A trip to Athens, Greece should be high on most anyone’s bucket list of international destinations to experience in a lifetime. Widely known as the historical capital of Europe and the “cradle of Western civilization,” the capital city of Greece offers a wealth of activities for visitors, most importantly world-renowned monuments on Acropolis Hill. Fortunately, visitors with limited time can see all of the major attractions in just a few days. This travel guide is intended for those who only have 72 hours in the incomparable city of Athens.
As with any major city, the easiest and most affordable way to get around Athens is public transportation. However, visitors must be mindful of the possible presence of scammers and pickpockets, including many who operate in groups at crowded places like onboard a public bus, at the Central Market or other major tourist destinations. City buses are readily available, but more efficient means of transport include the Athens Metro underground (Attiko Metro) or the trolley (STASY) system.
The Athens Metro operates three primary, color-coded lines (red, green and blue) and three extension lines. While it might be a little confusing to read and understand the subway map, it’s clearly the best way to move about the city. A PDF version of the system is available online. Those hoping to visit the Acropolis, the Parthenon or the Acropolis Museum can take the Red Line 2 to the Acropoli station.
Visitors who prefer to use a taxi to get about the city are advised that not all, but many taxi drivers are known to be scammers. Visitors should agree to the price of a fare before entering a cab and ensure that the driver is a registered operator and the vehicle is equipped with a taxi meter. Additionally, visitors are advised to consider talking to more than one taxi driver to find the best price for a ride. While taxis can be hailed from curbside, not all drivers will stop or will want to know the destination before agreeing to provide transportation. In all, the best way to reduce the risk of being scammed is to book a taxi online from a reputable company like Greek Taxi, Star Group Taxi Services or best of all, George’s Taxi.
There are several rental car agencies operating out of the Athens International Airport, such as Avis, Dollar and Hertz, but visitors are encouraged not to drive in Athens. The Greater Athens area has a population of over three million and the easier, faster and more affordable way to travel is with public transport. In addition to taxis, limousines and airport shuttles, visitors can also reach Athens via the Metro underground, city bus, the suburban rail or regional buses.
Athens has hundreds of choices for lodging, from hostels and luxury hotels to bed and breakfasts to hundreds of vacation rentals. Here is just a sampling of the best rated overnight accommodations in the city, all close to the major attractions.
- Acropolis Museum Hotel
- Acropolis Select Hotel
- Athens Ledra Hotel
- AVA Hotel Athens
- Royal Olympic Hotel
In a city of more than three million, it’s not surprising to find thousands of choices for dining. The following recommendations are all acclaimed for serving outstanding cuisine, including some that are led by the most celebrated chefs in the country.
Paramount amongst all attractions in Athens is a visit to the Acropolis, built in the 5th century B.C.E. The best place to begin the walk is from the Acropolis metro station, adjacent to the Acropolis Museum. From there it’s about a 15-minute walk to reach the Parthenon, the single most famous structure. Along the way, visitors must climb a series of ramps, with places to stop, rest and take in the spectacular views. While the walk is considered relatively easy for many visitors, it could be too strenuous for those who have difficulty walking. There is an elevator available but visitors must call in advance of their visit.
Upon arrival to the Parthenon, visitors may pay an admission fee of 12€ or 6€. The admission price also allows visitors to see other ancient structures near the Acropolis, including the Ancient Agora of Athens, Hadrian’s Library, the Roman Forum and the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Day 1 should also include a visit to the Acropolis Museum. Located on the southeastern slope of Acropolis hill and adjacent to the Acropolis metro station, the museum is the most visited in Athens and holds an estimated 4,000 ancient artifacts in its permanent collection. General admission is 5€, with reduced admission to students. Highlights of the museum include the statue of the Greek goddess Nike, the bust of Tiberius Julius, the marble relics from the Parthenon and for families with children, the Lego replica of the Acropolis.
The first day can be capped with a stroll through the Plaka, also known as “District of Gods” just a few minutes from the museum. The Plaka is the oldest neighborhood in Athens and is now home to many family-owned retail businesses, restaurants, more museums and several cafes for some Greek coffee.
A great way to begin the second day is a visit to the Central Market, about one mile north of the Acropolis. Also known as the Varvakios Agora or Dimotiki Agora, the Central Market is a classic example of life in Athens and easily one of the liveliest places in the city. Vendors sell all sorts of food items, from fresh fish and meat to fruits, vegetables, nuts and spices. The Central Market is about 550 yards from the Omonia metro station. After visiting the market, visitors should consider walking south for about 10 minutes to Monastiraki Square, one of the city’s top public centers for daylong activity, along with the entertaining Monastiraki Flea Market nearby. Both the Central Market and Monastiraki Square can be reached via the Athens Metro Green Line 1 to the Monastiraki metro station. After spending a good portion of the morning here enjoying the sites, visitors can head back to the metro subway station to visit the National Archeological Museum.
Located between the next two Metro stops north of Monastiraki Square (Omonia and Victoria stations), the Archaeological Museum is the largest museum in the country and houses the world’s greatest collection of artifacts of Greek civilization, from Prehistoric Greece to Late Antiquity. One other noteworthy museum nearby that car enthusiasts will enjoy is the Hellenic Motor Museum, a few blocks from the Victoria Metro station. Afterwards, visitors can head back to their hotel to freshen up or continue on to visit one of the above recommended restaurants.
Recommendations for the third and final day allow visitors to visit other noteworthy attractions at their leisure, most importantly to Syntagma Square. This public area is far larger than Monastiraki and widely considered to be the most famous square in the entire country. It’s also the location for the Old Royal Palace, a magnificent neoclassical structure that now houses the Hellenic Parliament, the parliament of Greece. One exceptional attraction to consider taking in is the Greek Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where Evzones soldiers stand guard and also protect the palace. The elite soldiers, dressed in traditional uniforms, also perform a changing of the guard, much like the ceremony conducted in front of Buckingham Palace in London.
If time permits, the rest of the day can include historical attractions that may have been missed on Day 1, such the Ancient Agora of Athens and the Temple of Hephaestus. Otherwise, visitors can consider taking a trip down to the Greek coastline at Pireas or walk 3/4 miles from the Evangelismos Metro station (Blue Line) to the top of Mount Lycabettus (Likavitos), the highest point in Athens and the location of the Chapel of St. George (Ekklisia Agii Isidori). Visitors also have the option of taking the Lycabettus Funicular at Aristippou and Ploutárhou Streets up to the summit.
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com