“When the city comes alive with the evening song, we dance in the shadow of the great Parthenon.” ~ Giannis Georhantelis.
Is spending 3 days in Athens worth it? There are so many reasons to visit beautiful Greece, including its gorgeous islands, but sometimes its awe-inspiring capital is overlooked. Depending on who you ask, some will say creating an Athens 3 day itinerary is totally not worth it. But why is that?
We know Mykonos can be overrated, but during my time in Athens Αθήνα I realised it’s a bit like Paris in the sense that the area you stay in may skew your entire experience of the city. Having stayed in different neighbourhoods during my trips to Athens, I went from an endless selection of bustling tavernas outside my hotel to a quiet suburban area with not much going on. And I don’t want this for you!
With its iconic Parthenon towering above the ancient winding pavements below, tales of Athens’ fascinating history can be found at every turn: From walking in the footsteps of Greek philosophers to discovering structures built by Julius Caesar, Athens’ laid-back vibe with undeniable allegiance to its past will lure you in and leave you wanting more.
If you’re wondering how many days to spend in Athens to make it worthwhile, I’ve got you covered. My detailed Athens itinerary will show you how to make the most of your visit by uncovering the meanings of things hiding in plain sight, paired with some honest truths, ways to avoid crowds, and things to do if you have extra time. Read on for more!
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How to get to Athens
Athens International Airport Eleftherios Venizelos is located 33 kilometres south-east of the city centre. You can jump in a taxi as you leave the airport, take an express bus or catch the metro:
- Taxi: 45 mins by taxi to the Plaka area, approx € 38
- Express bus: X95 line to Sygtama Square, approx 1 hour 10mins, € 6 ea
- Metro: Approx 1 hour by train to the Plaka area, € 10ea (or € 18 for 2 people).
Where to eat in Athens
Follow your nose! Dining out is mostly a casual experience in Athens, with many streets in Plaka, Anafiotika, Monastiraki and Syntagma specifically lined with tavernas, eateries and bars with outdoor seating.
You don’t need to make reservations for most tavernas, however it may be a good idea to reserve a day or so in advance during peak tourism season in summer. I did love Geros tou Moria in Plaka!
3 Days in Athens Itinerary: Complete Guide for First-Timers
DAY 0: Welcome to Athens
Our arrival day of this Athens itinerary will be an easy one. Take your time getting to your hotel, brush up on these Athens travel tips, find your bearings and ease your way into Greece time. The early bird catches the worm, so tomorrow we begin!
Transport in Athens
There are only 3 train lines on the Athens Metro, with no one station where all 3 intersect. It’s safe to say you’ll be doing a lot of walking between sights.
Additionally, there is a tram from Syntagma Station running south-west from the city centre where it then splits into two opposite directions along the coast. More info about the Metro and tram lines here.
DAY 1: Historical City Centre of Athens
Known as the Neighbourhood of the Gods due to its ancient streets tightly hugging the Acropolis’s base and nearby archaeological sites, the Plaka Πλάκα area is the beating heart of Athens.
On our first day of this Athens itinerary, we’re going to start from our accommodation in Plaka, meander our way on foot through ancient, bougainvillaea-framed laneways and explore historical sites that have made Athens the city it is today.
We’ll finish up the day at the Acropolis, and you’ll soon find out why I suggest leaving this until last!
TIP: It’s also possible to visit the following locations in the reverse order, starting at the Acropolis (buy advance tickets here) and finishing at the Roman Agora. It’s lovely at sunset.
This is one not known to many foreign visitors. Begin the morning by heading towards the Anafiotika Αναφιώτικα area, its whitewashed homes resembling those of Cycladic islands such as Santorini and Mykonos, rather than Greece’s capital.
This is because Cycladic builders were considered the best in Greece during the 19th century, and were invited by King Otto to renovate his palace at the time.
Within these picturesque laneways, these craftsmen built their residences in their own style as reminders of their home islands. The area has some of the most scenic views over the city on the way to our first of many Athens attractions.
TIP: The 11th century Holy Church of Saint Nicholas Rangavas in this neighbourhood has a beautifully preserved Byzantine facade.
NOTE: As this is a very quiet and sometimes pedestrian-only zone, kindly remember to “be invisible” here and not disturb the locals who call this area their home.
Tower of the Winds
From Anafiotika, stroll towards the Roman Agora. Its centrepiece is the dominant Tower of the Winds Αέρηδες, which played a fascinating role in the past.
Known formally as Horologion of Andronikos Cyrrhestes, the octagonal marble structure is decorated with carvings of figures depicting wind patterns.
