Athens 2 Day Itinerary: How To Enjoy Greece’s Ancient Capital

sunset behind ruins of a roman gate with pillars

Greece is full of gorgeous goodies, but while you’re getting tempted by beaches and islands and mountain-top towns, don’t overlook Athens, the most ancient of European capitals. To see the best of Athens over a weekend, check out this Athens 2 day itinerary.

I’ve been to many stunning islands in Greece but on my last trip, I added a couple of extra days to the itinerary so that I could spend two days in Athens at the end. It was a really good contrast to the islands – and I’m really glad I saw this side of Greece as well as the more typical summer holiday destinations.

This Athens two-day itinerary makes sure you see the most exciting treasures of Athens! 

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Why visit Athens?

Athens has a lot going for it!

I wouldn’t say it is comparable with the other major capitals of Europe (like Paris or Barcelona) in terms of architecture and style – and Athens can be shabby and feel a little run-down in places.  It is not something I minded at all, but worth knowing.

Door way in athens with broken window and graffiti, chained up with a padlock
Athens street

But, of course, the big draw to Athens is its ancient treasures. Athens has been continuously inhabited for several millennia, with the oldest records dating from 1600 BC, making it one of the world’s oldest cities and the oldest European capital city.

In Ancient Greece, Athens was the largest and most powerful city-state, named after Athena, the goddess of wisdom and warfare. Remains from the ancient Greek civilisation is all over Athens, none more obvious than the Acropolis, a cluster of temples high on a hilltop, watching over the city. It is quite something to be driving around a modern city, overlooked by a bunch of 2,500-year-old temples!

View from the Metropolis Hotel in Athens
View of the Acropolis from the Metropolis Hotel

And, as you’d expect from a city this old, there are also relics and reminders from many different ages. These include the centuries when Greece was ruled by foreign empires including the Romans and Ottomans.

I’ve built in lots of these historic archaeological sights into this Athens 2 day itinerary. But I’ve also left some slack in the schedule because Athens can get hot even in the shoulder season – so you may not want to race around too much.

Athens 2 Day Itinerary: at a glance

Here’s my suggested itinerary for two days in Athens, in a nutshell:

Day 1

  • Morning: explore historic Monastiraki
  • Afternoon: marvel at the ancient Acropolis
  • Evening: classic Greek food  

Day 2

  • Morning: Panathenaic Stadium and the peaceful National Garden.
  • Afternoon: Temple of Olympian Zeus and Plaka
  • Evening: Dinner with a view.
close up of ancient greek marble columns and crests at the acropolis in athens
Detail from the Parthenon

Athens 2 Day Itinerary: in detail

Day 1

Day 1 of this Athens two-day itinerary will get you right into the thick of ancient Greece, as you explore both the Acropolis and the historical district of Monastiraki.

There are tickets required for some of the attractions I’m recommending. Some you could admire without paying to go inside, but if you want to explore inside all of them, it would be worth considering a combination ticket which covers 6 archaeological sites around Athens, because four of them are in this itinerary (the Acropolis, the Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library and the Temple of Olympian Zeus). You can find more info here.

Morning: Monastiraki

Spend the morning of the first day exploring Monastiraki, a commercial district at the foot of the Acropolis, that is also peppered with ancient ruins and monuments from several civilisations, making it a fascinating place to explore. 

coulmns and plinth of a roman ruin in athens
Gate of Athena Archegetis in The Roman Agora, Monastiraki

Some highlights of Monastiraki include:

  • Monastiraki Square: the heart of the area and home to the 10th-century Church of the Virgin Mary Pantanassa. The church was once known as monastiraki (“little monastery”), which eventually became the name of the whole area.
  • Just off the square is another attractive building, Tzistarakis Mosque, built in 1759 during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. It is now part of the Museum of Greek Folk Art.
  • Hadrian’s Library was created by Roman Emperor Hadrian in AD 132. It originally has space for storing books, as well as reading rooms and lecture halls.
  • The Roman Agora (or Forum) is another roman ruin in Monastiraki, which has the remains of many buildings in what was a market or meeting place. Two of the best presented structures are the Tower of the Winds and the Gate of Athena Archegetis.

