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3 Days in Athens Itinerary for First-Timers

Top chosen destination in Europe, especially during the summer, for a good reason, Athens is a perfect choice if you are looking for a mix of bright sun, white sand, and a bit of history.

Considered one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, dating back to 3000 years, Athens is the gem of the Mediterranean and the historical heart of the world. It was once home to a memorable empire, owner of a rich culture that influences lives even centuries later.

As a history lover, it was high on my list, and for those of you who love ruins as much as me, you will be overwhelmed! There are ruins pretty much everywhere in the city, so if you thought your historical tour would be limited to the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum, brace yourself!

Surprisingly though, the city has much more to offer than just ruins and history. I honestly found out about the many beaches around Athens the moment I landed, but once I visited them, I still couldn’t understand why people chose to go to the islands instead of enjoying the beaches here. Santorini can be beautiful, yeah, but have you seen the Athenian Riviera already?!

In this post, I will share with you my best 3 days in Athens itinerary, so that you will make the most of the city, especially if it is your first time. I cover all the main Greek ruins, the best beaches around the Greek capital, and many other things to do in Athens that you should not miss!

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Planning your 3 Days in Athens Itinerary

Getting around Athens is quite easy, the metro system is really good and there are metro stations nearby most of the important monuments in the city center.

Honestly, the bus system I found kind of confusing, especially because everything is written in Greek, and it is hard to understand if you don’t recognize a single letter.

For the adventurous ones, who want to give it a try to public transport, here is a map of Athenian public transport, to help you out.

But for those, like me, who prefer comfort and certainty, go for the Hop on Hop off bus. In my opinion, this is always the best option, especially if you have a short stay in Athens and want to visit not only the main monuments but also the Athenian Riviera, as the Hop on Hop off bus offers itineraries in the city center and also in the Riviera.

Another good idea is to get your combo ticket for the ruin, this ticket includes entrance to the Acropolis but also six other ruins nearby.

Even if you book a guided tour, it is important to pay attention if the guided tour includes the entrance ticket to the ruins, Most of the time, they do not, in this case, this combo ticket is your best option.

💰 What about buying an Athens City Pass instead? If you are planning to buy the Combo ticket and the Hop on Hop off the bus (which I recommend doing, as both will help you enjoy your trip with less effort), I suggest buying an Athens City Pass instead. The Pass includes entrance to more ruins than the combo ticket, entrance to the main museums in Athens, it also includes a 48-hour hop-on-hop-off bus ticket, and discounts in other attractions and shops. It is a nice way to enjoy the most paying less on your trip. Buy your Athens City Pass here.

How to get from the Athens Airport to City Center

Getting from Athens Airport to the city center is not hard, you can do it by yourself if you want to save money.

Metro

With fast service and frequent itineraries, it is a good option if you don’t mind finding your way through the city. Metro station is in a 5-minute walking distance from the Airport.

Trains run every 30 minutes, and you can buy your tickets either from the station’s ticket offices or the automatic vendors, it costs €9 for a one-way ticket or €16 for a return ticket. The journey to Syntagma Square takes up to 40 minutes.

Bus

This is the cheapest option. The Athens airport bus (bus X95) takes you from the bus stop located at the arrival level, between Exits 4 and 5, to Syntagma Square in 45 minutes or 60 minutes, depending on the traffic. It is important to note that during the high season, it can take much more.

You can buy the tickets at the airport ticket office and cost just €5.5.

Private transfer

The best option if you are looking for comfort. Private transfer can offer you high-quality services, the transport is made in modern and air-conditioned vehicles, with enough storage space. Perfect if you are traveling with your family or friends. The door-to-door service can take up to 45 minutes depending on the traffic. Book your private transfer here.

Day One: Syntagma Square, Psyri, Monastiraki Square

Syntagma square

The central square of Athens and probably the most famous square in modern Greece is home to the beautiful 19th century Old Royal Palace, which has housed the Greek Parlament since 1934.

This is the heart of modern Athens and around the square, you will find the top five-star hotels, restaurants, and McDonald’s.

In Syntagma Square, don’t miss the chance to watch the change of the guard in front of the Hellenic Parliament. It happens every hour, every day, in front of the Greek Parliament.

Tip: Although it happens every day, Sunday at 11 am is the best day and hour to watch the changing of the guard as it is the official ceremony with the official customs.

Ermou Street

In front of Syntagma Square, is the main shopping street in Athens, Ermou Street. Here you can find the most popular shops, from famous brands like Zara and H&M to other Greek brands. If you are looking for clothes or shopping in general, that’s the place.

Another good point in taking Ermou Street is that it brings you directly to Monastiraki Square, another main square in Athens.

On the way, you will pass by Panaghia Kapnikarea, an old Greek Orthodox church. It is one of the oldest churches in the city, probably built around 1050. As it was a common practice back then, the church was built over a Greek temple dedicated to a goddess, probably Athena or Demeter.

☕️ Pro Tip: In front of the church you will find some cafes. Do not miss the chance to try baklava, the traditional dessert of Greece.

