Athens is the place of dreams, but not exactly what I expected.
A city filled with crumbling ruins, mythology and history, Athens also has a sharply modern edge. Visit in July and Athens is hot, swelteringly so, and the dusty air trapped between the dense concrete blocks can feel stifling.
No, Athens isn’t beautiful (beyond the ever-graceful ancient ruins). But there’s something about it that still, after 2000 years of existence, feels so alive.
Before you head off to the islands you should spend a few days exploring the Greek capital. Get up early to beat the crowds to the Acropolis. Fall in love with tasty Greek food (souvlaki and gyros are so freaking good), and make sure to check out as many ancient ruins as you possibly can.
There’s a lot to love about Athens, so dive straight into this ultimate 2-day Athens itinerary and start planning your perfect trip.
Morning: Hadrian’s Arch & Temple of Olympian Zeus
You’re in Athens! It’s time to kick off your 2-day Athens itinerary with an ancient ruin or two. You know, just to get you in the mood.
First up, head to Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Founded in 131 AD Hadrian’s Arch is a monumental gateway that spanned the road leading from the centre of Athens to the eastern side of the city.
Walk through Hadrian’s Arch and along to the entrance to the Temple of Olympian Zeus to purchase your tickets. Its €12 for entrance to the Temple, but instead purchase a €30 multi-site ticket. This will save you queuing time at the Acropolis, and if you’re planning on seeing multiple sites it will save you a few euro.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus was once the largest temple in Ancient Greece. Although a lot of it has been destroyed the remaining 17m-high Corinthian columns are an impressive site. The Temple also provides a great photo op with the Parthenon on the hill in the background framed by columns.
Midday: Ancient Agora
It’s time for another ancient ruin! Next up you’re headed to the Ancient Agora.
The Ancient Agora was once the social and political heart of Athens. Make sure to pay a visit to the Temple of Hephaestus, which is the best preserved ancient Greek temple from the Classical period. The Stoa of Atallos is also an impressive site. Though rebuilt in the 20th century, it gives you a great idea of how beautiful the Agora once would have been. Though honestly, it’s still impressive in ruin.
Afternoon: Roman Forum & Hadrian’s Library
I hope you’re not sick of ruins yet, because there’s still one or two to go. Grab a gyros and head to the Roman Forum and Hadrian’s Library!
The Roman Forum was built during the reign of Julius Caesar and his successor Augustus. The most notable ruin in the Forum is the Tower of the Winds. A graceful structure that predates the Forum, the tower served as a sundial, compass and weather vane. The tower is intricately decorated with figures representing the eight winds.
Nearby to the Roman Forum, Hadrian’s Library was created by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in AD 132. As a bit of a book nerd (ok, I’m more than a ‘bit’ of a nerd), I loved the idea of visiting an ancient library. Though no books remain, wandering the ruins where ancient scrolls of papyrus were once held was a cool experience.
Evening: Dinner at Feyrouz
All Greeked out? That’s ok, because I know a great Lebanese restaurant you can go for dinner.
Feyrouz is about a five minute walk from Hadrian’s Library, but even if it was a 5-hour walk it would be worth the trip (ok, I exaggerate). It’s small but cosy, the prices are affordable and the staff are lovely. Plus the food! We tried their namesake dish, feyrouz (a kind of fine kneaded dough topped with mince and herbs), and they were incredibly tasty.
Morning: Acropolis & Acropolis Museum
Friend, hopefully you did what I suggested and bought a multi-site ticket because the race is on to beat the hordes to the Acropolis. Ok, maybe you don’t have the competitive urge to be the first at every tourist destination like I do. But for the Acropolis, it’s worth getting up early. During summer (starting 1st April) the Acropolis is open from 8am. Set your alarm and aim to get there at least 15 minutes before it opens.
You can (and should) spend a couple of hours wandering around the Acropolis. We made a beeline for the Parthenon, which, while undergoing restoration, is still a breath-taking piece of architecture.
From there we took a breather and then slowly meandered around the other temples. Make sure to check out the Erectheum, famous for its striking ‘Porch of the Maidens’ and the site of Athena’s sacred olive tree. You should also pay a visit to the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a 2nd-century theatre.
After you’ve had your fill of the Acropolis head downhill to the Acropolis Museum. I’m not a big fan of museums, but this one houses a world-class display of Ancient Greek statues and sculptures. With over 4000 artefacts ranging from painted vases to statues of kore, if you’re anything like me you’ll be walking around in wonderment the entire time.
The highlight of the Acropolis Museum is the Parthenon Gallery. Located in an atrium on the top-floor the gallery houses the Parthenon’s 160m-long frieze, displayed as it once would have been. The frieze depicts scenes of soldiers in battle, horses, and cattle, and the detail in these sculptures is truly stunning.
Tickets to the Acropolis Museum aren’t included in the multi-site ticket and are €10.
Afternoon: Lycabettus Hill
It’s been a big morning, so take the afternoon at a slower pace and meander your way up to Lycabettus Hill. The highest point in Athens, Lycabettus Hill offers panoramic views of the city and across to the Parthenon.
If you don’t feel like walking (fair enough, Athens is pretty damn hot) you can catch the funicular up the hill for €7. When you get to the top you’ll find the Greek whitewashed church of Agios Georgios, friendly cats and great viewpoints. Stay and relax for a bit, but not too long! The exploring isn’t over yet.
Evening: Monastiraki Flea Market & A for Athens Cocktail Bar
End your 2-days in Athens with a trip to the bustling Monastiraki Flea Market. Nestled against the backdrop of the Acropolis, the market houses a staggering variety of products. From fresh produce to tacky tee-shirts, wooden penis keychains to miniature Spartan helmets, Monastiraki really does have it all.
From Monastiraki Flea Market head across to nearby A for Athens for delicious cocktails and one of the best views in the city. Enjoy a cocktail (or two) while watching the sunset over Monastiraki Square and the Parthenon. I’m not sure if they had Aperol Spritz’ in Ancient Greece but otherwise it felt like I could have been right there hanging out with Zeus and co.
Night: Dinner at Bandiera
From A for Athens it’s a five minute walk to what will likely be one of the best meals you’ll eat in Athens. Bold words, I know, but the food we ate at Bandiera was seriously good.
A traditional, family-run meze tavern in the centre of Athens, Bandiera offers tasty Greek dishes such as moussaka, Greek salads, and dolmades. We were seated outside and were attended to by lovely staff. They even gave us a small dessert on the house – the dream!
With ancient ruins tucked around every corner, graffitied walls and tasty cuisine, it may not seem it at first glance, but Athens is a city that gets under your skin. Two days in Athens is enough time to hit all of the main sites, taste some souvlaki and gyros, and get a feel for what this incredible capital has to offer. What are you waiting for?