Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in Athens! Of course I can hear some of you say that 24 hours isn’t nearly enough time to spend in one of the oldest and most historically important cities in the world. How right you are! We could never conquer all of Athens in one lifetime, let alone 24 hours in Athens.
But this 24 hours in Athens will give us enough time to see some of the most amazing highlights in the city. We’ll go to a hidden gem museum that’s never overrun with tourists and learn all about the wonders of Athens. Then we’ll spend the rest of the day eating the most unique Greek foods. And finally we’ll drink until the break of dawn. Sound good? Then follow me! Our 24 hours in Athens has just begun!
24 Hours in Athens
Where to Stay?
Athens is a crazy popular tourist destination, so there’s tons of hotels to choose from. But if you’re looking for something reasonably priced and centrally located, you can’t do any better than Athens La Strada. This hotel was right within walking distance of literally everything in Athens that I wanted to see. Plus a yummy breakfast was included every morning with this amazing view:
Yup! You can actually see the Parthenon from my breakfast! The staff was also really helpful and made sure I got to the airport on time for my flight to Tirana, Albania when I was ready to move on from Athens.
If you’re interested in a great deal on this hotel, click here. And if it’s out of your price range and you’d rather explore almost 7000 other hotels in Athens that are more within your budget, click here!
24 Hours in Athens
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Athens is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen, especially if you want to tango in the streets all day. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re American, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with American plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours in Athens
Morning: Benaki Museum
I have another 24 hours in Athens itinerary coming up for you, and with that itinerary, I promise to include the biggest attraction in Athens: the Parthenon. But sometimes you don’t want to be around crowds all day. Sometimes you want to explore a city in a more quiet, local way. For those times, there’s the Benaki Museum.
The Benaki Museum is dedicated to the development of Greek culture. I assume that means it’s also dedicated to proving that Greek culture did not die out in ancient times. The museum is located in a beautiful, multi-story mansion. I was pleasantly surprised to hear many people speaking in Greek in this museum, which just goes to show it’s a place that locals visit. You can find up-to-date info on opening hours and prices on their website here.
There’s more info on Greek history and culture than I could fit into 7000 blog posts. But I will give you just a little taste of Greek yogurt with…
Three Fun Facts: Greek Culture
1) What’s the Best Ancient Greek Art?
That’s debatable, but I would argue that ancient Greece is most famous for pottery. If you’ve ever seen ancient Greek art in a museum, you’ve seen these harmoniously formed giant vases. They just scream GREECE! Opa!
I thought it was funny that the Benaki Museum claims to be celebrating all of Ancient Greek culture when it’s clear that, during ancient times, they are entirely pro-Athens. Back then, Greece wasn’t an entirely unified country. It was broken up into different city states. Two of the most prominent were Athens and Sparta.
Greece became somewhat more unified during the Greco-Persian War. (If you’ve ever seen the movie 300, that’s the war from that movie.) After the war ended, Athens was the most powerful city-state, according to the signs at the Benaki Museum. But the peace between Athens and Sparta didn’t last. Eventually the Peloponnesian War broke out between them, Sparta won, and Athens declined. “Why couldn’t Athens just run things forever!!!” you can practically hear the signs at the Benaki Museum wail.
2) Did Greece Do Anything After Ancient Times?
But of course! We all know that old joke, “Greece invented civilization, then retired,” but it’s not really true. Greece eventually became part of the Byzantine Empire, which was once the most powerful empire in the east. The most powerful Byzantine Emperor was Constantine, who was the first major ruler to convert to Christianity and try to create a Christian empire.
Even though Athens wasn’t the center of the Byzantine Empire–that was Constantinople–it still made major contributions to Byzantine culture. Because the Byzantine Empire was Christian, most of the art is religious art, devoted to the saints. I can’t prove this for a fact, but I truly believe that the Benaki Museum has the largest collection of mosaics of St. George that I have ever seen. (He’s the dude that killed the dragon.)
Look! There he is on the right, slaughtering that dragon! You just can’t stop St. George. And that is why there’s no dragons in Greece to this day.
3) What About After the Byzantine Period?
All right, now it gets trickier. After the city of Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, Greece eventually became a colony of the Ottoman Empire. Greece remained a Turkish colony for hundreds of years. This period of Greek history gets glossed over in the Benaki Museum–you won’t see a ton of artifacts from the Ottoman period.
