Are you contemplating a trip to Athens? Many people who make the trek to Greece only stop in Athens for their connecting flight or ferry to one of the Greek islands. And don’t get me wrong–the Greek islands are a must. But my partner and I dedicated 5 days in Athens so we could really appreciate its culture and history (and much more reasonable prices) before moving on to Santorini.
Note: this post may contain Trip Advisor or Booking.com affiliate links to which I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Why I Recommend Visiting Athens
We were admittedly a little hesitant at first to book 5 days in Athens because friends who had visited told us, “Athens isn’t worth it”, or “2 days in Athens is enough”. I considered shortening our Athens itinerary…
But once we arrived and got settled in, Athens quickly grew on us. I’m here to give a #hottake on why you should visit Athens for 5 days–it’s freakin’ awesome for offering everything from:
Ancient ruins (the Acropolis is one of the 7 New Wonders of the World)
Warm, bright blue ocean beaches
Delicious and traditional Mediterranean cuisine (and gelato everywhere)
Colorful street art intertwined with ancient ruins
Casual outdoor hiking (and the oober cool railbiking)
Both ancient and modern history museums
Greek coffee that’s infinitely more flavorful than standard US coffee
Cheaper prices than the US or Greek islands
Easy transportation by bus, train or Uber
Before I dive into our 5-day Athens itinerary, I want to share the basics of what to expect, where we stayed, how we got around the city, and other details that make for easier itinerary planning.
Is Athens, Greece Safe to Visit?
Athens is no more dangerous to visit than most other European cities. It actually has relatively low violent crime rates. You should still keep your eyes peeled for petty crimes such as pick-pocketing, though.
As Two Tickets Anywhere writes, “Illicit trade, extortion and trafficking are the top crimes that occur. These types of crimes are typically directed at locals rather than a tourist visiting Athens.”
Personally, I think Athens gets a bad rap because tourists report it to look “run-down”, which they equate with dangerous. The large amounts of budget, high-rise apartment complexes and graffiti on literally everything can make it seem “sketchy”, but that’s far from the reality.
Athens police are a lot more flexible with graffiti than police are in the US. In fact, many shop owners hire artists to paint huge murals along their exterior shop walls. Athens society is quite accepting of graffiti as an art expression.
You’ll notice a lot of stray cats running around Athens. At first you may think, “poor cats”, but take a closer look and notice that these cats are healthy. Well-fed, thick fur coats, no pus-filled eyes or injuries.
Since cats have played an important and sacred role in Greek culture since the ancient times, modern Greek society has carried on this mindset. You’ll see shop owners or people on the streets feed cats, or leave out water bowls–it’s really sweet.
I remember visiting Barcelona, Spain many years ago and the cats that wandered the streets were in terrible condition. So, it was refreshing to see such healthy stray cats in Athens.
Where We Stayed in Athens
We booked five nights at the Moxy Athens City hotel which is near the city center (Syntagma Square), so we’d be just a short walk from downtown Athens and most of the ancient Greece ruins. The Moxy Athens City hotel is a Marriott property so if you have travel points with Marriott, check this place out!
Our hotel was roughly 1.6 miles (about a 40 minute walk) to the Acropolis and the Acropolis museum and a 0.7 mile (16 minute walk) from the city center of Syntagma.
Personally, I loved this location. We were far enough removed from the insanely busy, crowded, tourist-packed streets surrounding the whole ancient Agora area, but still close enough to walk there nearly every day. Yes it WAS a lot of walking (glad I brought good walking shoes) but I was overeating most of the time anyways, so I didn’t mind the exercise!
You’ll pay top price on lodging and food if you stay near the ancient Agora area, which is where a lot of the most famous Athens ruins are located. Monastiraki Square is right in this area as well, which is the hub of the touristy restaurants and stores. It’s easy to spend all of your time in this little tourist-trap bubble if you aren’t motivated to explore Athens. But our hotel’s location allowed us to get outside of this tourist bubble, so we experienced more local street art and more authentic (and more reasonably priced) restaurants.
Brief Review: Moxy Athens City Hotel
Overall, I really enjoyed my stay at the Moxy Athens hotel. It was in a central location at a big roundabout, so navigating back to the hotel was easy from nearly any direction. The hotel itself is designed in a sleek, modern way that almost gives it New York City feels.
