48 Hour City Guides: 48 Hours in Athens, Greece

The ancient city of Athens is the capital of Greece, and one of the world’s oldest cities. It still retains the name of its original patron deity, Athena, who gained her status as the primary goddess of the city when she gave the people of Athens the olive tree, (beating out Poseidon for the role).

During the Archaic and Classical periods of Greek history, Athens and the surrounding region of Attica was a thriving city-state that was a major player in the Mediterranean economy. Greek ceramicists exported their black and red-figure wares all over the Mediterranean, especially Etruria, where the Romans began to take a liking to the culture. Athens’ sphere of cultural influence loomed large, both in the mainland and across the Aegean sea, and to this day the city is respected as the home of great philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle and Plato, the birthplace of the earliest form of political democracy, and a city of incredible monuments and ruins.

If you only have 48 hours in Athens, you have a lot to see! Here’s a quick guide to the best the city has to offer.

What to do
Athens boasts myriad ancient sites that are open to the public for a small fee. It’s relatively easy to get to several of them in a single afternoon. If you intend to do so, consider picking up a 3-day pass to the major sites and museums of the city for 15 euros.

If you’re only going to visit one site, you should probably make it the Acropolis. Here, high above the city, was the seat of the Parthenon and the ancient colossal chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statue of Athena, as well as several other smaller temples and sanctuaries. You can take the winding path down from the acropolis to visit the ancient Agora, Athens’ original marketplace, and see the ruins of Hadrian’s Library and the still-standing ‘Temple of the Winds.’ Another great closeby site is Kerameikos, one of two major cemeteries of ancient Athens, so named for its adjacency to the deme Kerameikos, where the ancient potters plied their trade.

If you prefer to get your history in air-conditioned environs, then you can visit one of Athens’ many museums. The crown jewel of all of Greece’s museums is the National Archaeological Museum, home of some of the most famous surviving artefacts of the ancient world. Visit the Acropolis museum for a view of how the Acropolis would have appeared in ancient times, or the Cycladic Museum for an understanding of the Neolithic art of the Greece’s Cycladic people. Another hot-spot is the Byzantine and Christian museum, which houses a wowing collection of Byzantine icons. There are also some smaller, lesser known museums still within the city center that are worth a visit for the more dedicated artefact hunters. These include the Museum of Islamic Art, the Numismatic (coin) museum, and the Jewish Museum.

If you come in the summer months, you must visit any one of Athens’ famous open-air cinemas, like Vox or Dexameni. Stick around for the double feature, usually an oldie and something new.

If you like an easy hike or have a furry friend with you, visit Filopappou hill. This green-space in the center of Athens has great views of the Acropolis and out to the sea. Lycabettus is another easy upward climb with more great views of the city, and the National Garden is an easily strollable preserve of some of Greece’s most beautiful flora, right in the heart of the city.

If you’re looking for a beach, take the subway down to the end of the line at Kifissia, where you can grab a connecting bus to one of the many beaches close to Athens.

Where to stay:
There are Airbnbs all over Athens, from the grubby to the chic, all depending on your needs and price range. There are also several swankier European hotel chains from which you can take your pick, mostly congregated in the city center.

If you want to be near the action, grab a hotel or Airbnb in Plaka, Monastiraki, or Syntagma. If you’re looking to immerse in Athens’ counterculture, grab one in Exarchia, the anarchist hub of the city.

Where to eat:
After strolling through the city and visiting the sites, you’ll work up quite the appetite. Fortunately, Athens has a near endless supply of independent and chain restaurants for you to visit.

City Zen in Monastiraki sits on a fifth-floor rooftop. Head there in warmer months for a cheap but gourmet meal with views across the downtown core to the Acropolis.

Orizontes is another elevated restaurant with an even more incredible view, and only a few Euro more expensive than City Zen. But, to get there you’ll have to hike (or drive) up Lycabettus, as this café/bar and restaurant sits atop the hill! Make sure to check the sunset time before you make your reservation.

A little off the beaten path is one of the best local secrets of the city. Aster, in Petralona, offers a small menu plus daily specials of traditional Cretan food with a modern twist. There’s always a table available in this beautifully furnished, cozy resto.

All over the downtown hub you’ll find several small, fast restaurants that you can grab falafel, gyro, traditional Greek food, vegetarian and vegan options, and coffee galore. Across the city you’ll also find traditional Greek tavernas. O Thanassis, right next to Monastiraki square, is a great choice if you’re looking for a taverna style souvlaki and a cheap drink that won’t take too long.

Where to drink
The businesses of Athens close early (get your banking done by 2:30 PM), but bars stay open late. There’s a ton of great spots to day-drink, club, or have a night-cap.

Loser is a small, dimly lit affair with a tiny patio in the heart of Syntagma. The neon vibes are strong and they specialize in cocktails.

7 Jokers is your late, late night stop. This bar is a favourite of Athens’ service industry workers because it stays open until 7 AM. This is another stop for unique cocktails.

Bilatz is a spot for the locals. By day a cozy coffee bar and by night a bustling craft-cocktail and beer bar, it’s just 15 minutes walking from the National Archaeological Museum.

TAF: The Art Foundation is hidden away in an alley in Monastiraki. Once you find it, though, it’s worth the hunt. This spot is a private patio hidden from the street within a circle of buildings. Head there in summer to soak up the sun, or come by night for a bustling bar crowd.

Dexameni is a smaller bar a bit off the beaten path in Petralona. Though not exactly in the city center, this bar is always packed for its highly recommended cocktails. Head here after a dinner at Aster.

Six d.o.g.s. is a chill night club that hosts great DJ nights and gallery events. Head here for a drink with some ambiance, and stay for the live performances happening almost every weekend.

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