In the 19th century, the Ottoman colonies began to break away and fight for their independence. The Benaki Museum isn’t a history museum, so there isn’t a complete explanation of how Greece got its independence from the Ottoman Empire. You have to make deductions based on the art from the time period. By looking at the portraits of the Greek Independence fighters, I can only conclude that they defeated the Ottoman Empire entirely with the power of their majestic mustaches.
24 Hours in Athens
Afternoon: Extreme Bites Tour
After all that culture we’ve stuffed in our brains, we’re going to want to eat something! So I suggest taking a food tour with one of my favorite tour companies: Urban Adventures. I’ve taken their tours all over the world, and I’ve never had a bad experience. My favorite things about them is that their tours are always run by local guides, and they never cancel a tour, no matter how small the group is. So if you’re the only person who books the tour, you still get to go.
I LOVE food, so I booked the Extreme Bites Food Tour. This way I could try the coolest and most unusual foods in Athens–the kind of treats I couldn’t find back home. But I recognize that not everyone likes eating snails and tripe, so if you want a more normal tour, try the Lonely Planet Experiences food tour. You can find both tours by clicking on the links below!
I learned more about Greek food on the Extreme Bites tour than I would have thought possible–and I thought everything was delicious! Let me whet your appetite with…
Three Fun Facts: Extreme Greek Bites
1) What’s the Most “Normal” Food on This Tour?
The first stop is pretty lowkey–unless you don’t like fish or something. But if you’re a picky eater, this isn’t the food tour for you, for sure! Greece is on the water, so it’s famous for its amazing seafood. But this little place, located right near the Athens La Strada hotel, was one of the first places in Athens to serve fish as street food.
I personally would have thought that fish wouldn’t make great street food because the smell would make you obnoxious to passersby. But this restaurant serves the fish fried with lots of fresh lemon on top, which gets rid of any fishy smell. Plus the fish is all crazy fresh, so that means there’s less of a smell. Which is kind of ironic because the fish I was eating was called smelt! I was a classy girl and did not make even one, “She who smelt it dealt it” joke.
2) What Are Some Special Occasion Greek Foods?
Greece is a Christian Orthodox country, which means that Easter is the most important holiday of the year. Lamb is a popular dish at Easter time because Jesus is called the Lamb of God. Also lamb is very delicious. This green soup above is often served at Greek Easter meals. Like many Greek dishes, it’s also served with lots of oregano and lemon. This soup has a funky, rich flavor because they use all parts of the lamb. That’s what I call being sustainable and delicious at the same time.
Most people can enjoy Lamb Soup. It takes a braver, stronger stomach to enjoy this next soup, patsas. This soup is made with tripe (cow stomach) and cow feet. Greeks say it is the perfect cure for any hangover. I am used to eating tripe soup because my father’s family is from Romania, and tripe soup is popular there. I think it’s yummy! Eating an animal’s stomach isn’t weirder than eating sausage or eating an animal’s flesh.
The soup does have a vaguely slimy texture from the gelatin in the food, but that just means it’s packed with protein. Good for that hangover! The taste is on the sour side, in a pleasant vinegary way. You’d never think to yourself, “Yes, this has stomach and feet in it,” unless someone told you.
3) What’s the Most Adventurous Bite on The Tour?
That’s the last stop where you get to feast on snails and liver–medieval styles. My guide, whom I shall call Georgette, said that the tour is put together with the least strange bite first and the most strange for last. The snails were served with lots of rosemary and olive oil. They were by far the best snails I have ever eaten. That sounds like damning with faint praise, but they seriously became like potato chips for me. I couldn’t stop at just one!
Up next, the liver! I’m not going to make a Hannibal Lecter joke because I don’t want you to lose your appetite. I love liver–back home in NYC we eat chopped liver all the time. But this was the first time I’ve ever had liver with honey. It made the organ so sweet and rich. Who knew how delicious Extreme Bites could be?
I washed these treats down with a bottle of raki: Greek anise-flavored booze. Every time I drank one shot, Georgette would fill my glass up because she said this was an “extreme drinking tour”. Good thing no one was driving this evening!
