3 days in Athens – what to do, tips on accommodation and transport

The capital of Greece is one of the best places for a well-packed, time-pressing trip full of history, nature and experiences. Why? Because everything is fairly close by, there are numerous inexpensive options for guided tours, public transport is good and accommodation close to the city center is also easy to find.

Here are the details of a 3-day trip I recently had in this lovely city, along with some recommendations on places to shop and eat.

Moving around – go for public transport

The traffic in Athens is hectic and there seemed to be traffic jams at any time. If staying within the city, I would definitely recommend to opt for public transport – metro wherever possible. Metro lines cover the tourist sights pretty well, they are frequent and reliable. We also onboarded a few city buses and, contrary to what our free tour guide claimed, they arrived pretty much on-time.

There are tourist transport cards sold at the airport, for 72 hours or more. I chose the 72h one (22 eur) which covered 1 trip from/to the airport and unlimited travel inside the city.

Accommodation – stay outside of the city center, but close to metro

I don’t like spending a lot for accommodation – would rather save this money for guided tours and museum entries. Hence, I chose an apartment somewhat outside the city center but still only couple of stops on the green metro line and then 5 minute walking. It was a perfect location – quiet, residential (hence many supermarkets, cafes, etc just a minute away) and affordable. It was still pretty walkable if I wanted – only 30 minutes from the city center. Here is a link to the apartment on Airbnb (and you can get a credit of up to 35 euro for first booking, if new on Airbnb or sign up a new account, just register via my link)

The center of Athens is kind of too noisy for my liking anyways.

Eating out – delicious and affordable in Monastiraki square

Monstairaki square has many restaurants and even though that’s a pretty tourist place, prices were OK. It was also close to the metro so right after lunch/dinner we could head to our next stop from the trip or go home. There are also numerous souvenir shops and cafes around so – lots of options for walking or grabbing a coffee as well.

After trying out several options we agreed Bairaktaris taverna was most to our liking so this is where we ate the rest of the trip. Moreover, food was brought pretty quick which left us time to explore the city.

Sightseeing – plan it well and book in advance, if you want to fit a lot within 3 days!

I know the most difficult part of a time-constrained trip is to fit everything you want to see as well as you can, while still don’t feel pressed for time and getting too tired. So here I’m sharing the sightseeing schedule I chose, if you want to use it.

Day 1

My rule #1 for city trips is to book (in advance) a guided city tour, so I can figure out the main sights, get a good historical overview of the city and the country, receive some recommendations for the rest of my trip, from a local.

The first day we joined the free Athens tour (free tours are always tip-based, so they are not 100% free but my experience has shown they are much better than an advance paid guided tour). I cannot recommend it enough, definitely one of the best free tours I’ve been to.. Took 3 hours at a good pace, had a great time and learned tons! The guide at this tour also recommended visiting a museum that turned to be one of the highlights of the trip.

Rest of the day we spent visiting the historical sights around Monastiraki square – The Library of Hadrian and the Roman Agora.

Now, if you plan on visiting most major historical sights in Athens: make sure to get a combined ticket from a low-popularity ticket booth (ticket booths are at the entrance of every sight included in the combined ticket), somewhere in the morning, so as to avoid the queues. The combined ticket gives you access to the Acropolis + 6 other sights, for 30 EUR each (kids until 18 get it for free, but you still need the ticket for them). The first day, as early as possible in the day, we got our combined tickets at Athens Ancient Agora, with absolutely no line to queue on. On the opposite, at the Acropolis ticket office there was a heck of a long queue.

Note that this ticket does not include entrance to the Acropolis Museum, which is an absolute must-see. But museum queue was OK.

Day 2

Visit the Acropolis and the Acropolis museum.

The Acropolis is packed with people as usual. Note that you are asked NOT to stop walking on the way up due to the crowds and possibility for accidents.

It’s a must to visit these on a guided tour (this is the Acropolis and museum guided tour I booked), otherwise you hardly learn anything. I myself have been to these sights several times, no guide. Well, that’s been a big mistake 🙂 Now, having a guide telling the story behind each single sight in the Acropolis, then taking the group through the major artifacts in the museum (a total of 3.5-4 hours for both tours), I finally got the whole picture. It’s also interesting to hear about the efforts that Greece is making to get back the Acropolis artifacts stolen couple of centuries ago and now residing in the British museum.

In Acropolis museum you can get a close-up view of the beautiful ornaments of the Acropolis. Big part of them are only reproductions, the originals are in the British museum. Big part of the ornaments have been lost – stolen, destroyed, etc.

After a short break for lunch we headed to the highest point in Athens – Lycabettus hill, rising 277 meters above the city. There is a funicular getting you up to the top but well, the walk from the nearest metro (Syntagma square) is 30 minutes and rather pleasant – I would advise to just walk it and enjoy the view from the top. To let ourselves get a glimpse of another part of Athens – we chose to get down at the farther Victoria metro station and walked to the top some 40 minutes. Then the return trip was heading to Syntagma metro station and going trough Kolonaki neighbourhood with lovely houses, steep staircase streets and high-end shops.  

There is a restaurant at the top of Lycabettus, for those who want to enjoy a drink with a view. We had some snacks with us for the top, and there were many places just below the summit where you could sit and eat them, while still getting an amazing view. There are also people selling drinks and snacks at the top.

The view from the top of the Lycabettos hill – the highest point of Athens

Needless to say, climbing to the top exposes you to the sun so – try going around sunset.

Day 3

We visited the museum of ancient Greek technology which was a-ma-zing. The museum had been recommended to us on the Free tour, and is close to the Parliament building, so not distanced at all. It is quite compact and the ticket included a free guided tour. You get an overview of how each of the ancient inventions was used and can try it yourself. An absolute enjoyment for kids and adults alike! Moreover, the museum is not that big so you can go through it and try most things within an hour or so. There was also an exhibition of ancient musical instruments of Greece on floor 2, we didn’t visit that one though, maybe next time.

The useum guide explains us the “magic” opening of the doors of ancient sanctuaries when a fire is lit in front

An ancient technology for transmitting messages via means of fire signals

We visited then the remaining part of the historical sights included with the combined ticket, taking a break with ice-cream or fresh juice now and then. (Our tour guide recommended Le Greche ice-cream, close to Syntagma square, and it really was very delicious with numerous tastes). Even in September the weather in Athens is hot hot hot, and those hills where the Agoras are built get pretty much sun-lit so try visiting them earlier in the morning or later afternoon. Note: I regretted not booking a tour for those smaller sights as well.

The ancient Greek Agora

While you are there, check if there isn’t some performance at the Odeon of Acropolis (the place where concerts are held since ancient times, due to the amazing acoustics). If you are not able to visit, at least you can stay around during the performance and enjoy the music.

To wrap-up the sightseeing part of our trip we also visited the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Quite a big exposition, very interesting and you could spend days there.. again, I would re-visit it with a guide, since when you are faced with so much artifacts in a short time, it’s difficult to pick exactly what to see..

The National Archaeological Museum in Athens

I have heard many say that Athens is too dirty, noisy, busy, being a capital and not worth checking out. Well, I guess you see what you want to see 🙂 To me it is full of history around every corner, colorful, very easy to move around and a pretty affordable destination. It is also a good starting point for many other destinations, having Ryan air fly from here.

Enjoy it 🙂

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