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Greece: 24 Hours in Athens

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

From the Acropolis to the first modern Olympic Stadium, there’s a history lesson around every corner in Athens, but there are only so many classrooms you can visit in a day. Here's how to spend 24 hours in the Greek capital.

9am: Hit the ground running at the Panathenaic Stadium, the site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Reconstructed from the remains of an ancient Greek stadium, this is the only major arena in the world built entirely of white marble. Listen hard and you can almost hear the roar of the crowd...or is that just the passing traffic?

You can’t enter, so walk past the 132AD Arch of Hadrian, resembling a Roman triumphal arch, to the site of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The ticket here gives entry to a number of sites including the Acropolis. Take a stroll around the 15 remaining Corinthian columns. The 16th blew down in a storm in 1852 and still lies in place. The other 88 from the original construction are long gone.

11pm: From here it is one kilometre up to the Acropolis, looming over the city. Hike, or save energy and grab a cab, but start at Areopagus Hill diagonally opposite the main entrance, climbing the stairs carved into the side of the rock. This white rock-hill offers commanding views over Athens (and will give you time to catch your breath if you walked). The major sites of the Acropolis are the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Parthenon and the Erechtheion, but there’s plenty more to see depending on your enthusiasm for ancient ruins.

1pm: Exit the Acropolis on the north-western side and munch on a gyro; hunks of spit-roasted meat wrapped in pita-bread with tomato, onion, and tzatziki sauce, at any of the cafés near the entrance to the Ancient Agora. This was the heart of ancient Athens, the focus of political, commercial, administrative and social activity, the religious and cultural centre, and the seat of justice. Now, it’s an open grassy area dotted with ruins, flanked by the Stoa of Attalos, converted into a museum, and at the other end, the Hephaisteion, a well-preserved Doric temple. Wander between the two, stopping at the restored Byzantine church of Agioi Apostoloi.

2.30pm: Swing by the ruins of Hadrian’s Library before heading to Tailor Made Micro Roastery and Cocktail Bar for your choice of beverage. Located in Agias Eirinis Square, Tailor Made makes a good brew, with different creative blends. Drop by for a cuppa and and do some people-watching. At night, this turns into a happening cocktail bar.

3.30pm: Continue on to Syntagma Square. Cross the square to The Greek Parliament, immediately across Amalias Avenue to the east. The extensive National Gardens here are open to the public; the Parliament is not. Make sure you arrive close to the hour to see the changing of the guard ceremony. Conducted by the Presidential Guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier between the square and parliament, this fascinating ritual is performed rain or shine with incredible precision. The young guards wear full ceremonial dress including short kilts and pom-pom shoes.

5pm: Take a wander through the National Gardens. If you need a snack, next to the gate on Amalias Avenue, there’s a street vendor supplying traditional koulouri Thessalonikis, bread rings topped with sesame seeds. Step into the gardens and escape the rush of the city for a few moments. The gardens cover around 15.5 hectares so you can walk as much or as little as you like here. It is home to some 7,000 trees and 40,000 bushes and other plants.

6.30pm: Reward your efforts with a quick cab ride to the funicular rail car which groans its way up to the summit of Lykavittos Hill. This panoramic viewpoint is the perfect place to watch the sun sink over Athens. Relax over dinner at Orizontes Lycabettus on top of the hill. Bag a seat on the terrace for the best views of the Acropolis glittering below, and savour French and Asian twists on Mediterranean classics. The food is pricey, but the views are priceless.

9pm: If you have any energy left, stop in at T5 or prohibition-themed Minnie the Moocher for a cocktail before collapsing.

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