Standing proud in the shadow of the mighty Acropolis, Athens is a city unlike any other in Europe, weaving together threads of old and new. Stories of its illustrious history live on in the cobbled streets of Plaka, even as smartly dressed locals in open-air cafés discuss art, politics and the economy over a chilled Espresso Freddo. Exploring the city’s neighborhoods is a good way to get a taste of the culture and history -- and will only leave you hungry for more.
9 AM - ACROPOLIS
Begin your exploration at Athen's most glorious and visited site -- the ancient city of Acropolis. Arriving early means you’ll escape the afternoon crowds that can make it hard to truly appreciate this UNESCO World Heritage site. Located on a hill overlooking the city, you'll be taken back to the 5th century BC, when devotees roamed the marble streets and worshipped gods and goddesses at ornate temples. Considered the greatest architectural achievement of the Greeks, spend a couple of hours visiting various monuments inside such as the Parthenon, Temple of Athena Nike, Temple of Poseidon and Porch of the Caryatids.
11 AM - THEATRE OF DIONYSOS
DIONYSIOU AREOPAGITOU, AKROPOLI
On the south slope of the Acropolis, the Theatre of Dionysos was the world’s first amphitheater and performance venue for classical Greek drama. Image yourself attending the annual Festival of the Great Dionysia, one of the most important cultural events in the 5th and 6th centuries BC as the arena erupted into applause and cheers at the unfolding of a comedy.
11:30 AM - ACROPOLIS MUSEUM
DIONYSIOU AREOPAGITOU 15, MAKRYGIANNI
If there’s only one museum you visit in Athens, let it be this one. The Acropolis Museum is an excellent place to provide context to your visit to the Acropolis. Here, you’ll see items of historical importance that were found in excavations and recovered from other countries. Notice the ruins of an ancient neighborhood under the glass floor. Exhibits include intricately carved statues, bronze figurines and beautifully painted pottery.
1 PM - LUNCH AT STROFI
ROVERTOU GALLI 25, MAKRYGIANNI
Enjoy a leisurely lunch on the rooftop of Strofi, one of the most popular restaurants in the Acropolis area. Booked months in advance during peak tourist season, there’s good reason for all the fame.The fare is traditional Greek and there are plenty of local wines to try. For a light meal order a selection of appetizers such as the Smoked Eggplant Salad, Octopus in Olive Oil, Stuffed Vine Leaves, Moussaka, and flavorful Shrimp Saganaki. Those who prefer a bigger entree will be spoiled for choice with a variety of meat and fish dishes cooked in a traditional claypot, roasted, grilled or cooked in wine.
2:30 PM - FILOPAPPOU HILL
After a big lunch, burn off those calories and stretch your legs with a short hike to Filopappou Hill. Take Dionysiou Areopagitou, keeping the main entrance of the Acropolis on your right. Historically important even until post-Byzantine times, the hill is home to the Monument of Filopappos and offers spectacular views of Athens and the Parthenon. In the vicinity are the Hill of the Pnyx, the site of the world’s oldest democratic assembly, the Hill of the Nymphs and the 16th century Church of Agios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris.
3:30 PM - THISSIO AND MONASTIRAKI
Stroll along Apostolou Pavlou toward the trendy neighborhood of Thissio. Lined with neoclassical buildings, it's the perfect escape from the crowds of tourists at the Acropolis. You’ll see plenty of young stylish Athenians sipping the beloved Freddo in one of the cool cafés. But don’t stop just yet -- make your way to busy Monastiraki. Home to a number of cafés, boutiques, and shops selling everything from souvenirs to antiques and everything in between. Spend a few minutes watching life go by in Monastiraki Square -- you’ll see groups of people chatting excitedly, and others enjoying a mid-day snack of kourou (traditional goat cheese pie) from one of the nearby bakeries.