24 Hours in Athens
Evening: Drink Your Way Around Athens
Athens has a thriving nightlife, so you’ll definitely want to partake during your 24 hours in Athens. And it’s an affordable city, so you can most assuredly get your drink on in style. I wanted to indulge as much as possible, so I actually took two drinking tours of Athens with Urban Adventures on the same night: the Posh Happy Hour tour in the early evening and the Twilight tour in the later evening. I love bar tours as a solo traveler because hitting up drinking holes as a single lady really isn’t that fun unless you’re looking to meet weird dudes.
I didn’t get back to my hotel until after midnight and I loved every minute. But if you don’t have the stamina for Extreme Drinking: Athens style, just pick one of the tours. You can book one or both by clicking on the links below.
I don’t want to spoil all the secret drinking spots on the tour for you, but I do want to get you a bit thirsty with…
Approximately Top 5: Athens Drinking
1) Drink One
Our first sip on the Posh Happy Hour tour was mastika, a liqueur made from the resin of a plant that only grows on the Greek island of Chios. This is one of the most Greek things you can drink! It tastes a little bit like pine, so it made me think of Christmas. But you know what they say: at Easter you eat soup, at Christmas you drink mastika.
2) Drink Two
Our next stop was for a refreshing glass of Greek white wine. I strongly recommend drinking Greek wine when you’re in Greece because it’s so yummy and affordable. And there’s plenty of time to drink French, Italian, or Californian wine when you’re in the states.
Of course, as we drank, we were watched over by one of the Mustached Soldiers of Greek Independence. I’m sure he’s here to see that none of the patrons of the bar get up to mischief.
3) Drink Three
For our next stop, we went to a super trendy bar for a glass of vermouth. This is an herbal drink that I associate more with Spain than Greece. But it tastes pretty yummy no matter where you drink it.
We washed the vermouth down with some souvlaki, which I’m pretty sure is Greek for “meat cooked on skewers”. But this souvlaki was even better than average because it was made with Angus beef. Using top-notch ingredients truly makes all the difference.
For our final drink of the posh happy hour tour, we went to one of those super-cool-kind-of-spybar-looking cocktail bars that I’d be too shy to enter on my own. But this is what my tour guide and fellow travelers are for! Yay! This cocktail was a special kind of refreshing spritzer that you can’t get on the menu. They only make it for the tour. See! I told you it was a spy bar!
You can tell they take cocktail making really seriously at this place because I ate the garnish before drinking the cocktail and the bartender told me the garnish is supposed to be eaten at the end so it soaks up all the booze. But he just made me another one, so I got an extra garnish for free. Maybe that was my master plan all along! Maybe I’m the real spy at the spy bar!
5) Drink 5
The first drink on the Twilight Drinking tour was tsipouro, which is a curiously powerful Greek brandy. Some of the other ladies on the tour thought this was too strong, but after my day of cow feet and snails, it was like child’s play for me.
At this point in the evening, you might be worried about getting drunk. So I suggest filling your belly with tons of delicious Greek small dishes, aka mezze. We have everything here from eggplant to cheese to fried veggies. The more you eat, the more you are sober. That’s just science!
6) Drink Six
I am pretty impressed with Greek drinkers at this point because we’ve sampled seven different types of booze on this day with absolutely no repeats. If this were America, we’d be done after whiskey, beer, wine, and cider. This glass looks like it’s filled with white wine, but it’s actually retsina wine which is made with pine sap. Truly the Greeks are the masters of tree-related alcohols. Couldn’t they have used this knowledge to beat the Ottomans, somehow?
Our final main dish of the tour was a gyro–that classic Greek wrap made with meat cooked on a spit so it falls apart in your mouth. A lot of people on the tour didn’t know how to pronounce it. You say it “yee-ro”, not “dgy-ro”. At this point in the day you might not be feeling hungry after the snails and liver and whatnot, but do your best.
7) Drink Seven
Our final stop was at a rooftop bar with great views of the Parthenon. We could order any drink we wanted, but since I had been drinking Greek booze all day without trying ouzo, I opted for that. Like raki, ouzo is anise-flavored, but it’s cloudier. I don’t want to impress you too much, Internet Strangers, so I promise you that after everything else I had consumed that day, I wasn’t able to finish the whole drink, but I came close!
And I still wasn’t too drunk to appreciate this view of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Opa! And mustache! And St. George!
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Athens!
What would you do with 24 hours in Athens? Is St George the real reason there’s no dragons in Athens? And which is better at stopping an army: booze made from trees or a banging mustache? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Athens. If you’re looking for another 24 hours in Athens itinerary, just click here.