Start your journey through Athens gazing up at the Acropolis while having a hearty Greek breakfast at the Acropolis Museum café (15 Dionysiou Areopagitou), mustering enough energy to scale the imposing fortifications above. But before you begin your ascent, tour the gorgeous Acropolis Museum to put everything you’re about to see in its proper context.
The hill itself has been inhabited since the 4th millennium BC. Once through the monumental Propylaea gateway, you can wander between the remarkably well-preserved temples of the Erechtheion, Athena Nike and finally the Parthenon, dedicated to the ancient city’s patron, goddess Athena. Take your time to appreciate the view from a commanding vantage point, to orient yourself with the Aegean and to see how the concrete neighborhoods of Athens slot together.
Pull up an empty craft beer keg and sit in the street with an impressive platter of cheeses and a glass of wine or Aperol Spritz, if you feel you’ve earned it, outside Drupes & Drips (20 Zitrou) in Koukaki. Alternatively, stock up on delicious pies and pastries at the neighboring Takis Bakery (14 Misaraliotou) to fuel your afternoon wanderings.
15:00 an Athenian village
Head back up the hill to the Dionysiou Areopagitou promenade that rings Acropolis Hill and go right. Walk around the Acropolis anticlockwise, hug the base of the hill and aim for the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates (3 Epimenidou) to take you through the picturesque alleys of Anafiotika, a village tucked away beneath the Acropolis. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’re on a Greek island as you take in the colorful houses that were built by people from the island of Anafi who had come to Athens to work on the construction of King Otto’s palace.
Maintain your elevation to continue walking through Anafiotika’s winding, timeless streets to reach the Tower of the Winds (1st c. BC), supposedly the oldest weather station in the world, which hosted a combination of sundials, a water clock and a wind vane. In the same fenced enclosure, past the Fethiye Mosque, you’ll find the Roman Agora – a perfect example of the overlapping layers of history to be found around every corner in Athens.
Pick up a memento from one of the many shops on Pandrossou Street, or for something unique, drop in to the upmarket souvenir boutiques Forget Me Not (100 Adrianou) and It’s All, Oh So Souvenir To Me (5 Normanou).
18:00 PAMPER YOURSELF
You may not have run a marathon, but those tired muscles will appreciate some professional attention all the same at Al Hammam (16 Tripodon). Stepping inside the impeccably restored townhouse is a feast for those who love a good pattern, with technicolor Arabic tiles lining almost every surface.
Slip into your bath wear and make your way to the marble-walled Turkish steam bathhouse for a variety of wellness treatments and massages. We would recommend one of the traditional options, like anatripsis, an ancient Greek massage to heal body and spirit.
20:00 A world of food
Syntagma is home to Athens’ most innovative, modern food options, such as the fun Poke Hawaiian Sushi (7 Petraki) or Los Loros (14 Xenofontos) with its succulent Colombian and Venezuelan street food.
If you’re looking for a sit-down dinner, look no further than Nolan (33 Voulis), a Greek-Japanese fusion restaurant which offers some of the city’s most unexpected dishes. We would recommend the melt-in-your-mouth Nolan Fried Chicken or Fish for Babies paired with a spicy gin cocktail. The playfulness of the food and the warmth of the staff always make Nolan an inviting proposition.
22:00 Tales and tipples @ The Clumsies
Each drink at The Clumsies (30 Praxitelous) comes with a show and a story to tell. Everything on the menu is inspired by an ancient Greek word. Take Nostalgia, a sweet cocktail that contains rum infused with the Papadopoulos Biscuits every Greek remembers and a “Nostalgia elixir” (both created in the bar’s very own lab), designed to elicit “a childhood moment which lies dormant.”
Don’t be intimidated by the out-there concepts; the founders have lovingly restored this century-old building, made beautiful lighting from multicolored miniature houses and spend as much effort making their guests feel at home as they do on their fantastic liquid concoctions.
10:00 layers of history
Your second day should begin with a coffee in the garden café of the National Archaeological Museum (44 Patission). Over 150 years old, the museum building is a treasure in its own right. It contains an extensive collection of exhibits and will help you get Athens’ complex chronology clear in your mind.
Highlights include the Artemision Bronze, depicting Zeus or Poseidon; the Jockey of Artemision, a captivating statue of a horse and its rider found in fragments in an ancient shipwreck; the Antikythera Mechanism, a 2,000-year-old analog computer the ancient Greeks used to predict the positions of the stars and to track the four-year cycle of athletic games; and Varvakeion Athena, a meter-tall Roman copy of the original Greek gold-and-ivory Athena that was 12 times bigger and graced the Parthenon.