Although everything from the hotel reception area to the rooms themselves are very compact, it was not an issue for me or my partner. Our bed was firm and comfortable, our AC worked great and was easy to control (which was necessary to blast on certain hot nights), and despite being in the heart of the city, we were never kept awake by surrounding city noises.
The staff was consistently friendly and helpful, and I LOVED all of the food. From the continental breakfast to the lunch and dinner menu items, ingredients were fresh and flavorful. In fact, their continental breakfast was way more delicious (and authentic) than the breakfast we were served every morning at our fancy honeymoon suite hotel on Santorini (one of the Greek islands).
Oh, and in the event you didn’t want the Moxy’s amazing Greek coffee from their little auto-coffee machine, there is an incredible bakery next door. The bakery has a full coffee bar and a huge variety of sweet and savory baked goods.
Modes of Transportation in Athens
The best modes of transportation in Athens, Greece are:
Uber or cab
Lyft doesn’t exist in Athens yet. Uber is solely run by cab drivers. This is because a few years ago, cab drivers protested the use of Uber in Athens since it was hurting their business so much. Now, there’s a law in place that only cabbies can also Uber. So, just know you’ll be paying cab fair prices for an Uber.
We tried to walk as much as possible to save costs, but we ended up using the bus and train system once and it went surprisingly smoothly.
There’s a train station right outside of the Moxy hotel, so we used that to get to the Piraeus ferry port (costing us total about 5 Euros), which was a lot cheaper than an Uber that would’ve cost closer to $15-$25 Euros.
We took a few Ubers that were pretty pricey–we took one from the Athens International airport to the Moxy hotel which ran us around $50 Euros. We took another from the hotel to our railbike tour about a half hour drive outside the city, which ran about $60 Euros.
Athens Itinerary Overview
It goes without saying that historical sites, ancient monuments and ruins are the most popular Athens attractions that draw the most tourists each year. The biggest and most famous ancient ruins are located within the same general area of the city, which makes exploring a bit easier.
I recommend breaking up your ancient Athens touring into a 2-3 day itinerary. You can do the Syntagma Square area one day, and then split up the Ancient Agora and Acropolis areas up into one or two days.
Athens Itinerary: Day 1
On the first day of our Athens itinerary, we visited:
Temple of Olympian Zeus
Entrance fee: $6 Euros per person, free for children 1-5 years old
Temple of Olympian Zeus is a 12-minute walk from Syntagma Square and an 18-minute walk from ancient Agora. Temple of Olympian Zeus is a colossal temple that was dedicated to Olympian Zeus to honor his position as head of the Olympian gods. Construction on this ancient temple began in 6th Century BC, which is pretty mind-blowing.
Honestly, I was dying of heat when we explored this area at high noon on a late summer day. Unfortunately, most of the colossal temple was under construction and completely encased in support beams. But there are loads of smaller ancient sites surrounding the Temple of Olympian Zeus. One of my favorite being this ancient restroom for women!
Unless you’re a big history buff, I’d say it’s okay to skip the entrance fee to the Olympian Zeus Temple and admire it from the street. You can still get a great view of it from the surrounding area.
Zappeion and Athens National Garden
Entrance fee: none
Just a few minute walk away from the Temple of Olympian Zeus is the beautiful Athens National Garden, which surrounds the Zappeion building (a modern building used for anything from ceremonies to important meetings).
The gardens saved me from the heat of the day. We wandered around the gardens and took in everything from a “turtle” island, beautiful flowers and fountains, and lots of ancient ruins sprinkled throughout. It’s cool to feel how much the ancient world and new world intermingle here.
Entrance fee: $10 Euros per person and free for children 1-5 years old
We made our way to the other side of the gardens and crossed the street to the Panathenaic stadium, which is where the first modern olympic games were held. The empty stadium feels larger than life and it’s wild to walk up and down the stairs. This is the only stadium in the world built of all marble. When I say the “modern” Olympics, I’m talking about the year 1870…but that’s still much more recent than when the stadium was first built–in c. 330 BC!
