What to do in Athens in 1 day? It’s really challenging, taking in consideration the rich history, the amazing cuisine and grand sights.
The secret is in not trying to do everything. Instead just try to find a balance to be able to feel this city. It is best to have a plan before heading out so you can see as much as possible in a short time.
On the way back from Santorini, we had about 8 hours to wait for our flight. We didn’t want to wait in the airport so we did our best to arrange a visit of Athens.
So we took the train to the city center and in about 40 minutes we were in front of the Greek Parliament.
From the airport, there are trains to the city center that run every 30 minutes and the ticket price is 10 Euro. For the Parliament, we get off at Syntagma station.
- Go to the Greek Parliament to see the guards changing
In Syntagma Square there is the Parliament. The most famous thing here is the ceremony of changing the guards that take place every hour.
Every Sunday morning at 11.00 am, people gather in Syntagma Square to watch the official changing of the guards, the military unit with official costumes and stand proudly in perfect stillness in front of the Hellenic Parliament.
Every soldier guards for about an hour. Throughout these 60 minutes, they have to stand perfectly still until it is time to switch to another guard. During the changing, they work in pairs so they can perfectly coordinate their moves. The steps that the official ceremony requires at the time of changing are carried out in really slow motion to protect their blood circulation after 60 min of immobility.
Their uniform has a historical meaning. It refers to the uniform of the Kleftes and Armatoloi, two groups of Greek warriors during the War of Independence against the Ottomans. In fact, the white skirt of the uniform has 400 folds to represent the 400 years of Ottoman occupation over the Greeks.
After a short brief in from of the Parliament, we started to walk to Acropolis metro station. The weather wasn’t that good. It was a little rain and the wind was blowing pretty hard that day. But it didn’t stop us from going up to the Acropolis.
- The highlight of Athens – Acropolis
Athens was the center of ancient, powerful and impressive Greek civilization. Greek capital is still dominated by buildings made in the late 5th century BC, like the famous Acropolis.It’s a must-see if you visit the Greek capital.
The Acropolis is the huge rock that rises out from the city center of Athens.
The Acropolis has always been an important religious and sacred center. Temples were first built on the hill in the 11th century BC.
At the entrance, you can see the great Theater of Dionysus.
It was dedicated to the Dionysus, the god of plays and wine. The theater could seat as many as 17,000 people with excellent acoustics, making it an ideal location for ancient Athens’ biggest theatrical celebration. It was the first stone theater ever built, cut into the southern cliff face of the Acropolis, and supposedly the birthplace of Greek tragedy. Only the remains of a restored and redesigned Roman version can still be seen today.
Moving forward you reach another theater: The Odeon of Herodes Atticus.
It was really impressive. Every time I reach this Odeon I’m impressed like the first time.
It was built in 161 AD by the Athenian magnate Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife, Aspasia Annia Regilla. It was originally a theater with a three-story stone front wall and a wooden roof. It was used as a place for music concerts with a capacity of 5,000. It lasted intact until it was destroyed and turned into a ruin by the Heruli in 267 AD.
Today it’s an important music venue. Athens Festival, runs here from May through October each year, featuring a variety of acclaimed Greek as well as International performances.
But the most impressive building was and still is the all mighty Parthenon.
Dedicated to the goddess Athena, the namesake of the city was completed in 438 BC and surprisingly took only nine years to build. The Parthenon continued as a temple to Athena for a couple more hundred years until it was ordered that all pagan temples were to be closed. The Parthenon was later converted into a Christian church, then a Roman Catholic Church, and later an Islamic mosque. In the 1600s the Parthenon sustained the most devastating damage when an explosion occurred. Finally, in 1801 the Earl of Elgin came and removed sculptures and demolished buildings. Today the Parthenon is in the midst of the very long process of restoration.
After viewing all the angles of the Parthenon and the other temples on top of the Acropolis, it is nice to just take some time to sit, relax, and take it all in. The Acropolis provides 360-degree views of the sprawling city of Athens, all the way to the sea. While enjoying the view, you can also enjoy the sounds of the city.
Acropolis including the North and South Slopes costs 20 Euros (reduced to €10 during winter, from 1 November to 31 March.
- Stroll the Plaka and Monastiraki Neighborhoods
Plaka is a neighborhood at the foot of the Acropolis, with narrow streets and neo-classical buildings.
Weave through neighborhoods and you’ll eventually find the history falls away to posh cafes touting free WiFi and a rooftop view.
Athenians come here all the time to enjoy the quietness and the calm atmosphere and take a quick break from the hustle and bustle of the city. In the peaceful alleys, you can find dozens of beautiful, charming cafes where you can sit and drink coffee or sip a late afternoon aperitif. Plaka is also famous for its numerous old style taverns, some of which are the oldest ones in town. Lovely, homemade Greek cuisine is served in the quaint taverns full of memories of the old times. Especially on Sunday noon, it’s sort of a family treat to go out and have lunch at a tavern in Plaka. In general, on Sundays, the area gets a more vibrating atmosphere.
- Try the lovely Greek cuisine at one of Plaka’s taverns
Greek cuisine has strong influences from the Turkish / Ottoman cuisine, as the Ottomans were the rulers of this land for 4-5 centuries. But most of all, it’s the local produce that defines Greek cuisine. Olive oil is the basic layer of all Greek cooking, accompanied by fresh, in season vegetables of all kinds.
Maiandros is a traditional Greek coffee restaurant, located in Plaka, just a few steps from the Monastiraki metro station and Adrianou library. It a cozy and friendly traditional cuisine that brings back tastes and smell from another era.
Not to mention the rooftop view of Acropolis. I remember a fantastic dinner on this rooftop during a hot August day. This time, due to the unfriendly weather we had lunch inside, but still, we have a fantastic window view and perfect food.
This how much we managed to see in the few available hours we spent in Athens. And it is not enough. In order to really see this ancient city you really need at least 3 days.