Outside the museum, turn left onto Patission and head towards Omonia. You’ll pass the partially squatted National Technical University or Polytechnic (42 Patission), where a popular uprising against the Greek military junta began in 1973.
Continue on to the 19th-century Kotzia Square (50 Athinas), which hosts grand neoclassical buildings as well as exposed excavations of tombs, streets and fortifications that once surrounded the ancient city.
13:00 THE FOOD BAZAAR
Enter the cavernous Varvakios Agora (42 Athinas), the central market, and enjoy being swept along in the hustle and bustle as meat and fish vendors shout to advertise their wares. If all the flesh and bone on display is a bit much for you, keep any urges to go vegetarian at bay with a visit to the revered Karamanlidika tou Fani (1 Sokratous & Evripidou) and choose from a huge selection of dried hams and cured meats from across Greece.
Continue walking down Evripidou and savor the rich aromas that float from the rich palette of spices displayed proudly outside each store.
Get lunch at one of Athens’ oldest tavernas, Diporto (9 Sokratous), founded in 1875. Down a trapdoor beneath a dilapidated building, you’ll find the white-haired master of ceremonies holding court from the tiny open kitchen. With no menu, you take whatever workers’ fare has been prepared each day. We ate freshly caught fish, chickpeas, potatoes with zucchini and crusty bread, washed down with white Moschofilero wine. This is definitely no-frills dining.
15:00 Culture and caffeine
To keep the energy levels high, take the pedestrianized Aiolou Street down to Aghias Eirinis Square and drop in for a third-wave caffeine fix at Tailor Made (2 Aghias Eirinis Square). It’s the oldest in an area that boasts a number of hip microroasteries.
Enjoy the mellow ambience of the square, which used to be Athens’ flower market, and appreciate the 19th-c. church, rumored to have been built using the ruins of more than 70 older Byzantine churches and fragments of ancient ruins. After dark, the square buzzes with people chatting and drinking the night away.
16:00 Splash OUT
You can set aside the best part of the afternoon for shopping, as the huge range of high-street brands along Ermou Street will give you plenty of reasons to pass the time and part with your euros.
If high-end boutiques are more your style, make your way up to Voukourestiou Street and the neighboring City Link (5 Voukourestiou) mall for luxury brands, haute-couture, prêt-à-porter and all things that glitter and sparkle.
Attica Department Store (9 Panepistimiou) also has an impressive range of fashion and cosmetics, more than 800 international brands and the latest collections of must-have Greek designers.
17:00 Time to wine down
If you feel like a fine Martini in opulent surroundings, head to Zonar’s (9 Voukourestiou). The café dates from 1939 and has long been a hangout for politicians, journalists and noble Athenians.
If you want something more relaxed, join the drinkers at Heteroclito wine bar (30 Petraki). French-Greek owner Marie-Madeleine is ahead of the curve in celebrating the latest trends in Greek wine. Asking the staff for their favorites and recommendations for wines and tasting platters is always a learning experience. To ensure there’s an offering of good wine for everyone, there’s always one red and one white available for 2.50 euros per glass.
The neighboring Cherchez la Femme (46 Mitropoleos) turns this corner of Athens into a little French quartier. This might just be the most relaxed place in Athens that boasts a chandelier and such pristine decor, but still has a homely feel, especially if you squeeze into one of the candle-lit corner booths. Despite its French inspirations, it proudly hangs Greek art from its walls, serves modern Greek cuisine and specializes in small batch ingredients from the islands. We would recommend the heavenly twisted filo pastry with anthotyro cheese and caramelized onions, the boiled beef ribs and the refreshing stuffed vine leaves with pine nuts.
22:00 Into the night
If you don’t want the night to stop, you have a wide variety of options nearby. Aim for the vintage-themed Drunk Sinatra (16 Thiseos) and you’ll find a young, lively crowd, a great cocktail list and an eclectic music mix that ranges from jazz to swing and bossa nova.
From here, you’re primed to explore the bars that lie off Kolokotroni Street, like Booze Cooperativa (57 Kolokotroni), Owl Athens (23-25 Lekka) and Bank Job (13 Kolokotroni). If you hear the call of pumping basslines and international DJs, you can end your night at Six d.o.g.s. (6-8 Avramiotou) in Monastiraki.
In need of something to soak up the alcohol before you crash out? Pick up a vromiko (literally “dirty”) – delightfully sinful hotdog sandwiches, burgers or anything greasy from around the corner at To Karotsi tou Giatrou (5 Miaouli).