Panathenaic Stadium Museum
No entrance fee
I highly recommend visiting the small Panathenaic museum located through a tunnel at the back of the stadium. You can see original posters of the modern Olympic games, ranging from the 1920s to present-day. It takes you on a wild ride through time…there’s also a small gift shop with cool trinkets.
Lunch at Neoklassiko Restaurant
Cost: ~$45 Euros for 3 dishes, 1 soda and 1 beer
We stopped at the Neoklassiko restaurant on our walk back from the Panathenaic stadium since it happened to be on our way. This was one of my favorite meals of the trip–lots of authentic dishes that actually resemble Italian meals. Think fresh pasta sauce, a variety of cheeses, red meats and fresh vegetables.
The staff were also remarkably friendly and attentive. Our waiter clearly tried to give us the best experience, and even educate us on some classic Greek dishes and beer, knowing that we were tourists.
I was amazed that this restaurant did not have inflated tourist-area prices, either. Very reasonable prices for exceptional souvlaki food and top-notch customer service.
FUN HISTORY: Turns out, there is a lot of overlap between Italian and Greek dishes. Since they share similar climate coastlines, they have a lot of the same natural resources and food options. What’s more, Italy adopted a lot of Greek culture during the peak rise of Athens, as it became a “trendsetting” city center that even the most elite Italians fanned over.
Athens Drunk Pub Crawl
Cost: $30 Euros per person
After a late lunch and LOTS of walking around in the heat, we headed back to our hotel to rest and get ready for the Drunk Pub Crawl event that we booked! The pub crawl is designed to bar hop to at least three different bars or clubs, all within short walking distance of each other near central Athens and the Syntagma Square area.
Truthfully, there were a lot of mixed Trip Advisor reviews on this pub crawl that made me initially hesitate. The biggest issue seemed to be that the tour guides basically just walk you to different bars, and that’s it.
You pay $30 per person so I think it’s reasonable to expect more of a tour guide experience. The $30 does get you a free shot at the first bar (which was really a shot of mixed drink, mostly juice than alcohol). It also gets you 50% off any drinks you buy at the first bar, as well as unlimited draft beer or homemade sangria at the second bar. Heads up–the second bar was dead empty, but thankfully our tour group of 20+ people livened up the place. And the homemade sangria was delicious and STRONG.
True to the reviews, our tour guides did the bare minimum. They walked us to the different bars and made sure we got our free drinks, but otherwise you could find them outside smoking cigarettes and chatting.
Thing is, I ended up not minding this at all. I had a great time talking to all of the other people in our group that came from across the globe! From Hungary, South America, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands– everyone was really nice and easy to talk to. I was impressed that it was a Sunday night and our tour group was so big–I was expecting it to maybe just be me and my partner.
Athens Itinerary: Day 2
After a LATE night out from our pub crawl, combined with epic jet lag, my partner and I had a delayed start to our second day….
But thankfully, our only commitment was a 5pm railbike tour outside of Athens. Couldn’t wait for this!
Railbiking in Megara, Greece: Cycling on the Railways
Cost: $30 Euros per person plus transportation costs to and from Megara
The Megara Railbiking experience had rave reviews on Trip Advisor. I loved this tour because it was a unique way to explore outside of the city, soak up the coastline views, learn history about Greece’s role in World War 2, and get some exercise!
The tour is three hours long and you’ll want to budget about an hour to get to the Megara meeting spot if you’re coming from Athens. You don’t need to be in “peak” physical fitness to handle this activity. If you can pedal on a bicycle, you can pedal on a railbike.
My partner and I were running short on time so we opted to take an Uber to the Megara railbike meeting spot. It cost us around $60 after tip, which was a bit painful. But we opted to take a public bus on the way back to the city for a fraction of the Uber cost ($10 total). There’s a bus stop right next to the railbike meeting spot, and the tour guides provided us with clear directions on how to get back to the city center. Definitely recommend!
The tour consists of about 2 hours of railbiking and a handful of 5-10 minute stops. The ocean views are stunning and the tour guides share history of the original train tracks and their critical role of Athens contemporary development. But have no fear–the train tracks are officially closed and out of commission.
There were two tour guides who would provide both a Greek and English translation of their presentation at each stop. We got to watch the new train on the new tracks come jetting out of a tunnel, caught the wild black goats that live up in the cliffs, and toured an abandoned WW2 bunker.
