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ATHENS IN ONE DAY: WHAT TO SEE, WHAT TO DO, WHERE TO STAY

athens in one day

Athens is famous for its perfect weather, tasty foods, kind locals and, perhaps above all, ancient sites:

athens in one day

My (update: now ex-) fiancé and I lived in Athens rent-free for five weeks because we were house sitting in Greece: we had free accommodation in suburbia Athens in return for looking after a dog and a cat. But that's a different story.

house sitting greece

My point is, you might not have as long: if you're only visiting Greece for a week and want to see as many islands as possible, if you have a short layover in Athens, whatever the reason, the seo gods brought you here for a reason - to find out what to do in Athens in one day - and I'm going to deliver. I've pulled apart my five weeks and smushed together what I personally believe are the best bits of Athens, aka what to do in Athens Greece in one day:

One Day in Athens Guide

1. Visit the Markets in Athens

First stop: Athens Central Market. As with most markets, I recommend that you go bright and early in the morning: you can grab breakfast and maybe even lunch for later. Plus markets, in my opinion, are kind of depressing later on - produce limp from a day's viewing and touching (plus that Greek sunshine), sellers grumpy from a day's selling. Despite nearly getting grabbed in the Athens' markets (hot tip, take a male), I still really enjoyed visiting Athens Central Market: the biggest food market in Athens.

I mainly liked it because it was the first truly 'foreign' market I'd ever been to. To this Brit, 'foreign' means that this market is filled not just with the typical European fish and meats, but also with whole sharks, feet from pigs, lambs without skin and heads of cows (also without skin, but still with eyes and tongues). It is pretty overwhelming if you're not used to it, especially as the vendors shout at you for your attention. And, like I said, try to grab you. Personally, I found all the strange dead animals exciting at the time, but did say "I bet this is one of those places that turns meat lovers into vegans." (Which is funny, because I did turn vegan a year later at a different meat market in Vietnam.) Anyway, no matter if that's not your thing, the market is also teeming with spices, nuts, fruits and all manner of exotic foods. The smells of the spices are intoxicating, the energy and noises engulfing.

how to see athens in one day

Back then, I counted visiting this market as one of the many free things to do in Athens (as with most markets, it's free to browse). But a) it's pretty hard not to buy these world-class spices and nuts and b) if you want to take photos please also buy something, it's only fair. A short comment here by Hungarian bf Tamás: although markets like these might look like the sellers are selling their own produce, they very often aren't... the fruit & veg might not even have been grown locally! In Hungary, for instance, they regularly say 'it's local' or even put that on the price tag to raise its appeal for those who wish to buy local (which is what we strive to do ever since we've learnt about the environmental impact of transport).

Also, if you are looking for organic produce, watch out with marketplaces - since there are no factory made wrappers and packaging (which mean no or less plastic, which is good), with merchant and/or producers buying in bulk, it is really hard to tell what kind of pesticides/fertilizers were used, where the stuff was grown, etc. Anyway, it is definitely worth a look. Here's some useful info: Athens Central Market is on Athinas Street, just a 5-minute walk from Monastiraki Tube Station, which is actually a great starting place to see the other main sights in Athens.

2. Walk up to the Acropolis from Monastiraki

Next up, I recommend a walk up to the Acropolis. Here are two ways to get to Acropolis, 1) walk to it from Acropolis Tube Station (which takes about five minutes) and 2) walk to it from Monastiraki Tube Station. The second option takes about 30 minutes but feels even longer as the sun is hot and the hill is steep, but in my opinion is the better option, partly because of the incredible views, but mostly because I enjoyed feeling like I was some ancient Greek on some trek.

free things to do in athens

If you are approaching from Monastiraki, I recommend that you (at least initially) don't go into the Acropolis at the paying entrance, carry on a little further for epic views of Athens on one side and the Acropolis on the other.

one day in athens

Stoa of Attalos in particular is unbelievable from above. After you've enjoyed the view, double back on yourself and make your way into the Acropolis.

3. VISIT THE ACROPOLIS IN ONE DAY

athens in one day

So by now, your belly (and senses) are full from the market, your muscles are worked out from the walk, the next and final thing that I recommend on your one day in Athens is to visit the Acropolis. Other blog posts about what to see in Athens in one day will recommend that you cram way more in than this but I disagree. An overpacked schedule can be overwhelming (especially in Athens' heat) and visiting the Acropolis takes about half a day, it's brimming with history, culture and one of the best views of Athens. Why rush?

free things to do in athens

But wait, what actually is the Acropolis? It literally translates as 'high city' and that's exactly what it is. Perched atop a 150m hill with excellent views of the city and the sea, this ancient site is home to:

  • The Parthenon
  • The Erechtheion
  • The Herodian
  • The Theatre of Dionysus
  • The Sanctuary of Zeus Polieus
  • The Propylaea
  • Ancient Agora
  • Hadrian's Library
  • Kerameikos Archaeological Site

... and more! Let's go explore a few of these:

The Parthenon

The Parthenon, completed in 432 BC, has been used as a treasury, a church, a mosque and more.

what to do in athens

Nowadays the Parthenon is more like the Eiffel Tower or the Brandenburger Tor of Athens if you will (i.e. the iconic piece of Athens). This is the one that you will see on most of the postcards and Instagood selfie shots. 

things to do in athens

When I visited, it was half covered in scaffolding, but this 'monument to ancient Greece' still held its own (pun intended). Okay, to be honest, I wasn't that impressed, on my first visit I was fighting the heat, the tourists and the scaffolding to get my insta-good shot. (Wannabe Rich&Famous Travel Blogger Laura of the Past). I came back a second time with a guide so I could appreciate its history and importance more, but more on that below. What else is at the Acropolis?

