With 2 days in Athens, explore ancient Greek and Roman ruins, enjoy the view from a rooftop restaurant, go shopping, get a history lesson at one of several world-class museums, and of course, visit the amazing Acropolis.
Sites such as the Acropolis, Acropolis Museum, Ancient Agora, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus draw big crowds. The last thing you want to do is to spend your valuable time waiting in line. In this itinerary, we share our tips on how to skip the ticket lines and avoid the crowds so that you can have the best experience.
The Heart of Athens
The first day focuses on the main sites located around the Acropolis, ancient Greek and Roman sites that are over 2000 years old. You will also visit the Acropolis Museum, do a little shopping, and enjoy the view from one or two rooftop restaurants and bars. At the end of the day, you have the option to visit the Acropolis.
This is a big walking day. You will walk 5 miles, not including the amount of walking you will do inside of museums, historical sites, etc.
The Acropolis Museum is an archeological museum that houses the artifacts found on the Acropolis and the surrounding slopes. This is a great place to visit before you step foot on the Acropolis because you learn about the history behind the Parthenon, Erechtheion, and other temples and sanctuaries on the Acropolis.
The museum opens at 8 am and tickets cost €10 during the summer months (April through October). If you get here at or near opening time, lines should be short, so I do not think that it is necessary to purchase your tickets in advance. However, if you think you might arrive at 9 am or later, purchase your tickets online in advance to avoid waiting in the ticket line.
A visit to the Acropolis Museum lasts one to two hours.
Kerameikos is an area of Athens that served as potter’s quarters and an ancient cemetery. It’s also one of the least visited sites on the combination ticket, making this one of the best places to buy the combination ticket.
We spent about 30 minutes walking among the excavations.
Note: If Kerameikos looks boring to you, skip it. Honestly, of all of the ancient sites we visited, Kerameikos was the least interesting. Most likely, you will have to wait in line at one of the next sites we mention to purchase the combination ticket, but it will still be faster than exploring Kerameikos, even if just for a few minutes.
Getting Here from the Acropolis Museum: To get here you will need to take the metro. Get on the metro at Acropoli, next to the Acropolis Museum. Thissio station is the closest to Kerameikos (5-minute walk to Kerameikos), but you will need to change trains two times. Kerameikos station is a bit farther (8-minute walk to Kerameikos) but it might actually be faster since you only have to change trains once (at Syntagma).
More Ancient Greek and Roman Sites
Not far from Kerameikos are three more important sites to visit: the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora, and Hadrian’s Library. All three of these sites are on the combination ticket.
Depending on how quickly you move, you may want to take a break before or while visiting these three sites. They are all located near each other, along with the restaurant that we recommend for lunch.
For lunch, we recommend A for Athens, an awesome rooftop restaurant in Athens. The views over Monastiraki Square, the Ancient Agora, and the Acropolis are amazing and definitely one of the best views in the city. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
For 5,000 years, this area was used as a marketplace, gathering place, and residential area. The ground of this large site is littered with the ruins of buildings and walkways.
Located in the Ancient Agora is the Temple of Hephaestus, one of the best-preserved Greek temples. It was constructed in the 5th century BC to honor the god Hephaestus, the patron god of fire, metal working, and craftsmanship.
Next, walk to Hadrian’s Library was constructed in 132 AD under the rule of Roman Emperor Hadrian. It was built to house rolls of papyrus books.
Located just a short distance away from Hadrian’s Library is the Roman Agora. This market and collection of buildings was built in the first century BC during the rule of Julius and Augustus Caesar. The main entrance is through the Gate of Athena. The Tower of the Winds is considered to be the world’s first meteorological center, featuring a sundial, water clock, and wind vane.
Spend the early afternoon wandering the streets of Plaka, one of the best places in Athens to go shopping. This neighborhood stretches from the Acropolis to Syntagma Square.
Ermou Street is a pedestrian street lined with popular stores like H&M, Sephora and Mango. The older and more interesting streets are located closer to the Acropolis. The Anafiotika area is a charming, older section of Plaka with narrow, photogenic streets and shops.
