Athens is the perfect base to go off and explore the Greek islands, but it’s such a unique, historic city that you want to make the most of your time however long you’re there for.
Don’t make the mistake many do by not leaving yourself enough time to fully appreciate Athens. But if time is tight and you only have 48 hours to explore the Greek capital, here’s the must-see places so you make the most of it.
1. The Acropolis & Acropolis Museum
The Acropolis gets bloody hot and bloody busy. But it’s the ultimate must-see for any visit to Athens, so head there early in the morning or late in the day, when also the light for your photographs is much better. The sacred religious centre was first built on this piece of rock in the 11th century BC. The Parthenon is as impressive as its history, first as a temple to the Goddess Athena, then in its intervening years as Christian church, Roman Catholic church, Islamic mosque, and now tourist attraction. And even more impressive still is the 360-degree view of Athens beneath you. The area is still undergoing extensive restoration but remains one of the most spectacular sights in the world.
The Acropolis Museum is a burst of ultra-modern architectural beauty to complement the striking modern sculptures elsewhere. There has been a museum on this site since 1863 but it was refurbished as recently as 2007 and now has the ultimate explainer on all things Acropolis. Take in the movie on the top floor, then take your pic from the other exhibits that tell the story of this iconic attraction.
2. See The Changing Of The Guard At Syntagma Square
Syntagma Square is your stop for the Greek Parliament and the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier. Every hour the Changing Of The Guard draws a good crowd as the Evzones – wearing traditional red hat, shoes with pom-poms, white stocking and dress – swap over shifts. A photo is fine but best not take the piss. They don’t like that.
3. Get A Cup of Greek Coffee At To Kaveneio
One of the city’s great traditional coffee shops for a morning pick-me-up before hitting the streets of Athens. Located in the heart of the bustling Plaka area on Epicharmou 1. More Greeks start the day with a coffee and a cigarette than a Greek yoghurt, so why not join them?
4. The National Garden, The Temple Of Olympian Zeus & Hadrian’s Arch
Get your phone ready for a ton of great photos, first as you walk through the National Garden, and then of the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch. The temple has stood for well over two thousand years, having been one of the largest in the ancient world. Just beyond the temple is Hadrian’s Arch, which dates to the same age, built to honour The Emperor Hadrian for his works. It also used to symbolize the boundary between the old and new city.
5. Monastiraki Square
“The one with the church in the middle of it” as it’s known to tourists. Again, very photogenic, a very good selection of places to eat, and very close to Ermou if you want to shop. Other sites nearby are Roman Agora, the Library or Hadrian and the Clock of Kyristos. Easy to spend a whole afternoon around here and if you have a group who want to see different things, you can go your separate ways and arrange to meet back at the little church.
6. Agora Marketplace
The heart of ancient Athens in the age of Socrates and Plato. Stroll around the streets, soaking up the classical vibe while browsing the vendors and their wares. Check out the glass bridge over the remains of Greek burial grounds at Monastiraki metro station.
7. Eat The Best Souvlaki In Athens
Huge shout, and there’s plenty of excellent competition for the title, but a friend from Athens reckons Thanasis Souvlaki is recognized as the official best souvlaki in town, so that’s good enough for us. It’s certainly got a fantastic reputation and been around for years. Test it out for yourself.
8. National Archaeological Museum of Athens
Discover the incredible history of one of the world’s oldest civilisations. The displays are excellent, explaining everything from Stone Age Gods from 6000 BC to Homer (not that one), Zeus and Poseidon. Join a guided tour for even more insight. Just a shortish ride on the metro out to Omonia.
9. Take A Food Walking Tour
You’ve done the moussaka. You’ve done the gyros. Now you’ve got the taste, you want a tour to show you the real foodie side of Athens. A three hour walk with Athens Walking Tour (www.athenswalkingtours.gr) costs under AUD$100.