The Erechtheion

The Erechtheion was dedicated to two of the Greek Gods: Athena the Goddess of Wisdom and Poseidon the God of the Sea. These two Gods fought it out to become the patron of Athens. In the end Athenians were allowed to decide (lucky). To tempt them, Poseidon gave them salt water and Athena gave them an olive tree. The Athenians went for the olive tree and that's why Athens is called Athens... one of the most ancient cities in the world, named after a woman! Ah, this was before Christian times, before "evil" got derived from "Eve" and gay men were accepted members of society. Different times. 

house sitting greece

Completed in 406 BCE, the Erechtheion used to have a wooden statue of Athena in it. Other than that, it was also used as a wankfest to glorify Athens in general (a parasitic military city-state colonising a lot around the Mediterranean).

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus

how to see athens in one day

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus dates back to 161AD (but was restored in 1950). I think it's cool that something that old is not only still around today, but is also still being used: it's the main venue of the Athen's Festival! Talk about built to last - amirite? After you've checked this out you can keep going down the hill, exiting the Acropolis by going past the Theatre of Dionysus. Next, you can walk down Dionysiou Areopagitou Lane towards Hadrian's Arch, before heading on over to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. I'm assuming the staff at the Acropolis are underpaid and/or under-appreciated because they were sassy af (wage slavery, anyone?). Okay it was mostly my fault for being an annoying tourist, not knowing rules and thus accidentally breaking them. I was told off for two things on my first visit to the Acropolis - once for eating a sandwich (classic Brit) and once for sitting on this wall:

athens in one day

In regards to the sandwich, I was immediately told "you can't eat that here, it's a museum not a park", which is weird because they could have just said it nicely. As for the wall, the guy actually said "if you fell it would be bad for publicity" 😅 which I personally felt was a bit harsh, F your publicity, what about my life? But it's hot, tourists (especially Brits) are annoying, I get it.

After that, maybe you'd think that I wouldn't go back/recommend that you go, but actually it didn't really bother me (okay it did a bit, but I mostly only mentioned it here to warn you in case you wanted to sit on walls or eat sandwiches), actually what bothered me the most on my first trip to the Acropolis was the fact that I didn't really know what was going on. Everything was clearly awe-inspiring, but I didn't feel like I really learnt anything the first time around, I needed a guide:

We found one by going on the Acropolis of Athens and New Acropolis Museum Tour and I cannot stress how much I wish I'd just gone on this in the first place instead of going by ourselves. Our guide was really interesting, the group was a great size, and finally I learnt the secrets of the Acropolis (but I won't spoil them for you here, go and find our yourself :) The tour lasted about 4 hours, if you have less time you could try the Acropolis of Athens Tour- it's by the same people but without the museum tour so it's shorter. But maybe you're a history buff/have a guide book, at the very least I recommend that you skip the queue for the tickets at Acropolis - you only have one day in Athens, don't waste it waiting in a queue! It gets pretty crowded:

what to see in athens in one day

Temple of Olympian Zeus

one day in athens

The Temple of Olympian Zeus is not located on the Acropolis (but is included in Acropolis entry fee and any (good) Acropolis tours that you take. Actually, you can see Acropolis from the Temple of Olympian Zeus:

what to see in athens in one day

Perhaps because it's not at the main site, we found that this was a lot less crowded than the Acropolis.

things to do in athens

what to do in athens


Food and Drink in Greece

athens in one day

When I first went to Athens I gorged on gyros, tzatziki, fresh fish, feta, Greek yoghurt, moustalevria etc. Nowadays I'm vegan so I recommend my friend Caitlin's post on vegan Athens. I remember being surprised to find in general that food in Greece was not as cheap as I expected. But at the same time it was almost impossible to find substandard food in Greece - no cheap-y value products, everything tasted amazing. So I suppose it makes sense. Athens was actually the first place I ever tried dumpster diving (eating out of a trash can 👍) there was a dumpster outside of the supermarket filled with paprikas, after waiting to see if anyone who was actually in need took it, I went for it. Delicious.

In terms of drinks, I found the fresh orange juice to be some of the best I've ever had, and the coffee to be some of the worst. The orange juice is squeezed in front of you and is served with plenty of ice. The coffee is strangely thin until right at the bottom where it's weirdly thick (like the cheap hot chocolates you can get from a machine). Some people become addicted to Greek coffee when they come to Athens, I did not. (and since then we've finally come off our caffeine addiction anyway)

free things to do in athens

As for alcohol, Greek beer is fine, Greek wine is not good and Greek ouzo is the best! This is just my opinion, of course, and I didn't try every single Greek wine or beer. (This was before we developed an alcohol addiction lol.)

House Sitting Athens Greece

For five weeks I was house sitting in Greece, which meant that my accommodation was free in return for looking after a really sweet cat and dog. It was a bit of a disaster but they were really cute:

house sitting greece

I wrote a whole post about it: house sitting in Athens Greece. House sitting is how I was initially able to start travelling the world writing rambley blog posts like these.

Airbnb Athens + Discount code

airbnb athens discount code

But if you only have one day in Athens, house sitting is probably not for you, most house sits are at least a weekend long (but can be up to two years). I also visited Athens another time and spent the night in an Airbnb. From my experience I recommend Airbnb in Athens and if you're new to Airbnb I can offer you an Airbnb discount code, too. Thank you so much for reading (or scrolling) down to this point, may I interest you in some of my other posts about spending 24 hours in a European capital city?

what to see in athens in one day

Have you been to Athens? Let me know in the comments below, or pop over to Instagram and say hi :) 

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