Athens in 1 Day: all you need to know

Many people who travel to Greece to enjoy the beauty of its islands usually have a short stop in Athens to get to know the cradle of Western civilization. I invite you to continue reading the itinerary I have prepared for you so that you can make the most of your 24 hours in the city.

Keyvis Montilva

Keyvis Montilva

11 min read

Athens in 1 Day: all you need to know

Athens | ©Bogdan R. Anton

Plans to see and do in Athens abound so significantly that even a month's visit can fall short to fully explore the beauty of the Greek capital. However, that doesn't mean a day has to be wasted for lack of time. In fact, if you organize yourself strategically you can tour very significant parts of the city that would allow you to say with full confidence that you know Athens.

I have found a route of plans and activities that can occupy you from early in the morning until late in the afternoon and evening. Thanks to these ideas you will be able to get to know the historical heart of the city in just one day and you will have invested your time and money in a short but fun experience in this beautiful city.

1. Start the day in the Exarchia district by having breakfast near the National Archaeological Museum

National Archaeological Museum of Athens| ©Lucretius
National Archaeological Museum of Athens| ©Lucretius

Neighborhoods with a strong identity are always worth visiting and in the case of Exarchia this is exactly what you will find as soon as you set foot in its streets. It is a central neighborhood that is famous for being the base of the Athenian anarchists and intellectuals most associated with the left throughout the country.

Its streets have become over the years a real tourist attraction and this despite the fact that it is one of the few areas that still maintains resistance to undergo a process of gentrification. Inside this neighborhood is the National Archaeological Museum of Athens and the Polytechnic University of Athens.

Both are opposite each other and the whole neighborhood is also characterized by the excellent gastronomic offer that maintains throughout the year and by the commercial offer that leans towards bookstores and stores of vinyls and curiosities. Which can be a marvel for you if you are interested in this type of commercial establishments.

Being such a progressive neighborhood it is logical that there are plenty of alternatives to enjoy vegetarian food, but you also have the option of having breakfast in a couple of authentic Greek taverns. In which you will surely be playing rebetiko, the Greek blues that exists as a musical genre formed thanks to this type of neighborhoods.

2. Head south and pass by Omonia Square and Kotzia Square

Omonia Square| ©Costas Papachristou
Omonia Square| ©Costas Papachristou

When you are tired of walking the streets of Exarchia and are looking for a space a little more formal and less associated with urban subcultures you will have to head south until you walk to Omonia Square. This square is characterized for being a central point in the city and for being the top corner of what is known as the Historic Triangle of Athens.

In its metro station bearing the same name are the red and green line of the subway and is also a point where several intercity bus lines converge. It is next to two important avenues such as Stadiou and Panepistimiou. So passing through this point of the city is an excellent way to continue experiencing the more urban and everyday atmosphere of life in Athens.

If you keep walking for two more streets heading south and you will arrive at Kotziá Square, right in this space is the city hall of the city. It is worth visiting these two squares due to the fact that they are transit areas that you will have to walk through anyway to get to the tourist neighborhoods near the Acropolis.

Although it is also worth mentioning that many bike tours in Athens go through this area and if you prefer to get to the south of the city center on two wheels you could also do it. But keep in mind that you would have to adjust to the conditions of the route offered and there is no guarantee that you can leave the group at the next stop that interests you in this itinerary that I have planned for you.

Book the best bike tours in Athens

3. Quick tour of the Athens Central Market

Athens Central Market| ©Maurice
Athens Central Market| ©Maurice

It would be completely foolish to pretend that you are going to be in Kotzia Square and not recommend that you take a quick stroll through the alleys of the Central Market of Athens. If you visit it you will have the opportunity to see what an authentic Greek market looks like and curiously you will find yourself inside one of the largest in the whole country and definitely the most important in the whole capital.

This is a place that is visited by about 30 thousand people daily in search of fresh produce or also a gastronomic offer that is vibrant and faithfully follows the criteria of the Greek culinary world. I can't ask or advise you to waste too much time in this place for the fact that you still have a lot of stops left in your day's itinerary.

