If you’re a history nerd like me, you know Athens is full of ancient treasures and plenty to do and see. The problem is that you might feel a bit overwhelmed (or underwhelmed if you’re not the history type) with what Athens has to offer. There’s definitely more to experience than Acropolis alone, with something for everyone.
Here’s my guide to Athens, hitting the must-sees in 3 days.
Check into the hostel, drop off your stuff, and ask for a map. I stayed in the Monastiraki area, which was a great location to see Acroplois and all the other historical sights nearby, at a hostel called Pella-Inn. I stayed in a private room with an ensuite bathroom, and got lucky enough to have had a terrace (and a rooftop bar) with a great view of Acropolis. It was 50 euros per night (divided in two with my partner), not exactly the backpackers’ budget, but worth it to me.
Note: If you arrive in the morning with enough time to have a full day ahead, this is a great plan for the day. If you arrive later, you can skip ahead in my suggestions to make it fit the time you have.
Once you’ve checked in, head out and do some exploring in your neighborhood. While you’re out, check out some historical sights, like Hadrian’s Library and Ancient Agora near Monastiraki Square. It’s a great little piece of history that is easily accessible and while you’re there, you can buy a bundle pack of all the sites. Students get half off, or sometimes free, to almost everything in Athens, so be sure to ask, and bring your student card (or at the very least, the student visa in your passport) to show everywhere you go. There is a bundle ticket pack for 30 euros for 8 major sites, or 15 euros if you’re a student. The price to see Acropolis alone is 20 euros, so even if you don’t use all the tickets, you still save some money by buy-in in bulk.
After that, check out the shops in the Bazaar market where you’ll find antiques, souvenirs, jewelry stores with super affordable silver trinkets and Greek symbols to remember your trip by, and more. There is also a great one in the Plaka district, and at some point they kind of connect. Get lost in the maze of streets following whatever catches your eye until you get hungry. You what comes next…
Lunch! The best part of my day is when I get to eat when I arrive in a new place. I got numerous recommendations by locals for Thanasis, a great little place for the best Souvlaki (Greek gyros) in Athens. Even better, take away is cheaper than table service in most of Europe, so a bottle of water and some fat pita-wrapped goodness only ran me about 3 euros. And I got to sit in the square and people watch while I had a food-gasm and had time to myself to let it hit me that I’m actually in Greece! I love those moments.
After a long day, I like to go find a little place on the way back to my hostel to get off my feet in the late afternoon and have a glass (or three) of local wine, maybe a snack (for me that means dessert), and figure out my next move. Also, asking local store clerks their favorite place to eat is a great way to find the best places for dinner later.
If you’re traveling in the summer, it’s likely you’ll be covered in sticky sweat from being out all day. The weather in Athens in the summer is hot and humid! I like to head back to the hostel, shower up, and refresh before heading out for the night. This is also a good time to mingle with other travelers in your hostel’s common space. In my situation, I went up to the rooftop bar and made some new friends over drinks as we watched the sunset before dinner, and watched Acropolis light up.
Dinner can be as luxurious or as cheap as you want it. You could even split some appetizers and a main dish with some of your new friends to try new things while keeping costs low. For the first night, I found a little square with live music at a family owned restaurant (it was packed for a Monday night) and ordered one of their specials, which was filling, authentic and healthy for only 9 euros. Can’t beat that price while sitting in a square with mostly locals enjoying some traditional Greek music and good, homestyle food and warm hospitality.
Wake up early enough to have Greek yogurt and coffee for breakfast before you start your day. I’m sure it’s everywhere, but the place I found myself going back to was called Thesis 7 where I had the best yogurt I’ve ever had. I also met the owners, who were a warm, middle aged couple who were humbly proud after receiving my compliments about their yogurt being the best I’ve had. Best part, it’s organic and made fresh every morning.
After breakfast, it’s time to head up to see the famous Acropolis. You can buy tickets at any historical site, so get them before you head up the mountain because the ticket line was ridiculous for it only being 9:45am when I was there! Luckily, I bought the all-inclusive ticket the day before, saving myself time, money and a sunburn while standing in that line. I also packed a few more sites into my day, which I don’t talk about here. Acropolis has 4 or 5 monuments to see in the general area, so you’ll be there for awhile. You can see almost all of Athens from there and it’s pretty cool to think that you’re standing at the ancient Parthenon. I didn’t go to the Acropolis Museum, but I heard it was a must-see, and has a great view for lunch. Check it out for yourself!
Acropolis, the beating Greek sun and the walking/hiking will surely tire you out. Go grab lunch at a nearby place down the hill for another round of Souvlaki, or maybe try a Greek Salad (about 6 euros anywhere you go), and some local wine.
After that, there’s time to see the Temple of Zeus, which is in the Plaka district coming down the mountain. In my opinion, even as a history lover, it’s enough to snap a few photos from outside the gate without going in. Not much to see, visually.
For dinner, take a local’s advice and enjoy! If you want a little nightlife, there are plenty of lively bars and quirky artistic type places with live music in Monastiraki District.
After the usual breakfast of yogurt, or a savory Greek pastry, head over to Syntagma Square and watch the Changing of The Guards (every hour, on the hour) at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Photo op! But, be careful, because the soldier monitoring the tourists taking photos will yell at you if you don’t follow his rules. It’s a serious tradition and should be taken as such by onlookers. I thought it was very nice that they even allow tourists up on the platform to take photos in the first place.
When that’s done, you just happen to be right next to the National Gardens. It’s easy to get lost in there since it’s so big and full of paths to take (much like life). If you want to see more monuments, I’d suggest cutting through the garden to see Panathinaiko Stadium, the birthplace of the Olympics. I just so happened to be there during the 2016 Rio Olympics, so it was really cool to experience the first ever Olympic stadium during that time and it really made me appreciate it.
For dinner, a quick Souvlaki was good enough for me so I could have some time to relax back at the hostel. After dinner, I found this little gem in my neighborhood for dessert called Serbetia. The Baklava was the best I’d ever had (and I’ve had a lot of Baklava in my life)! It was the perfect balance of sweet honey and flaky pastry, with just enough nuts and filling inside. Be sure to check it out!
Athens was amazing and so underrated in terms of an actual destination for travel, not just a city to pass through. I will definitely be coming back to explore deeper!