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Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a perfect one day in Athens itinerary! Have you ever wanted to feel like a more cultured, sophisticated person? The kind of elegant scholar who can name drop Plato or Hypatia of Alexandria at the drop of a hat? Then this one day in Athens itinerary is for you!
Today we’ll see the Parthenon, one of the most famous structures in the world! We’ll learn about the fascinating legends and mythology behind its construction. Plus we might even start a war between Greece and England! And after all that drama, we’re going to feed our faces at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Let’s not delay any further!
One Day in Athens Itinerary
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!
One Day in Athens Itinerary
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.
One Day in Athens Itinerary
Morning: Acropolis of Athens
Take it easy there, Internet Stranger, I know I promised you the Parthenon. But the Parthenon is just one building in the Acropolis, aka the ancient city located on one of Athens’s many hills. “Acropolis” roughly translates to “High City”, which meant something very different when I was in college.
There are several different ways to see the Acropolis. You can wait on the long line at the Acropolis to get your ticket and explore on your own. Or you can pay a bit extra and get a guide to take you around the Acropolis by clicking here. This way you get to skip the line. It’s more entertaining with the guide, but if you’re on a tight budget, the Acropolis is still an amazing experience on your own.
I will be happy to give you my own little guided tour with…
Three Fun Facts: The Acropolis
1) Why Is the Acropolis Important?
Oh my goodness! I could write an entire book answering this question. (Well, I could not because I am not an expert on ancient Greece. But someone could.) The Acropolis was the heart of ancient Athens. Legend has it that Poseidon, the god of the sea, and Athena, the goddess of wisdom, argued over who should become the patron god of Athens on this very spot. (No points for guessing which god won just by looking at their names.)
Poseidon SMASHED his trident into the rock, and out came a spring of salty water. I kind of think fresh water would be more useful, Poseidon, but maybe that is why I am not the Lord of All the Oceans. Athena gave the much more sensible gift of the olive tree, which is why the city is called Athens and not Poseidos. The grateful Athenians built the Parthenon in her honor. You can see an olive tree on the Acropolis to this day, even though it is not the original one created by Athena. (OR IS IT???)
2) Why Does the Parthenon Look Kind of In Rough Shape?
Well, it is extremely old, and it’s been through a lot. It was built in the 5th century BC when Athens was embarking on a grand reconstruction program after it was attacked by the Persian army. But since then the Parthenon has been attacked by everyone and their mothers.
Seriously, I knew that the Ottoman Empire attacked Athens, but did you know that Athens was sacked by the Visigoths? I don’t even know exactly who the Visigoths are, but I assume they worked at Hot Topic. And Athens was also attacked by Venice, which is insane. Who knew Venice even had an army? Did they attack their enemies with gondolas???
But the bitterest enemy the Parthenon has ever faced is the infamous British Lord Elgin, who stole the decorative marbles on the side of the Parthenon. Greece is still very angry about this and wants the Elgin Marbles back. (They currently reside in the British Museum in London.) We’ll get more into the controversy later but suffice it to say I don’t think it would be that hard to start a war between Greece and the UK over this issue.
3) Any Other Tips for Visiting the Parthenon?
Absolutely! First of all, don’t only spend your time at the Parthenon. There are other treasures to be found in the Acropolis, including this gorgeous Odeon (performance arena). A famous rich dude named Herodes Atticus donated it to the city of Athens in memory of his dead wife. That’s so romantic! And it worked because we’re still remembering his wife to this day.
Apparently this odeon was burned by the Herulians, and now I think the people who work at the Acropolis are just making stuff up because I have never heard of the Herulians or Herulania.
One final tip I have is to be very careful at the gates that are located just before you get to the Parthenon. It gets super crowded here, and the rocks are slippery. Also be sure that, no matter how close you get to the columns, you NEVER NEVER touch them. There are guards everywhere waiting to scream at you if you do. And they will not take, “I’m a Herulian and I’m here to sack Athens!” as a good excuse.
One Day in Athens Itinerary
Afternoon: Explore Athens
So we’ve spent the morning checking the Super Number One Athens Bucket List item off our list, and now it’s time to get a little more off the beaten track. I mean, not that off the beaten track because we’re still going to explore more ancient ruins. But we will also find cute hidden restaurants, gourmet ice cream, and of course SECRET CATS! Let’s go!
Approximately Top 5: One Day in Athens Itinerary
After all that walking around the Acropolis, you’re going to want some lunch. So I suggest stopping in an adorable bookstore/cafe called Little Tree for a light sandwich and some gourmet coffee. I recommend any sandwich using local cheese because fresh Greek cheese is scrumptious and it’s hard to get the good stuff outside the country.
Many Europeans aren’t big on iced coffee and make fun of Americans for liking it. Not so in Greece! They love their iced coffee, which they call frappe. But it’s much stronger than the iced coffee you get at Starbucks. That’s good because it will keep us going all day.
2) Acropolis Museum
You might be wondering why there needs to be an Acropolis Museum when we’ve just been wandering around the actual Acropolis. But many of the treasures of the Acropolis can’t just be left outside to be exposed to wind, rain, and Herulians. That’s why the Acropolis Museum exists: to take care care of these priceless treasures. And also to passive-aggressively continue this feud between Greece and England over the Elgin Marbles. You can find more detailed info about prices and opening hours of the museum on their website here.
Some parts of the Acropolis Museum allow you to take pictures and some parts do not. Just like at the Acropolis, guards will be lying in wait to yell at you if you take pictures. Do not set them off! They are already angry enough about the Elgin Marbles.
