Exactly two years ago yesterday I returned home from a five week trip to Europe. I remember being so excited for countries like Italy, Germany, and Spain, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t have high expectations for Greece. Especially since the financial crisis was such a hot topic at the time. I ended up being totally wrong and this little country absolutely blew me away after spending only 72 hours in Athens and 48 hours in Paros.
Not only did I love the popular island life, but I also loved the capital city of Athens. You can see history and culture all around you which I expected, but it was still incredible to see ancient ruins right next to a modern restaurant and retail stores. And speaking of restaurants, y’all the food was amazing. Again, I did not expect much but holy crap. I would go back just for the food. What really set it apart were the people though. Everyone was so friendly and so proud of their country and wanted to share it with you.
Sadly, I was only able to spend three days in Athens. I was able to pack in a considerable amount while still being able to enjoy my trip. That’s the thing though, when I was researching what to do before my trip all these guides put so much into their itineraries. It seemed you were going to each activity, checking the box off, and moving on to the next. This guide is meant for you to take it a little slower plus considers travel time. Enjoy each stop on the list and soak it all in. If you don’t make it to everything, that’s okay. Just do your best to come back one day because 72 hours in Athens is not nearly long enough.
Of course, this is the one thing you must do while in Athens. At the center of the city, you get gorgeous views from the streets and once you get up on the hill you have incredible views of the city. The most famous structure here is the Parthenon, but there are so many other smaller monuments and temples. It’s an UNESCO World Heritage Site, so be sure to take a guided tour as the history is so important and history is really just lots of stories strung together. So you’ll want to be told these stories preferably by a local. You can find a great tour here.
Depending on where you enter the Acropolis, you may be directly in front of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus where they still hold performances today. The original was destroyed about 100 years after construction but it was fully restored in the 1950s. Check the performance calendar here and catch a show if they align with your stay in town.
This advice goes for every popular monument, but get there early. As in, immediately when it opens at 8am. My group went later in the day, maybe around 9 or 10 and it was completely packed. The stairs going up to the top were a madhouse. Once you get to the top it isn’t so bad because there is lots of room to spread out. I’m sure it would be a more enjoyable trip though with less crowds. Better pictures too. Plus since you’re only spending 72 hours in Athens it’s so important to enjoy it and try to get an early start anyways.
The Acropolis Museum
Sadly, I did not have time to go to the Museum. This is where they have artifacts found in the temples of the Acropolis and during excavations of the hillside. They also have items that were found in homes of the ancient Athenians and use in daily life. The museum is located at the bottom of the hill of the Acropolis. You can get a Museum Guide brochure and do a self-guided tour or find a tour guide here. They also offer Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum combo tours here.
The museum opens at 8am during the summer and 9am during the winter. More information on hours and tickets is right here. Between the ancient sites and the museum tour, I would personally spend at least half a day here if not more.
Contrary to popular belief, there is more to this vibrant city than just the Acropolis. I love city tours because these guides know the interesting facts and can tell a story that’s much more entertaining than if you read it on the internet. In Athens to be a tour guide you have to be licensed and that process includes training and rigorous testing. On a tour you will learn a lot plus have it told in an interesting way and be assured that they really know their stuff. You can find great local tours here and here.
Explore on your own
There is nothing better than walking the winding streets of Athens on your own to see what you can find. There are ancient ruins scattered around the city and interesting bars and shops you can explore. The locals are very friendly so if you pop in a bar or restaurant ask them what they would recommend you do. We were walking around one evening at sunset and came across these ruins that were gated and we saw a beautiful sunset on the other side.
The Ancient Agora
I thought this was just as interesting as the Acropolis. If you have an active imagination, then you’ll absolutely love this place. The Agora was many things for the Ancient Greeks, a gathering place, marketplace, and place to worship. The whole area is gated and you do have to pay to gain entrance, but it’s only 8 euros. They give you a brochure for a self-guided tour and then you can explore at your leisure.
Most of the buildings are in ruins, but there are a few still in tact and two that are very impressive. The Temple of Hephaestus and the Stoa of Attalos. The Stoa was rebuilt in the 20th century to its original form, but the Temple is the best preserved Classical Greek temple. Both are very impressive structures. I also found a small church on the grounds that was still in tact with beautiful paintings on the inside. You can definitely spend a few hours walking through here plus they house many ancient artifacts that you can see in the Stoa of Attalos. More information on the Agora can be found here.
