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How to spend a weekend in Athens—where to go & what to see in Greece’s ancient capital

Back in 2020, when I told colleagues I was heading to Athens for a five-day solo jaunt, reactions ranged from "Isn’t it dangerous?" and "I’ve heard it’s a bit grimy" to "Is there enough to do?"

I always find reactions like these surprising. If you love to travel, to see new sights and immerse yourself in a new culture, there’s plenty to see and do in pretty much any city, let alone one that’s filled with some of the most incredible ancient architecture in the world. Since my first trip to the incredible capital, Athens has become more of a city-break destination in its own right, rather than a tagged-on stop after a Greek Island Odyssey. Of course, there are plenty of ways to spend a wonderful weekend in Athens, but there’s enough to keep city lovers entertained for months on end, too.

After getting the lowdown on the best restaurants in Athens from an old flatmate who’s from the city and checking into quirky-cool NEW hotel Athens this is how I filled my days when I wasn't eating and drinking.

An ancient temple surrounded by olives trees against a blue sky backdrop in the acropolis in athens, Greece
Acropolis of Athens

Arriving at Athens airport, it’s easy enough to take the train to the middle of the city as there’s just one line that runs into the center. Tickets cost $10.80 (10 euros) and you can buy them from the ticket office or automated machines.

Erechtheion Temple statues in acropolis in Athens, greece. One of the best things to see during a weekend in athens
Erechtheion Temple
Coming from and going to the airport was actually the only time I used the metro/train system, for the rest of my time in the city I walked everywhere. 

How to spend a weekend in Athens

Climb Mount Lycabettus

As soon as I arrived in the city I dropped my bag at my hotel and headed to Mount Lycabettus in the east of the city to get a sweeping overview of the surroundings. There’s a funicular that takes visitors to the top or if you prefer to walk, like I did it’s easy to find the track. I walked up on my first evening to watch the sunset and found a beautiful little white chapel at the top, dating back to 1870. It’s worth heading to the top for sunset as an elaborate ceremony takes place around this time each evening where two guards lower and remove the Greek flag for the night.

Visit the Metropolitan Church of Athens at night

Once the sun sets, some of the city's ornate buildings are lit up, one that’s impressive at night is the Metropolitan Church of Athens and surrounding Mitropoleos Square.

The Metropolitan Church of Athens at night, with beams of light shining down. It's one of the best things to see during a weekend in athens
Metropolitan Church of Athens in Mitropoleos Square

The place was deserted most nights when I walked past and in the light of a full moon, it was even more beautiful.

Check out the Panathenaic Stadium

On my second day in the city, I walked to The Panathenaic Stadium, the only stadium in the world made entirely from marble. It was here that Greece hosted the 2004 Olympics as well as the opening and closing ceremonies for the very first modern Olympics back in 1896. At first, I reached the outer edge, ringed by pine trees and found locals running on a chilly Sunday morning—you don’t have to pay for the track that runs just outside the stadium so it’s a good way of seeing the area if you’re on a budget.

The Panathenaic Stadium in athens with a few people milling around on the steps and track. The monumental stadium is one of the best things to see during a weekend in athens
The Panathenaic Stadium

But I wanted a closer look so headed to the entrance and spent a couple of hours inside, walking and taking photographs. There's also a small exhibit showing Olympic posters from all over the world. 

Be mesmerized by Plaka and the Acropolis

Later, I found my way through the narrow lanes of Plaka and up to the world-famous Acropolis. I’d bought a $10.80 (10 euros) single-entry ticket online a few days before arriving in Greece and this allowed me to walk straight through the gates. There are so many amazing temples and monuments to see, so dedicate as much time as you have to see it all. I had an entry time of 2pm and easily spent most of the afternoon walking alongside the Parthenon and mooching around inside the grounds.

the Parthenon against a hazy sky, the ancient structure is one of the best things to see during a weekend in athens, greece
The Parthenon
My favorite parts were the Odeon of Hero des Atticus, a pretty stone Roman theater and the female forms outside the Erechtheion temple.

Odeon of Hero des Atticus from above, one of the best things to see during a weekend in athens
Odeon of Hero des Atticus

The areas throughout the Acropolis are well signposted and there’s lots of information in English as well as Greek. Running around the Acropolis is a pedestrianized area where you can also see other monuments such as the Library of Hadrian and the Temple of Hephaestus, so it’s worth returning if you have time.

Don't miss the Benaki Museum

To learn more about Greek Culture and to see some fascinating exhibitions I'd recommend the Benaki Museum on Koumbari St where you can easily spend half a day.

costumes on models in the Benaki Museum, one of the best things to see during a weekend in athens
Costumes inside the Benaki Museum
The building itself is beautiful and there are four floors filled with fabulous ancient ceramics, sculptures and even costumes. The first floor was my favorite for the bold jewelry, embroidery and stunning bridal costumes. Other museums worth checking out are The Museum of Cycladic Art, The Acropolis Museum and the National Museum of Contemporary Art.

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