Athens is an amazing city where ultra modern-real life meets ultra ancient. I have never visited a city before which manages to successfully combine two thousand year old, ancient ruins with fast food restaurants, office buildings, metro stations and more. Here’s an Athens itinerary for families visiting for 3 days.
Athens is pretty special and we hope you’ll think so too
We went to Athens to show our kids the ruins and that’s what this itinerary focuses on. We visited Athens at the start of summer and it was already nearing 40*c. When we realised just how hot it was, we had to adjust our itinerary to factor in more drinks & snacks stops and a bit less less walking.
This itinerary is therefore specifically written for families with kids taking into account how fast they walk, the distances you’ll need to cover and the heat of the summer.
If you’re a family visiting in the winter months, you could probably factor in more areas to visit with a trip over to the coast.
Buying the tickets for Athens
You will need to buy an adult 5-day pass for 30€ (children are free although if your child is particularly tall or old looking, you may need to provide proof s/he is a child). You can purchase the ticket from any of the main sites and from memory The Agora does take credit card payment for tickets.
There are a number of days when admission is free. These dates are: 6 March (in memory of Melina Mercouri), 18 April (International Monuments Day), 18 May (International Museums Day), the last weekend of September annually (European Heritage Days) and every first Sunday between November 1st – March 31st.
Purchasing Train tickets
Depending on how well your kids walk, you may like to consider buying a train ticket.
A 24 hour ticket costs €4.50 whilst a 5 day ticket costs €9. You can also use the ticket for city buses, trolley-buses, the tram, the metro and the suburban railway.
You could save money by not eating out
Within the itinerary I have made some suggestions as to where you can eat. Eating out in Athens is not as expensive as we were expecting however it can be a financial drain on your budget.
If you don’t wan’t to factor in meals, you’ll need to take picnics and snacks as well as bottles of water. You should allow for at least 1.5lt per person in the summer months.
You will start by visiting the The Athenium Agora which comprises of the ancient and the Roman agora as well as a museum. I really enjoyed the Agoras, funnily enough much more than the Acropolis. You should expect to spend at least two to three hours here. There is a lot of to see including the Temple of Hephaestus and the museum.
The Athenian Agora
The Agora of Athens was the center of the ancient city: a large, open square which was used as a space for markets, elections, performances, religious processions, military drills and athletic competitions. It was the heart of Athens and the square was surrounded by the public buildings necessary to run the Athenian government.
The Agora was originally used as a burial ground in the Bronze and Iron Ages and was first laid out as a public space in 6 BC. Following the Persian destruction of Athens in 480 BC, the city was rebuilt and public buildings were added to the Agora throughout the 5th and 4th centuries.
Athens and The Agora suffered from periodic invasions and destruction: the Herulians in the 3rd century, the Visigoths in the 4th, the Vandals in the 5th and the Slavs in the 6th. Following the Slavic invasion the area of the Agora was largely abandoned and neglected for close to 300 years.
You will walk a short distance for a well deserved, refreshing smoothie. Xymopoieio smoothies (links to Google Maps) are freshly prepared and they have a HUGE range of fruit to choose from. My little pickles were very appreciative of their smoothie break!
Once you are refreshed you can spend some time exploring Pandrossou. Athens’ street market is the ideal place to browse for souvenirs and gifts, from backgammon boards inlaid with mother of pearl to ceramics and embroidered bags. I bought some exquisite jewellery here that I wore to a wedding in Australia!
You can pop to Monastiraki, the main flea market in Athens. We spent ages here making the kids bracelets whilst Richard bought some second hand records lol.
I recommend that you eat (vegan) meze at Ydria (link to Google Maps). They have a great selection of small, sharing dishes and you can sit in a lively but shaded square.
Mount Lycabettus beckons you for sunset. You have a choice as to whether you catch the funicular of Teleferik to the top or walk up.
To hike there is a path that starts at the end of Aristippou Street in Kolonaki. The funicular which leaves from Ploutarchou and Aristippou Street costs a few euros. The trains are every 20-30 minutes, so make sure you get there in plenty of time.
