Athens, the capital of Greece, is a city steeped in history, culture, and mythology. Known as the birthplace of democracy and the cradle of Western civilisation, Athens is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in exploring the roots of modern Western culture. With all that in mind, it is still possible to have a wonderful time with one day in Athens.
Athens is a city that can be both charming and mysterious, but also gritty and challenging. With its striking contrasts and complex character, there are various things to do in Athens for travellers who are willing to explore its diverse neighbourhoods and attractions.
Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world, with a rich and storied history. Founded around 5th century BCE, the city became a major centre of learning, philosophy and democracy. It is known as the birthplace of Western civilisation and the home of the ancient Greeks, who made significant contributions to art, literature, philosophy, science and politics.
During the classical period, Athens was a powerful city-state with a vast empire that spanned across the Aegean Sea and into Asia Minor. A democratic government ruled the city, which allowed for a flourishing of arts and culture. Many of the most famous Greek philosophers, including Plato and Aristotle, were based in Athens.
The city was conquered by the Romans in 86 BCE and later became the capital of the Byzantine Empire. It was then ruled by the Ottomans for nearly four centuries before gaining independence in the early 19th century.
Today, Athens remains an important cultural centre, with many museums, galleries, and ancient ruins still standing as a testament to its rich history. The city is also a thriving modern metropolis, with a vibrant nightlife, excellent dining scene and world-class shopping.
Our experience in Athens
At first, we were sure it was one of the most abandoned European capitals we have ever seen. We had high expectations when we arrived, and that was the problem! We thought it would be a charming, mysterious and secretive city. Instead, we found a place somewhat ugly, dirty and sad.
We know Greece has faced a serious financial crisis for years and it would be impossible for the country’s capital not to reflect the economic situation. However, another aspect which weighs heavily against the city’s reputation in our first impression is what we were there to do. We visited Athens for the first time to volunteer work with the refugees. Therefore, we saw many of the ugliest parts of Athens. Nevertheless, and despite its economic struggles, Athens has managed to maintain its position as one of the top tourist destinations, attracting millions of visitors every year.
And as our days passed, we got to know another side of the Greek capital too. We saw a more interesting and attractive side of it. The Greeks, for instance, are one of the highlights of the visit. They are always cheerful and friendly. The food is also very tasty and the streets are full of bakeries and cafeterias for all tastes and budgets.
We can say that after a month living there, we ended up being conquered and fell in love with the city.
How to get around in Athens in one day
Athens is well served by public transport and you won’t have issues reaching any of the following tourist attractions by metro.
The metro in Athens operates from around 5:30am until midnight, with the last train on Fridays and Saturdays departing at 2am. During peak hours, trains run every 3 minutes, and every 5 to 10 minutes during slower hours. Various ticket options are available:
90-minute ticket for €1.20;
24-hour ticket for €4.10;
5-day ticket for €8.20.
Reduced fares are available for seniors, students, and teenagers. Children under 7 can travel for free.
You can purchase your tickets at various locations, including metro stations and newsagents. Be sure to validate your ticket when boarding, as fines for travelling without a ticket are 60 times the cost of a 90-minute journey. We recommend to buy several tickets at once to maximise your time in Athens.
With so much to see and do, planning a one day tour of Athens can be overwhelming. Here’s a suggested itinerary that will help you make the most of your time in this incredible city.
Start your Athens day tour by visiting the Acropolis, the most famous landmark in Greece. This ancient citadel sits on a hill overlooking the city and is home to several important buildings and structures. Take a guided tour or explore on your own to learn more about the history and significance of this incredible site. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the stunning views of the city below.
After visiting the Acropolis, head to the nearby Acropolis Museum, another must-see Athens landmark. This modern museum is home to an impressive collection of artefacts from the Acropolis and surrounding areas. The museum’s exhibits are arranged in chronological order, making it easy to follow the development of ancient Greek culture and society. Take your time to explore the museum’s many galleries and be sure to stop at the top floor restaurant for a bite to eat and a stunning view of the Acropolis.
End your Athens day tour with a visit to the charming neighbourhood of Plaka. This historic neighbourhood is known for its narrow, winding streets, quaint cafes, and traditional Greek architecture. Take a leisurely stroll through the neighbourhood, stopping to admire the colourful buildings and browse the many shops selling souvenirs and local crafts. Be sure to try some traditional Greek cuisine at one of the many tavernas in the area before heading back to your hotel.
If you have additional time, there are many other places and things to do in Athens.
Acropolis, built in 450 BC, literally means “highest city” and there are several acropolis around the world, being that of Athens the most famous.
The Acropolis is the most famous attraction in Athens and for good reason. This ancient citadel, which sits atop a mountain, offers breathtaking views of the city and houses some of the most important ancient structures in Greece, including the Parthenon (temple to the Goddess Athena), the Temple of Zeus, Erechtheion (temple to the gods Poseidon and Athena), and the Theater of Dionysus. Visitors can learn about the history of these sites and marvel at their impressive architecture.
Many of these constructions were well-preserved until the mid-XVII century, when during a war between the Ottomans and Venetians, the area was hard bombed and destroyed.
Because of its altitude, – “highest city”, remember -, it provides a privileged view of Athens. This view is already worth a visit by itself. The citadel must certainly be in your Athens tour in one day.
