Even though Athens is the capital of Greece and its largest city, most people only see the city on the way to one of the gorgeous Greek islands. And while 24 hours in Athens is never enough to explore a place, it can be a great introduction to a new city. So if you only have one day in Athens let me show you how to see the Ancient Greek sights like the Acropolis in this limited time frame. Having lived in the Greek capital for almost six years, I definitely know how you can make the most of your day in Athens.
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Start Your Day Early at the Acropolis
Athens gets really hot during the day and can even get quite warm on some winter days. As there is no protection against the sun on the Acropolis you best get here early. And with fewer people up there you’ll also take much better photos. A visit to the Acropolis is a must. The Acropolis opens at 8 am, and this is when you should arrive if you only have one day in Athens. Calculate about one to two hours for the entire visit.
Passing through the entrance gate like many other people thousands of years ago is quite an exciting experience. And as I said, it can get very crowded here which is why you should go here as early as possible. Even if you visit the Acropolis at 9 am it can get very busy.
From there you will see the breathtaking Parthenon, the most famous structure on the Acropolis. While it may be covered in scaffolding, it’s still a sight to behold. Just across from the Parthenon, you will see the Erechtheion. But the statues that carry the roof are not the originals but copies. Five of the originals are on display in the Acropolis Museum while the sixth one is sadly kept in the British Museum.
But there are more things to see on the Acropolis than just the Parthenon and Erechtheion. The Temple of Athena Nike is secretly many people’s favorite temple on the hill.
On Your Way Down From the Acropolis
On the slopes of the hill, you will see the magnificent Odeon of Herodes Atticus. While you will visit this open-air theater as part of the Acropolis during the day, you might want to know that it is still used as a live theater for musical performances. If you happen to be in Athens during the summer check the calendar, and maybe you can swap the last step of this itinerary for a concert. Believe me when I tell you that a live show at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a lifetime experience. So if you find something there that interests you book it as soon as possible as tickets for famous artists sell out very quickly.
The last thing you will see on your way down from the Acropolis is the Theater of Dionysus. This is the world’s oldest surviving theater. Thousands of years ago, 17,000 people would attend performances here. Of course, not all the seats are still preserved, but the atmosphere here is magnificent.
Regular ticket prices to the Acropolis are €20, but the entrance is free on the first Sunday of every month from November to March and on select days.
See More Ancient Sites in One Day in Athens
The great thing about Athens is that you don’t have to pay entrance to see some of its ancient sites. With only one day in Athens, it’s a good idea to save some time and money by strolling past some places and simply enjoy what you get to see from the outside.
There is, for example, the Roman Agora, the ancient Roman market. Its spectacular entrance gate can be seen perfectly without having to enter.
The same is true for Hadrian’s Library. While you will not be able to walk through the entire area without paying you can see all of it from the outside.
From Hadrian’s Library, I suggest you walk towards Hadrian’s Arch which is a great spot to take photos with the Acropolis in the background.
Right next to Hadrian’s Arch you will see my favorite ancient site in Athens, the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Even though it’s quite small and not many tourists come here it’s actually a really spectacular temple. Only 20 of the original 100 columns of the temple remain, but you will be able to imagine the grandeur of this temple.
See the Changing of the Guards in Front of the Parliament
You simply have to see the changing of the guards in front of the Parliament. As the procedure takes place every hour, you have 24 opportunities to observe it. But if you happen to be in Athens on a Sunday I strongly suggest you come here at 11 am. This is when the more elaborate ceremony with an orchestra and the official holiday uniforms takes place.
Explore Modern Athens and Its Street Art
By now, you probably want to see a bit of modern Athens as well. Not many people know that the Greek capital has tons of great street art. As you discover some of the most beautiful pieces you will really appreciate the contrast between Ancient and Modern Athens.
The best areas to discover street art are Psyrri, Exarcheia, and Kerameikos. But there’s even some street art in Plaka. If you want to make the most of your day in Athens, there are organized street art tours.
Enjoy a Delicious Greek Lunch
After you’ve seen some fantastic street art in Athens you probably want to have lunch. Stay in the neighborhood for some authentic Greek restaurants that don’t only cater to tourists. Greek food is famous all over the world. But if you haven’t been to Greece before you may not have had the best Greek food there is. Vegans and vegetarians will be thrilled to know that some of the best vegan restaurants in Athens are centrally located. That way, you won’t lose too much time if you have only one day in Athens.
Wander Through Plaka and Anafiotika
Let’s head back to the Old Town of Athens for a nice afternoon stroll. The neighborhoods of Plaka and Anafiotika are where you will see the most beautiful architecture in Athens.
Anafiotika’s small alleys and white walls give you the impression that you’re on a picturesque island. And Plaka is where you can find a souvenir in one of the many shops. Whether you want herb mixes, olive oil, or olive wood items, you can find everything here.
Visit the Acropolis Museum
After a few hours of more leisurely walking through the city, it’s time to see one of the top museums in the world. Even if you don’t usually like museums, visiting the Acropolis Museum will help you understand more about Ancient Athens and the monuments you saw in the morning.
Head to the Ancient Agora
Even though you have only one day in Athens you should fit in one more ancient site, the Ancient Agora. This used to be a huge market in classical Athens. Because of its important role in the city you can find many temples and monuments in the compound.
The highlights of the Ancient Agora are the Temple of Hephaestus and the Stoa of Attalos. The latter houses the Museum of the Ancient Agora.
Hike up Lykavittos Hill for the Sunset
Lykavittos Hill is the highest point in Athens which makes it the perfect spot for sunset watching. It’s also the best viewpoint in Athens because you can see the Acropolis and the Mediterranean sea from here.
Lykavittos Hill is certainly the best spot to take in all of Athens once more before you leave.
One Day in Athens Conclusion
And just like that, your one day in Athens is over. You may still have time for a concert at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Or you’ll simply go for dinner and digest all the ancient and modern sites you have visited in Athens.
If you’re staying in Greece and wondering where to go next there are some places for amazing weekend trips from Athens. Either way, I’m sure you will be back in Athens soon to see more.
Nina is a cosmopolitan vegan traveler who was raised in Germany but has lived in Athens for almost 6 years. She is the voice behind Lemons and Luggage, a travel blog dedicated to illustrating the diversity in travel and offering an alternative perspective to male-dominated travel content creators. As a progressive Muslim feminist traveler, Nina writes without exotification or cultural appropriation.