While you are here, don’t miss the Church of Panagia Kapnikarea, one of the oldest churches in Athens.
If you get hungry, it’s just a short walk to Smak, our favorite restaurant in Athens. This tiny place serves pizza and peinirli, a delicious boat-shaped Greek pizza. Each little pizza costs less than €5 so they make a great snack or cheap meal.
Syntagma Square and the Monument of the Unknown Soldier
From Plaka, it’s a short walk to Syntagma Square, a large, bustling, busy square.
Located in Syntagma Square near the Hellenic Parliament Building is the Monument of the Unknown Solder. This is a war memorial that is dedicated to the Greek soldiers who died in war. Every hour there is a changing of the guard and the most elaborate display takes place at 11 am on Sunday when a group of soldiers march to the tomb.
While seeing the changing of the guard is interesting, I don’t think it’s worth your time to wait around for it, especially if you have to wait 30 minutes or longer.
Optional: Panathenaic Stadium
If you are running low on energy, you can give this next site a pass, but we thought it was interesting.
The Panathenaic Stadium dates back to 330 BC. In 144 AD, it was reconstructed in marble by Herodes Atticus.
In 1896, it hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics. Then, in 2004, it was used as an Olympic venue. This is also the site of the last exchange of the Olympic torch before it leaves Athens for the host country.
Take a lap around the track, snap a photo on the podium, and marvel at how much history has taken place in this stadium.
Getting Here: From the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, you can get here by walking through the National Garden. It’s a 1 km walk and takes about 15 minutes.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
This is the final stop of the day. The Temple of Olympian Zeus was built to honor Zeus and it was planned to be the greatest temple in the ancient world. However, construction was not completed until the 2nd century AD. Not long after its completion, it was pillaged by a barbarian invasion. Now, fifteen of the original columns still stand.
This temple is included on the combination ticket. To get here, it’s a 10-minute walk from the Panathenaic Stadium and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Sunset Views of the Acropolis
End the day with a sunset view of the Acropolis.
Athens Gate Hotel has a rooftop restaurant that offers 360° views of the area. You can have dinner here or just go for drinks and the view. We had dinner here and thought the food was mediocre for the price, so if we did again, we’d just go for drinks and appetizers, enjoy the view, and get dinner elsewhere (Indian Haveli, located nearby, gets rave reviews on Trip Advisor).
Athens Gate Hotel is located across the street from the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Another highly rated rooftop restaurant is at the Hotel Grande Bretagne. The views aren’t quite as nice as Athens Gate Hotel but this will be a more upscale experience, since it is a 5-star hotel.
For both of these restaurants, make your reservations in advance and request a table with a view of the Acropolis.
Optional: The Acropolis
You have the option to skip the sunset dinner and instead, watch the sunset from the Acropolis. The Acropolis is open until 8 pm from April 1 to October 31 (last admission at 7:30 pm). The last hour of the day is the least crowded time to visit the Acropolis.
Most people visit the Acropolis in 1 to 2 hours. Plan on arriving by 6 or 6:30 pm to give yourself enough time to visit the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and the slopes.
If you are coming from the Temple of Olympian Zeus, use the side entrance (Acropolis SE Gate) to enter the Acropolis. It is located near the Acropolis Museum and it is usually much less crowded than the main entrance near the Propylaea. Since you have the combination ticket, you can bypass the ticket line, if there is one this late in the day.
The Acropolis, Best Views of Athens, & a Museum of Your Choice
If you didn’t visit the Acropolis last night, spend this morning at the Acropolis.
The term “acropolis” refers to the fortified hill. Sitting on and around this hill are several very important sites. The Parthenon is the most famous, but there is also the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, and the Theater of Dionysus.
Most of these sites are located on top of the limestone plateau, but several sites sit on the slopes, the southern hillside of the Acropolis. The Theater of Dionysus and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus are found here.
The Acropolis opens at 8 am and I recommend getting here right at 8 am, even though you already have your tickets. The Acropolis starts to get very busy at 8:30 am with big tour groups arriving between 9 am and 10 am. If you want to avoid the worst of the crowds, it’s worth it to roll out of bed early.