Ticket: €20 (+25 y.o. from April to October) / €10 (all the others)
There are six specific days when the The Acropolis is free to enter for all visitors. However, it is worth noting that even on these free entry days, visitors may still have to queue and wait for some time to enter:
The last weekend of September (European Heritage Days);
Every first Sunday from November 1st to March 31st.
How to get to the Acropolis in Athens: Metro Akropoli
Located near the Acropolis, the Acropolis Museum is a modern building that houses an impressive collection of artifacts from ancient Greece. The museum offers a glimpse into the history of Athens and provides context for the structures found on the Acropolis. Besides the relics and information about the old capital, there is a perfect model showing how was the citadel in the Ancient Greece.
We did not have the chance to go, but friends who did, said to be even more interesting than the Acropolis itself. The glass walls of the museum offer stunning views of the citadel, making it a great spot for photography.
How to get to the Acropolis Museum: Metro Akropoli
Plaka is a historic neighborhood in Athens that is known for its charming architecture, traditional restaurants, and souvenir shops. Visitors can stroll down the narrow streets and admire the colorful buildings while sampling Greek cuisine and browsing through handmade crafts and souvenirs.
We found Plaka to be one of the most tourist and charming areas of Athens.
How to get to Plaka: Metro Monastiraki
Monastiraki is a bustling neighbourhood in central Athens. It has a large cobblestone square with a beautiful view of the Acropolis. It is also home to a large market selling everything, from antiques to clothing to fresh produce, thus one of the most touristic places in Athens. Just be smart with street vendors working in the subway. Some may take an aggressive approach and you’ll end up buying what you do not want.
The area is also famous for its vibrant nightlife and street art scene. Visitors can explore the shops and cafes during the day and then experience the lively atmosphere of the area’s bars and clubs at night.
How to get to Monastiraki: Metro Monastiraki
Gazi is a trendy neighborhood in Athens that is popular among locals and tourists alike. The area is home to a wide variety of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs that cater to a diverse crowd.
Whether you’re looking for a sophisticated dining experience or a more alternative nightlife scene, you’ll find it in Gazi. And most places stay open till late.
How to get to Gazi: Metro kerameiko
National Archaeological Museum of Athens
The National Archaeological Museum of Athens is the largest museum in Greece and houses some of the most important artifacts from ancient Greek history. The museum’s collection includes sculptures, pottery, and other objects that offer a fascinating glimpse into the lives of ancient Greeks.
The building itself is also an architectural masterpiece, with a grand facade and intricate details.
Admission costs: 12 euros. (Free entry for specific dates just like the acropolis above)
Exarcheia is a bohemian neighborhood in Athens that is known for its street art, cafes, and galleries. The area has a strong anarchist presence and is often the site of protests and demonstrations. Also, it is here the historic National Polytechnic Faculty of Athens.
Honestly, Exarqueia is not the most beautiful part of Athens, but it is surely very interesting. Anarchists took over the neighbourhood and the police do not even go in there. It’s not dangerous, rest assured, but avoid entering the neighbourhood on a day of protest, unless you want to have tear gases on your vacation.
Despite its reputation for being a bit rough around the edges, Exarcheia is a fascinating place to explore for those interested in Athens’ counter-culture scene.
How to get to Exarqueia: Metro Omonia
Syntagma Square is the main square of Athens. It is home to some of the city’s most important buildings, including the Greek Parliament (the former Royal Palace). Also, it is here the final stop (or where you would catch) the buses to the airport.
Even though we didn’t find Syntagma Square the most interesting tour in Athens, you can take a stroll through the square, admire the architecture and watch the changing of the guard ceremony that takes place in front of the Parliament building.
How to get to Syntagma Square: Metro Syntagma
A one day tour of Athens may not be enough to fully explore this magnificent city, but with careful planning, you can see many of its highlights. From the ancient citadel of the Acropolis to the charming streets of Plaka, Athens is a city that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.
* This article was originally written in January 2017 and updated in May 2023 *
See the summary of one day in Athens in the FAQ below
Is the Acropolis in Athens free?
There are six specific days when the The Acropolis is free to enter for all visitors. – March 6th; – April 18th; – May 18th; – The last weekend of September (European Heritage Days); – October 28th; – Every first Sunday from November 1st to March 31st. – Journalists also do not pay.
Otherwise, ticket is €20 (+25 y.o. from April to October) / €10 (all the others)
Can I go to Athens in one day?
Short answer, absolutely. Athens is a city steeped in history, culture, and mythology. Known as the birthplace of democracy and the cradle of Western civilisation, Athens is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in exploring the roots of modern Western culture. With all that in mind, it is still possible to have a wonderful time with one day in Athens.
How to spend a perfect one day in Athens?
A perfect day in Athens would have this activities included: – Acropolis – Acropolis Museum – National Museum of Athens – Plaka – Gazi
Can I get around Athens by foot?
Athens is well served by public transport and you won’t have issues reaching any of the following tourist attractions by metro.
Is it worth spending a day in Athens?
Athens is a city steeped in history, culture, and mythology. Known as the birthplace of democracy and the cradle of Western civilisation, Athens is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in exploring the roots of modern Western culture. With all that in mind, it is still possible to have a wonderful time with one day in Athens.