Psyri neighborhood

At the end of Ermou Street, you will arrive in the old neighborhood of Psyri, one of the most historical and touristy neighborhoods in Athens.

Psyri is full of old buildings, today most of them are restored and narrow streets. The area is full of cafes and bars, as well as many shops selling especially antique items. Definitely worth a visit.

🧐 Tip: Two blocks away from Monastiraki Square, on Pittaki Street, you will find the Little Kook, a fairy-tale-inspired cafe. The street is an attraction by itself, but do take your time to try an ice cream or another dessert.

Monastiraki Square

One of the main squares in Athens, with several historical buildings worth visiting. Besides history, the area is famous for its shops, it is the best place for souvenirs or cheap clothes.

Another shopping highlight that definitely caught the attention of any tourist passing by, is the huge flea market located in one of the streets adjacent to the square. If you, like me, love old stuff, this is like Disneyland, do spend some time looking around.

The buildings around Monastiraki are a mix of ages and reflect the many events that happened in Athens during the centuries.

The first building at the entrance of the square is the Pantanassa church, an orthodox church built in the 10th century, as part of the now-vanished monastery that used to occupy Monastiraki, The name of the square means “little monastery”, a reference to the old building that despite the name, was once the greatest monastery in Athens.

The building next to it is the Tzistarakis Mosque, built in 1759, during the time of the Ottoman occupation. The building nowadays is an annex to the Museum of Greek Folk Art.

Behind the mosque is located the oldest building in the square, Hadrian’s Library. It was built by Emperor Hadrian in 132 AD and worked as a place to store papyrus, offering reading rooms and lecture halls.

Day Two: Ancient Greek Ruins, Museum and Plaka

Arch of Hadrian and Temple of Zeus

Taking the metro to the Acropolis station and following down the street of Dionisyus Areopagitou, you will find yourself in front of the Arch of Hadrian. In case, you opt for taking the Hop on Hop off the bus, it will leave you right in front of the Arch.

Passing through the Arch, one of the most important temples in Athens and the whole of Greece is the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

The construction of the temple began in the 6th century BC but was only finished 638 years after, in the 2nd century AD, during the reign of Emperor Hadrian.

The building was destroyed several times during its construction and today, only sixteen of its 104 columns survive. It is believed that the temple was destroyed by many earthquakes over the centuries.

👉 As mentioned before, to visit the Greek ruins in Athens, you have to buy a ticket, even if you booked a tour, as most tours do not include the ruins ticket. I recommend buying the Greek ruins combo ticket, as it already includes entrance to the main ruins in Athens

Acropolis

Following the Dionisyus Areopagitou back, let’s visit now the Acropolis.

Acropolis in Greek means something like “city on a hill”, and there are several Acropolis across Greece, however, this one is the most famous of them due to the Parthenon.

On the way up you will see many interesting ruins, like the Theater of Dionysius, Temple of Themis, and Odeon of Herodes Attico, which is still in use today and receives shows and concerts every year during the Summer event.

The first building you will see when visiting the Acropolis is the Propylaea, the beautiful gate, next to it is the Temple of Athena Nike.

Passing the Propyleae, you will be in front of the giant Parthenon, the symbol of Athens, considered one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments and an example of architecture even nowadays.

The Parthenon was a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, patron of the city, and in front of the temple, there used to be a colossal statue of the goddess.

On one of the Parthenon sides, there is another important temple, known as the Erechteion, known for the remarkable Porch of the Caryatids. The temple was dedicated to Poseidon and Athena.

Best Acropolis Tours

  • 1 – Mythological Tour – Perfect to immerse yourself in Greek mythology and culture. On this tour, you visit the most important ruins in Athens and learn about the mythology of Ancient Greece along the way. This guided tour does not include the entrance tickets for the ruins.
  • 2 –Acropolis Entrance + Guided Tour – As the name suggests, this is a guided tour that includes the entrance to the Acropolis site.
  • 3 – Acropolis & Acropolis Museum Tour – This ticket includes a guided tour through the Acropolis site and also a guided tour through the Acropolis Museum, which is a nice way to complement your visit to this famous Greek ruin. This tour included the entrance ticket for the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum.

Acropolis Museum

Down the road, really close to the Acropolis, lay the Acropolis Museum. It is an archeological museum that focuses on the findings of the Acropolis site and the surrounding areas.

With a collection of over 4,000 items, the museum houses artifacts from the Greek Bronze Era to Byzantine Greece.

To visit the Acropolis Museum, you must buy a ticket, you can buy it here. In case you booked the Acropolis & Acropolis Museum Tour, the entrance to the museum is included in the tour.

Here you will find what to see in the Acropolis Museum.

Ancient Agora

Following now to the Ancient Agora, the archeological site next to the Acropolis. It is where daily life used to happen in ancient Athens.

Here people used to gather, do their shopping, listen to philosophers’ or politicians’ speeches, and learn about new rules passed by the Athenian government.

It is an area full of important buildings, the most remarkable one on the site is definitely the Stoa of Attalos, rebuilt in 1956 and turned into a museum nowadays.

And the beautiful Temple of Hephaestus, the most well-preserved Greek building in the world.