Afternoon: The Acropolis

Lunch

Enjoy lunch at L’Amiral Athens, near the Roman Agora. They serve Greek food but with some modern and international additions.

The Main Event

After a leisurely lunch, it’s time to explore the Acropolis! The Acropolis overlooks Athens like an ancient guardian. And the centrepiece of the Acropolis is the Parthenon: the temple of Athena.

Some might prefer to explore the Acropolis in the morning when the temperatures are lower – because it is very exposed up there on the hilltop, with little shade.  However, it is just gorgeous in the late afternoon / early evening. I loved the way the stone columns glowed in the sun, giving a hint of its former splendour.

marble columns on the Acropolis glow yellow in the late afternoon sun
2,500 year old marble columns on the Acropolis glow in the late afternoon sun

That said, if it’s a super-hot day, I suggest you switch the afternoon and morning items on day 1 and do the Acropolis tour earlier in the day.

To get up to the Acropolis from Monastiraki, head up Panos street until you come to Panatenaicos, which will connect you to the Acropolis path.

This is the one attraction which you can’t just look at from the outside – I highly recommend going inside.  If you don’t have a combination ticket, you can buy an Acropolis ticket. These start from €13 but will be more if you want to go into the museum and/or to use an audio guide.

Things To See On The Acropolis

Whilst there are older remains, most of the monuments that you will see on the Acropolis were built in the Fifth Century BC.

On the way up to the Acropolis, look out for a view of the well-preserved Odeon of Herodes Atticus. This is an impressive amphitheatre, built in the 2nd century BC – and I heard it still gets used to this day!

View of ancient greek amphitheatre in athens, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Odeon of Herodes Atticus

You enter and exit the Acropolis at the western end, at the Beule Gate and you’ll immediately be flanked by two ruins: the Pedestal of Agrippa, built in 178 BC in honour of Eumenes II winning a chariot race; and The Temple of Athena Nike, dedicated to the goddesses Athena and Nike, the goddess of victory.

Beyond that, you’ll pass through the Propylaea, which has impressive marble columns. This is a great spot to see the sun set over the city and the ocean – casting shadows through the columns.

warm sky seen through the doorways and marble pillars of the Propylaea on the acropolis in athens
Late afternoon at the Propylaea, looking out to the Aegean sea

Once you’re out of the Propylaea, you’ll be able to explore the flat-ish plateau, which contains many statues and temples, including the Erechtheion, with its striking Maiden Porch, with pillars made from statues of young women.

ancient greek ruin with pillars made from statues of young women in athens
The Maiden Porch

However, the crown jewel of the Acropolis is the Parthenon, the biggest and most impressive of the temples, considered the finest example of ancient Greek architecture.

corner of the parthenon temple, glowing golden in the sunset in athens
The Parthenon

There’s a viewpoint at the eastern end of the Acropolis, from which you can see across Athens and also to other ancient sites, including the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

You can also see down to the Theatre of Dionysus to the south.

Top tips for exploring the Acropolis
  • Wear grippy shoes: the path up there is not too steep, but you will be glad of these at the top, because the rock floor is very smooth and slippery in places.
  • Wear sunscreen and a hat, as there is not much shade up there
  • Bring water
  • Stick to the paths!  Some of the ruins look like discarded stones, but that doesn’t mean you can go and sit on them!

You can explore on your own, but if you want a guided tour of the Acropolis, these are available as well.

Ancient greek temple the parthenon with scaffolding and cranes on the scropolis
The Parthenon being renovated

Evening: Classic Greek food

After all that exploring, you may well have worked up an appetite!  For dinner, enjoy some Greek food at Bandiera in Monastiraki.

Day 2

Morning: Panathenaic Stadium and National Garden

The Beautiful Marble

In the morning, check out the Panathenaic Stadium, also known as ‘Kallimarmaro’, meaning ‘beautiful marble’.  This is a large stadium built in 330BC for the Panathenaic Games, though the marble was added in 160AD. After being disused for many centuries, it was excavated in the 19th century and used at the first modern Olympics in 1896, and then again in the 2004 Athens Olympics.

