48 Hours in Athens – Best Things to do in the Greek Capital

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For years, Greece has been at the very top of our list of must-see destinations for a myriad of reasons. From the plethora of gorgeous Greek islands scattered across the Aegean Sea to the rich history and archaeological wonders in the Greek capital of Athens, this country is one that should be on everyone’s radar. Our first visit to Greece saw us spend 48 hours in Athens and honestly, we barely touched the surface yet still managed to experience many of the amazing landmarks that we associate with the Greek capital.

parthenon athens greece

Athens is a city steeped full of history and it’s credit to the local authoritites for helping maintain such an iconic legacy throughout this city. Whether you are contemplating climbing the Acropolis (more on this later) or simply enjoying some of the lesser known archaelogical sites, Athens is a place you can quickly lose track of time because there is so much to experience.

48 hours in athens

Exploring Athens in 48 hours is challenging but incredibly rewarding and we want to share some of the best spots worth experiencing if you only have a long weekend here. Trust us when we say, you can experience a lot in two days but you will also be raring to book a return trip in the not too distant future!

view from the acropolis

48 Hours in Athens

So…how do you maximize your time when visiting a city like Athens? Easy, don’t sleep! In all seriousness, you can experience a lot when visiting Athens in a relatively short time because many of the iconic landmarks are relatively close together.

olympic stadium athens

From the original Olympic Stadium to exploring the modern day Acropolis Museum, there is something for everyone, regardless of your interest in Greek history. For those of you that have very little interest, don’t worry because you will leave Athens with a whole new perspective on the word “history”.

best things to do in athens greece

Here are some of the best attractions/landmarks that we were fortunate enough to visit during our 48 hours in Athens. Whether you choose to follow our recommendations or opt for some other places, you can be sure that 48 hours will leave you with an action-packed itinerary in this beautiful Greek city.

things to do in athens

When it comes to the best places to visit in Greece, Athens is at the very top of our list!

  • The Acropolis
  • The Acropolis Museum
  • Panathenaic Stadium
  • Temple of Olympian Zeus
  • Arch of Hadrian
  • Ancient Agora of Athens
  • Zappeion & National Garden of Athens

These landmarks are just a few of the amazing sights worth experiencing in Athens. If you choose to follow our itinerary, we can 100% attest that you will fall even more in love with this city and want to book a return flight before you even leave. Let’s take a look at our recommendations and perhaps you will have booked a trip before you even finish reading this post!

two days in athens greece

The Acropolis

It’s only appropriate that our journey around Athens started at the most iconic landmark in all of Greece – the Acropolis. Frequently renowned as the location where it all started in ancient Greece, the Acropolis is significant for a plethora of reasons.

the acropolis athens

At the summit of the Acropolis stands the towering sight of the Parthenon, overlooking the city of Athens. Regardless of where you are staying in Athens, the unmistakeable sight of the Parthenon can be seen from most places and with such a rich history surrounding it, this is an attraction you won’t want to miss.

Having visited the one true replica of the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee, being able to experience the authentic landmark was definitely something we were incredibly excited about…it didn’t disappoint!

the parthenon athens

It’s crazy to think that a structure that dates back thousands of years can still be standing but it’s to the credit of the renovations and maintenance of this iconic landmark that we are still able to see the Parthenon standing today.

the acropolis at night

But perhaps the real credit should go to the original design and architectural mastery that went into this creation…the ancient Greeks didn’t have the technology that we do today and yet they were still able to create such an amazing structure.

acropolis athens greece

The ancient citadel of the Acropolis houses a collection of other remains, in addition to the Parthenon, all of which are worth exploring during your visit. You can easily spend anywhere from several hours to a full day experiencing everything there is to see at the Acropolis.

acropolis athens

As you take the short hike to the summit of the Acropolis, you cannot help but allow yourself to be transformed back to the days when ancient Greeks would be taking this same walk to and from the Parthenon. When it comes to historic global landmarks, there are not many that are more integral to a city’s development than the Acropolis.

the acropolis athens

Admission tickets to the Acropolis can be purchased either online or at the ticket window at the foot of the slopes. If you are visiting during the winter months, ticket prices are half-price at only 10 Euros.

best things to do in athens

Special “package deal” tickets are also available where you can benefit from discounted prices to experience other attractions in the area, including Hadrian’s Library, Ancient Agora and others.