4:30 PM - COFFEE AT KAFENEION ORAIA ELLAS
MITROPOLEOS 59, MONASTIRAKI
Rest your legs at Kafeneion Oraia Ellas, the oldest café in Athens, operating since 1871. With oodles of character, this traditional coffeehouse is a great place to jot down your notes or discuss the plan of attack over a Greek coffee, prepared in the old-fashioned method using hot sand. Order a koulouri, a round sesame-covered bagel that makes for a tasty treat. Sit by the windows at the far end for a view of the Acropolis.
7:30 PM - DINNER AT MANI MANI
FALIROU 10, MAKRYGIANNI
Head to Mani Mani, an elegant restaurant close to the Acropolis for a hearty Greek meal with a contemporary twist. The cuisine comes from the less explored but culturally rich Mani region in the Peloponnese and as such, is very different from the fare you find in traditional tavernas. Begin with creamy white taramosalata (cod fish egg puree with olive oil) and Mani Mani salad. Indulge your pasta craving by tucking into Hilopites (Greek pasta with chicken, vegetables and basil). The service is some of the warmest you’ll find in the city, so feel free to ask for any local recommendations.
9 PM - ATHENS FESTIVAL
ODEON OF HERODES ATTICUS, SOUTHERN SLOPE OF THE ACROPOLIS
If you’re visiting between June and September, book advance tickets to a theatre or opera performance as part of the annual Athens and Epidaurus Festival held at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Watching a live show under a starlit sky will be one of your most memorable experiences in Athens. The venue has a seating capacity of about 6000 people and has been a venue for music, theater and dance performances since 161 AD.
11:30 PM - COCKTAILS AT GALAXY BAR
46 VASSILISSIS SOFIAS AVENUE
Celebrate your first night in Athens with cocktails at this upscale rooftop bar at the Hilton Athens. The classy and contemporary spot offers the company of the city’s most fashionable crowd, lounge music, a relaxed ambience with brilliant views of the Acropolis at sunset.
9 AM - BREAKFAST AT ATTIKA APTONOIEIA
Begin your day at this neighborhood bakery with a Greek style breakfast of freshly baked spinach and cheese pies. Follow the example of the locals and ask for a chilled Cappuccino Freddo, then sit back and relax or take it to go if you're ready to conquer the day.
9:30 AM - MONASTIRAKI FLEA MARKET
Tumble down the rabbit hole in Athens’ very own market of all things quirky, weird and cool at the Monastiraki Flea Market. Open daily, but extra popular on Sundays, the market is the place to go bargain hunting for everything from antique jewelry, old books, stamps, coins, war memorabilia, typewriters, gramophones, vintage clocks, and carpets, to the usual souvenirs and clothes.
10:30 AM - HADRIAN’S LIBRARY
Your next stop is this 2nd century AD library which was the largest structure built by Roman emperor Hadrian who envisioned Athens to be the cultural capital of his Empire. Beyond the main library building that houses a reading hall, lecture halls and theater, the complex also includes a courtyard and large garden adorned with marble statues of Athena and Hadrian. Having suffered major damage in 267 AD, the Corinthian columns of the outer wall are the most well preserved part of the original construction.
11 AM - ANCIENT AGORA
Walk in the footsteps of the Ancient Greeks with a tour of the Agora, the central marketplace and venue for everyday political, social, cultural, legal, and philosophical activity in Ancient Athens. Built in the 6th century BC, it was subsequently destroyed, first by the Persians in 480 BC and then by the Herulians in 267A D. Important sites to see include the Stoa of Attalos, a two-floored portico, Agora Museum, the 10th century Church of the Holy Apostles adorned with Byzantine frescoes, Temple of Hephaestus, and Stoa of Zeus Eleutherios.
12:30 PM - LUNCH AT MAIANDROS
ADRIANOU 47, ATHENS
Take a break at this lovely café where you can enjoy the lively neighborhood in their outdoor section. The fare is simple and includes Greek and international favorites. Begin with one of their salads and cold mezze such as the yogurt dip that is especially refreshing on a hot afternoon. For mains, try the souvlaki, grilled meat, dolmadakia (stuffed peppers), or spaghetti.
