Athens, Greece, is one of the world’s few modern cities with a visible ancient core. While many travellers visit Greece for its idyllic islands, Athens should also be factored into any Greek itinerary.
The modern city has built up over thousands of years with the next generation building on the previous. It has withstood a multitude of challenges such as earthquakes, political unrest, and the 2004 Olympics. With so much history, though, it’s a destination full of wonder. So much wonder, in fact, that I’ve created a travel plan of my favourite spots to visit during 24 hours in Athens.
Banner image credit: istockphoto.com/WitR
After a delicious Greek breakfast, head out to the Acropolis. Try to get there early, around 8am, if you’re visiting in summer – as Athens is a major stop for Mediterranean cruise ships. Being an early bird means you’ll miss the crowds.
This dominant skyline feature was once the centre of the political world with only certain people admitted. Today, it’s a highlight of the city centre and home to some of the most famous Greek temples in the world. The elevated position of the Acropolis offers visitors superb panoramic views of Athens. After all, Acropolis loosely translates from Ancient Greek to English as ‘top of the city.’
Highlights of the Acropolis include the walk from the entrance at Theorias Street to the Erechtheion through the Propylaea (main gate), the Parthenon, and the Temple of Athena Nike. Of course, the view from the top – across the city and Lycabettus Hill – is truly phenomenal, so be sure to walk to the edge.
The Erechtheion at the Acropolis. Image credit: Chrissy Manika
The new Acropolis Museum (opened in 2009) is worth swinging by next. It’s located at the bottom of the Hill of the Muses, near the Acropoli metro station. Once you’re inside, you’ll be greeted by many of the original friezes, sculptures, and columns from the Acropolis buildings. A real highlight for me are the original sculptures from the Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion – too fragile to return to the Acropolis, where replicas are standing in.
The architectural modernity of the Acropolis Museum wonderfully compliments the ancient Acropolis. During initial construction, archaeologists discovered ancient houses, sacred sites, and artifacts. To preserve them, the design of the building displays them in situ, visible to visitors as they slowly ascend to the main gallery level. The glass-floor ascent mimics the approach to the Propylaea from the Panathenaic Way and the Agora below the Acropolis. Archaeological remains are relatively commonplace across Athens with metro stations even displaying artefacts discovered during construction.
The museum is an excellent place to refuel with lunch. The restaurant has exceptional views back across the Acropolis and the old city.
Lunch at the Acropolis Museum. Image credit: Chrissy Manika
For an exquisite afternoon in Athens, explore the winding streets of the old town. From the Acropolis Museum, head straight out and wander along Vyronos Street. If you keep straight on this street, you’ll soon come to the magnificent Choragic Monument of Lysicrates. Lysicrates was a 4th century BC choragus (a sponsor of music and dance), who erected the monument to commemorate the award of first prize given to one of the performances he’d sponsored. The memorial is the first known use of Greek architecture’s Corinthian order.
Next, take a left and continue up the hill to the tiny Anafiotika district – an island in the middle of the city with spectacular views across the city. This white-washed area stands out from its Plaka and Monastiraki district neighbours for its unique story.
Anafiotika. Image credit: Chrissy Manika
In the mid-19th century, workers from the Cycladic island of Anafi flocked to Athens to work on the refurbishment of King Othon’s Palace. While in Athens, the workers took advantage of an old law stating that if you could erect a house between sunrise and sunset, it was yours. The men hastily built their now iconic houses on the craggy sides of the Acropolis – naming their neighbourhood Anafiotika (Little Anafi).
After coming down from Anafiotika, pop into Plaka for the evening. This popular district is one of the oldest parts of Athens and attracts both locals and travellers for an evening out. The many small squares, narrow streets with wide steps, and ancient houses are packed with shops selling tapestries and souvenirs. There are also many restaurants and tavernas for you to get lost in and enjoy the local gastronomy. My favourite? Oinoscent Wine Bar. Originally, it was just a wine cellar opened by two brothers. However, its rising popularity has meant that it’s had to move to a larger premises and now boasts a cellar of over 700 bottles from around the world. The extraordinary kitchen spins incredible Greek cheese, charcuterie platters, and tapas. The vibrant open air bar regularly spills onto the pavement on warm nights. To blend in with the locals, head for dinner around 8pm.
Wall art in Plaka. Image credit: Chrissy Manika
To round off your Athens day-trip Oinoscent is the perfect destination. Relax into the night, treating yourself to the perfect taste of Athenian culture, remembering the wonderful vibrancy of the Acropolis and ancient city streets.