Ancient Greece stands proud above an Athens hilltop, the cradle of Western civilisation which glimmers and glistens from afar. From the Agora to the Acropolis and marbled suburb streets, visitors have been inspired here for 2,500 years.
Squeezing in a glimpse of Athens is a great addition to any Greek holiday. In just a couple of days, it’s possible to tour the city’s ancient highlights and get a real sense of their evocative heritage. So if your Athens holiday is lasting just 48 hours, here’s how to see the best of Athens:
Soak up the Athenian morning
Pink dawn hues reflect off the Athens marble, casting diaphanous shades across streets. In the old parts of the city an Athenian morning is always charming, the city waking slowly amid spiralling coffee fumes and convincing you to maintain a leisurely pace.
With only two days in Athens, it’s recommended to look for an Athens hotel in or around these central, ancient neighbourhoods: Plaka, Monastriraki, Lycabettus Hill, or anywhere within a couple of miles of the Agora. Then remember to relax and enjoy your breakfast. Even through you only have 48 hours, there’s no need to rush.
The Ancient Agora
As the sightseeing starts it’s likely to be the Acropolis that beckons you forward, this reminder of the realm of Ancient Greece commanding an imposing position above the city. But first, start your Athens sightseeing at the Ancient Agora, wandering the marbled streets that revel in timeless history. If the Acropolis is the bastion of the gods and rulers then the Agora was where city life unfolded. Admire the Roman Forum, visit the Attalos Stoa, and stand beside the best preserved Greek temple to be found anywhere on the planet: the Temple of Hephaestus. Huge stones lie in ruins, imposing statues line the streets, and you can discover various court and temple remains.
The Agora is less crowded than the Acropolis and you’ll find shaded areas to have regular breaks. Before continuing to the Acropolis, consider stopping for lunch at one of the restaurants near the Ancient Agora Museum.
Next it’s time to rise to the ancient citadel, the Acropolis. There are two ways of negotiating the hill. It’s a 1km walk, but one that’s extremely steep and not well-shaded. Allow at least 20 minutes to enjoy the fully pedestrianised path with sublime views over Athens. The alternative is a 5km taxi journey that circumnavigates the hill and approaches from the other side. Many taxis can be found waiting at the Agora entrance.
First visit the Acropolis Museum where all the valuable archaeological remains are housed in a well-cooled building including rescued sculptures, marble inscriptions and brilliant odes to ancient gods. Starting here means you avoid the early-afternoon sun. Then explore, walking between marbled pillars and intricate busts that seem to follow your journey. The individual detail is staggering, from carved curled hair to expressions of contented benevolence on 2,500 year old statues. Walk up to the Parthenon then spiral a path down the hill that stops at the famous temples, like the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheum, the Theatre of Dionysus, and Theatre of Herodes Atticus. It’s then easy to get a taxi back to your Athens hotel.
Historic suburbs of Plaka and Monastiraki
A new morning and a second languid wake-up call at your Athens hotel. Following the ancient chronicles, the second day of your Athens holiday takes in the living history of the city. A walkable morning route starts at Syntagma Square, where soldiers hypnotically change guard outside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. From here you can walk into the narrow pedestrianised streets of Plaka and Monastiraki, suburbs that blend charming ruins with neoclassical architecture. You’ll find boutique stores, al fresco café terraces, plus a sense of both continual rejuvenation and respect for antiquity.
Athens’ lasting memoirs
To complete your 48 hour Athens holiday, take a tour of the city’s harder-to-reach sights. Stand at Lycabettus Hill for iconic panoramas onto the Parthenon, continue to the art galleries of Kolonaki, and then spend an hour at the Benaki Museum with its rich feast of classical art and heirlooms from both Ancient Greece and Rome. If you still have energy, the last eternal spot is the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the colossal marble of Panathinaiko Stadium, site of the 1896 Olympic Games. Reaching these areas on public transport can be very time consuming but many Athens hotels can organise a taxi for this classic tour.