Updated: Nov 5
Athens is a rich and vibrant city with a wide variety of attractions to entice every visitor, but what if you only have one day to explore, what should you visit?
Athens is a very walkable city. What you choose to visit will of course depend on your interests, your willingness to walk and your starting location, but this one day Athens itinerary will provide you will a great overview of the city, including historical, cultural and archeological sites.
To download a PDF version of this one day Athens Free Walking Tour Itinerary click here.
One Day in Athens: Where to Stay
If you're staying in Athens overnight, ideally you will be staying at a centrally located hotel (we stayed at the Athens Gate Hotel, which was an ideal location), but if not, orient yourself using the Acropoli subway station. Starting early is best, especially in the summer months, (after a good coffee and hearty breakfast), so you can walk leisurely and take advantage of the cooler mornings.
One Day in Athens: Where to Start
A 3 minute walk from the Athens Gate Hotel (or 6 minutes from Acropoli subway station) is the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian's Arch. The Arch is parallel with the road (and free to visit) but you must walk past it to reach the entrance of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Words cannot truly convey the size of the pillars of the Temple of Zeus. From a distance, the marble looks ancient and fragile, but up close the massive pillars are thick and solid, piercing a full 57 feet into the sky. Impressive is an understatement. You should give yourself at least 30 minutes to walk around the site.
TIP: You can purchase a single ticket for 8 Euro, or you can purchase a combo ticket for 30 Euro. The combo ticket gives you free entry to many sites around Athens for 5 consecutive days.
After soaking up the grandeur that is the Temple of Olympian Zeus, cross the street to marvel at the statue of Lord Byron, then it is a 10 minute walk to the next main block, where sits the overwhelming Panathenaic Stadium. Entirely built of marble, this massive structure was played host to the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. You must purchase a ticket to gain entry to the site for 10 Euro, this site is not part of the combo ticket package. Once inside, you can climb the steps, run laps and even stand on the podium. You should give yourself at least 30 minutes at the site, more if you plan on running laps!
TIP: There is usually a snack stand next to the stadium, where you can refuel on coffee, cookies and snacks.
Once you're refueled and ready to continue, it's a short 8 minute walk north to the Archeological site of Lykeion (or also known as Lyceum of Aristotle), or you can take a more scenic route through the National Gardens and arrive in only 11 minutes.
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The site exposes excavations of an ancient palaestra (gymnasium), revealing areas where athletes trained in wrestling and boxing. It may not appear impressive at first, but is utterly fascinating. You must purchase a ticket to gain entry to the site for 4 Euro, or free if you purchased a combo ticket package. You should allow 30-45 minutes to walk around the entire site and visit each highlighted section.
From the Archeological site, it is a 9 minute walk across the top of the National Gardens to the Hellenic Parliament. Standing guard out front of the impressive building, guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, are stern military guards. On the hour, every hour, you can witness the Changing of the Guard Ceremony. The cleverly dressed guards, with their large spear guns and heavy pompom clogs, move with angry precision and are both impressive and terrifying, flailing their legs and stomping their feet. It is definitely a site to see. The ceremony lasts about 15 minutes and is free to watch.
TIP: Arrive early to secure a good viewing location, as the crowds do get large once the ceremony begins.
If you're ready for lunch, this is a good time to stop and take a break.
Walking west from the Hellenic Parliament, it is an 8 minute walk to the Cherchez La Femme, an adorable bistro serving authentic Greek dishes.
One Day in Athens: Places of Worship to Visit
Once you're stuffed to the brim with Souvlaki and Spanakopita, stumble across the street to visit the beautiful Holy Metropolitan Church to the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary (commonly known as The Metropolis). It is beautiful both inside and out, often used for major ceremonies. Standing directly behind this magnificently decorated church is Holy Church of the Virgin Mary Gorgoepikoos and Saint Eleutherius. This tiny but beautifully decorated Byzantine Church is often referred to as "Little Metropolis".
TIP: As with most churches, remember to be respectful if there are parishioners present or a ceremony taking place. Be quiet, walk slowly and dress conservatively. Most places of worship require shoulders and knees to be covered.
It is a short 6 minute walk from the churches to Monastiraki Square, a large open plaza bustling with people visiting the markets. On the way, you can pass by Church of Panagia Kapnikarea, one of the oldest churches in Athens, built in the 11th century. It’s small structure does not diminish its architectural beauty. The church itself is set lower than the main road and you will often find weary travellers resting on the ledge that surrounds it.
TIP: If you see one of the many mixed nut and candy vendors in Monastiraki Square, stop to pick up a few bags. The nuts are fresh, delicious and very inexpensive.
Next on the walking tour itinerary is Hadrian's Library, a mere 1-2 minute walk from Monastiraki Square. Built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, the large complex of now ruins, was intended to be a place of great academic study. Among the ruins stands clock tower, gifted by Lord Elgin after the British Museum looted many sculptures from the Parthenon. You must purchase a ticket to gain entry to the site for 6 Euro, or free if you purchased a combo ticket. Allow at least 30-45 minutes to wander through the ruins.
One Day in Athens: Visiting the Agoras
A 5 minute walk from Hadrian's Library brings you to the Roman Agora, or the Roman Forum of Athens. A large open space with ruins of multiple buildings, columns and shops, it is a site to see. You must purchase a ticket to gain entry to the site for 8 Euro, or free if you purchased a combo ticket. Allow 30 minutes to wander through all of the ruins.
TIP: Athens has many cats who wander the streets and use the ruins as napping spots or even their home base. In our travels, we found that most of the archeological sites around Athens specifically put out food and water for their furry friends.
From the Roman Agora, walking 5 minutes to the west, and you will reach the Ancient Agora of Athens. This massive site is brimming with temples and ruins sitting in the shadow of the Acropolis. In addition, there is also a museum housed inside the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos. You must purchase a ticket to gain entry to the site for 10 Euro, or free if you purchased a combo ticket. Allow at least 1 hour to fully appreciate all the sites and monuments in this area.
After wandering through the vastness of the Agora, depending on where you exit, it is a 5-10 minute walk to the infamous Plaka District of Athens, passing Hadrian's Library and the Roman Agora along the way. This old historic neighbourhood is famous for its picturesque streets filled with shops, restaurants and flowers.
From the heart of the Plaka District, it is a 10 minute jaunt back to the starting point. Across from the Temple of Olympian Zeus is the Zappeion and Gardens. After a long day of walking and exploring, sitting near the beautiful fountains is most relaxing. When you're ready, it's only a 2 minute walk back to the Athens Gate Hotel or 5 minutes to the Acropoli subway station.
No matter which route you choose, Athens is a very walkable city with many attractions and historical sites to visit. Make the best of your time there, however short and see as much of this giant city as you can.