I recommend entering through the side entrance (Acropolis SE Gate). There is a handy metro station nearby (Acropoli).
As you head up to the Propylaea, you will pass the Theater of Dionysis and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Then, spend the rest of your time on top of the Acropolis.
Exit the Acropolis from the main gate and then it’s just a short walk to Areopagus Hill. Also known as Mars Hill, you get one of the most iconic views of the Acropolis from here.
From Areopagus Hill, walk downhill to Philopappos Park. From a viewpoint near the Monument of Philopappos, you get an amazing view of the Acropolis, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, and the southern slopes.
We found a second viewpoint with a slightly different view also in Philopappos Park. Located near the Pnyx and the National Observatory of Athens, this is the view.
Sin Athina is a great restaurant that, guess what, has views of the Acropolis from its rooftop. Have lunch here, or at one of several other nearby restaurants, before moving on.
Two Options for the Afternoon
Depending on your interests, here are two different options for how to spend your afternoon.
Option #1: Archaelogical Museum and Psyrri
National Archaeological Museum
This museum is the largest archeological museum in Greece and houses one of the greatest collections of artifacts of Greek antiquity.
Cost: €10 April 1 to October 31; €5 November 1 to March 31
Hours: April 13 to October 31: Tuesday 12:30 pm to 8 pm; Wednesday through Monday 8 am to 8 pm; reduced hours November 1 to April 12
Website: get updated hours and pricing on the official website
Getting Here: The closest metro stations are Omonia and Victoria stations. Both are on the M1 line, the same line as the Thissio station. We took the metro to Omonia station and then it was a 10-minute walk to the museum.
Varvakeios Central Market
From the National Archaeological Museum, it’s a 10-minute walk through a slightly gritty neighborhood to get the Varvakeios Central Market. For sale at this busy market is meat, fruit and vegetables, spices, seafood, and more.
Continue to the funky, eclectic Psyrri neighborhood. Filled with great restaurants, unique bars, a vibrant nightlife, and small boutique shops, this is a very cool spot to go out for dinner and drinks. Wander the maze of streets, go wine tasting at the Cinque Wine & Deli Bar, or have dinner at Lithos Tavern, a cozy restaurant that serves traditional Greek and Mediterranean food.
Option #2: Benaki Museum and Mount Lycabettus
The Benaki Museum houses Greek works of art from prehistory to modern time, as well as an extensive collection of Asian art. The Benaki family donated their house and their enormous collection of art and artifacts to Greece.
Visit the official website for hours and entrance fees.
Getting Here: Take the metro from Thissio to Syntagma, transferring to line M3 at Monastiraki.
For a sprawling view of Athens and the Acropolis, walk or take the Lycabettus Cable Car to the peak of Mount Lycabettus. From here, you get to see just how big this city is, with the Acropolis proudly rising up in the center from the low, white buildings.
Getting Here: From the Benaki Museum, it is an uphill walk to the cable car station. Or, you can choose to walk all of the way to the top on a paved trail that switchbacks its way up the hill. It’s about a 15-minute walk up this paved trail to the summit.
End the day with dinner and drinks.
Getting Around Athens
In this itinerary, you will ride the metro twice. Depending on the location of your hotel, you might use the metro more than this.
You can purchase individual metro tickets for each journey (a good idea if you only plan to use the metro twice, as in this itinerary). You can also purchase a paper ticket that is good for five journeys on the metro (a good idea if you are staying outside of the city center and plan to use the metro to get into town).
There is a 3-day tourist ticket, but this is more than you need for this Athens itinerary. However, if you have an extra day in Athens, it might be worth the money.
Click here for an article that explains all of your options.
Consider installing an Athens metro app onto your smartphone. I used the Athens Sbwy app, a free but very basic map of the metro system in Athens.
Where to Stay
We have an entire article about where to stay in Athens. Whether you want a hotel room with a view of the Acropolis, a hotel with a rooftop pool, or a budget hotel that gets rave reviews, we have lots of options for you.
Are you planning a trip to Athens? Comment below if you have any questions.
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