Built by a Syrian astronomer during the 1st century BC, the tower once featured a water clock, weather vane, sun dial and even a compass.
Roman Agora of Athens
With the Greek word for market in its name, there is more than meets the eye within the Roman Agora Ρωμαϊκή Αγορά Αθηνών. Its creation was funded by Julius Caesar and Augustus in 146 BC.
Once a bustling open market for locals, the site was destroyed during invasions by the Ottomans (1456) and Venetians (1687) throughout the centuries, and today the archaeological site is partially excavated.
TIP: From here, pass the remains of Hadrian’s Library Βιβλιοθήκη του Αδριανού before strolling through Adrianoy Αδριανού and Klepsydras Street οδός κλεψύδρας in the shadow of the Acropolis for a lovely view.
With the Acropolis as an iconic backdrop, the area surrounding Monastiraki Square Μοναστηράκι is believed to be one of the oldest inhabited neighbourhoods in Western culture for 6,000 consecutive years – that’s 3,000 years before the Parthenon was even built!
You’ll notice a fascinating blend of different architectural styles in the square itself, from Byzantine-style structures, relics of Ottoman rule and even modern architecture. This section is also known as the Monastiraki flea market.
Old shoemakers dominated the square centuries ago, so you’ll see many stores selling leather sandals, other leather goods, hats, and clothing with fresh produce stalls thrown into the mix. Spend a few hours leisurely exploring the nearby streets.
TIP: By now, it’s likely you’ll be hungry so it’s time for lunch! There are countless tavernas and eateries lining narrow streets off the main road of Ermou Street οδός ερμου, so follow your nose and enjoy a break. After lunch, head towards the Ancient Agora of Athens (not to be confused with the Roman Agora we visited earlier).
Ancient Agora of Athens
A meeting point for political figures and lawmakers in its time, Athens’ Ancient Agora is the best preserved of its kind in Greece. Dating back to the 4th century BC, this archaeological site located to the north-west of the Acropolis once was a thriving hub of activity up until 267 AD.
TIP: Book skip-the-line tickets and an audio guide tour in advance here.
You’ll see the beautifully preserved Temple of Hephaestus Ναός του Ηφαίστου. Taking on the appearance of a miniature Parthenon, its marble columns and roof are mostly intact despite dating back to 415 BC.
Famed philosopher Socrates (470-399 BC) frequented the Ancient Agora and was said to question his fellow Athenians about justice and truth in front of crowds.
This questioning about thoughts and beliefs led him to be charged with corrupting the minds of the youth, ultimately sentencing him to death. He was imprisoned in a cave you can still see today (more on this down the page), which is now known as Socrates Prison.
Acropolis of Athens
Just 10 mins walk from the Ancient Agora, there’s a reason this is our final stop today! The Acropolis of Athens is the busiest attraction in the city. To clear up confusion, the Parthenon is the ancient temple dedicated to goddess Athena, and the Acropolis refers to the ancient hill it was built on.
Opening Hours: 8am – 8pm in summer, 8am – 5pm in winter.
TIP: Most tour groups clear out from mid-afternoon around 3pm, so we’ll take advantage of extended hours to avoid crowds!
Things to see at the Acropolis of Athens
Included in the tour, your guide will cover:
- Parthenon – Built during the 5th century BC, this marble-columned temple is the icon of Athens, dedicated to the goddess Athena.
- Propylaea – The old main entrance to the Parthenon.
- Erechtheion – Divided into two chambers, the Erechtheion features six stunning Karyatids dressed in flowing robes (these are replicas of the originals though – more on this tomorrow!).
- Temple of Athena Nike – Compact temple once destroyed by the Persians but rebuilt soon after in 435 BC.
- Altar of Asclepius – Ancient healing sanctuary for those in poor health.
- Theater of Dionysus – One of the oldest stages for Greek theatre, this arch-shaped structure’s stone seating remains mostly intact.
- You’ll also see the Odeon of Herodes Atticus old theatre when exploring the Acropolis.
DAY 2: Uncovering Athenian Treasures
On day 2 of our 3 day Athens itinerary, we’ll explore new areas and learn about a war that still rages today. Let’s beat crowds at the Acropolis Museum, visit some significant ruins, find an ancient prison cave, and see ocean views from a beautiful hilly vantage point.
We’ll begin our morning at the Acropolis Museum, home to over 3,000 ancient artefacts from the archaeological site. As this is a popular attraction, we can beat crowds by visiting at 9am when it opens, before it gets busy around 10 – 11am.
TIP: Buy Acropolis Museum entry tickets in advance here to save time at the door, and allow about 1.5 – 2 hours to fully explore!
