Are you planning a trip to Greece? Of course, Athens will be your first port of call. We’ve got all the things to do in Athens when you only have 2 days. Check out this itinerary!
Athens is a very popular destination. Anyone who loves history, food, or beaches is probably heading to Greece. As they should!
Athens, then of course, becomes the jumping off point for the rest of Greece. Take a flight there then maybe you’ll take a Greece Road Trip or a Peloponnese Road Trip, taking in sights like the ancient ruins of Delphi, the stunning rock formations and monasteries of Meteora, some stunning ancient Greek sites like Mystras or Mycenae, or a hipster-y city full of more great sights like Thessaloniki, Napflio, or Kalamata. Greece has it all!
But no matter where you are heading, it’s well worth your time to take a few days and explore the capital city of Greece, Athens, which is chock full of its own sites, sounds, and delectable bites.
We spent a couple of days in Athens and enjoyed the lively plakas (squares), especially in the evening, the amazing food, and of course, the many, many ancient sites, ruins, and museums to explain them all.
We had such a wonderful time, that it’s almost time we went back. You know, like the sirens in the Iliad, Greece calls to you over and over again.
In this article:
2 Days in Athens – An Itinerary
- Tour the amazing Acropolis and its museum.
- Walk down the back side of the hill and visit the Temple of Hephaestus and the Church of the Holy Apostles
- Take lunch at Restaurante Attalos (Adrianoy 9, Athens) – Try any of the traditional Greek food, but the moussaka is a favorite. Depending on how much time you spend at the sights, you will be super hungry, and you don’t have to worry about this one closing down in mid-afternoon.
- After lunch, take a stroll around the Monastiraki neighborhood. You can visit the mosque, Hadrian’s library, or just grab a great coffee and pastry and relax the rest of your day away.
- This is a good day to take a tour to hit all those other places on your list without having to figure out how to get there.
- Visit these places: Changing of the Guard, the National Archaelogical Museum, the Central Market, the Archaeological Park.
- Lunch can be at any of the outdoor cafés wherever you happen to be. We suggest you try a pork gyros or souvlaki, they are cheap and delicious!
If you have more time in Greece, check out some of the other sights and places to go around the country that we love:
Things to Do in Athens
A major starting and ending point for many Mediterranean cruises, Athens has so much more to offer than can be done in a few short hours before or after a cruise, as well as a destination all on its own. There is so much to see here, that a couple of days, let alone a couple of hours off of the ship, aren’t going to completely cut it, but it will give you a good taste!
Changing of the Guard Ceremony
The absolute first thing on our Athens list was the famous Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was well worth it, and the audience was awed by the high-kicking, toe-touching synchronization of the ceremony.
The Tomb is guarded around the clock every day, and the guards are changed every hour on the hour. There are two versions of the guard changing ceremony: Sunday morning at 11am and Daily Every Hour on the Hour.
Sunday morning at 11am
This guard change is bigger, longer, and different from all of the others. It’s the one most recommended and also the one with the biggest crowds. It begins with a military band followed by a large contingent of guardsmen in their white ceremonial uniforms. The entire event takes about 30 minutes.
Daily Every Hour on the Hour
All of the other daily, hourly guard changes have the same unique and intricate maneuvers. What they don’t include is the large procession to and from the tomb, and the guards wear different uniforms — khaki in summer and blue in winter. These guard changes only take about 10 minutes.
My favorite part was when the guards’ supervisor wiped the sweat off of their brows when it was all over. It was hot and I was schvitzing, and all I did was push a button on my camera. Where was my complimentary refreshing wipe?
On our first visit to Athens, we attended one of the 10-minute guard changes. On our most recent trip, we attended the larger, longer Sunday morning guard change. For more photos and more detailed information about the Greek Presidential Guards and the ceremony, checkout our Changing of the Guard post.
Next, just like everyone else, we headed straight for the Acropolis. It was hot and steamy 97 degrees Fahrenheit, so needless to say we were a bit ripe as we climbed. It seemed that there were no less than 50,000 tourists climbing that hill. All of them trying to wrestle you for the best photo spot.
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Agora and Temple of Hephaestus
On to the agora and the Temple of Hephaestus. Inside the completely rebuilt agora was a fantastic museum, with humorous stories that were really fun to read.
