48 Hours In: Athens
Athens is a dynamic city with unparalleled ancient treasures and very friendly locals, most of whom speak English.
You can find Airbnb accommodation for around $60 per night for two people, and plenty of cheaper options for local food and drink make the city an affordable getaway.
Here are some suggestions for how to spend a memorable 48 hours in Athens:
Athens is an easy (and cheap!) city to navigate by public transit. A tourist pass for three days costs around $20 and includes a roundtrip airport ride.
Soak up Athens history, architecture and archaeology
Start in Syntagma Square in the centre of Athens, one of the most famous squares in the country. Syntagma means constitution, and the square has been the centre of many of Greece’s most defining sociopolitical events. It’s now home to the parliament buildings (formerly the King’s Palace), a prime example of Greek neoclassical architecture.
Pick up a pork gyro (rotisserie pork with cucumber, tomato, onion and tzatziki wrapped in a pita) for a quick lunch, and eat it in The National Gardens just behind the parliament buildings.
Athens’ Acropolis is worth the ticket price
In the afternoon, head to the Acropolis, Athens’ iconic crowning ruins. You can reach the Acropolis via metro (Syntagma station to Acropolis station, with a bit of walking), but it’s well worth seeing Syntagma metro station, which is as much a subway stop as it is an archaeological museum. It features all the historical gems unearthed during the construction of the station.
It’s a short climb to reach the Acropolis, an ancient citadel located on a rocky outcrop. Acropolis literally means the highest point on the edge of a city. It offers some of the most breathtaking views of the city. The most well known structure is the mid 5th century Parthenon, the ruins of a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, whom locals consider their patron. It costs around $20 for a ticket, but it’s well worth it.
To quench your thirst after a busy day of exploration, head to Brettos. It’s just 400 metres from the Acropolis metro station which makes it the perfect spot to rest ruin-weary feet. It’s got a gorgeous bar with shelves of colourful back-lit bottles, and the owners make their own liqueurs in over 30 different flavours. You can, of course, get traditional ouzo as well.
Check out one of the Athens beaches
While Athens is a big bustling city known for its ancient ruins, there are more relaxed spots not too far from the city centre to catch a bit of seaside sun.
Head to Voula beach on the southeast coast (30 minutes by tram). Here you’ll find a clean blue flag beach that’s not too crowded. You can even buy chairs, umbrellas and drinks fairly cheaply. There are plenty of shops, cafes and restaurants nearby too. The swimming at Voula is much better than some of the other seaside towns like Glyfada and Faliron. Here you’ll feel like you’re on one of Greece’s idyllic islands, yet you’re just half an hour outside the busy city.
Discover Athens’ love of sport
If you want to get a better feel for Greece’s wide-ranging history, head back into town to the Panathenaic Stadium, which hosted the very first modern Olympic Games in 1896. It’s the only stadium in the world made entirely of marble, and in its prime it could seat 80,000 spectators!
Try Athens shopping two ways
To find the biggest array of possible souvenirs, check out the hustle and bustle of the Monastiraki market. Like many of the world’s most iconic markets (think Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar or Delhi’s Chandni Chowk), for the uninitiated it can be impossible to tell whether what you’re buying is a genuine locally produced product or a mass-market knockoff from China. But even if you don’t buy anything, the buzzy atmosphere is worth a wander.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ermou Street is the pedestrian shopping street for international names and more high-end options. It stretches from Syntagma Square to the Gazi, Athens’ old gas works and now a hotspot for nightlife. If you’re hunting for a bargain among the pricier storefronts, hop inside Fokas department store housed in a beautiful neoclassical building.
Just off Ermou Street is the perfect rooftop bar to celebrate your new purchases: A for Athens. They do a creative selection of cocktails with some of the best views over the Acropolis, which is lit up at night.
If you have more time
Make a day of visiting Cape Sounion, a spectacular craggy promontory to the south-west of Athens on the Attic peninsula.
It takes about two hours to get there by bus. It’s a great spot for a hike and some breathtaking views of the Poseidon Temple (god of the sea) and across the Aegean. Opt for a light but satisfying, local and traditional lunch of Greek salad topped with copious amounts of olives at the restaurant near the top. Then venture down to the beach below the cliff to watch one of the famed sunsets—a perfect sendoff.
For more essential travel itineraries, check out our other 48 Hours In guides.