10:00 A bright start
If you kept the self-indulgence to a minimum and can face an early start, a jog through the National Gardens that begin next to Syntagma Square is a great way to feel like you’ve left the city behind. Aim for the Panathenaic Stadium, better known as the Kallimarmaro (Vasileos Konstantinou Avenue), which hosted the inaugural modern Olympic Games in 1896. As you run through the surrounding greenery, you’ll feel cleansed by the fresh pine scent and rewarded with a stunning view.
11:00 Ceremony in the city
Head back to Syntagma Square to watch the changing of the presidential guard at the Monument of the Unknown Soldier in front of Parliament. The Evzones, also known as Tsoliades, are a special unit of the Greek Army who go through a rigorous selection and training process. They stand in perfect stillness before the tomb for an hour, switching positions every 15 minutes in a series of synchronized movements. Every Sunday morning at 11:00, large crowds gather to watch the spectacular weekly grand changing of the guard.
12:00 Study time
You’re already at the start of Vasilissis Sofias, so your first stop at the Benaki Museum (1 Koumbari) is the perfect way to get up to speed on the immense artistic evolution Greece has witnessed through the course of millennia. The palatial neoclassical building houses prehistoric, ancient Greek and Roman art through to 20th-century cultural treasures.
Further up the street, the Museum of Cycladic Art (4 Neofytou Douka) isn’t limited to art from the Cycladic archipelago, but hosts ancient art from across Greece and temporary exhibitions from contemporary art heavyweights. Take a break at the Cycladic Café, a leafy oasis of calm and cutting-edge design.
If you can find the energy for one more museum, we would highly recommend the Byzantine and Christian Museum (22 Vasilissis Sofias). It’s not just a place to experience captivating religious art and glittering icons, but authoritatively fills the gap in your knowledge between what happened in the centuries between the decline of the Roman empire and end of late antiquity, through the Byzantine period and up to the pre-modern era.
Stop to digest everything you’ve learned in the serene museum gardens, before heading back into the center of town through the ruins of Aristotle’s Lyceum, where the great philosopher is believed to have taught.
15:00 Stoa safari
Inside a quirky old stoa (shopping arcade) near Syntagma, you’ll find Triantafyllo tis Nostimias (22 Lekka), next to the old jewelers’ and goldsmiths’ shops. This taverna is famed for its sardines, but if these aren’t in season, staff will be happy to recommend another great fish of the day. The black-eyed bean and potato salads are specialties, and the waitresses will tell you they have the best saganaki in Athens. The golden-battered, deep-fried cheese is indeed second to none, but make sure you eat quickly before it goes cold and rubbery.
If you have been enchanted by the fading glories of Athens’ old stoas, take a short walk to Stoa Anatolis (10-12 Aristeidou), pick up a coffee at To Steki on the ground floor and work your way up the tiered levels of this modernist city-within-a-city until you come to an unexpected roof terrace.
17:00 Culture on the coastline
Kick off an afternoon of culture with a trip to the remarkably ambitious Renzo Piano-designed Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (364 Syngrou) in Kallithea. A palatial arts center housing the Greek National Opera and the National Library, it is the biggest ever donation to the Greek state, and fulfills Piano’s vision to return the sea to local residents, who had been cut off from the water by the huge motorway that runs along the coast.
Start in the northeast corner with a coffee from the visitor’s center, take in the enormous boating lake then walk through the sprawling new park to begin climbing up an artificial hill covered with thousands of plants native to the harsh terrain of Mediterranean cliffs. When you reach the viewing platform, you’ll be gifted a spectacular view of the Athens Riviera, the port of Piraeus and as far as Aegina island on a clear day. From here you can descend to watch opera, ballet or theater performances in the arts complex below.
For an edgier cultural offering head up to the Onassis Cultural Center (107 Syngrou), an enthralling glass menagerie of a building, where the ambience inside changes constantly as the light that shines through shifts throughout the day. Here you’ll find traveling exhibitions, festivals of screenings, performances, parties, or avant-garde plays and concerts in the state-of-the-art auditorium. Head up to the roof for haute-cuisine and cocktails at the Michelin-starred Hytra.
21:00 Wise cuisine
If you want a more down-to-earth but arguably even more impressive experience of Greek cuisine, take a seat for dinner across town at Cookoovaya (2A Hadziyianni Mexi). Quirky touches like the wooden bow-ties and chairs with no right armrest (to help you get closer to your companions, apparently) might not win over everyone, but this homely space with a long open kitchen prides itself on creating a relaxed and sociable experience for its guests.
The five chefs in charge are constantly pushing and pulling the menu in different directions to offer fresh, new twists on Greek classics. There’s imagination and attention to detail at every stage of the meal, and they make everything from the bread to the olive oil and pasta themselves. The bougatsa dessert, which collapses as it’s served, is a sight to behold and a must if you’ve got a sweet tooth or a penchant for Instagram.