The best was how ancient Greece had the first “vote them off the island” system. To get rid of someone, probably your political opponent, was to have as many people as possible scratch his name on a shard of ceramic; enough votes and wham! He’s out of there!
Hadrian’s Library and the Temple of Zeus
We walked completely around the hill that day, marveling and sweating, sweating and marveling. We took in Hadrian’s library, the Temple of Zeus, and the Roman agora and were rightly impressed at every step of the way.
Our Favorite Athens Museums
There are several museums in Athens and the biggest and most important are the National Archaeological Museum and the Acropolis Museum:
- The National Archaeological Museum is the largest museum in Greece and is considered one of the most important museums in the world. It represents all of Greek history and has artifacts all the way back to neolithic times.
- The Acropolis Museum was created to protect and to display the marble statuary and other artifacts from the Acropolis. Part of this was to rescue the marbles still on the Parthenon and other Acropolis temples and part of it was to establish that Greece wanted its plundered marbles back and has a secure and suitable facility to display them.
For more about the National Archaeological Museum and the Acropolis Museum, checkout our two best Athens Museums post.
Athens Views from Lycabettus Hill
Lycabettus Hill is the highest point in Athens (277 meters) and has wonderful 360° views of the city. It’s a great place to go any time of day, and it’s especially popular at sunset.
You can take the funicular from Teleferik Station or walk up one of the trails. For more about what you can see and do on Lycabettus Hill and how to get there, check out our Lycabettus Hill post.
Monastiraki is an ancient and very popular neighborhood. It’s a busy shopping destination with lots of places to eat along the side streets. The domed building in the center is Tzistarakis Mosque (photo above), which is now part of the Museum of Greek Folk Art. Hadrian’s Library is just beyond the Mosque.
Best Tours in Athens
A good way to get around Athens is on a bus from one of the three Hop On Hop Off tour bus companies. Our favorite is the red “Official City Sightseeing” bus, so that’s what we chose. Book your tickets online using this link. It’s a great way to spend a day, because it makes it very easy to get between sights.
Here are some other fantastic tour options:
- Athens: Acropolis and Parthenon Guided Walking Tour ($40)
- From Athens: Delphi and Meteora 2-Day Guided Tour ($205)
- From Athens: Bus Trip to Mycenae, Epidaurus & Nafplio ($80)
Where to Stay in Athens
We started our time here happy to be able to take an easy and cheap bus ride from the airport to city center, specifically to Syntagma Square. It’s the last stop and the cost of the ticket was only 3.20 Euros. Many of the sights and hotels are found in that area, so once there we could walk to just about everywhere. There is also a great metro system that will take you to things a little more far-flung.
On our most recent trip, we stayed at the Electra Metropolis Hotel, which is about a block from Syntagma Square and Metro Station. It’s a beautiful hotel, and the restaurant on the top floor provides a great buffet breakfast. The restaurant also has huge windows with gorgeous views of the Acropolis.
A few other good choices are:
- COCO-MAT Hotel Athens – Gorgeous room as well as gorgeous views from the rooftop. You will want to have a cocktail up there, I’m sure!
- Acropolis Hill Hotel – Small, pretty convenient, and even has a little pool to cool off in after a long day of touring.
- NEW Hotel – gorgeous views of the Parthenon!
Getting Around Athens
The fastest way to get around Athens is to take the Metro or walk because the traffic in the city center can be really congested and slow. The Syntagma Station is in Syntagma Square and the Acropoli Station is next to both the Acropolis Museum and the south entrance to the Acropolis.
We used taxis a few times; they were often slowed by traffic, but they were easy and reasonable. The drivers were always polite and accommodating. In one encounter, the driver did not speak English so he handed me his phone with a translation app. I spoke English and he saw Greek. There were no meters in the cabs, and the fare was always a flat €10. We always add a tip, which the drivers seem to appreciate.
Athens is an amazing and very popular place to visit with lots to see and do. Experience the Changing of the Guard, see the Acropolis and other antiquities, visit the museums, wander the vibrant neighborhoods, and enjoy the friendly people and wonderful food.
Additional Greece Readings:
One Week Greece Road Trip Itinerary to Thessaloniki
Where to Eat in Athens Greece
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.