Remember the six Karyatids we saw at the Acropolis yesterday? Here in the museum are the original sculptures, however you’ll notice a blank space for one that’s missing.
In 1800, Lord Elgin took a Karyatid, amongst other artefacts from the Parthenon, to decorate his mansion back in the United Kingdom. He later sold this statue and others to the British Museum in London, where they have been housed since.
For decades, Greece has been campaigning the British Museum to return the artefacts, now known as the Elgin Marbles. The British Museum argued Greece had no permanent site to house them, and they are too old to be moved.
In response, Greece opened the purpose-built Acropolis Museum in 2009. Created as a permanent preservation site for all ancient artefacts from the Acropolis, the British Museum ignored its opening and actually loaned the Elgin Marbles to the State Hermitage Museum in Russia in 2014, which enraged Greek people.
The Greeks ultimately sued the British Museum to return the Elgin Marbles and lost the case in 2015. Do you think the Elgin Marbles should be returned now they have a specialty-built home back in Greece?
Roman Temple of Olympian Zeus & Arch of Hadrian
Its towering Roman-style columns dominating the nearby area, the Temple of Olympian Zeus is one to include on your Athens itinerary. Building commenced in the 6th century BC, however due to political conflict at the time it remained incomplete for three centuries.
When Roman Emperor Hadrian came along in 125 BC, he commissioned for the temple to be finished and dedicated the site to Zeus, chief of the Olympian gods. While the remains of one column were thrust to the ground by a lightning strike, it’s amazing to think there were once over 100 marble columns that made up this temple!
TIP: Book an informative guided tour of the temple here. You’ll learn why one of the temple’s marble columns is horizontally stacked and the difference between Roman and Greek columns.
Nearby Arch of Hadrian is worth a visit, an 18-metre high marble gate built in 131 BC as a thanks to Roman Emperor Hadrian for his contributions in rebuilding the city of Athens.
From here, you can either visit the Panathenaic Stadium (the only one of its kind in the world made from marble that dates back to 144 AD and site of the first modern Olympic games), or head to our panoramic vantage point down the page.
The Ancient Promenade
From the Temple of Olympian Zeus, we’re going to head west along Dionysiou Areopagitou street, known locally as the Ancient Promenade.
From here, we pass the Theatre of Dionysus, an ancient amphitheatre on the lower side of the Acropolis, as well as Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a restored stone theatre for performances. Our next stop is the Prison of Socrates.
Prison of Socrates
Earlier in this itinerary for Athens, we learnt Greek philosopher Socrates would frequent the Ancient Agora and was charged for corrupting the minds of youth.
Tucked away behind dense trees, a lengthy wall of rock protrudes from the ground. Featuring three iron-bar doorways carved in the 5th century BC, this is believed by many to be the site where Socrates awaited his execution.
TIP: During WWII, precious artefacts from the Acropolis were secured in this hiding place to avoid being destroyed.
Known as Hill of the Muses or Hill of the Nymphs to locals, Filopappou Hill is located on the south-western edge of the Acropolis. Around 10mins walk from Socrates’ Prison, the peak offers spectacular views over the city 147 metres below, as well as uninterrupted views of the Parthenon.
Allow about 30mins at the lookout to soak in the glorious views, and take some photos to remember this gorgeous moment. Just imagine all those before you that have stood in this exact spot over the millennia!
The 12-metre high Philopappos Monument can also be found piercing the skyline here. Dedicated to exiled prince of Syria, Julius Antiochus Philopappos, the marble monument dates back to the 1st century AD. As a generous benefactor to the city of Athens at the time, the hill was subsequently named after him.
TIP: Don’t forget to look down! Marked by a radiating sun, it may surprise you that the paved stone pathway to Filopappou Hill’s lookout was designed in the 20th century by Greek architect Dimitris Pikionis.
Day 3: Day Trip & Breathtaking Viewpoints
For the final day of our Athens 3 day itinerary, we’re going to discover some more fantastic viewpoints. To start, take advantage of the magnificent sunny weather Greece is known for and enjoy a day trip down the pristine coastline to Cape Sounion.
Driving beside turquoise waters and sublime blue skies the entire way, after about an hour the Temple of Poseidon remains will come into view on a hill overlooking the sea. Dedicated to the god of seas, earthquakes, and floods, the marble structure was built in 440 BC.
Temple entry cost: € 10 entry from April to October; € 5 from November to March.
On the way back to Athens city, you may also be able to stop by a gorgeous emerald swimming area, Lake Vouliagmeni. Its thermal spring waters contain minerals that locals believe have healing properties.