However, that doesn't mean it's not a good idea to go down to the basement full of restaurants and try a couple of Hellenic fast food dishes. A Gyro could be perfect, since you'd be able to take it in your hands and it would even be a good midday lunch to recharge your batteries and continue with so many activities that await you in the historic heart of Athens.

This idea is part of those things to see and do in Athens during the winter due to the fact that the tourist influx will be significantly lower during that time. Also because of the fact that it is a good opportunity to try typical Greek winter gastronomy.

4. Continue to the Ancient Agora and visit it for an hour or two

Ancient Agora with the temple of Hephaestus in the background| ©Larry
Ancient Agora with the temple of Hephaestus in the background| ©Larry

The next site you will visit on your tour of the city center will be the Ancient Agora of Athens. This is a sort of kilometer-long complex of ruins that contains several temples inside, such as the Hephaestion, the Temple of Ares and the Temple of Apollo.

From this corner of the city you cannot miss the aforementioned temples, but you should also not miss the Stoa of Attalus. It is an ancient building that was reconstructed under the architectural parameters of Ancient Greece and inside it contains a museum to replace the markets and trade center that existed there in the past.

In this site I do not recommend you to spend too much time beyond a couple of minutes for photo shoots and actually I advise you to get to this part of the city by taking a cab from the Central Market of Athens. It is a short drive and a long walk that could be useful to rest and get ready for the second stage of your day.

5. Go back to Monastiraki Square and see Hadrian's Library

Monastiraki Square with the Acropolis in the background| ©dronepicr
Monastiraki Square with the Acropolis in the background| ©dronepicr

Monastiraki is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Athens and is characterized by a rather peculiar architecture that retains many criteria and details of Byzantine aesthetics.

Its square is a must-see for most of the specialists in the city and that is why it is a good idea to get there by walking through the street market of Monastiraki. For on this path you might find a couple of pieces of Greek jewelry worth taking home or also various packaged ingredients of the delicious Athenian gastronomy.

Very close to this square, just behind the Tzisdarakis Mosque, is the Library of Hadrian, which was a cultural complex that was built in the second century after Christ during the time of the Roman occupation of Athens. You should take advantage of going to these ruins, as it will only represent about 15 to 20 minutes of your itinerary and in the next stops you will leave it far behind and will not be able to return.

6. Continue your tour through the Anafiotika and Plaka neighborhoods

Plaka| ©jtstewart
Plaka| ©jtstewart

After being in Hadrian's Library you will find yourself in a very favorable panorama, as these ruins are just a couple of streets away from one of the most important and touristic corners of Athens. This is the neighborhood of Anafiotika and this is a small residential area that today is a tourist epicenter. This is because of its picturesque and narrow steep streets that form a community of white and very handcrafted houses.

It really looks like a rural Greek village in the middle of the most important urban metropolis of the whole country. Another factor that makes it stand out as a site worth touring for you on your short visit to Athens is that it is a neighborhood that is right at the foot of the Acropolis and this offers a very significant closeness that will make you feel like an Athenian settler in the times of the ancient Greek empires.

Keep in mind that Anafiotika is next to Plaka, another equally peculiar neighborhood that extends over an area 5 to 7 times larger and that you can not miss if you are already in this area of the city. Its streets are also full of old Byzantine houses with a very handmade aesthetic, painted white and between cobblestone streets. As well as mansions that meet all the beauty of Mediterranean neoclassicism of southern Greece.

Among the best things to do in the neighborhood of Plaka in Athens are to sit and have a Greek coffee in one of the many cafes that abound in every corner of the neighborhood or order a typical dessert of Greek cuisine such as Baklava.

7. Culminate your day with a climb up to the Acropolis and a visit to its museum

The Acropolis| ©Mauricio Muñoz
The Acropolis| ©Mauricio Muñoz

Once in the neighborhood of Plaka you will have to take a direction of the streets that will follow you towards the south, because your final goal of the day will be to reach the neighborhood of Makrygianni. That is, where the entrance to the Acropolis of Athens is located and the respective museum that is a couple of meters from that busy access point.

