Athens - Essential Itinerary
Athens. The cradle of civilization. The birthplace of democracy. Home of Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates. The mother of modern Philosophy. The historical capital of Europe. As a city with a history dating back thousands of years, Athens doesn't run out of superlatives. The city is home to numerous historic buildings, ancient monuments, and famous museums. If you are new to Athens, the possibilities can feel overwhelming. Let's narrow things down and focus on the top 5 things to do in Athens.
What Are Essential Itineraries?
These bite-sized guides focus on the Top Sights to See and Best Things to Do for New Expats.
Written in collaboration with my network of expats and experienced travelers, you get up-to-date first hand knowledge and local tips.
Perfect for short trips, these overviews for visiting a new city are available for download.
Explore The Acropolis
The Acropolis of Athens is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. The towering pillars of the Parthenon are visible from all around the city. After a long restoration, the Acropolis, with its storied ancient history, is on every "Top Things To Do in Athens" list. You can enjoy the walk up Acropolis Hill towards the temple complex, stopping off to admire the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the Theatre of Dionysus, before reaching the pinnacle where the Parthenon, the Propylaea, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike all stand. This is a complex site that tells the story of Ancient Greece's rich and cultured civilization, and that will astound you time and time again.
After the Morean War with the Venetians demolished the Parthenon, the templates required a full restoration. Athens carefully restored the temples as close to their former glory as possible. As you stand among the formidable ruins, you can imagine the Parthenon in its prime, commanding power and presence over all of Athens. It's best to visit the Acropolis early in the morning or later in the day to avoid the heat of the day and the crowds. Hopefully, as Greece's attractions slowly open to the public, they'll be much quieter than they usually are! No trip to Athens would be complete without a visit to the Acropolis, so make sure to schedule the Acropolis into your Athens itinerary.
Run the track at the Panathenaic Stadium
The Panathenaic Stadium, one of the main symbols of the Greek capital, is stalwart on any things to do list for Athens. The venue is located to the East of the Temple of Zeus and across from the National Gardens.
The stadium has a long history, and what we see today is the 4th stadium built on this site. The first wooden stadium hosted athletic games in the 4th century BC. The stadium was later rebuilt, enlarged, and covered in marble during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. Athens built the contemporary stadium on the ruins of the old one with great attention to preserving the original features.
The horseshoe-shaped venue can host 50000 people, the same as in the Roman era. Its recent history begins in 1896 with the first modern Olympic Games. Since then, the Panathenaic Stadium hosted numerous athletic events as well as concerts and other events. The Panathenaic is also the place where the Olympic Flame is transferred to the new city hosting the Olympic Games.
You can visit the marble stadium every day from 8 AM to 7 PM from March to October and until 5 PM during the rest of the year. The admission fee is 5€, and it includes an audio guide and the chance to run on the track.
Travel Contribution: Travel for A While
INSIDER TIP: One more thing, just outside the Panathenaic Stadium is the best Instagramable view over the Acropolis of Athens.
Enjoy a Neighborhood Stroll in Plaka
Our next Top Thing to do in Athens is strolling the Plaka neighborhood. The fabulous architecture in Plaka is quite different from what you will see in the rest of the city. The neighborhood is the capital's old town and the prettiest part of Athens. Located right below the Acropolis, quaint alleys and vibrant old buildings symbolize Plaka's charm. You can easily schedule a stroll through Plaka after a visit to the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum.
If you want to spend more time in Plaka, there are several cozy cafés to take in more of the mood. If the weather is good, you'll probably enjoy the possibility to sit outside. You can even grab a quick bite here, but if you're vegan, consult this vegan guide to Greece to understand which dishes are vegan-friendly.
If you don't know yet what to take home from Greece, Plaka also has tons of souvenir shops you can browse. Here, you will find herb mixes, high-quality olive oil, or beautiful products made of olive wood.
Plaka is also home to a diverse selection of museums, such as the Museum of Popular Music Instruments, the Jewish Museum of Greece, and the Museum of Greek Folk Art.
Travel Contribution: Lemons and Luggage
INSIDER TIP: No matter what else you do in Plaka, don't overlook the Anafiotika area of the neighborhood. The whitewashed houses here transport you to the Cycladic islands, without having to leave Athens. Anafiotika is the most peaceful and serene part of the city and will make you forget you're in downtown Athens.
Perfect for first time visitors, this Things To Do in Athens guide is available for download.
Cruise to the beach at Vouliagmeni
The Athenian Riviera and the upscale beach town of Vouliagmeni is a perfect place to incorporate into your trip to Athens. Athens may seem like a congested, crowded European capital. However, you can find pristine coastlines, azure waters, and quaint seaside towns just 20km south of the city center.
Vouliagmeni has been attracting a chic, sophisticated crowd for decades. The likes of Frank Sinatra and Bridget Bardot have vacationed here. Locals often refer to the posh area as Greece's own "Cote d'Azur."
A unique attraction in the area is Lake Vouliagmeni. This brackish lake sits on top of warm thermal waters rumored to heal various ailments, aches, and skin conditions. There are hundreds of underwater caves and tunnels beneath the surface of the lake. The full extent of these has never been thoroughly explored!
Vouliagmeni is an elegant place. However, the atmosphere is not pretentious, and many of the coffee shops and restaurants here are affordable. There are many public beaches in the area where you can lay down your beach towel and relax. If you want to experience the best of the best, make a reservation at Akti Vouliagmeni beach club.
En Plo is a popular local coffee shop. You can sip a strong Greek coffee (Ellinikos Kafes) here and sit out on the veranda as the waves crash against the sea. Vouliagmeni is a beautiful place to visit any time of year.
Travel Contribution: High Heels and a Backpack
Take a Bus to the Temple of Poseidon
The Temple of Poseidon is an easy trip right outside of Athens in Sounion. The temple is dedicated to the Greek God Poseidon. He is well known as the God of the Sea, but he is also the God of Earthquakes, Storms, and Horses.
There are several ways to venture out to the Temple of Poseidon, but I recommend taking the city bus. You also can easily book a tour or drive yourself, but why spend the extra money when the bus is cheap and safe. When you get on the bus, aim for a seat on the right side when heading to the temple. You will have an easier time taking in all of the breathtaking views on your trip out.
No matter how you decided to get to the Temple of Poseidon, you will be glad you did. The temple is one of the best-preserved monuments of the Gold Age and sits above the Aegean Sea, providing absolutely stunning views. For planning purposes, make sure to take a couple of euros with you. You will have to pay a small entrance fee, but it is good for the whole day so you can come and go as you'd like.
If you'd like to get your feet wet in the Aegean Sea, then walk down the hill outside the temple, and there is an easy access path. The Temple of Poseidon is definitely worth the trip and will be unlike any of the other ruins that you see on your Greece adventure.
Travel Contribution: Mommy And Me Travels
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