Standing 277 meters above sea level, Lycabettus Hill is the highest point of Athens.
There are two stories on how the hill got its name. In ancient Greek Lycabettus means ‘where the wolves go’ but modern Greeks know it as ‘path of the wolves’. This area of the Attica basin was once forest and inhabited by wolves and it’s thought this is why the name references wolves. However, according to Greek mythology, Mount Lycabettus was a rock carried by the goddess Athena that slipped from her hand when a crow gave her a message of bad news. Either way, the hill is a great place to watch the sun fall down over the horizon.
From the top of the hill, you’ll have a 360* view across the Attica basin and the Aegean. The first thing you will see from here is the lit-up Acropolis. The houses with the red ceramic roofs are in The Plaka. Beyond is the bay of Faliron and Pireaus on the right. If you can get a good spot you should also be able to see the National Gardens, Parliament and the Temple of Zeus too.
Facing the viewing platform is Agios Georgios, the tiny white-stuccoed chapel of St. George. You might not be allowed to enter it though.
If you’re in the area, we recommend popping into AOHNAIKON (link opens in Google Maps). It’s a very small, family run, traditional Greek restaurant. The type you used to see in the movies and it serves outstanding food for an amazing price. We love to eat where the locals eat and this was full of Greek people so it can’t be too bad!
Get your walking shoes on because today is the day you’ll hit the ACROPOLIS! Day Two is a busy itinerary.
The Acropolis & Parthenon
It takes a couple of hours to explore the site and there is a bit of uphill walking. There are the ruins of buildings and monuments on ground level but the highlights are on the top where the Parthenon takes centre stage.
No visit to the Acropolis is complete without also visiting the excellent Acropolis Museum at the base of the site. This large and modern building has an extensive collection of artifacts that were found in the area.
Take a break
You deserve a HUGE break now and you have some options depending on what you’d like:
- Within the Plaka District there are a number of cafes & restaurants that you could visit. We grabbed some bottles of sparkling water and an iced coffee in a bakery (we bought the rice milk in the shop next door and they made it for me) and headed off again. Plaka is one of the oldest parts of the city, if you visit keep a look out for the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates which is at the end of Lisikratous St.
- There is a restaurant close to the Acropolis called Mani Mani. Whilst I didn’t go, it came highly recommended and has been notably mentioned in lots of travel magazines.
- On the other hand you could take a much longer break in Anafiotika which is an island neighbourhood hidden against the slopes of the Acropolis. It was created in the 19th century by settlers from the island of Anafi, and once you’ve found it, you might think that you’ve been transported to an island in the Cyclades. Its little, white washed houses, with blue painted shutters and pots of geraniums, are arranged along narrow lanes that end abruptly and staircases that lead nowhere, spreading up the northeast corner of the Acropolis. To find it, head up Erechtheos Street, toward Pritania Street, turn right and across from the church called Metochi Panagio Tafou and look for ways to go up hill. You’ll see lots of signs for dead ends and cul-de-sacs that look like private roads as well as twisting staircases that look private too. They aren’t. These are the lanes and streets of Anafiotika. You could explore and enjoy the views.
- If you’re after something small and quick, head to Frutteria which is right next to Hadrian’s Arch, where you can get a sandwich and a smoothie.
Your next stop is less than a ten minute’s walk away from The Acropolis and is Hadrian’s Arch.
Hadrian’s Arch was constructed in 131 AD by Hadrian who symbolically placed it as part of a wall separating the old and new cities of Athens.
Made of Pentelic marble, the arch is 18m high and 12.5m wide. Its architecture is similar to other Roman arches as it is crowned by pilasters of Corinthian rhythm.
There are two inscriptions carved into the architrave. The first on the side towards the Acropolis reads “This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus”, the second which faces the new city reads “This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus”. OH!
In the 18th century, the Arch of Hadrian served as one of the seven gates in the defensive wall that the Turks built around the city to protect it against the attack of Albanian raiders.
Just around the corner from the Arch is The Temple of Olympian Zeus and that’s your next destination.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
The impressive temple started construction in 6 BC but was stopped either due to a lack of money or because Pisistratus’s son, Hippias, was overthrown in 510 BC. The temple was not finished until the Emperor Hadrian completed it in 131 AD, seven hundred years later.