Eat ALL the Food
One thing that surprised me so much about Greece is how much I loved the food. With only 72 hours in Athens you have a ton of food to pack into a small amount of time. I had never really eaten Greek food before so this was an incredible realization for me. I feel like you can’t get anything quite as good in the states though. At least where I have been trying. Between all the Falafel, Gyros, Souvlaki, and Loukoumades I don’t know how I didn’t gain 10 pounds in Greece alone. This is by far my favorite part about visiting a new place, so I love taking food tours. If you do too, then check this one out. I’ve also written a post on the foods you shouldn’t miss while in Greece! Find it here.
Plaka is the neighborhood at the base of the Acropolis between it and Monastiraki square. It’s the oldest neighborhood of Athens and full of restaurants, cafes, and jewelry and tourist shops. Watch out for people standing on the street outside of these jewelry stores trying to entice you inside to buy things. Even if it’s a little bit touristy though, it’s still incredible to see such an old neighborhood and a glimpse of the old Greece.
Monastiraki is also a neighborhood with lots of character. The square is the center where the metro stop is located and the market. Take some time to walk through the market and see all the produce stands. This is where most of the tourist shops are located, but you can find some gems here if you look hard enough. On Sundays there is a true flea market set up in Monastiraki Square that you should check out.
Areopagus (Mars Hill)
Please, please, please go here at sunset. Be careful because the stairs are well worn, but the view over Athens is worth every bit of the climb. The sun glitters off the housetops as it creeps behind the horizon. It can be a popular spot and get a little crowded, so try and get up there a little early to get a good spot. I’m not sure how it looks at sunrise but I would definitely try it out if I ever got the chance. This is also the spot where Paul spoke to the Greeks about Jesus. It’s a humbling place for sure where you realize how small you are.
After sunset, try out one of the many rooftop bars in Athens. Most of them have a beautiful view of the Acropolis and to see it at night is an event in itself. It’s also equally as gorgeous during the day! A few to try out are A For Athens, Couleur Locale, or Hytra.
For the third day I’ll just give you two different options and you can choose which one best fits you. Each one is more outdoors focused than the past two days, but you get to see a different side of Greece as well. You also have to consider travel time during your 72 hours in Athens, so just move some things around if have to factor travel time in the first and third days.
Cruise to a Greek Island
When people think about the Greek Islands I think Santorini and Mykonos typically come to mind. I visited the island of Paros and totally fell in love. Just because an island isn’t popular in the media, doesn’t mean you should discount it. There are so many options for a day trip to the islands so I’ll give you a couple ideas.
Option 1: You can book a small group tour to the islands on a charter boat. This option gives you the most flexibility and variety of islands to visit, but of course it is the most expensive. If you have the money though, I think it’s totally worth it. The boats will be faster so you’ll spend less time at sea and more time on the islands. You can also go to some unique places like Delphi, Meteora, or Olympia. There are also multi-island day trips!
Option 2: Buy a ticket for the ferry. The good part about this option is an economy ticket is cheap, but you have less options to choose from and you have to plan your schedule around the ferry schedule. The island you go to is based on where the ferries are going on the day that you want to take your trip. Once you get to the island though you can explore or relax at your leisure until time to go.
The schedules can get confusing though. When I was on my 5-week Ultimate Europe trip with EF Ultimate Break, a group of girls on the tour decided they wanted to take a ferry to Santorini for the day while we were staying on Paros. They ended up getting stranded over there because they didn’t realize the ferries stopped running at a certain time! They had to take an overnight ferry back to Athens to meet us.
Hike Mount Lycabettus
I didn’t do this while I was in Athens and it’s one of my biggest regrets. While it towers above the city, it’s beautiful to look at and I’m sure the view of Athens from the top is equally as surreal. At the top you’ll find a church and a coin operated binocular viewer. There is also a restaurant and cafe further down, but I heard they are better known for their views than for their cuisine. There is a path you can take to hike to the top or you can take the Teleferik which is the cable car for Mount Lycabettus.
I hope this guide for spending 72 hours in Athens gives you enough great ideas to explore while still leaving some time to fill in your own interests. These are just the things that I feel like you can’t miss out on when you come to this wonderful city. Like I said, I did not have many expectations, but it completely blew me away and I’m sure it will do the same to you.
Athens was the first destination on my 5-week trip to Europe that you can read more about here. If you liked it, then please subscribe so you don’t miss next week’s article: Greek Foods You Shouldn’t Miss!