Just like the Acropolis, it is interesting to book a tour to visit the Ancient Agora, this tour here includes both a visit to the Acropolis and the Ancient Agora.

Best Agora Tours

  • 1 – Mythological Tour – Again mentioning this tour. Besides the Acropolis, the Mythological Tour also includes a visit to the Agora of Athens, as well as other ruins. While you visit it, your guide will tell you stories and teach you about Greek Mythology.
  • 2 –Ancient Agora with audio guide – With this ticket you will be able to visit the Ancient Agora on your own with the help of an audio guide.
  • 3 – – Skip-the-line ticket to the Ancient Agora, Temples of Zeus, and Kerameikos – In this self-guided tour, you will have to receive a skip-the-line ticket to these important ruins, and an audio guide to guide you through the sites.

Plaka

After visiting all the main ruins in Athens, I suggest spending some time in the Plaka neighborhood, which is the oldest neighborhood in the city and the background of ancient Athens city. It is where the main ruins are located.

Walking down the streets of Plaka is walking down the path of important figures such as Socrates, Plato, Sophocles, and many other remarkable characters who helped write our history.

Day Three: Athens Riviera

Time to enjoy the Athenian Riviera. When we think about Athens, we think about history, culture, and politics, but most of the time, we don’t think about beaches, we forget the fact that Athens is located on the coast and offers amazing beaches to visit.

We are used to hearing about the beautiful beaches on islands such as Santorini, Crete, and Mykonos, but you must bear in mind that you don’t need to make your way to any Greek Island to enjoy the turquoise water Greece has to offer!

How to get to the Athenian Riviera? To get to the Athenian Riviera from the city center you will have to take a city bus, the tram, or a taxi. However, the City Sightseeing bus does have stops at different beaches in the Athenian Riviera, making it easier and cheaper for you to travel from one beach to the other and back to the city center.

Athenian Beaches

Athens has several beaches across its coast, some of them are private beaches, or as they like to call them, Organized Beaches. Where you have to pay a fee to stay, you can also rent an umbrella and a beach chair.

And normal public beaches, where you don’t have to pay anything to enjoy your time.

If you get the Hop on Hop off bus ticket, there is a bus that makes the trip from central Athens to the coast side. The first beaches are not the best though.

My recommendation is to go directly to Glyfada. This is one of my favorite beaches in Athens.

Another good option is Vouliagmeni Beach, located close to the Vouliagmeni Lake, which is our next stop.

Vouliagmeni Lake

Known as a natural spa, the lake has a supply of warm seawater, that comes through a complex of underground channels, part of a flooded water network, while a freshwater spring reduces its salinity.

The area used to be a big cavern, that collapsed around 2,000 due to an earthquake.

The high concentration of salts and minerals such as potassium, sodium, calcium, iron, chlorine, iodine, etc., the combination of these elements with the high temperature helps in the treatment of several diseases.

The spa has been used since the 19th century and was declared a Natural Monument of Greece.

Another option though is to take a one-day cruise or if you still prefer history, you can visit the Temple of Poseidon in a halfway tour.

Second option: half-day Temple of Poseidon trip

Built between 444 and 440 BC during the Golden Age of Athenian society, the Temple of Poseidon is one of the major monuments of the period. It was rebuilt in the same period as the Pantheon, during the ascendancy of Pericles, an Athenian statesman.

The temple is located at Cape Sounion, around 70 km away from Athens, and 65m above the sea, a temple in honor of Poseidon couldn’t be in a better place than overlooking the sea!

To visit the temple from Athens you will need at least 4 hours, including travel time, and the best moment to visit it is early in the morning, or during the sunset.

Book your sunset trip to the Temple of Poseidon here.

Third option: Full Day Cruise to Hydra, Poros, and Aegina

For those who like beaches and natural places and still want to take advantage of a trip to Greece and visit the islands, I recommend taking a one-day cruise to Hydra, Poros, and Aegina from Athens.

Unfortunately, famous islands such as Santorini, Mykonos, and Corfu are far from Athens, and can’t be visited as a day trip from the capital. However, if you only have 3 days in Athens you can still go for the full day cruise.

Book your Cruise to Hydra, Poros, and Aegina here.

Hydra

Located just 2 hours away from Athens by ferry, Hydra is a very cosmopolitan island and a famous destination for those visiting Athens.

Cars are not allowed on the beach, so to move around you will have to go on foot, or rent a donkey!

Poros

Poros is just 45 minutes away from Piraeus, it is considered a weekend gateway from the Greek capital Athens.

There is a more picturesque island, that offers great hotels, cafes, restaurants, and shops.

Aegina

Another island really close to Athens, around 40 minutes away. It is also considered a gateway from the capital.

Besides the beautiful beaches, Aegina Island also has many ancient Greek monuments worth visiting. The island used to be one of the most important islands of ancient Greece.

One of the main monuments is the Temple of Athena Aphaia, built back in the 6th century BC.

This text was originally written and posted in August 2019 and updated in August 2023. New information has been added and links have been updated so that it could offer a better experience to the reader.

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