Speed Traveling: How To Truly Experience Athens In Under A Day

by Anastasia Valti-Spanopoulou

Us travel junkies know there’s always too much to see in too little time when you visit a new place for the first time. But sometimes all we get is a few hours in a city, and this is exactly the case with you and Athens. Be it because you’re trying to fit multiple cities in just a short vacation break, be it because you’re only in town waiting for your connection flight, or simply that you’re short on money, the fact remains that you have less than a day and wondering what to do in Athens to make it count. Well, we’ve been there and we can relate, so don’t worry, we’ve got your back! We’ve thought out all the unique experiences, local attractions, and fun things to do in Athens that you can actually squeeze in a speedy Athens tour that lasts under 12 hours. Granted, you’ll have to be fast, but we’ve organized our Athens guide around suggested duration time for each activity, to help you stay on schedule.


The best Athens tours for 'orientation day'!


Early Morning: 8:30-12:00 | Acropolis & Acropolis Museum

If you have time to see ONE and only ONE THING, that should be the Acropolis of Athens!

From the airport, hop on the metro (line 3) or the bus (X95) and ride all the way to Syntagma station. This will take about 40 minutes. From there, change directly to metro line 2,  and get off at the very next stop - Acropolis station. Voila! You’re right under one of the most important landmarks in Greece - if not the most important of all - the Acropolis. If you’re feeling fresh and are generally a fan of adventure tours, you can walk up there to see the Parthenon and the Erechtheion, and then take a small rest on Areopagus Hill, with a breathtaking view to the rest of the city. This is definitely one of the most unique things to do, and we strongly advise you to go for it if you’re after a truly representative travel experience of the city. But if you’re not the active type, you can still get a taste of the Acropolis, at the Acropolis museum: it’s an internationally acclaimed building, with incredible findings from the Acropolis, and an all-day screening of a documentary telling you all you need to know about the famous landmark. Still, you can see the Acropolis and other major landmarks in about 3 hours by joining one of our hand-picked sightseeing tours.

If you haven’t had breakfast yet, buy a koulouri to go from a street vendor outside the museum before continuing. Not sure what that is? Find out more about the ultimate Greek breakfast in our Greek foods bible.

Visit the Acropolis? Escape the queues and make the most of your time in Athens. 

Midday: 12:00-14:00 | Plaka & Monastiraki

Get lost in the beautiful Anafiotika alleys beneath the Acropolis! (Picture by ilias / Flickr)

As you leave the museum area, continue towards your right, into the picturesque area of Plaka - a definite Athens must see. This historic neighborhood is included in all sightseeing tours of Athens because it still preserves many traditional forms of Athens’ architectural past, including the old Cycladic-style houses built by settlers from the island of Anafi who lent their name to the famous neighborhood of Anafiotika. In the area you’ll also find several Greek tourist attractions (such as the Monument of Lysicrates , but also some of the best traditional Greek food in Athens. Watch out for the tourist traps though!

If, on the other hand, you’re not up for lunch yet, just continue walking ahead until you reach the popular Monastiraki area, which is synonymous to the best flea market in Athens. Here you can buy anything, from fresh fruit, to sandals, antiques, vinyls, furs, and many more. Along with Plaka, this is certainly the best place to also buy a couple of souvenirs for your loved ones back home, only Monastiraki might be preferable as you often get a chance to bargain for your knick-knacks! For original ideas on what souvenirs to look for, check out our relevant guide.

Another highlight of Monastiraki is that it features some of the best places to eat souvlaki - and you absolutely must try souvlaki, the absolute Greek street food! We suggest the old-school souvlaki of Kostas, but for more options you can always consult our very helpful souvlaki post. For the hard-core foodies who want to experience the best of Athens' flavors and aromas, a food tour is a MUST.

Fast and yummy experiences for foodies

Early Afternoon: 14:00-17:00 | Syntagma Square

Watch the change of the guard outside the Greek Parliamen (Picture by Daxis / Flickr)

Lunch should have refilled your batteries, so you’re probably up for walking a bit more up to Syntagma. If not, just hop on the metro for a quick minute, and you’ll find yourself facing one of the most gorgeous local attractions, the Greek Parliament. It’s worth waiting for the end of the hour to see the guard change, otherwise taking a picture next to the completely immobile guards is also one of the very classic and fun things to do in Athens (evil laugh).

From Syntagma, you’re just a quick step from two incredible Athens museums: the Benaki Museum, and the Museum of Cycladic Art, which we’ve already introduced to you in our Athens’ Top Museums List. The Benaki Museum covers a larger scope of Greek art and history, while the Cycladic Museum focuses exclusively on the ancient artefacts of the islands, which however are equally important and unbelievably beautiful. So take a pick - in both cases you’ll get a strong and representative taste of Greek culture.

Survive a hot day
Join an evening sightseeing tour

Late Afternoon: 17:00-19:00 | Kolonaki & Lycabettus Hill

Watch the sunset fro the Lycabettus hill (Picture Erik Drost/Flickr)

Very close to you is now the posh neighborhood of Kolonaki, where you can pretty much pick any sophisticated cafe -like the romantic Kolonaki café Portatif, or even a museum café- to take a nice little coffee break; your choices are literally infinite. Kolonaki is also perfect for taking a casual shopping stroll, as it’s home to all the major Greek and international designer boutiques, home stores, and beauty salons. If that hits a chord inside your heart, you can find more information in our guide on how to experience Kolonaki like a local, and our Athens shopping post.

If you are in the mood for incredible views of Athens and a gorgeous Greek sunset, head up to Lycabettus hill, an authentic Athens' landmark and one of Athens' rare green spaces overlooking the city and visible from almost every viewpoint. This is a great way to get in some exercise before you head back to a plane, but if you don’t want to work for it so much, there is an easy funicular that can deliver you straight to the top. 

Got more than a few hours? check our athens guide 

Evening Bonus: After 19:00 | Athens-by-Night

The cosy and atmospheric JazzinJazz (Photo @JazzinJazz/Instagram)

If, by any chance, you’ve still got time to kill, grab a healthy bite at Nice ‘n' Easy, one of the classiest places to eat in Athens. Alternatively, have an early drink at one of Athens' cool (and hidden!) bars, just to get a glimpse of Athens nightlife before heading back. Again, you have plenty of good choices, but for brevity's sake we can recommend Jazz in Jazz and Hippopotamus

If your layover is overnight and want to explore the after-hours Athens' nightlife, head to the rooftop Galaxy bar of Athens' Hilton for a drink-with-a-view or to Dybbuk club off-Syntagma square, which will definitely keep you busy till the early morning hours and just in time (we hope!) for your next flight from Athens airport or your ferry trip from Piraeus port to the Greek islands

Athens by night with the pros? We've got you covered!

discover athens best bars

So, what is your favorite thing to do in Athens?

P.S. All opinions expressed in this post are entirely personal, genuine, and not promotional in any way.

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New in town? Here’s a map to help you find all the spots and areas we highlighted.