If you only have one day in Athens, today I’m sharing how we spent our 24 hours with a good mix of history, food, and taking things in slowly. You can definitely pack more into your day if you’d like but if you’re recovering from jetlag, this is a great itinerary to see and learn a lot while still getting to soak up the city.
We’ve been settling back into routines over here and have been home from Greece for two weeks as of today.
I have lots more pictures, stories, and tips from our time on Mykonos and Santorini but today I have our short time in Athens. We were there for 36 hours, arriving Wednesday evening in time for a late dinner, and leaving on a ferry to Santorini early Friday morning. We spent Thursday touring around and making the most of our one day in this historic city.
A little background on our trip: As part of his second semester in business school, Ben worked on a team partnering with a company in Athens to consult on a specific project. He was there with classmates for a week and a half before I arrived. Two of our friends were also working on projects in Athens and we made plans for the three couples to travel together afterward. The girls flew in a day before the boys finished so we could spend a day in Athens together before heading out to the islands altogether. It was such a great excuse to join Ben in a place I’ve always wanted to go and an easy way to make traveling with friends work so well!
How to spend 24 hours in Athens:
Start, bright and early, with the Acropolis
We were scheduled for an 8 am tour of the Acropolis with a guide a group of HBS students and even though it was 1 am according to my body clock, I’m SO glad we took everyone’s advice and got to the iconic spot early. There was a short line when we arrived and plenty of people at the acropolis but nothing compared to the crowds when we made our way down almost two hours later. Keep in mind that cruise ships arrive mid morning and bus tourists in until mid afternoon, so your best shot at avoiding the crowds and really enjoying the marvelous ruins (and getting better pictures ;), is bright and early.
Of all the historical sites I’ve seen, the acropolis is the most awe inspiring. You know when you’ve studied something and seen pictures of it your whole life and then you see it in person and it’s kind of a let down? (I felt that way about the Mona Lisa.) And then there are those things that you expect to be great, and they are. (I felt that way about the Colleseum and the Eiffel Tower.) But the Acropolis gets an “exceeds expectations” from someone who had pretty high expectations. If you do one thing in Athens, let it be this.
One civilization thousands of years ago with such a lasting impact on my life – democracy, the olympics, jury duty (next week!), and Hercules 😛
We wandered the site of the Acropolis for just under two hours with our guide, giving us annecdotes about the city, the history of the buildings we were looking at, and how the use and form of things hand changed over the last three millenium. It is easy to forget how old everything there is. Just last night I was walking the Boston Freedom Trail with friends and oogling over the church built in 1700. In contrast, the Parthanon was first constructed in 447 bc!
Grab breakfast on your way to the Acropolis Museum
After our tour and skipping breakfast, we were ready for some food (I recommend stopping to grab croissants or something on your way up to the Acropolis, we just didn’t leave time).
We made our way to the Acropolis museum, wandering down cute little streets until we found a cafe with outdoor seating just across from the museum. The menu boasted lots of sweet and savory crepes but we all ordered eggs (a good way to fuel up for a day with LOTS of walking). It’s also worth noting the chocolate croissant is HUGE (croissants in Greece tended to be huge) and just a regular croissant cut open, spread with nutella, drizzled with chocolate sauce, and topped with whipped cream. Not what I was expecting – but tasty nonetheless.
Temple of Zeus
We could see the columns of this temple from the top of the Acropolis and I would have been willing to cross it off my list but Laura wanted to go and I’m so glad we did! There is no restoration or scaffolding like at the Parthenon and the structure itself is HUGE!
We only needed about 20 minutes to wander around and take in the grandeur but it was worth a stop (I also just imagined little Hercules running into the temple to meet his dad 😛 — Hercules songs were playing in my head on repeat this whole trip).
Wander Plaka (or sneak back for a nap):
After the Acropolis museum we were jetlagged and exhausted. We were still full from our late breakfast so we skipped the rooftop bar recommendation for lunch (360 degrees has a great view of the Acropolis and a great burger to go with it) and headed straight back to the hotel.
If you’re aren’t exhausted, spend this time wandering through the oldest section of Athens, Plaka. Most of the streets are closed to automobile traffic and they’re filled with restaurants, jewelry stores, tourists shops, and cafes. It’s the nicest neighborhood in central athens and filled with little gems and picture perfect old Greek streets.
Don’t miss the Agora
After our nap we wandered through Plaka to get to the Ancient Agora. We stopped for gelato on the way at DaVinci’s (the cones options are AMAZING) and enjoyed strolling through the streets lined with The agora was the center of commerce and social life in ancient greek city states and the word literally means “assembly” or “gathering place.” This one in athens is the best example of an ancient agora and we used Rick Steves audio tour to walk through the ruins (well, I listened to bits and pieces of friends’ tour and let them fill me in on the rest). There is a museum with lots of artifacts and this is where the audio guide was particularly useful.
Dinner with a view
Our husbands were done with their final presentations so we headed over by taxi to their hotel for a dinner reception with their teams.
If they hadn’t had a food option there, we would have headed back to another restaurant with a view of the acropolis. The night before we ate at A for Athens, a rooftop restaurant and bar where the food was almost as good as the view (which was jaw dropping).
Don’t forget dessert
Depending on what else you’re doing in Greece, either use this time to get some traditional baklava or cool off with more ice cream. Greeks are proud of their gelato + ice cream and it doesn’t disappoint. The kind Greek in the Rome airport on my layover talked me out of getting gelato in Italy (from an airport kiosk) with the promise that Greeks do ice cream well and any street truck and shop in Athens would have better ice cream. He was (probably) right.
black and white striped dress: Target
sandals: Kork-Ease (my most comfortable travel sandals – I can’t recommend this brand enough for travel!)
camera backpack: Atlas Supply Co.
And here are a lot more pictures from our day!
Temple of Zeus
^view of the
Acropolis + City Views
^the three girls
^papparazzing these two the whole trip
^best travel sandas
^stray cats EVERYWHERE
Breakfast across from the Acropolis museum
^everything came with french fries, including the omelette