According to Greek mythology, Poseidon, god of the oceans, and Athena, god of wisdom, were vying for patronage over the then-unnamed city. Poseidon offered the citizens saltwater, and Athena the first olive tree. The people chose the olive tree and Athena, and 3400-plus years later lies the modern metropolis of Athens. The city, of course, immediately conjures up images of antiquity. Acropolis is known as the birthplace of Western civilization and democracy and the Parthenon stands regal over the city. For anyone visiting Athens for the first time, however, you might be surprised to find that not everything is coliseums and marble, and three days here will give you plenty to explore. By day, fulfill your inner history buff, soaking in the thousands of years of art, history, and knowledge. By night, grab a cocktail (or five) and enjoy urban Athens life. If you have 72 hours to spend in Athens, this itinerary can help you get the most out of your stay.
Get your history on and stretch your legs with a hike to catch some amazing city views.
Morning: Start off at the Acropolis
The Acropolis needs little to no introduction. A universal symbol and iconic monument, it’s one of the most prized gifts Ancient Greece left behind, including some of the things founded there: democracy, philosophy, theatre, freedom of expression, and speech. Created to celebrate their win over other city-states, the Acropolis, which consists of the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Propylaia, and the temple of Athene Nike, was completed in 438 BCE. The Parthenon has been used as a church, a mosque, and a bomb storage—which led to its partial demolition in 1687. After a series of restorations, the Acropolis stills stands 2500 years later, imbued with the power and wisdom of the goddess for whom it was erected (Athena), overlooking the city that built it.
Afterwards, if time permits, visit the Ancient Agora and the Temple of Hephaestus. It used to be the hub of ancient Athens, where city dwellers gathered to buy and sell goods, meet up with friends, and talk smack about Helena from down the block. Located northwest of the Acropolis, visitors can walk through the remnants of the Agora to take in the sights for themselves. Make sure to check out the Temple of Hephaestus, the best preserved Doric peripteral temple of the ancient Greek world. The Temple was made for the god of metalworking and fire, which is pretty lit if you ask us.
Lunchtime: Nosh on some classic Greek food
You’ll find plenty of restaurants around the Acropolis serving up the delicious Greek staples you’ve probably been drooling over since you landed in Athens. Traditional moussaka, baked lamb cocooned in roasted eggplant, and yogurt sauce? Yes please.
Of course, a private food tour is another way to experience the best foods Athens has to offer. A food-loving local will show you all the best places to sample exquisite Greek specialties. Our mouths are watering just thinking about it.
Afternoon: Climb Lykavittos Hill
The tallest point in Athens is this “mountain,” which, at only 910 feet tall, is arguably just a hill trying to act all tall and tough. Still, it’s taller than the Parthenon and smack dab in the middle of the city, so climbing to the top is well worth the 20 minutes of panting and sweating. The trail zigzags up the south side of the mountain, and with each switchback the view gets better and better. At the top, you’ll find a bell tower, small church, and panoramic views. It’s the perfect place to watch the sunset and share a beer or Coke. There’s also a cable car that conveniently takes you up and down the hill, but we can’t guarantee amazing calves with that option, so take your pick.
Evening: Dinner and drinks in Plaka
The neighborhood of Plaka is like its own little haven in the city of Athens. While many of the restaurants are admittedly touristy, the food is delish (and varied), the drinks are flowing, and the ambiance can’t be beat. It’s the perfect place to end your first day in Athens. If time permits, we recommend a guided walking tour that includes exploring this neighborhood as part of the itinerary.
When visiting Athens, a day trip to “the naval of the world” is a must.
Morning and afternoon: Take a day trip to Delphi
A guided day trip to Delphi will give you a behind-the-scenes look at all the highlights, including the Monument to the Kings of Argos, the Athenian Treasury, the ancient colonnade called the Stoa of the Athenians, and the artfully crafted masonry on the polygonal wall. Known as “the navel of the world” in ancient times, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is thought to be where inspired prophetesses produced oracles that foretold the future. The Temple of Apollo is also the worship site of the Greek god—you guessed it—Apollo. It takes under three hours to get to and from this ancient site, so definitely plan on a full day of sightseeing. We promise, it’s 100% worth it.
Evening: Nosh on some cheap eats and jam out in Pysri
Hunger, heat, thirst, air: these are the four elements that are sure to hit you at least once on a hot summer’s day in Athens. So you will want (no, need) something cheap, tasty, and filling to eat. The vibrant neighborhood of Psyri has tons of eateries, many of which offer indoor or outdoor seating and live music. Duck in any of them to get out of the sun and grab some pita bread and hummus or a sandwich to munch on while people watching and jamming out to the local musicians.
On your third (and last) day in Athens, explore the city’s museums and shop for some souvenirs.
Morning: Visit the National Archaeological Museum of Athens
It’s hard to imagine what the world was like 20 years ago, let alone 2000. The National Archaeological Museum doesn’t just give visitors a glimpse into the past—it’ll hand you binoculars and floor-to-ceiling windows. Their collection of artifacts is huge and very old, with skeletons dating back 450 BCE, ceramic pots from the fourteenth century BCE, and sculptures of naked Greeks from any century in between. It’s easy to lose a couple of hours wandering through the museum, and all the old stuff can start blending together. If this happens, try thinking about the people behind the artifacts: the child from 2500 years ago who played with those wooden dolls, the women who wore Byzantine jewelry 1500 years ago. Just imagine your iPhone displayed in a museum 1000 years from now.
If hours at a museum (or anywhere) doesn’t really float your boat, a walking tour of Athens is another great way to spend your morning. It will highlight some of the city’s most popular landmarks without having to spend hours at each one.
Lunchtime: Indulge in some seafood in the Monastiraki neighborhood
Did you know Athens has some amazing seafood? It does, and this is the neighborhood to eat it in. Largely unknown and overlooked by tourists, this local hotspot is full of cozy joints serving up huge portions of grilled and fried fresh-caught fish. Need a recommendation? Try the grilled tuna.
Afternoon: Visit the Monastiraki Flea Market
It isn’t exactly a flea market all the time, but it’s still pretty cool. Down the narrow street labeled “Athens’ Flea Market,” you’ll find shop after shop of souvenirs and shoes. Adjacent to the fenced Agora is where local artists and vendors set up their carts daily to sell handmade jewelry and crafts. Early on Sundays, the surrounding streets are filled with antique sellers and more flea market-type stuff.
If you don’t feel like shopping, the National Garden is also worth a visit. Its 38 acres hold an oasis of lush trees and shrubbery, curved white gravel pathways, and plenty of benches and ivy covered walkways. A couple wrong (or right) turns will take you to the small petting zoo with billy goats and ostriches, or maybe to some random marble pillars. It’s a great spot to escape the ceaseless cycle of buses and taxis, and we won’t blame you if you take a quick nap in the grass. Or if you’re feeling ambitious, sign up for a bike tour to see the garden, along with several other Athens’ landmarks.
Evening: Spend a night on the town in Exarchia
This hip and edgy neighborhood of Athens is full of spunk. The streets here are full of graffiti and politically charged murals, displayed proudly alongside tiny stores selling vinyl records and books. The drinks flow freely at the many bars and taverns, and you’ll find live music ranging from rembetika (Greek blues) to jazz to punk. The food here is as hipster as the vibe. Whether you’re craving some veggie-friendly fare or want to indulge on your last night in Athens, you’ll definitely find a spot to satisfy any cravings you might have.