How to get from Athens to Cape Sounion
- Take a taxi/hire a private driver: My partner and I clicked with our local taxi driver who picked us up from the airport, and hired him privately for an agreed fee during our time in Athens (about € 60 for half a day). He also took photos of us at scenic outlooks along the way.
- Organised tour: Instead of a private driver, you can do this similar guided tour of the areas I visited.
After Cape Sounion, you may be able to drop by the Panathenaic Stadium if you missed it yesterday and wander up to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier opposite Syntagma Square.
TIP: If you time your visit, you’ll see the famed Changing of the Guards (on the hour, every hour) at the Hellenic Parliament. On Sundays at 11am, the guards wear their traditional dress.
Can’t get enough of Athens from above? From Syntagma Square, meander the backstreets of Athens before reaching the climb to Lycabettus Hill (also known as Mount Lycabettus or Lykavittos Hill, there are a few Romanised ways to spell it).
The walk takes about 30mins along a road with multiple hairpin turns, before reaching a set of white stone stairs before the small Chapel of Agios Gerasimos at the peak.
Punctuated by specks of green spaces, a sea of white buildings reaching to mountains and sea on the horizon is truly a sight to behold from the Bell Tower here. Experience 360-degree views over the Athens region rather than the 180 from Filopappou Hill a few days ago.
It does get windy as heck here, but is totally with the walk in my opinion!
TIP: Prefer not to walk? There is a funicular you can take to the top, € 10 for a return ticket.
Lisiou and Mnisikleous Streets
Finally, after a day of breathtaking sights, spend the early evening at Yiasemi Café back in Plaka.
A narrow staircase flanked by cafes and climbing plants on either side, it’s the perfect place to chill with a Greek coffee or drinks and people-watch.
TIP: Look for Mnisikleous Street οδός Μνησικλέους, located a few stairs up from the corner of Lisiou Street οδός Λισίου.
Casually strolling around Plaka and taking in the laid-back atmosphere is one of the best things to do in Athens at night, in my opinion. Enjoy!
Alternative day trips from Athens & activities
Is 3 days in Athens too much? I personally don’t think so! You could easily make this Athens itinerary 4 days by exploring more of the area and its surrounds to enrich your trip:
- National Archaeological Museum of Athens – Opened in 1893, the museum is the most important in the country, housing 11,000 artefacts from all over Greece. Buy entry tickets in advance here.
- Kerameikos Ancient Cemetery – Spanning 11 acres, this lesser-visited archaeological site was a burial ground for the city’s citizens in ancient times. Included in the combination ticket you can buy in advance here.
- Delphi day tour from Athens – A popular archaeological site, believed to be home of the all-knowing oracle in ancient times, book advance tickets here.
- Meteora day tour from Athens – A UNESCO World Heritage site of monasteries carved into rocky cliffs, book advance tickers here.
- Mycenae, Epidaurus & Nafplio day tour from Athens, book advance tickets here.
- Academy of Athens – If you’d like to see how Athen’s popular structures may have looked with colourful decorations in their time, this modern building in traditional style will give you an idea!
Surprising things to know about Athens
While I always research as much as possible before my trips, there were still a few things that surprised me in Athens compared to other European capitals:
- People aren’t as pushy trying to get you to go into their stores and restaurants as other countries.
- While it’s not surprising that many people (especially younger generations) do speak English, I personally found the Greek alphabet surprisingly easy to read. As I always like to recommend to help my readers “blend in,” it’s wise to know a few basic words to be polite and respectful.
- There are more stray cats and dogs than I thought there would be, and the ones I encountered were friendly.
- Unfortunately there is graffiti in a LOT of places, which is a real shame, but there is also intentional street art as a counterbalance.
- There are few international food chains, which is nice as the streets don’t look the same as everywhere else. This helps the city retain its original charm and we can support small local family businesses.
Concluding this 3 days in Athens city break itinerary
This wraps up my itinerary for how to best see Athens in three days! As you can see, one day in Athens is simply not enough to discover much of what this eternal city has to offer.
Get excited to walk in the footsteps of Socrates, Julius Caesar, the Ottomans and even Roman Emperor Hadrian. Experience breathtaking viewpoints and ancient artefacts that tie our present to our past. Enjoy getting beneath the surface of Athens at a relaxed, enjoyable pace that allows you to avoid the main crowds where possible.
I hope my Athens travel blog has provided you with some unique insights and helps you make the most of your visit!
Are you heading to Athens Greece soon? Are you planning to use this Athens travel guide to help plan your trip? I’d love to hear your thoughts on my Athens 3 days itinerary in the comments below.
Until next time,
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