2 Days In Athens – The Way A Local Would Do It

2 days in Athens itinerary - karyatides - greece

A local take, on what to see and do in Athens, with 2 days worth of time. This is the exact itinerary I used when I recently visited the city for a combination of work and pleasure!

2 days in Athens - the Acropolis

The essentials of a 2-day trip to Athens

Of course, I am not a typical visitor to Athens. To start with, I am Greek and live in a small town only a few hours away. In addition, I used to live in Athens for almost a decade.

But what I can do is offer a good suggestion or two on what you should focus on seeing. 

For anyone that comes to Athens for the first time there are some main places that he/ she should absolutely visit: 

  • the Acropolis and Parthenon and the Museum of Acropolis
  • the Ancient Agora
  • the Monastiraki Square
  • the temple of Zeus and
  • Panathenaic Stadium.

And you know what? Although I have visited these places several times, I am always drawn back to them, time and time again. There are countless new combinations and even if you have been here before, familiar places and less well-known areas can be combined.

The city of the goddess Athena always surpasses my expectations with its contemporary life.

 2-Days in Athens – Day 1

First things first, packing! As I was visiting in the spring, the weather was ideal and there were only a few key items I absolutely needed with me.

 

  • t-shirts
  • trousers
  • jacket
  • walking shoes
  • sunglasses 

 


My neighbourhood of choice was Pagrati, an old Athenian neighbourhood behind the Panathenaic Stadium. The area in and around Pagrati is ideal for visitors that do not want to be in the centre of the town, but still close enough to walk. Pagrati to Syntagma or Plaka would take about 30 minutes if strolling and admiring, which is undeniably the case. 

Other very popular options for neighbourhoods to use as a base for a short 2-day trip, would be Koukaki, Plaka, Syntagma, Thission and Monastiraki.  All shops, restaurants, museums and of course the Acropolis are in the area. 

1. A nice walk through Athens history 

From Pagrati, I pass outside the Panathinaikon Stadium where the first Olympic Games of the modern era were held in 1896.  Then I turn right, crossing the Zappeion Park and passing by the ruins of the Temple of the Olympian Zeus. A perfect introduction for my eyes and senses before reaching the Acropolis and the picturesque neighbourhood of Plaka.

In less than ten minutes after I start walking, I find myself near one of the most amazing monuments throughout human history. Dare to guess? What impresses me the most this time is not just the historical value of it, but the conception of the setting itself. The figure of the sacred rock with the temple of goddess Athena standing on it fills you with awe. But it doesn’t stand alone. The eyes can feast on all the amazing ruins around, like the Ancient Theatre, the Ancient Agora and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. 

2. Break for a Greek coffee at Thission

Of course, for most people visiting Athens, one of the most awaited moments is climbing up the top of the hill and visiting the Acropolis. You will be rewarded by astonishing views of the entire city, the port of Piraeus and the Aegean Sea.

That can be followed by a visit to the new museum of the Acropolis, an impressive new space that opened its doors in 2009 and welcomes over 1 million people each year. I suggest taking your time to stroll through the galleries and read more about the history of the area. Getting to the top floor is always an emotional experience, whether you are Greek or not.

Now, if you are feeling a bit historied out, and would prefer a little break in between the Parthenon visit and the museum any of the beautiful cafes around the Thission area would be suitable places to stop, relax and reflect. The area is constantly buzzing with tourists and young students. There are trendy, hippy and more traditional places to appease all ages and you also could score a spectacular view of the Acropolis while drinking your Greek coffee. 


As I drink my fresh fruit juice I cannot stop looking high at the beautiful blue sky of Athens and all those people passing by. Greeks and foreigners together, often impossible to tell apart. A truly international global city, that belongs to and welcomes all, like it used to happen at the time of its Golden Age in antiquity. 
2 days in Athens - the monument

Time for Lunch

 It will be hard not to find a place that strikes your fancy in the general area. Whether you go by eyes or nose, there are countless eating options around. 

For winter visitors, To Perivoli Tou Ouranou (The Garden of the Sky) is only a 5 walk from the Acropolis Museum. An interesting spot that is part restaurant part entertainment venue; you can enjoy traditional dishes while listening to rebetiko artists. If that name doesn’t seem familiar then the mention of bouzouki surely will. 

This is a short 10 minute documentary by UNESCO that explains the origins of rebetiko and the links to the urban working class.

Worth the watch!

