I did a 1-day itinerary for Santorini so it only seemed fitting to do one for Athens. After all, many people seem to spend limited time in Athens before heading to the Greek beaches although in my option, it is so worthy of more. However, for those with limited time there, here is my best 1-day itinerary in Athens that is a cultural, historical, deliciously good time!
Again, Armando and I are big Airbnb fans and the apartment I found was beyond amazing. It was the location that made it; right across the street from the Acropolis, the Acropolis Museum and the Acropoli Metro train station. It is on a pedestrian street and is at the entranceway of the Plaka neighbourhood – a pedestrian-friendly area with shops and restaurants that go on for blocks. It is also the oldest neighbourhood in Athens! And the cherry on top was the view from our balcony where we sat on comfy patio furniture, drank Mastiha liqueur and looked up to the perfectly lit Acropolis while street musicians played accordians and the cicadas sang down below. For more details about the place, check out the Airbnb listing.
The Acropolis – How to Beat the Crowds and the Heat
The things to be of concern when visiting the Acropolis is the heat, the lineups and the crowds. We had limited time in Athens and we did not want to waste it standing in long lineups in the heat. So, this is what you need to do to get your day started off right; and to all you Instagrammers who want that shot of you with the Acropolis and nobody else, you will thank me for this 🙂
1. Admission Tickets – Buy tickets in advance for the Acropolis on the official e-ticketing website: https://etickets.tap.grlk. Some websites I found indicate that if you want to skip the line, you need to buy special “skip the line” tickets because tickets bought on the official eticketing website will not provide that benefit. Some of these articles look legit yet from our personal experience, that is inaccurate information these websites are giving, leading me to believe that these articles may be written by or paid for by tour operators wanting you to book their special “skip the line” tickets for an additional cost (and the unfortunate additional step of you having to get them validated prior to entering the site at an off-site location). As you read further below, we skipped the ticket lineup because we bought the online tickets and we just had to lineup at the turnstiles to get in, which there was no lineup and if there was, in theory, should be a constantly moving line. So, I do not see the benefit of purchasing special “skip the line” tickets.
2. Arrival Time and Location – You want to enter through the South entrance (see map at the end of this post) and arrive by 7:45am. The other entrance is where all the cruise ship tourists enter…need I say more? Because of our accommodation location, we were less than a minute walk to the South entrance. Armando and I love to do the “divide and conquer” technique for situations like this. We left our Airbnb at 7:45am and I just walked kiddy corner to the South Entrance to hold our lineup spot while Armando headed to the cafe next to our Airbnb to pick up coffees (and you can pick up a morning snack at this point to tide you over for the next couple hours).
3. Where to Queue? – There is an automated ticket booth at the entrance where you may see a few people lingering around. A few steps further in and you will see a ticket booth to the right where there is a lineup forming. Then there are turnstiles to the left of the ticket booth and there may be a few people in and around that area. You want to line up at the turnstiles. You already have your ticket and it does not need to be validated. People are confused. The process is confusing. The information you find online is even more confusing. Nobody is exactly sure where to go. Some need to buy tickets. Some have “skip the line” tickets. Some bought tickets from 3rd parties. There are different lineups forming. But it is simple. Buy your ticket on the official website that I mentioned above and just queue at the turnstiles. Easy-Peasy.
4. Mad Dash – Opening time is 8am. They will scan your tickets (online tickets can be scanned from your mobile device) and then you are in. Now it is a mad dash to the top. Now you may cringe at the thought of running past historical monuments and not giving them the time they deserve but this is 1-day in Athens and you need to go-go-go! Actually, you will have time to return; this marathon run or brisk walk up through the Acropolis is to get to the Parthenon. It is such a beautiful experience to be at the top without the crowds and the early morning sun. You may even see the raising of the national flag by Greek soldiers if you get to the top in time. The quiet morning with the national anthem being sung as the flag is slowly rising above is brief. Crowds start within a 1/2 hour and by 9am, the cruise ship crowds arrive. Once the crowds arrive, you can then explore the other areas of the Acropolis as you make your way down.
Brunch (and World-Class Coffee!) at The Underdog
Once you are done exploring, leave through the North Entrance and head right. The walk is a nice, quiet stroll to The Underdog. Delicious brunch options but, the coffee is the star of the show. Awards line the wall shelves, mixed in with Underdog Merchandise for sale. Certificates on display show the owner is Tasos Delichristos, an award-winning barista and a previous Sensory judge at the World Barista Championships. This guy knows his coffee. And his cold brewed coffee is seriously the best I have ever tasted! Just one of the many trendy places in Athens.
