrace, our room with a view to the Acropolis, but also the delicious and very diverse breakfast. See more here!
Stay in Plaka or central Athens:
- GK Athens – let’s start with the budget option because as you might imagine getting a small price in the heart of Athens can get a bit tricky.
Stay in Kolonaki:
- Cutie by Stylish Stays – yes, it’s an apartment but that’s what you will mostly find in the Kolonaki area mainly because this is a residential area. This place has a small balcony where you can drink your morning coffee.
Is one day enough in Athens?
While I would rather suggest you spend 2 or 3 days in Athens, one day could be quite enough for you to get a taste of Greece’s capital. In one day, you can still taste the magical Greek cuisine, walk around the streets of Plaka, and even climb all the way to the Akropolis.
However, you will be on a tight schedule and won’t get the chance to see a lot of historical museums.
Athens 1 Day Itinerary
Start your day with a hearty breakfast
There’s nothing better than a hearty breakfast with Greek yogurt mixed with honey and strong coffee. Greeks also have all those delicious pastries filled with cheese, spinach, or meat, that will fill you up and give you the energy to start your day right.
Sit at one of the many terraces in Athens, and enjoy the morning without the crowds.
Just Made 33 is such a laid-back place, with great coffee and delicious sandwiches – definitely a recommendation for your morning! I have added the place on the map so that you can find it easily for your morning in Athens.
Visit the top attraction in Athens: The Acropolis & the Parthenon
The Acropolis is the ancient citadel of Athens, located on a rocky hill overlooking the city. By the mid-5th century B.C., Athens became the most important cultural center of its day, and its Acropolis the seat of the Delian League. To celebrate the city’s success and showcase its advancements, Athens’ leader, Pericles, began a major building campaign that lasted for half a century. Many important archeological wonders remain, the most iconic being the Temple of Athena, the Parthenon.
The Parthenon is named after the ancient Greek word describing the section of a house or apartment reserved for unmarried women. It seems the temple possessed such a room, and somehow, the room’s name became synonymous with the entire building.
Although a matter of debate among archeologists, it seems that its primary function was to act as the temple of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, handicraft, and war. For this reason, it is sometimes associated with Minerva, the Roman equivalent of Athena.
A thousand years after its construction, during the 6th century A.D., the Parthenon was converted to a Christian church, becoming the 4th most visited pilgrimage place of the Byzantine Empire after Constantinople, Ephesos, and Thessaloniki.
After the Ottoman conquest, the Parthenon was turned into a mosque until its partial destruction by the Venetians during the Morean War of 1684 – 1699.
When the newly-independent Greece regained Athens in 1832, the medieval buildings from the Acropoli were demolished, including the small mosque erected within the Parthenon.
In 1975, the Greek government began a concerted restoration effort.
To this day, 2500 years later, Pericles’s political statement is still inspiring its visitors. Yet, it makes you wonder: how many of our current leaders’ accomplishments will be celebrated by the year 4500 A.D.?
Useful information for visiting the Acropolis
There are a few options for buying your entry ticket for the Acropolis: get it directly at the entrance, but you would be risking fighting the crowds, or book it online with a skip-the-line advantage.
Book a 100% digital combination ticket with skip the line for the Acropolis of Athens and the Acropolis Museum. See more here!
If you want a guided tour, without having to wait in line, make sure to purchase a guided tour online here before your visit.
If, however, you are planning to see more landmarks dating from Ancient times, the best option would be to book a combined ticket that would offer access to the Acropolis and 6 other archeological sites in Athens. Book your ticket here!
If you are visiting Athens on the first Sunday of the month from November to the end of March when you will have free access to all the museums. The same if valid for any of the below dates:
- 6 March (in memory of Melina Mercouri)
- 18 April (International Monuments Day)
- 18 May (International Museums Day)
- The last weekend of September annually (European Heritage Days)
- 28 October
Stop by the Areopagus Hill
Nearby the Acropolis, one can find the Areopagus, a rock outcropping called the Hill of Ares by the ancient Athenians.
Initially, it was the homicide court and judiciary meeting place, although, in time, the council’s competencies were expanded. Still, a judiciary selected exclusively from male citizens was not always efficient, as the trial of Phyrne reveals.
Phryne was a hetaera, what we would call today a high-end escort. When she appeared in front of the court on the Areopagus accused of impiety, a capital offense at the time, she let her cloak drop, showing off her breasts. Impressed by her divine beauty, the judges summarily acquitted her of all charges. Justice was not blind that day!
Head to Syntagma Square and see the changing of the guard at the Parliament
From Acropolis Hill, make your way to Monastiraki Square. Take your time and get lost on the streets heading down. You might come across street musicians, friendly cats, colorful cobbled streets, small antique shops – all in all, a charming area to discover.
In Monastiraki Square, peak at Hadrian’s Library, pass by the flea market and make your way towards Syntagma Square.
Make sure to plan your schedule so that you can see the changing of the guard at 12 PM, in front of the Parliament. If you’re lucky to be in Athens on a Sunday, you’ll get to see the whole change routine.
Go shopping in Plaka and explore the small streets in center Athens
Don’t miss out on the great options you will find here for spending time at a coffee (do as the Greeks do, have a coffee for hours), Plaka and the area around Monastiraki is where you will find plenty of restaurants and bars to be enjoyed during your Athens itinerary.
Moreover, don’t feel shy about wandering on Ermou Street – one of the most commercial streets in Athens.
Don’t ignore Kolokotroni Street either, where plenty of coffee places are lined up, or Mitropoleos Street – where in between cafes and pastry shops you will get to see also the Cathedral of Athens.
Oh, and Karagiorgi Serbias Street is where you will find the chocolate heaven!
Eat your heart out in Monastiraki
No matter how many times I visit Greece, I never get enough of its delicious food!
Gyros, Tzaziki, Souvlaki, baked feta cheese, Greek yogurt with honey, baklava, fava beans, and the list could go on and on. There is one thing I can guarantee: you will come back home heavier!
I find it hard to believe that you could pick the wrong food in Athens, but here are a few great places to try:
- Thanasis Kebab – really traditional, simple, and delicious food. The staff is also fun and will be more than happy to help you take a picture or two. Here is where I’ve learned that when you order souvlaki, you don’t have to say it, the kind of meat is enough (pork, chicken, mix).
- Bairaktaris Taverna – always crowded, packed with people in the search for a fresh and delicious souvlaki
- Maiandros – we found this by chance and we were so so lucky to stumble upon it just before lunchtime when it got really crowded
End the day with a sunset and a drink at Mount Lycabettus
Head to Kolonaki and take the funicular to the top of Mount Lycabettus just before sunset.
The 7 EUR for a round trip will sure pay off. You should know also that the funicular runs every 30 min and on top, you’ll find a bar, a restaurant and a small church that also hosts weddings (there was one actually when we went).
If you go for sunset, the view will be absolutely stunning and you can treat yourself to a glass of wine with a view, just be aware that you will most certainly find a crowd waiting for the same thing as you.
If visiting the places described above is not incentive enough to visit Athens, then I’ll add the famously delicious Greek food, drinks, and warm hospitality as additional reasons for your journey. Enjoy!
Other Greece travel useful resources
Crete or Santorini? Where to go and what to do
A less explored Crete: Eastern Crete travel guide
The ultimate list of things to do in Oia, Santorini