The Acropolis Museum

Having spent the best part of a full morning exploring the Acropolis, we could surely be forgiven for thinking a museum dedicated to this very attraction would hardly add anything extra to what we experienced. How wrong could we be? The Acropolis Museum was developed in the perfect location, literally on top of some of the Acropolis’ archaeological sites, to exhibit all of the significant finds from the surrounding area.

acropolis museum

Whether you choose to visit this museum prior to taking the hike to the summit of the Acropolis or after, it’s well worth visiting to learn more in-depth information about life during Ancient Greece along with how this area has been maintained over the last several thousand years.

acropolis museum athens

Located in the historic Makryianni district, the museum is barely 100 meters from the entrance to the Acropolis. There are several viewing platforms inside the museum that offer gorgeous panoramic views of the Acropolis but it’s perhaps the outdoor space on the second floor beyond the restaurant that offers the ideal spot to capture the perfect selfie.

acropolis museum

A number of collections are available throughout the three levels but I think the most impressive is on the ground floor with the Gallery of the Slopes of the Acropolis. Visitors can enjoy a look at what Athenians used in everyday life…as you can imagine, very different to what we are used to in today’s society!

acropolis museum

The Acropolis Museum offers a modernistic look on these ancient relics. The modern-day architecture used throughout the design of this building is noticeable but it works well alongside the historic artifacts that are on display throughout the galleries.

the acropolis museum athens

Admission is only 5 Euros and visitors can enjoy late opening hours until 10PM all year round every Friday!

Panathenaic Stadium

The Panathenaic Stadium is where it all started…at least for the Olympic Games that is! When the first Modern Olympic Games were held in 1896 at this iconic stadium, it helped shape this iconic sporting event that we still love to this day.

panathenaic stadium athens

However, the history of the Panathenaic Stadium dates back way further than 1896. Originally built in the 6th Century BC as the site of a racecourse, the original stadium was constructed here circa 330 BC by the Athenian statesman Lykourgos. Rebuilt again in marble circa 144 AD by Herodes Atticus, it had a capacity of 50,000 spectators.

athens olympic stadium

Despite being abandoned after the 4th century, it was renovated and refurbished in time for the 1896 Olympics. Even though today it’s primarily a historical landmark, it was again used as a venue in the 2004 Olympics and is the finish line for the annual Athens Classic Marathon.

panathenaic stadium greece

Ready for a fun fact about this stadium? It’s the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble! Self-guided tours are available and admission prices are only 5 Euros to visit this historic stadium. If you love the history of sporting events, this is undoubtedly an attraction you won’t want to miss during your visit to Athens.

Temple of Olympian Zeus

In the heart of Athens is yet another iconic landmark – the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Although only a few of the columns remain scattered around the Athenian landscape, walking these sacred grounds immediately makes you realize just how large this temple actually was.

temple of olympian zeus

Also referred to as “Olympieion”, construction was finally completed on this structure by the Roman emperor Hadrian in the year 131 AD. There were originally 104 Corinthian columns that comprised the structure of the temple but today, unfortunately, only 15 of these remain standing. One of these columns recently collapsed in 1852 and that is what you can see laying flat on the ground as you cannot help but admire this site.

temple of olympian zeus athens

Dedicated to Zeus, the chief of the Olympian gods, this temple is strategically located in Athens just a short walk from the Acropolis. The beauty of exploring many of these iconic landmarks in Athens is that they are all close to each other, making it easy to experience all of them during the same visit.

temple of olympian zeus

Admission is available for only 6 Euros though you can purchase a special ticket package that will give you access to this, the Acropolis and many other attractions for only 30 Euros.