The only bummer about the railbike experience was how hot outside it still was. We went at the tail end of August and let’s just say our railbike seats were drenched in sweat. We did the sunset tour that runs from 5-7pm, but there’s also an 11am-1pm tour that would probably provide cooler temps. Overall, I highly recommend adding this railbike tour to your Athens itinerary.
Next Stop: Gelato in the City
Cost: $4-10 per person
By the time we got back to Athens from our railbike tour, we were STARVING. My partner insisted we stop for gelato before finding a place for dinner. I couldn’t argue with that…
There are tons gelato shops around Athens. This was another interesting overlap between Italian and Greek cuisine that we noticed. My partner was all, “Greece gelato is good, but Italian gelato is still the best” because he has been to Italy. I haven’t been to Italy but truthfully don’t think I’d be able to tell the difference anyways–all I know is that the gelato I had was amazingly fresh and bursting with flavor! Creamy and light all at the same time.
Unfortunately I didn’t take note of all of the gelato shops we visited, but I’m confident any gelato shop you stop by will not disappoint. Especially in the heat of Greece summer days, gelato is a lifesaver.
Lithos Tavern for Dinner
Cost: ~$60 for 3 dishes, two beers
Since our bus dropped us off in the heart of touristy Athens (near Ancient Agora) we decided to stay in the area for dinner. Not surprisingly, you will find higher prices, bigger crowds, and less authentic dishes in the touristy areas. But we felt like being touristy. We chose the Lithos Tavern since it had ample outdoor seating along the cute, cobbled narrow streets.
The Lithos Tavern was insanely quick at getting us seated (despite the huge crowd) and getting our drinks over. We ordered some basic Greek dishes (souvlaki) but wanted to mix things up, so ordered an octopus salad as well. Our waiter was British and although I don’t think he meant it to come across as rude, I could tell he had chalked us up to “basic American tourists”.
Instead of offering us fresh tzatziki sauce with our souvlaki, he made a comment like, “you are Americans so I’m sure you want ketchup”…to which, we both said no… he also brought us the wrong salad (a simple Greek salad) despite us ordering the octopus. We sent it back and our main dishes took quite a while to come out.
The main dishes were nothing to write home about. Our souvlaki came with both french fries and pita bread which was a carb overload. The meat was flavorful and juicy, but it was a rather bland meal. Overall, it was a fine place to stop and the atmosphere of being in the safe, bustling tourist area of Ancient Agora was the biggest perk of the Lithos Tavern in my opinion.
Athens Itinerary: Day 3
We woke up early on day 3 of our Greece itinerary so we could beat the crowds that would eventually descend upon the ancient city ruins. It was the day we would wrap up our touring of the Ancient Agora and Acropolis areas.
The Acropolis Hill
Fee: $20 Euros or opt for the combo ticket for $30 Euros
The Acropolis is one of the most famous Greek archaeological sites and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a hill that sits above modern Athens and has all sorts of ancient ruins on it, particularly the very famous Parthenon building. You can see it from across the city in all of its ancient glory. The Acropolis is also home to all of these ruins:
2. Old Temple of Athena
4. Statue of Athena Promachus
6. Temple of Athena Nike
8. Sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia
12. Altar of Athena
13. Sanctuary of Zeus Polieus
14. Sanctuary of Pandion
15. Odeon of Herodes Atticus
16. Stoa of Eumenes
17. Sanctuary of Asclepius
18. Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus
19. Odeum of Pericles
20. Temenos of Dionysus Eleuthereus
If you opt for the $30 combination ticket, you’ll get access to the Acropolis as well as these sites:
We heard that the lines and crowds to get into the Acropolis can be unreal, especially at high season. So I scoured online deals the night before for tickets, but my research showed that the best deal was still the ticket deal offered at the Acropolis counter. So, we got up early and arrived right at opening (8am). The line wasn’t long at all, but even within the 5-10 minutes we spent in line, it had more than doubled. So if you don’t buy tickets in advance, I definitely recommend getting there right when it opens!
The Acropolis Hill provides a glimpse into what ancient Greek times looked like, as well as a breathtaking view overlooking all of modern Athens.