OK, finally I will give you the full backstory about the Elgin Marbles. When you visit the Acropolis Museum, you’ll see plaster models of the original marble sculptures that used to decorate the Parthenon. But these are just placeholders. When/if England finally returns the Elgin Marbles, Greece will replace the plaster sculptures with the real things.
So how did Lord Elgin get the marbles? Well, back when he visited Greece, it was still part of the Ottoman Empire and he claimed that the Ottoman Empire gave him permission to take the sculptures. Is it possible that the Ottoman Empire really did this? Sure, but who knows? Did the Marbles really belong to either Lord Elgin or the Ottomans? No. But that didn’t stop Lord Elgin from selling the sculptures to the British government, and they remain in the British Museum to this day. Will they ever be restored to Athens? I’m sure there’s some sort of Greek prophecy about that, but it has sadly been lost to time.
3) -14 Ice Cream
OK, enough about long-running feuds between nations and their museums. It’s time for ice cream! Stop at -14 Ice Cream for some yummy homemade creamy treats. This is a family-run place, and they will let you sample just about every flavor in the store if you want. (But please don’t because it’s kind of rude.) I recommend the chocolate parfait flavor, which was satisfyingly crunchy and just the thing for a Greek summer day.
4) Hadrian’s Library
I was so excited to hear that there was a famous library in Athens because I am a total bookworm, and I hope you are too. But when I arrived at Hadrian’s Library, I was disappointed. Where are the books? Where even are the walls? HAVE THE HERULIANS BEEN HERE?
Actually, we can totally blame the Herulians for the destruction of this library. Hadrian’s Library was built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian after the Romans took over Athens. So that makes it pretty modern for a building in Athens. (Also seriously, has any nation not invaded Athens?) Even though no books are left, this is a lovely spot in Athens to get away from crowds and still enjoy some ancient ruins.
5) The Agora
I recommend ending your day of exploring Athens at the Agora, which was the central marketplace of ancient Athens. If you close your eyes, you can imagine Plato and Socrates debating important philosophical questions here. (But be careful walking with your eyes closed because you might bump into a fellow tourist.) The Agora is often called “the birthplace of democracy”. So thanks Agora! At this point, I can’t even tell if I’m being sarcastic or not.
At this point in your one day in Athens itinerary, you might be a little tired of fun historical facts, so you might just want to chillax and appreciate the Agora like it’s the world’s most ancient park. Climb up a pleasant hill to the Temple of Hephaestus and enjoy the pastoral views of Athens. Just don’t end up like Hephaestus and let someone throw you off the hill.
Or stay down on solid ground and have philosophical debates with the secret cat philosophers of the Agora. Was Plato or Aristotle right about the role of the dramatic arts in a healthy society? Only the cats know!
One Day in Athens Itinerary
Evening: Dinner at Spondi
You’ll be tired and kind of sweaty from walking around Athens all day, so I recommend heading back to your hotel to rest and refresh before going out to dinner. Fortunately our dinner suggestion, Spondi, doesn’t open until kind of late, so you’ll have plenty of time. Greek food is famous for its small dishes like mezze and its street food like gyros. But fine dining has really taken off in Athens, and Spondi has the Michelin stars to prove it! Let’s dive right into their tasting menu for a feast worthy of the gods!
Our first food for the gods is foie gras with spices, chocolate, and orange. The waiter recommended mixing the chocolate, fruit, and foie gras together, which gave the dish a truly decadent sweetness.
Our next food for the gods was fresh local crab. This dish also combined sweet and savory because it was served with passion fruit and acacia honey. That’s because being a god means getting everything you want at the same time!
No meal for the gods is complete without plump and slightly sweet scallops. I assume the chef was trying to make Poseidon feel better about not being the supreme god of Athens with this dish because the scallops were served with seaweed. Lord Poseidon accepts this humble offering, foolish mortal!
Up next we have a perfect bite of summer with turbot, himeji mushrooms, and some of the freshest corn I have ever bitten into. I like that the menu combined local seafood with some more exotic ingredients like passion fruit and himeji mushrooms. It just shows that Greek cuisine is influenced by a variety of sources. It’s not all souvlaki and ouzo. (Not that those things are bad.)
The sweet and savory combination continues with the meat course: pigeon + blackberry. Pigeon is such a fancy and elegant food in a tasting menu. So why are actual pigeons in the street so nasty and gross? (But no worries. The kind of pigeons you eat in a restaurant aren’t pigeons from the street.)
What meal for the Greek gods would be complete without some classic Greek fresh cheese? This baby is called Anthotyros cheese, and it’s made only in Greece with either sheep or goat milk. In Greek, its name apparently means “flowery cheese”, though I did not taste any notes of flowers in it–just cheesy goodness. I did like that it was served with some scrumptious jam that tasted like a traditional Greek “spoon sweet” jam. It gave the dish a homey touch.
When you’re preparing a meal for the gods, you’re going to want at least two desserts: a fruit and a chocolate. If you’re a god, you’re also going to want a little brandy with your dessert. So why not combine some perfect summery fresh peaches with brandy ice cream? That’s like killing three birds with two stones.
OK, let’s take a second to admire this beauty. Have you ever seen a prettier dessert? This chocolate-cherry was filled with a cherry-tarragon sorbet. I would never have thought to pair tarragon with chocolate and cherry, but since the chocolate mousse and caramelized cherry were rather rich, the tarragon added just the rich touch of bitterness to the dish. I heartily approve! And I imagine the gods do too.
And That’s a One Day in Athens Itinerary!
What would you do with a one day in Athens itinerary? Are the Herulians coming for us all? And did this post start a war between Greece and England? 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 have a one day in Athens itinerary. If you’re looking for another one day in athens itinerary, just click here.