Arch of Hadrian

As you walk around the perimeter of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, a towering archway stands proudly overlooking the land where the temple once stood. This is the Arch of Hadrian, also referred to locally as Hadrian’s Gate, and is in many respects a resemblance to a Roman triumphal arch.

arch of hadrian athens

The purpose of the Arch of Hadrian may have been a dividing line between the “old” city and “new” but it’s also feasible that this was simply placed as an iconic entrance to the aforementioned Temple of Olympian Zeus. It is generally recognized though that this arch was constructed to honor the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

arch of hadrian

Located a little over 300 meters from the Acropolis, some have argued that this arch identifies the line between the area associated with this part of Athens and everything on the “other side”. The two inscriptions on the arch perhaps justify this claim as follows:

ΑΙΔ’ ΕΙΣΙΝ ΑΘΗΝΑΙ ΘΗΣΕΩΣ Η ΠΡΙΝ ΠΟΛΙΣ – “this is Athens, the ancient city of theseus”

and

ΑΙΔ’ ΕΙΣ’ ΑΔΡΙΑΝΟΥ ΚΟΥΧΙ ΘΗΣΕΩΣ ΠΟΛΙΣ – “this is the city of Hadrian, and not of Theseus”

The first inscription points towards the Acropolis, while the second is directed at the Temple of Olympian Zeus – you can decide for yourselves whether this has any intent!

Regardless of what the actual purpose was, today this iconic structure is still an iconic feature that stands proudly above the Athenian landscape.

arch of hadrian and temple of olympian zeus

Similar to the construction of the nearby Parthenon, the Arch of Hadrian is made of Pentelic marble and stands at 18 meters in height, with a width of 13.5 meters.

Ancient Agora of Athens

Located to the northwest of the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora of Athens can be found and for anyone interested in learning about what life was really like in this historic city, this is perhaps the best place to experience. The “Agora” is traditionally known to be a gathering place where locals would mingle and initially this space was used as a commercial and residential area.

athens agora

The history of the Agora dates back to the 6th century BC and is recognized as the marketplace where the wealth of classical Athens could be found, given that this was the spot where a myriad of goods shipped into the nearby port of Piraeus was sold.

ancient agora athens

Although the traditional marketplace was a popular attraction at the “Agora”, the real benefit for visiting this spot was to interact with others and share ideas…it’s no surprise to hear that this was a location where Greek philosophers shared much of their wisdom!

Zappeion and National Garden of Athens

When you think about green spaces in the heart of cities, Central Park in NYC and Hyde Park in London will likely spring to mind. If you are visiting Athens, you are in luck because the Greek capital has their very own rural oasis – the National Garden of Athens.

national garden of athens

The Zappeion Hall, is technically separated from the National Garden but together, these are the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing stroll away from the hustle and bustle of Athens.

zappeion athens

The gorgeous courtyard of the Zappeion showcases a plethora of statues representing Greek mythology, while the exterior of this building is an architectural masterpiece.

Spend some time sitting inside the National Garden of Athens as locals pass through but your eyes will frequently be drawn to the gorgeous fountain and floral selection on display throughout the 24 hectares.

national garden of athens

To put this space into perspective, here are some interesting statistics on this garden: 7,000 trees, 40,000 bushes/plants that comprise of 519 different species, of which 102 are Greek! An impressive collection and a botanist’s dream

Summary

48 Hours in Athens may not sound like enough time to explore this historic city but if you follow our recommendations, you can certainly see plenty in a short amount of time. All of the above landmarks are within easy walking distance of each other, so be prepared to wake up early, put on your favorite walking shoes, grab a coffee to keep you energized and start exploring.

48 hours in athens greece

When it comes to our favorite attraction in Athens, it’s hard to look beyond the Acropolis. Many times you hear about these stereotypical “tourist traps” but I think Athens have done an amazing job at commercializing this attraction yet still maintaining a real sense of history and originality.

weekend getaway in athens

Athens is a city that you can quickly fall in love with regardless of your interest in Greek history…I know we certainly fell head over heels for this beautiful city! We can’t wait to have the opportunity to return and experience Athens for longer than 48 hours but we hope you have found some inspiration to visit in the near future.

What other landmarks in Athens would be on your 48-hour itinerary?

6 COMMENTS

  1. We loved our trip to Athens we did a few years back and did most of the sights you guys saw. The Parthenon takes your breath away up close, truly amazing history. We were surprised at the amount of graffiti, hopefully by now it’s been turned into cool street art.

  2. It’s impressive how much you managed to see in such a short space of time! You must have needed a weekend of rest after your weekend! LOL! Athens looks so fabulous. I was there nearly 30 years ago and don’t remember it that well. Now that I’ve read your post, I realize that it’s definitely time for a trip back! #weekendwanderlust

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