The Parthenon was under construction so it was hard to get a photo that really represented what it may have looked like way back when. As you can see, the crowd is starting to accumulate and (not shown) the late summer temps are rising.
You can walk all around the Acropolis Hill and check out all of the different ancient ruins. The Acropolis entrance fee provides access to all these of locations, such as the ancient theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus:
The Acropolis Museum
Entrance fee: $20 Euros per person
I booked Acropolis museum “skip the line” tickets the night before at $23 per person, which was actually more expensive than buying them at the museum ($20/person). But the tickets came with access to the ancient underground picturesque neighborhood that lies beneath the museum. Normally, it’s a few extra Euros for access. The underground neighborhood was definitely worth it.
Since we got to the museum by about 10am, the line wasn’t very long so our “skip the line” tickets didn’t really matter. But just a couple hours later the line jutted way out past the museum entrance. So, if you aren’t going to get there early in the day, then “skip the line” tickets may be worth it.
The Acropolis museum is just a few minutes walk from Acropolis Hill and this museum is huge, featuring three main floors. The museum has everything from larger-than-life human and animal statues, tiny ancient artifacts, and (my personal favorite) actual financial documents from accountants keeping the books on stone slabs:
You can opt for a virtual tour audio headset for an additional fee, but my partner and I preferred just walking around and getting lost in the ancient-ness of these museum artifacts. The museum features clean, private bathrooms, a cafe with a large seating area, and a gift shop.
Prison of Socrates
No entrance fee
A 10-minute walk away from the Acropolis museum is Socrates prison, tucked up in a patch of woods. Go up the trail and see where one of the most famous Greek philosophers lived out his last days. Socrates has always fascinated me ever since I had to do a high school project on him my freshman year, ha!
Socrates is considered the founder of Western philosophy in Greece. He was also the first “moral” Greek philosopher that insisted people question and observe their own nature. Unfortunately, his public lectures landed him in prison where he was sentenced to death by drinking poisonous Hemlock. His supposed crime was “corrupting the youths of Athens”. A brilliant mind lost…
Museum of Illusions
Cost: $11 per person, or $8 per child, 4-15 years old
After exploring more ancient Athens ruins, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and then headed to the Museum of Illusions. This museum is in the heart of Monastiraki Square, which is a popular tourist area near the Acropolis.
I chose this museum over the loads of more sophisticated historic museums and art galleries in the area because I wanted to mix things up. We needed a break from all of the serious historic learning we’d been doing all morning! This museum looked really fun and creative–and boy was it ever.
When we first entered this small museum it was packed with little kids. It hadn’t even occurred to me that this museum was mostly aimed at kids…but once the wave of kids came through, we played around with all of the cool illusion displays.
Hands-down, the coolest thing about this museum is the funny and unique optical illusion photo opps. They actually have staff members that wander around for the sole purpose of taking your photos! The museum tour will last maximum 1 hour, so use it well!
We spent the rest of the day doing some tourist shopping, eating more delicious souvlaki and gelato. We headed back to the hotel in the early evening and worked on our plan for the next day.
Athens Itinerary: Day 4 (fail turned happy mistake)
After researching an itinerary plan the night before, we decided to do a day trip to the island of Hydra. Not only is it a picturesque small town situated right on the water; it also is rich with history and donkeys are used as the main mode of transportation! Cars aren’t even allowed on the island.
We booked ferry tickets for early morning where we would spend about 7 hours on the island before taking a ferry back. This seemed better to book ourselves versus go through a travel agency, which was asking triple the price.
So, off we went the next morning. We were feeling bold and opted to take the Athens metro. Thankfully, metro tickets were only a few Euros each and the metro map was easy to follow. To get to the ferry port, we simply stayed on until the last stop.
But finding the correct ferry port turned into a rushed nightmare. Little did we know, we were supposed to arrive at the port at least an hour before its scheduled arrival. Welp, we arrived about ten minutes early and found out the ferry had already left–and there were no more going out that way until late in the day…
The ferry company offered us credit, but since we were leaving the next day, we couldn’t do much with it. So, we pivoted plans and decided to explore the Athens coastline since we were already in the area.