1:30 PM - ROMAN AGORA AND TOWER OF THE WINDS
CORNER OF PELOPIDA & EOLOU, MONASTIRAKI
To delve deeper into Athenian history, head to the Roman Agora, just east of the Ancient Agora. Walk through the Gate of Athena Archegetis that bears an inscription suggesting that it was built by Julius Caesar and Augustus in the 1st century BC. Also of interest is the Tower of Winds, a remarkably tall, octagonal structure built of white marble in the Hellenistic period that was designed to function as a water clock, sundial and weather vane.
2 PM - TEMPLE OF OLYMPIAN ZEUS
LEOFOROS VASILISSIS AMALIAS, SYNTAGMA
Visit the largest temple in Greece whose construction spanned over 700 years, finally completed by Hadrian in AD 131. Only 15 of the original 104 Corinthian columns remain, with a 16th struck by a storm in 1852. The temple orignially had two statues dedicated to Zeus, one gold and one ivory, neither of which remain today.
2:30 PM - HADRIAN’S ARCH
LEOFOROS VASILISSIS AMALIAS, SYNTAGMA
Built of Pentelic marble in the classical style, Hadrian’s Arch was erected by the Roman emperor around AD 132 to mark the entrance to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Inscriptions also suggest it intended to be a boundary between Greek or Ancient Athens (the side facing the Acropolis) and Roman Athens (facing the Temple of Olympian Zeus).
3 PM - PIES AT ARISTON
VOULIS 10, SYNTAGMA
Make a quick stop at Ariston, a pastry shop that has been serving up some of the tastiest pies in the city since 1910. Try kourou, a traditional goat cheese pie that is pleasantly crusty on the outside and soft within. The locals love their pies and the affordable snack is always a good idea, whether at breakfast or with afternoon tea.
3:15 PM - RELAX AT NATIONAL GARDENS
LEOFOROS VASILISSIS AMALIAS, SYNTAGMA
Take a break from the ruins and escape to the cool refuge of the National Gardens, formerly the Royal Gardens of Queen Amalia. Spread over 15.5 hectares, the gardens are home to diverse species of flora and fauna, the Botanical Museum, ponds, playground, café, Corinthian columns, and other monuments.
4 PM - SYNTAGMA SQUARE
Make your way to Athens’ central square, an important landmark that is home to the Hellenic Parliament surrounded by the city’s best hotels and major buildings. In modern times, this square has seen the unfolding of political demonstrations and marches. Sit down by the fountain to people watch and if you’re lucky, you may even catch a Changing of the Guard. The best time to witness the ceremony in all its splendor is 11 a.m. Sunday morning when the guards are in traditional costume.
5 PM - LYCABETTUS HILL
At 277 m, Lycabettus Hill is the highest point in the city with fantastic views of the Aegean Sea. You can either hike to the summit or take the funicular railway from Kolonaki. Also at the top is Agios Georgios, an 18th century chapel of St. George. Admire the myriad colors at sunset as you relax with a Freddo from Café Lycabettus. If you’re visiting during summer, check for shows at the open-air Lycabettus Theatre.
9 PM - DINNER AND DRINKS AT CAFÉ BOHEME
OMIROU 36, KOLONAKI
This trendy restaurant and bar set up by an Englishman has great ambience, chic décor and a vibe that will make you stay longer than you intended. On the menu are classic Greek favorites and other European creations highlighting Mediterranean ingredients. They have weekly jazz nights and weekends get crowded (and louder) after 11 p.m., so arrive early before the party gets going. Don’t forget to try one of their interesting cocktails such as the Mastica and Mangotini.
WHERE TO STAY: HOTEL ATTALOS ATHENS
29 ATHINAS STR., MONASTIRAKI
Just a few minutes’ walk from Monastiraki metro station, Attalos Hotel offers comfortable rooms, friendly service and easy access to the city’s most interesting neighborhoods at an affordable price. The area around the hotel is lively with plenty of tavernas, cafés and bars, and crossing the street towards Ermou takes you to the city’s hippest shopping precinct. The rooftop bar is the perfect place to retire with a glass of wine with a view of the Acropolis.