Originally there were 104 Corinthian columns of which only 15 remain standing. Hadrian erected a giant gold and ivory statue of Zeus inside the temple. He also created an equally large one of himself next to it. Sadly nothing remains of these statues now. It is not known when the temple of Zeus was destroyed but it probably happened during an earthquake in the medieval period.
Take a break
No visit to Athens is complete without trying those famous and delicious balls of goeey lukumades and the BEST (and vegan) shop is called… you guessed it, LUKUMADES! Offering cinnamon and agave syrup, dark chocolate, apple cream and icing sugar these are by far the best lukumades I’ve ever tried.
Jacked up on a sugar rush, quickly make your way over to today’s last destination Hadrian’s Library.
Hadrian was an ambitious chap and as part of his grand plan to re-build the city, he constructed The Library between 132-134 AD.
The library was the largest in Athens and with its columned façade and high surrounding walls it was built to impress. The building was used to store literary works, legal & administrative documents and offer a place to hear lectures and philosophical schools.
As you’re so close (two minutes walk) to Vegan Nation (link opens Google Maps location) you could eat here. It’s open til 10pm and offers a large choice of mouth-watering dishes from around the world.
You’re going to start today with a walking tour. No groaning, please! I promise this one is really good.
This is My Athens
The walking program is called ‘This is My Athens’ (use this link to book your tour) where local residents take visitors around parts of the city they wouldn’t normally visit. It’s also completely free! The locals volunteer their time because they are proud of Athens and want you to see it. It’s also a great way to get an inside perspective of Athens from locals.
You MUST pre-book the tour online (give them as much notice as you can), they accommodate children and the tour lasts for about two hours.
For the afternoon you have a choice. If you’re tired of seeing old stones and columns, I’d opt for the guard change and the gardens however if you’ve not seen enough of Ancient Greece head to the cemetery!
If you’re going with Choice 1: We suggest Falafel House for a quick falafel wrap.
If you’re opting for Choice 2: We suggest you pop to Frutteria for a quick sandwich and smoothie.
The cemetery is one of the least visited ancient sites in the city but it is also one of the most atmospheric. The burial grounds provide another rare retreat amidst the chaos of Athens.
Kerameikos is named after Keramos, son of Dionysios and Ariadne, hero of potters. The area was used continuously for burials from 12 BC for a thousand years. Within the site are the ancient walls of Athens, the Sacred Gate and Dipylon gate which was the main entrance to the city. It was from here that Pericles gave his most well-known speech honouring those who had died in the Peloponesian war.
Go street art hunting
Head to the Psiri area and make your way down any side street and alley. Hopefully you’ll discover something interesting! There is a lot to see but below is a map of some of our favourites.
Changing of the Guards
The Tomb of the Unknown Solider is positioned just in front of the Parliament Building. This is guarded around the clock by two Evzone guards. On the hour, every hour, the guards change and is a spectacle not to be missed!
On Sundays at 11am, the ceremony is a hugely elaborate affair. If you have 3 days in Athens, and one day is a Sunday, be sure to plan your day around this and move the walking tour into the afternoon!
The National Gardens
You will need to make your way over to the gardens formerly known as The King’s Garden. The national gardens are a public park of 15.5 hectares. They were commissioned by Queen Amalia in 1838 and completed in 1840. The gardens are like a shaded paradise right in the middle of Athens. They enclose some ancient ruins, tambourines and Corinthian capitals of columns, mosaics and other features.
There are two duck ponds, thousands of ducks and a turtle population. Space has become so hard to find the turtles have begun stacking themselves on top of each other. Oh and there’s a playground too.
Panathenaiko Olympic Stadium
If you still have some time left over, you could head over to Panathenaiko Olympic Stadium. The stadium was originally built in 330 BC for the Panathenaic contests and can seat 50,000 people. It’s spectacular and possibly the biggest thing you’ll see ever made from marble!
We all recommend Avocado which is nearby and fantastic. The staff are wonderful and the dishes so flavoursome.
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