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No trip to Greece is complete without seeing the capital city of Athens (quite literally, since most flights to Greece arrive at the Athens airport). Maybe you’ve found yourself in Athens due to a layover, or you’re backpacking around Europe and stopping by for a day. It can feel exciting and overwhelming to see everything in 24 hours, especially in a city with so much history and culture. This guide will give you the perfect itinerary for one day in Athens to explore the city’s highlights and skip the attractions that aren’t worth it.
If you have more time, check out this 3-day itinerary!
When is the best time to visit?
The best time to visit Athens is generally in the spring or fall when the weather is warm but pleasant and there are fewer crowds. The ideal months are May or Sept-Oct for the best of both worlds. The Winter months can get cold and rainy, while the Summer months are popular but can be very hot and crowded since it is a popular time to visit. However, I went during the Summer and still loved it despite the heat and crowds!
Is Athens safe?
Safety is always a concern when traveling to any new city, especially for solo travelers. Athens is like any major city in that it has safe areas and not-so-safe areas. While the city is generally safe for tourists, I recommend sticking to well-lit and populated areas. Use Geosure and these other useful apps for solo travelers to check the safety rating of any city before you go.
The most common crimes against tourists include pickpocketing. I recommend buying useful travel accessories such as an anti-theft bag or a scrunchie with a hidden pocket to store emergency money. Overall, I felt extremely safe in Athens, following standard safety guidelines.
How do I get around?
It is straightforward to get around Athens, and there are multiple options for transportation:
- Walking: Athens is a very walkable city, and many main attractions are within walking distance of each other.
- Metro: The Athens metro is both cheap and convenient. Using the metro along with walking was my primary mode of transportation. The metro is usually open from 5 AM to midnight, though some lines extend services on Fridays and Saturdays. One 90-minute ticket costs approximately $1.50. Remember to save your ticket, as you have to swipe both at the entrance and the exit.
- Buses: Quite a few bus lines run throughout the suburbs and the city. I did not use any in Athens, as the metro was more convenient.
- Uber: Uber in Athens was surprisingly cheap (but maybe that’s because I’m comparing it to NYC). I found it to be very convenient at night. I highly recommend using Uber over taxis. It is easier to be scammed by a taxi, whereas Uber has the exact price you’re paying listed before you book.
Pro Tip: With only one day in Athens, I recommend walking, using the metro, and Uber!
Where to stay?
Since Athens is very well-connected, you can’t to go wrong when choosing an area to stay in. I recommend the areas around the city center, which include the following neighborhoods: Koukaki, Makriyanni, Plaka, Syntagma, Monastiraki, Psirri, Akadimia, and, of course, the City Center. The metro system interconnects all these neighborhoods.
For a good budget hotel option, especially for one night, I highly recommend the Psiri Hotel. The pricing can go as little as $35 a night. The staff is also lovely. They went out of their way to make me comfortable and always asked if I was missing anything. As a bonus, it is only a 15-minute walk to the Acropolis!
The One Day Itinerary
Acropolis and Acropolis Museum
Start your morning by grabbing breakfast near your hotel and visiting the Acropolis! The Acropolis is a must-see, especially if it is your first time in Athens. Known as one of the most iconic landmarks in Greece, it was built in the 5th century BC and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The Acropolis holds the Parthenon at the center, a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena.
Many people don’t know this, but there are two entrances to the Acropolis: the main entrance in the west and the Dionysus Theater entrance in the southeast. Since it is less popular, you want to head to the Dionysus Theater entrance to beat the rush. It is a longer walk, but if you head straight to the Parthenon at opening time, you will be faster than the tour groups. You can revisit the other ruins you pass later.
Another way to beat the crowds is to buy your ticket in advance. Using this link, you will get a digital copy of your ticket that you can also use for six other archaeological sites. There are other websites where you can get the ticket cheaper. However, they will require you to pick up a physical copy near the main entrance, which results in more lines and wasted time (not ideal for only one day in this city).
After the Acropolis, you can head to the Acropolis Museum located near the Acropolis. With over 4000 artifacts, including famous Greek art and architecture, you can see pieces from the Greek Bronze Age to Byzantine Greece. However, I recommend skipping the museum if you are not an art or architecture buff. Also, keep in mind that the museum doesn’t operate on Mondays.
After a few hours at the Acropolis, head to the Ancient Agora to see more beautiful Greek architecture. The Ancient Agora was considered the city’s marketplace in Ancient times and housed several ruins, including the Temple of Hephaestus. This temple is my favorite in Athens (even more than the Parthenon) because it is the best-preserved Ancient Greek temple in the entire city! Though the sheer size of the Parthenon is astounding, it was striking to see the smaller temple of Hephaestus, which was not marred by construction at every angle like the Parthenon. It is also lesser known, resulting in fewer crowds and better photo opportunities!
Pro tip: You may wonder about the other four ruins included in your ticket. With only one day in Athens, I recommend skipping them since you’ll have already seen the most impressive ruins. Many online guides recommend visiting the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch. However, unless you are a history or Greek architecture buff, you will get little out of it after spending half the day seeing ruins. With 24 hours in the city, it is essential to prioritize.
After enjoying the first half of the day seeing gorgeous Ancient Greek architecture, head to Plaka for lunch and shopping! Yes, Plaka can be touristy, and yes, the prices for souvenirs are a little higher than in other places. Still, there is a reason this charming neighborhood draws millions every year. The cozy Greek tavernas have traditional Greek fare, like souvlaki, moussaka, and dolmades. Plaka is also a great area to shop for souvenirs on a time crunch.
Monastiraki Flea Market
Head to the Monastiraki flea market next if you have time! This flea market is a great place to pick up souvenirs, from antiques to vintage clothing to art and jewelry. The bustling atmosphere feels lively, and many cafes line the street so you can stop for food or drink.
In the afternoon, about an hour before sunset, head to Lycabettus Hill. This hill is the highest point in the city, with panoramic views of Athens. It is a popular spot for hiking and, of course, watching the sunset. Luckily, if you are tired of walking (which I certainly was), you can take the funicular to the top for only $5.
The sunset view was breathtaking! It is popular amongst tourists and locals, but it is worth it despite the crowds. There is a small chapel dedicated to St. George at the top and a restaurant where you can grab a bite and enjoy some wine while soaking in the views.
Pro Tip: Take an Uber to the funicular. The road to the funicular is steep and difficult, especially for this with mobility issues. On top of that, directions are confusing and you may waste a lot of time trying to find the entrance.
Check out a Bar
Finally, end your night by checking out the bar scene! One of my favorite memories in Athens was walking out of my hotel and following the music until I ended up at a local bar with live music and people singing and dancing.
I highly recommend wandering around the city center area (where it is populated and well-lit) and finding a place with good music to walk into rather than trying to find a bar based on guides online. Doing so can lead to a more authentic experience rather than ending up in a bar where you only mingle with other tourists.
I hope you enjoy this itinerary for one day in Athens! As a final tip, feel free to start conversations with the people around you throughout the day. The people in Athens are friendly, and I had many fun interactions and genuine connections.