If you are there outside the Oct-April period that the venue is open, then you can try a tavern by the name “O Zisis – Fish in The Cone“. Whether you are looking for a quick snack of seafood, to go or a sit-down meal at reasonable prices, we always enjoy our meal here. It is a great alternative to the gyros or souvlaki with pita meals and a haven for pescetarians. One thing we always order? The incredible lentil salad and horta. What is the latter? Local steamed wild greens with lemon and extra virgin olive oil! 

4. Athenian nightlife 

If you are feeling particularly Greek after your lunch, then a siesta might be an order. Then it is time to head to town!

There are countless things to do in Athens once the sun sets, but if we had to pick one for your first night then we would vote for an outing that focuses on the arts. There are more than 250 theatre venues in Athens, without including some of the more obscure or alternative places and since Greece is the birthplace of drama, among many other things, it is the best opportunity to get your culture on!

Annual events like the Athens Open Air Festival, gives you the option of attending performances of some of the greatest names in film, while the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, you would have undoubtedly glimpsed during your morning Parthenon visit, always has something on offer. 

how athens got its name acropolis by night - monastiraki square - hill shops

Day 2 – Athens Itinerary 

One of the first things you are probably going to think about every morning, is breakfast. Greek breakfasts can be incredibly healthy or not depending on the type of person you are. Both kinds, however, satisfy the taste buds! 

The countless bakeries you are sure to run in to offer a range of doughy, savoury smelling options, like the classic spinach and feta pie, or mushroom and local greens pies. The storefronts are also sure to be replete with freshly made sandwiches if you prefer something equally easy to go. 

For the rest, Greek yoghurt topped with honey and nuts, omelettes with fresh tomato and basil, and a cup of Greek coffee may be the way to go. 

 

greek breakfast - lady behind counter in bakery picking koulouri sesame breads

1. Museum of Paul and Alexandra Canellopoulos at Plaka

On the go again heading to Plaka. If one could track my position, they would see that I constantly move in a big circle around the Acropolis, always under its shadow and beauty. Plaka is the most picturesque neighbourhood in Athens, full of ancient Greek and Roman sites, with small well-preserved houses. It is a constant journey to the city’s past and well worth spending time getting lost in.

Next stop is the Museum of Paul and Alexandra Canellopoulos, where 6,000 artefacts from Greek antiquity and the Byzantine period are hosted in a charming neoclassical mansion.

What led me there was a wonderful exhibition of the Greek Ancient Theatre. Even non-theatre lovers can enjoy being transported back in time. Exploring the timeline of this art form, from its birth until now and through all the stages. I really enjoyed it and promised myself to bring my kids; a visual representation will suit them much better than textbook reading!
P.S To reach the museum you need to walk through the narrow picturesque streets of Plaka, which are a charm to photograph! 

2. Fresh fish at Piraeus Port 

The easiest and most cost-effective way to get to Piraeus is to jump on the metro. A half an hour and approximately a couple of euros later, you arrive in one of the busiest ports of Europe, in use since Ancient times and lovingly sung about in the unforgivable performance of Melina Merkouri, “Never on Sunday” or as the Greeks know it, “The Children of Pireaus”.

For lunch head to one of the most well known local hangouts. The fish tavern “Margaro” may be tucked away from the main street but people from all around the area come for the food. The menu is small and simple. You will find fresh fish, mostly red mullet and shrimp, a selection of salads a couple of desserts and some ice cold beverages including, of course, Greek beer! The quality of the food is excellent and the same can be said for the execution of their specialities.

If you can grab a table outside and under the sun, it will be an ideal scenario. Countless ferries and boats can be seen bobbing in an out of the port, heading to the islands of Crete, Mykonos, Santorini and all around the Mediterranean Sea. 

3. Park stroll at Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center 

This is one of the places where you can enjoy one of the largest green areas in Athens. It is home to a rich variety of flora, including olive trees, evergreen shrubs, carob trees, laurels, cypress trees, as well as an extensive selection of indigenous Greek aromatic plants.

There are plenty of festivals, art shows and sporting events organized within the grounds so whether you want to plan ahead or be pleasantly surprised there are ways to keep busy. Do not miss, taking the elevator to the top floors to enjoy the view from above, and if time allows do have a walk through the library corridors.

The gift shop operating at the bottom floor stocks quirky and interesting items in addition to books and souvenirs. Well worth a visit! 

2 days in Athens - walks around the city
2 days in Athens - downtown

Athens is, of course, impossible to take in within a few days, weeks or even months. The city is constantly growing, moving, spreading and creating and it remains one of my absolute favourites to visit and explore. But if time is limited then do dedicate 2 days to visiting Athens, you won’t be disappointed!

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