It’s a stunning site. It is large and well-preserved. It can also be baking on a hot day, as the sun reflects off the pale marvel – hence me suggesting this is a morning activity before the sun gets high and hot. General admission tickets are €10.

marble arena with greek flags on display at the Panathenaic Stadium in athens
Panathenaic Stadium
Chill Out in the Park

As the sun creeps higher in the sky, I suggest you retreat to somewhere green and shady. The National Garden is close to the stadium and a wonderful antidote to all the baking hot stones you’ve seen this morning. There are some interesting features here including the Monument to the Unknown Soldier and Zappeio Hall, but it’s very pleasant to simply wander the park. There are plenty of trees for shade and the gardens are large, so you can wander in peace or take a seat and relax for a while.

Afternoon: Temple of Olympian Zeus and Plaka

Lunch

Have lunch at Pantheon, a laid-back place near the park with an extensive brunch & lunch menu including sandwiches, salads, burgers and sharing platters.

The Final Ruin

After lunch, there is one more archaeological ruin on the agenda: the Temple of Olympian Zeus. This huge temple to Zeus took over 600 years to complete – and was actually completed by the Roman Emperor, Hadrian.  There isn’t as much left intact of this temple compared to the Parthenon, but you can tell from the size of the site that this must have been an impressive sight when it was built.  

City of Athens and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, seen from the Acropolis
Temple of Olympian Zeus, seen from the Acropolis
Plaka

Your final activity is a chilled one: I suggest you spend the time before dinner exploring another interesting and historical Athens neighbourhood: Plaka, known as the ‘Neighborhood of the Gods’ due to its proximity to so many temples. I found this area really charming.

Depending on how much energy and time you have, there are several things to see and do in Plaka, including:

  • Adrianou Street, the main street which runs through Plaka
  • Church of Agios Nikolaos Rangavas, a quaint 11th century Byzantine church
  • Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, which, architecture fans might appreciate, is the first Greek monument built in the Corinthian order on its exterior.

However, you may want to do what I did and simply wander around without an agenda, taking turns down streets that look interesting, seeing what you can find. I really liked the laid back realness of this area.

quaint street with old buildings, streets and scooters in Plaka, athens
Plaka street

Evening: Dinner With A View

For your last night in Athens, have dinner at Stork Bar Restaurant at the Niche Hotel, which has a rooftop terrace offering diners a perfect view of the Acropolis. Toast the ancient Greeks as you enjoy a view of their most famous temples.

Map: Athens 2 Day Itinerary

Here’s a map of the places to see and things to do in Athens in this Athens 2 Day Itinerary.

When to go to Athens

Athens is in Southern Europe, which means hot summers!  Therefore, the peak months of June, July and August can be oppressively hot – the kind of heat that’s fine if you’re on a Greek island dipping in the Aegean sea, but not if you’re walking the pavements of a busy city, or wandering around ruined temples with no shade.

Therefore, I suggest the shoulder seasons are better times to visit.  April, May, September and October will still have highs in the 20s (Centigrade). I went in mid-September and it was still very warm.

How to get to Athens

Check Skyscanner for good flight deals to Athens. Athens is served by Athens International Airport, from which you can get into the city by metro train, bus or taxi.  Use the Citymapper app to navigate public transport in Athens.

However, I didn’t fly into Athens, I sailed in on a small ship cruise island-hopping around the Cyclades islands, which was an absolutely dreamy trip!  Combining two days in Athens with a tour of the Cyclades was a perfect combination.

Where to stay in Athens

I stayed at the Metropolis hotel, close to both Plaka and Monastiraki. It is a modest 3-star hotel. The room wasn’t huge, but my room had a view of the Acropolis, so I was delighted with my stay there.

Fun tip: On nearby Mitropoleos Street, watch out for the mini church that seems to be under a modern building!

tiny church building under a grey modern multi-story building in Athens greece
A surprise on Mitropoleos Street!
Enjoy your time in Athens!

Let me know in the comments if you have any other favourite spots in Athens.

Do check out my post about the Cyclades Islands in Greece. And if you are interested in any other ancient cities, have you considered Dubrovnik, the Pearl of the Adriatic?

Finally, if you have enjoyed this article, I’d be delighted if you were to share it 😊

If you like this article, I'd be delighted if you shared it!

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