The Greek capital is legendary for its incredibly long, rich history and countless cultural attractions. But if you only have 48 hours in Athens, how can you make the most of it? From 5th-century sites like the Acropolis to world-class museums and dining on delicious cuisine, you can surprising squeeze in quite a bit in two days.
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Wander Through the Plaka
Plaka is Athens’ oldest continuously inhabited area with a history that goes back 3,500 years. While touristy, it’s a lot of fun to wander the narrow streets lined with renovated neoclassical buildings and bougainvillea-trimmed pastel-painted houses. Nestled in the corners are historic churches, including the Metamórfosis Church and the Church of Kapnikaréa. You can also search for more unique treasures like handcrafted artisan goods among the endless souvenir shops. Especially enjoyable during the evening hours, there are lots of fabulous restaurants for sitting outside on a warm night. If it’s too chilly, duck into one of the enticing ouzeries or tavernas.
Visit the Acropolis
Visiting the Acropolis is a must, though arriving early in the morning is best to beat the biggest crowds and the intense heat if you’re there in the summer. Climbing the steps of one of the wonders of the ancient world, and one of the most famous landmarks today, is an experience that’s hard to beat. There are few sights that can compare, with the Parthenon temple perched high atop a rocky crag that’s kept watch over centuries of civilization. The Acropolis was the center of this ancient city, and its most emblematic building is the Parthenon, the largest temple of the classical antiquity period dating from 447 BC to 338 BC. Walk through the olive groves of the lower slopes to reach the marble crown, before passing through the Propylaia gateway. You’ll also see the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion and the Parthenon.
Check Out the Agora
The Agora is located just below the Acropolis, making it easy to visit at the same time. It’s a testament to the Athens’ status as a cradle of Western Civilization and includes temples, a concert hall, and long, colonnaded arcades. An important meeting and trading place during Biblical times, this was where people assembled to chat about current events, politics, business, the nature of the universe and the like. It was, in Socrates and Plato’s day, the heart of public life. The Royal Stoa, the seat of the Archon Basileus, may be the highlight as the possible site of Socrates’ trial in 399 BC.
Explore the Acropolis Museum
The Acropolis Museum sits at the foot of the Acropolis, making it easy to squeeze in too. Showcasing surviving treasures, its collection has a focus on the Acropolis of the 5th-century BC but it covers the entire Archaic period to the Roman one. You’ll be able to witness layers of history with ruins that can be seen in the floor and by peering through the floor-to-ceiling windows, with the Acropolis visible above.
Stroll Through a Tropical Oasis in the City
When you want to escape the crowds or just enjoy a beautiful, tropical oasis of nature, you’ll find the National Garden of Athens right behind The Parliament. While the picturesque park was once part of the Royal Palace, today it’s owned by the city and provides an idyllic retreat for relaxing in the shade, enjoying the colorful flowers, ducks floating across the ponds and the songs of nightingales, all right in the heart of a concrete jungle. There are meandering pathways to explore as well as a few ancient ruins and a small zoo with monkeys, goats, wolves, peacocks, hawks, canaries and parakeets.
Shop Or Browe the Monastiraki Market
The Monastiraki Market is sometimes referred to as a “flea market” but it certainly isn’t the typical flea market you’re probably envisioning. While it’s almost always crowded it is well-worth experiencing, even if it’s just to sip a drink in one of the cafes that overlook the ancient agora and watch all the shoppers come and go as well as the occasional bootleg DVD seller running from the police. There are street musicians to enjoy and plenty of stores to shop with everything from clothing and jewelry to rare CDs and the usual tourist wares like t-shirts and other kitsch.
Visit the National Archaeological Museum
The National Archaeological Museum opened its doors in the 19th century, the largest of its kind in Greece and one of the greatest antiquities museums in the world. It sits within a majestic Neoclassical building with 90,000 square feet of space for displaying an impressive collection of ancient Greek sculpture, pottery, and jewelry among over 11,000 artifacts. The exhibits provide a comprehensive overview of Greek civilization from prehistory through late antiquity, with the Sculpture Collection showcasing ancient Greek sculptures from the 6th-century BC to the 5th-century BC, including rare masterpieces. The Antikythira Device, a 2,000-year-old computer discovered in a shipwreck off the island of Antikithira. That piece is sure to make you curious, contemplating just how advanced those ancient Greeks must have been.
Sunset at Temple of Poseidon
If you aren’t renting a car, there are multiple options for getting to the Temple of Poseidon, including short tours that bring you to the temple of the God of the Sea at sunset. Located on Cape Sounion, it’s one of the major monuments of the Golden Age of Athens. Its remains are perched on the headland, surrounded on three sides by the sea atop a hill overlooking the water at the very tip of the Attiki Peninsula. This ancient site of worship boasts the carved graffiti of Lord Byron and the best sunsets in Greece after Santorini. Another option is to take a taxi in the late afternoon, enjoy a swim followed by a shot of ouzo and some mezedes just before watching the sun go down.