The Acropolis Museum stands out for being a modernist building that contrasts between the conservative and ancient neighborhood in which it is built. It remains open every day of the week until 8:00 pm and that means you can take your time to get to it without having to limit your enjoyment in all the previous activities I have mentioned to you.

For its part, the Acropolis of Athens is the most important tourist attraction in the whole city and therefore it is predictable that you will be interested in visiting it before you have to return home or before embarking on your trip to any other corner of this magnificent country. Keep in mind that it also has extended hours until 8 pm, but this is reserved for the summer, since from early November until the end of March it only receives visitors until 17:00.

I advise you to book a guided tour of the Acropolis of Athens for around 5 or 6 pm, since at that time you should be at the point of admission to these important ruins of Western culture. Keep in mind that like the Ancient Agora, it has an admission fee, but with a guided tour you have access to detailed explanations from a specialist in its history and also an escort to the Acropolis Museum.

Buy the best guided tours of the Acropolis of Athens

Alternative plans after Monastiraki Square

Cruise in Athens| ©Herbert Frank
Cruise in Athens| ©Herbert Frank

If you have no interest whatsoever in visiting the Acropolis of Athens due to the fact that you prefer to go to this important site in other types of less fair and timed circumstances, then I have also taken it upon myself to look for alternative plans that can occupy the rest of your day while you are still in Athens.

So I invite you to continue reading about the activities you could do from that point onwards on the itinerary you were on at Monastiraki Square. Only now you would decide to go to the north of the city instead of the south, where the access point to the Acropolis is.

Keep in mind that the Acropolis may be something you visit quickly between the interval of the disembarkation of the cruise ships in Athens that bring you back from the Greek islands. For they usually arrive at the port in the early morning hours and if your return flight is in the afternoon or evening, you have an excellent interval to be able to visit this architectural wonder of Ancient Greece.

The best cruises in Athens

1. Walk Plaka and Syntagma and go to Constitution Square

Basically, the idea of walking the streets of Plaka will remain intact and this is a favorable thing, as this part of the city is one of the most beautiful of all. Now, there is an adjustment in the route due to the fact that you will now head north, in the direction of Syntagma Square.

That means that at some point you will stop being in Plaka and move on to walk the streets of the neighborhood that bears the same name as the most important square in the Greek capital. Which is known as Constitution Square by a large part of the locals.

There you will find the Hellenic Parliament building, which is imposing enough to be admired next to the Grande Bretagne Hotel which is located just at the northern end of this square. If this short visit to the Greek capital takes place at Christmas time then this decision to come to Syntagma Square becomes even more interesting. For seeing up close the beautiful Christmas decorations that are put up at this time is one of the best things to see and do in Athens during the Christmas season.

2. Enter the National Garden and exit at the northern end

Undoubtedly the National Garden of Athens is the most important public park in the Greek capital and being in Syntagma Square you have the ease of approaching it to walk a small section of its gigantic extension.

It remains open from sunrise to sun set and therefore if the sun is still shining on the horizon it is a good idea to enter the access area closest to the square and from there go out on the path that takes you to Sekeri Street, located at the northern end of the Garden.

Keep in mind that walking through this park is one of the best things to do and see in Athens in summer. This is due to the fact that it is a safe escape from the heat and the oppressive Mediterranean sun that can be exhausting after a whole day of urban tours under its strong radiation.

3. Enjoy an authentic Greek dinner at one of the restaurants in Kolonaki

To end your day on a high note I recommend you to do one of the best things to see and do in Athens at night. It is to go to an authentic Athenian restaurant in the Kolonaki neighborhood, which for many locals is the most elegant in the central region of the city.

I can't tell you to choose a specific one, since there are more than 50 commercial establishments dedicated to the world of gastronomy in the area. What I can advise you is to go for a place that looks like it offers authentic Greek food or at least tries to manage the ambiance of a cozy tavern typical of the best of Athenian society.