The Acropolis Museum and the “Secret” Free Tour
After your belly is full, head over to the Acropolis Museum. We walked there from The Underdog and arrived around 11am where there was next to no lineup. By 1pm, there was a long one! It gets busy midday because everyone is wanting to find something indoors to do to avoid the afternoon heat. Again, divide and conquer. Armando waited in line for tickets while I went to the information booth to put our names on a free tour the museum was providing with one of their archeologists. These tours are first-come first-served so I thought the limited 20 spots would all be taken by 11am. I was wrong! Clearly people do not delve into the depths of the museum’s website to find these hidden offers. Free tour with a museum’s archeologist through the excavation site below the museum – that was a great score! Now, their free tours are very limited – limited days, limited spots available – and they appear to change the tours and times based on season so check their website in advance to see if there is this a free tour being offered on the day you go.
As for the museum, it was so interesting. It is a wonderment, viewing the actual artifacts from the Parthenon in the museum and being able to look out through the glass windows, see the Parthenon and place in your mind where the artifacts fit into the structure. It is like a large puzzle that archeologists are trying to piece together. The displays are truly insightful of the challenging task of determining where a piece of ancient stone fits into the original structure. I recommend starting on the top floor (my favourite floor, focusing on the Parthenon) and work your way down. That way, if you run out of time or lose concentration or interest by the end, you saw the best floor. Make sure to start with the little Parthenon movie in the theatre on the top floor that runs in a loop, especially if you are not that familiar with what you actually saw earlier in the morning!
Lunch at O Thanasis
You cannot go to Greece without having souvlaki and the place recommended by one of Armando’s Greek friends was O Thanasis. It did not disappoint. You are likely getting here around 2:30pm if you are following my itinerary so you may just want to share a souvlaki plate, rather than a heavy meal; just something to tide you over until dinner. Make sure to get the tsatzki with your souvlaki.
Shopping, Exploring and Baklava
Take this time to enjoy wandering and exploring this Ancient city. These are some places I would recommend:
Plaka and Monastiraki Neighbourhoods – wander through the oldest neighbourhoods of Athens. Lots of touristy shops but despite that, plenty of architectural discoveries with each turn.
Alexis Papachatzis – this was such a unique find. A local jewellery designer’s workshop with a small storefront – his designs are whimsical, unique and reasonably priced. The designer also added a personalized touch to the packaging before you leave, an opportunity to witness his creativity in action.
Beneth Food Hall – Yes! I got my baklava. And this place was heaven for me. It is located right on Monastiraki Square. If you want to try baklava just once, try it at Beneth. Monastiraki Square is a busy place that is great for people and pigeon watching.
Couleur Locale – Try this place for an afternoon cocktail. The location is tricky to find and if you do manage to find it, you will be pleasantly surprised with the great rooftop view of the Acropolis. A “secret” place where the locals go.
Dinner at Zorbas Restaurant
Make your way back to your accommodations. Take a shower to wash the sweat and day away. Dress up for your evening out in Athens. I will always bring one dress-up outfit because I love to dress up and it helps me get my second burst of energy to rock the town when I would normally be ready to curl up on the couch and call it a day after all the city exploring.
Dine at Zorbas Restaurant in Plaka for good, traditional, home-cooked food. It is feel-good Greek comfort food. The service is amazing and they have outdoor seating available so you can people watch.
You are all dressed up so you might as well prolong the evening with after-dinner drinks. And Athens has some good choices. Two in particular. Both are rated in the top 50 bars of the world. The WORLD!
First stop, The Clumsies (ranked as the 6th best bar in the world for 2019). It is located in a remodelled townhouse in downtown Athens and they specialize in high class cocktails without the stuffiness that usually comes with those types of places. We arrived around 9pm and managed to snag a table. Menu books were placed in front of us along with a black light flashlight. The pages were blank but with a little black light magic, unique and experimental drink concoctions appeared on the white menu pages such as the Cinema Paradiso, made with Russian Standard Vodka, popcorn, cola and jasmine oil.
Next stop was at Baba au Rum (ranked as the 31st best bar in the world for 2019). If you like rum you will LOVE this place. The place had an island vibe and a DJ was spinning some tunes to get the bodies bobbing. The menu is literally a book. A book with a near endless list of different cocktails. It probably took me about 1/2 hour to finally decide on the drink I wanted. This places was fun and very laid back. A place that made you feel happy. How better to end a day in Athens?
Highlighted Locations of the 1-Day Itinerary in Athens