Akanthus Beach Club + Nalu Cafe
Cost: ~$15 Euros entrance fee, $7 Euros for sun bed
We took a 25-minute Uber ride from the Piraeus ferry port down the coastline to a strip of popular beaches. Based on our on-the-spot phone research, we landed at the Akanthus Beach Club since it looked like it would have good food and decent sun bed rentals.
The building is pretty swanky and we learned it serves as a popular beachside night club as well. I fully anticipated tourist prices for everything from entrance fee to food, which was mostly the case, but slightly less expensive than I expected.
For a midweek day, it was pretty busy. They have more than 80 sun beds so although many were taken, there were still plenty available. Sun beds come in pairs of 2 with an umbrella, small locker and drink table in-between them. The bathrooms are tucked deep in the back of the outdoor nightclub area which made for a bit of a walk.
The beach itself is beautiful. The sand is more like very fine, smoothed-down white rocks and pebbles. The Aegean Sea is a gorgeous bright blue and its temperature at the time hovered around 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Warm enough so even this thermal wimp went all in!
The club also has an outdoor sand volleyball court, a couple of outdoor showers and changing rooms. Staff seemed to be all over the place but weren’t attentive at all to checking in with us, unlike the way it’s advertised.
Supposedly they will take drink orders, provide locker keys and deliver food. But we finally had to flag one of them down to ask for the locker key–to which they said they would bring it over and never did. My partner made multiple trips up to the bar since the staff wouldn’t make eye contact with us or come over to our sun beds. Staff was definitely the worst part of this place.
Cost: ~$70 for two mixed drinks and two entrees
The Nalu Cafe is attached to the Akanthus Beach Club and initially it’s a little confusing to tell that they are separate venues. After a few hours of lounging on the beach in our sun beds, we decided to grab some food at the Nalu Cafe.
The drinks were delicious, the service was much more attentive than Akanthus, and the food was flavorful and light. I ordered one of their most popular dishes, the swordfish, and my boyfriend ordered a more American-style meal of BBQ ribs. We got to eat our meals overlooking the beach. Overall, we both enjoyed the Nalu Cafe a lot–it helped make up for the poor customer service at the Akanthus Beach Club.
Late Dinner at The Karamanlidikas of Fanis
Cost: $8-15 Euros per plate, $5 glasses of wine
The Karamanlidikas lies just outside of the touristy hubs of ancient Agora and Monastiraki Square. It’s famous for its age-old ways of curing meats. But beyond its meats is a full-fledged restaurant offering a huge variety of traditional, authentic Greek and Middle Eastern dishes for a fraction of typical prices. I HIGHLY suggest adding this to your own food tour!
It’s recommended to make a reservation since it’s very popular among locals. The fanfare and ambience is minimum–the “restaurant” is really a narrow back hallway packed with small dining tables.
We decided to risk it and show up without a reservation. Even though it was packed, the “mother” manager directed us to a table within a few minutes. You could tell she has done this before and has it down to a science.
We ordered a meatball dish and sausage dish and a few glasses of local wine (that were only $5 per glass). The food arrived pretty quickly and the flavors were unique and everything paired so well together. Again, I really recommend visiting this restaurant.
Athens Itinerary: Day 5
The last day of our Athens itinerary arrived. We scheduled a ferry to the island of Santorini at 9am. We woke up early and I ran over to the cafe next door for coffee and pastries. We didn’t feel like doing a full sit-down breakfast at the hotel.
Veneti Great Baggeion Cafe
Cost: ~$5 coffee, $3-10 for pastries
This cafe has a massive selection of fresh baked goods, breakfast sandwiches, pastries, coffee and custards. It’s a busy place in the morning and I understand why–the coffee is rich and flavorful. I bought some “piggies in a blanket” sausage croissants and custard-filled pastries. The crust was light, buttery and flaky, the meat and custard were both rich, providing that sweet-meets-savory satisfaction.
After a quick breakfast, we packed up our things and grabbed an Uber to the Piraeus ferry port. This time, we arrived PLENTY early to make sure we didn’t miss our ferry again. I believe this ferry arrived earlier than its scheduled time and we were already taking off 15 minutes before the original 9am departure time. Now, it was a five-hour ferry ride to Santorini. We booked platinum seating so we would have ample room to work on our laptops and be comfortable for the duration of the ride.