If you only have one day in Athens, make the most of it be staying and playing downtown. To escape the traffic, take the direct metro from the airport to the city center, and be ready to hit the town on foot. This itinerary will get you into the swing of Athens, and before you know it you will have seen the city’s major historical sights, tasted the local cuisine, and enjoyed a night of reveling. Note that this is an on-foot-only itinerary, so lace up your most comfortable shoes.
You don’t want low energy levels preventing you from achieving the mission of this itinerary, especially when grabbing a bite in Athens is so easy and part of Athenians’ early morning ritual. Whether you want to go to a bakery on the go or have a full service, sit-down breakfast, head to Meliartos in Ermou Street. Here, the well-preserved secrets of Mediterranean cuisine are served with a modern twist. Order any of its hand-made pies filled with spinach, cheese, or chicken, or have a substantial Greek-style scrambled egg dish (kayanas or strapatsada).
From Meliartos, walk down Ermou Street, toward Monastiraki Square, to start a cultural tour spanning over two millennia. Cafes, restaurants, and gelaterias are sprawled over pedestrian-only Adrianou Street, overlooking the Acropolis. Make your first stop at the Ancient Agora, where all administrative, philosophical, and social activities of the classical era took place. Pass by the archaeological site of the Roman Agora, which took over from the Ancient Agora during the rule of the Roman Empire.
Τhe Acropolis Museum has a remarkable collection of antiquities stemming from the Acropolis and its sanctuaries, such as the Parthenon and the Temple of Athena Nike. It’s an intensive history lesson that will prepare you for the physical site of the Acropolis, opposite the museum. Bear in mind that the museum’s opening times vary from summer to winter, and allow at least one hour for your visit.
Long coffee breaks are part of the Greek culture, and take place either in cafeterias (independent and chain coffee shops) or cafenias (traditional coffee houses for senior men). Cafeterias serve all types of coffee, but you should give Greek coffee a try. It is served in an espresso-like single cup but it shouldn’t be drunk as a shot. On a warm summer day, cool down with a glass of frappé or an iced espresso. There’s a coffee shop on every corner, but Kidathineon bears the charm of the past with its lush summer garden.
Apart from demonstrating the city’s power and affluence during Greece’s classical Golden Age, the monuments on the top of the Acropolis hill are all beautiful pieces of art. The walk up takes about 45 minutes, and on a clear day, the horizon extends all the way to the Peloponnese mountains. The entrance fee is half the price (approximately $11) in the winter months and $22 between April and October. If you can fit in the sites of the historic center and the Acropolis, consider buying the multi-site ticket, which is valid for five consecutive days at the cost of $34.
Beneath the slopes of the Acropolis, the neighborhood of Plaka (also known as the Old Town) is Athens’ timeless pearl. After wandering through the winding lanes, taking pictures of neoclassical mansions, and shopping for souvenirs, stop at one of the many taverns for Greek cuisine. Keep in mind that Plaka is the most touristy area in Athens, and therefore somewhat pricey. However, there are a few local spots such as Scholarhio, which chooses to remain affordable without compromising its quality of food and service.
Head back toward Syntagma Square, which translates to Constitution Square, the most central location in Athens, from where Ermou shopping street begins. In front of the Parliament, two soldiers wearing the army uniform from the 1800s honor the memorial of the Unknown Soldier. Every hour on the hour, the soldiers are replaced with an impressive 15-minute long demonstration of pride, as well as physical and mental strength.
Downtown Athens is the bellwether of nightlife in the capital city. Within the city center, you can pursue any entertainment that fuels your fire regardless of the day of the week. However, note that weekend nights boom after 11:00 PM and don’t end before sunrise. Aim for Psyri, which is renowned for its bar-filled alleys and outdoor seating arrangements even in the coldest winter nights. For a different perspective of the city and inventive cocktails, climb to the A for Athens rooftop bar, overlooking Monastiraki Square and the Acropolis.