Prior to going to Athens, Greece I had several people urge me to just skip it and head straight to the Greek islands. “It’s really dirty.” Said one. “Nothing to see.” Said another.
Well, frankly they were all incorrect. Athens is absolutely brilliant, its vibrant, compelling and oozing history and charm. Over the course of 24 hours in Athens, which let me tell you is not enough time at all, we scratched the proverbial surface of this incredible and vibrant city.
With Greece now open again to tourism, most people plan their vacation time spent on the incredible and diverse Greek islands. Whilst it’s understandable to head straight to the ferry terminals and hop on the first ferry out of Athens Pireaus, consider a longer stay in Athens.
Athens has so much to offer visitors and once you uncover this hidden gem of a city and its neighbourhoods, you’ll be itching to return. But for now, let’s explore what 24 hours in Athens looks like and what you can expect to see and do.
24 Hours in Athens
Arriving into Athens
All flights from mainland Europe, the US etc land at Athens’ International Airport, located 40km from the city centre of Athens. There are several ways of getting into the city centre of Athens and beyond.
Taking Line 3 (Blue Line) from the Athens International Airport in the direction of Nikaia, most visitors exit at the Monastariki or Syntagma. You can change lines at Monastariki and connect with other lines. The price for a one-way ticket from the airport is €10.
The Suburban Rail connects Athens International Airport with its suburbs, most visitors take this line to get directly to Pireaus Port. Departures are every hour.
A taxi is the quickest way of getting into the Athens city centre or Pireaus Port. The journey is dependent on traffic but takes less than 30 minutes. There is a taxi stand immediately outside of airport arrivals.
A taxi costs between €30 and €50 depending on whether you are staying in the city centre or at the port. Be warned though that Greek taxi drivers all think they are Formula 1 drivers and drive at exorbitant speeds.
The popular X96 Bus Athens International Airport – Pireus Port takes passengers directly to Pireaus Port, where all ferries depart for the Greek islands. Tickets cost €6 per passenger one way, with the journey taking 60 minutes. The bus departs every 30 minutes.
24 Hours in Athens – Where to Stay in Athens
Greece is home to fabulous hotels and stunning locations and Athens is no exception. There are bountiful hotels in popular areas in Plaka, Monastiraki and Syntagma.
Most people who spend the night in Pireaus Port are usually waiting for the early morning island ferries that depart at the crack of dawn. This means that the hotels found in Pireaus serve the basic function of resting your head for the night and offer very little else.
Hotels in Plaka
During our stay, we spent the night in the delightful – Coco Mat Athens BC. This 5-star hotel has a rooftop pool and outstanding views of the Acropolis. You’ll also find a wonderful restaurant that in the evening comes alive in the summer months.
The rooms are beautifully decorated with Coco Mats products, some of which you can buy in the store on the ground floor.
The atrium is something to behold, and you can find breakfast served with, of course, some of the best Greek yoghurt and honey straight from the beehive. The hotel also rents bicycles to help you explore the city and the Acropolis is only a short walk away.
24 Hours in Athens – The Acropolis of Athens
With only 24 hours in Athens, you simply can’t miss out on the incredible Acropolis of Athens. The Acropolis dates back over 2500 years. What makes the Acropolis stand out is that it has lovingly lasted the tests of time, withstanding numerous wars, earthquakes and pillaging.
The Acropolis of Athens is stunning. From kilometres away you can see it rising up from the landscape, this gargantuan rock that houses the Parthenon and other buildings. An acropolis is the highest point in the city and usually contains important buildings, such as the Parthenon.
The Parthenon is the most famous structure on the Acropolis and is formidable in person. The engineering that was involved in creating the Parthenon so that it slopes and is able to withstand earthquakes is remarkable. Considering the fact it was constructed 2500 years ago.
Consider a guided tour of the Acropolis when spending your 24 hours in Athens. Tours take 1.5 hours and the best time to visit is either first thing in the morning or just before it closes for the day.
Bear in mind that during the summer months it can be extraordinarily hot in Athens and tours during midday should be avoided. We booked our 1.5-hour tour through Get Your Guide and our tour guide was brilliant. Her humour and knowledge made the tour of the Acropolis really fun.
If you have more time to spend, visit the Acropolis Museums which house rare artefacts that have been uncovered through various excavations.
Syntagma Square is not only the home to the Greek Parliament and the centre of Athens but is now a tourist destination for one reason – the changing of the guard. Every hour on the hour, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Evzones change guard.
The Evzones are Greek soldiers who are trained to the highest of military standards and are dressed rather unusually. They wear national uniforms that date from 1821 and stand without any movement during their sentry.
The guard changing is something to witness at least once as it is so entrancing and ceremonial. The slow movements and precision of the Evzones are remarkable.
The site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, the Panathenaic Stadium is a short walk from the Temple of Zeus and the National Gardens of Athens. It is the world’s only white marble stadium and quite arresting to look at.
It lay in ruins for centuries before becoming the opening and closing venue for the 1896 ceremony. It now plays host every year as the finishing point for the Athens Marathon (which actually starts in the town of Marathon).
Athens Bus Tour
Explore the city from the comfort of an open-air double-decker tour bus. This is one of the best ways to take in all the sights of your 24 hours in Athens and it also includes commentary.
Don’t miss out on the top sights of Athens, get your hop-on-hop-off bus tickets and choose which parts of Athens are worth exploring further.
Explore the streets of Plaka & Monastiraki
The magical streets of Plaka & Monastiraki that lie in the shadow of the acropolis are an energetic maze of boutiques, restaurants, cafes and wine bars. Exploring these areas is the best way to spend the late afternoon meandering the cobblestone streets and picking out restaurants and bars to spend the evening in.
The tiny neighbourhood of Anafioka is as if you have been transported from the bustling city of Athens and into the quaint streets of the Cyclade islands. This is the perfect place to purchase handmade crafts with exceptional boutique shops selling ceramics, beautiful jewellery and delicious Greek food products.
24 Hours in Athens – The Best Places to Eat in Athens
Greece has some of the most incredible food on the planet. Its reliance on fresh and locally sourced ingredients enhance its traditional dishes such as Mousaka & Gyros. From fresh olives to locally caught seafood, Greece has it all.
Dining in the tavernas of Athens and its Greek Islands is something that never gets old. There are so many dishes to try and each area has its own speciality that is unique to that place. In Athens, we found a restaurant that isn’t in any travel guides and is a very local affair. It was hands down the best meal of an already incredible foodie vacation.
Karamanlidika had the best food on our entire trip, which is really saying a lot. We had so many excellent meals over the 2 weeks we spent island hopping, but it was our last afternoon in Karamanlidika that was not only memorable but delicious.
Located in a really authentic and local part of Monastariki, you won’t find many tourists here but real Athenians devouring the cured meats and cheeses. The dishes are encouraged to be shared and are the Greek version of tapas.
To Kafeneio in Plaka, we dined on vine leaves stuffed with rice, mint and spices. We of course had to sample one last saganaki, a deep-fried cheese wrapped in a flaky pastry that is divine. The restaurant is set off one of the quaint side streets in Plaka and was a magical setting for the end of our 24 hours in Athens.
And just like that, your 24 hours in Athens are over. The magic of Athens is in its allure to pull visitors in and surprise them with every turn on the streets of this magnetic capital.
With each visit, Athens continues to surprise and enthral visitors with its endless activities and superb restaurants and bars. If you can only spare 24 hours in Athens, then make sure it’s the best 24 hours possible.
Did I leave something out? Leave a comment below and let me know how you spent 24 hours in Athens or what should be included on the list.