I’ve always struggled with blog postings like “Athens in a Day” and “Three Days in Florence.” What that person wants to do in a day in Athens is almost never completely what I would choose to do. Our priorities are all different as travelers, and if we spend our time trying to travel just like that super-cool blogger over there, we really can’t be surprised when we come away from a city thinking “Eh, Rome’s not for me.” Well of course it wasn’t for you, you tried to be in Rome, literally, just like someone who’s not you!
So, instead of “Athens In a Day” or “Athens In Three Days,” I just give you my Plaka Map of Things to Do. (See the end of the post for a moveable, zoomable, google map with these places marked.)
I DO NOT advise you to cram this all in one day, and if you are one who travels like that, I can’t travel with you. Period. I mean, if you only have one day before, say, heading out to the islands… I get it. I give you my permission to cram as much in as you can. But, I’m just saying, it’s better if you take your time and use this to plan a few days, at least.
Think of this more as a list of options, with a handy-dandy map, so you can group things together and see the sights you want to see, at a pace that works for you. Most things listed here have links to more thorough write-ups, including more pictures, so do follow those links if something piques your interest.
I you are only going to see one big site in Athens, of course, this is it. If you come to Athens and don’t see the Acropolis, everyone is going to look at you like you just grew a third eye in the middle of your forehead. Now, for you rebels out there, you can get around this – because you can technically see the Acropolis from all over Athens. So if you just can’t possibly do what everyone else is doing, you can always say, “Why of course I saw the Acropolis…” because you did, almost any time you looked up in that direction. And you can go on and do other things.
The Ancient ruins of the Acropolis are actually made up of a number of structures including Odean Herodes Atticus, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Parthenon, and others. The view of Athens is pretty incredible, too, so, to me, this will always be a must-see.
For a more detailed look at the Acropolis, including important tips on time to visit and what to take with you, see The Acropolis with PK Travel.
The Agora of Athens is an ancient Greek Agora, or at least the ruins of one. While there are ruins throughout the space, the two primary structures are the Stoa of Attalos and the Temple of Hephaestus. The Stoa of Attalos was rebuilt in the 20th century and now contains a small gift ship, an assortment of busts and other artifacts. The Temple of Hephaestus is in impressive condition given its age, and well worth venturing over and around it.
For a better look at what the Athens Agora has to offer, check out our Ancient Athens Agora post.
Melissinos Poet Sandal Maker
Melissinos Sandal shop gave me my favorite souvenir from Athens – a pair of comfy sandals to wear the rest of the trip, and that I’m still wearing at home. This shop, located right off the Ermou, a main shopping street, and the Melissions family have been practicing the traditional sandal-making technique here since 1920, and have shod the likes of Jackie Onassis, Sophia Loren, Barbara Streisand, the Queen of Spain, and many more.
The family is also made up of playwrights and published poets, and the interior of the shop is plastered with memorabilia from all of their different accomplishments. It’s just a funky, fun place to stop in general.
For a more in depth look at the shop and history, see our post about Melissinos Shop.
Changing of the Guard
If you follow Ermou Street (mentioned below in Shopping section) to the East, past Melissinos shop, browsing Emou until it changes to a pedestrian street, and continue following East, you will wind up in Syntagma Square. Across the street from Syntagma is the Greek Parliament building, which is where the changing of the guard is held. When you cross the street from Syntagma to the Parliament building, you are right in front of where all the action happens.
The official weekly change is at 11am on a Sunday, and includes the wearing of the official version of the Evzones uniform and accompaniment by a military band. However, there is a changing every hour, on the hour, throughout the week, that is still very worth seeing. Keep your eye on the time as you are browsing Ermou, and be sure to be there at the top of the hour.
The meaning and details of the uniforms, as well as more information about the soldiers chosen for this honor are discussed in my post on the Changing of the Guard..
Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens
This cathedral is the church of the Archbishopric of Athens, and all of Greece. The cathedral is (as of this writing) under construction, but you are still able to step inside and take a look. Be sure to look up as the ceiling outside the front door is worth a few moments of study, and the interior is beautifully decorated also.
Next to the Metropolitan Cathedral is the Mikri Mitropoli, or little cathedral. This is much smaller, only measuring 25 feet by 40 feet. While the construction of the Mikri Mitropoli dates to somewhere between the 12th and 15th centuries, parts that were used to build it date to the 4th century BC.
For more information and photography of these churches, please see our post on the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens and Mikri Mitropoli.
The Roman Agora is not as impressive as the Athens agora (above) but is small enough that a quick visit will show you Gate of Athena Archegetis, near the entrance, and the Temple of the Four Winds, which is worth a stop. If you are a photographer, we also found this to be much quieter, granting you easier access to the interesting architectural details to include in your shots.
For more in depth look at the Roman Agora, check out our posting on see Athen’s Roman Agora.
One of the most charming areas of Plaka is Anafiotika. Wind your way up the slope from Priantiou and Stratonos streets, you will be winding through Anafiotika. The streets are unnamed and seem more like pathways carved between the houses. Around every turn is another picturesque scene. It doesn’t take long to wind your way through, but I returned twice in the days we were in Plaka, because my camera and I loved it so much.
See our post Anafiotika in Photos to get more information on, and a look at, this beautiful corner of Plaka.
Shopping in Plaka
Melissinos shop is just off Ermou, so if you are looking for more shopping, you can do these two together. To the West, near Melissinos shop, this is a regular main road with shops on it and lots of traffic. But as you cross Aiolou heading east, Ermou becomes a pedestrian street with people strolling, munching a snack from one of the vendors, and visiting the shops. There are a number of big chain stores here now, but there are still some interesting independent shops, too. This is where I went when I realized I forgot my hairbrush, and picked one up the first morning. 🙂
Branching off from the southern edge of Monastiraki Square heading east toward the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens, and two streets south of Ermou, is Pandrossou street. I’m actually not sure if this is strictly pedestrian or not, but I never saw a vehicle on it, and people walked right down the middle, milling between the shops. These shops have jewelry, clothing, art, and every possible souvenir you might want to take home.
Adrianou Street is much like Pandroussou, in that shops line both sides of the street, and offer a wide variety of shopping options. Again, there are clothing, jewelry, and souvenir shops, though I also found more sandal shops here to browse.
While there are many options in Plaka for meals, these are our top three stops. Check out our 5 Great Places to Eat in Athens for a more in-depth discussion of eating options, including individual maps and links to specific restaurants.
Restaurant Row on Adrianou
Outside of Athens Agora, across from the Stoa is a row of restaurants lining Adrianou. All have sidewalk seating as well as inside, and offer plenty of people watching opportunities. Menus are available to peruse before you choose for most of them. This is an especially good choice if you will not walk another step until someone gives you food for flippin sake! I understand Hanrgy. No apologies necessary. 😊 (If you’ve been paying attention, yes, this is the same street I note above for shopping. However, the shopping area is a bit of a walk away.)
Nestled into the neighborhood climbing the slopes of the Acropolis (very near Anafiotika), Mnisikleous street turns to a pedestrian stretch, and then the “road” itself becomes wide steps up the hillside. Restaurants line each side of the street, taking advantage and setting up seating on the steps. The step seating is creative and can get crowded, but it is an experience in itself to rest here and watch the activity during your meal.
Athens Gate Hotel
Athens Gate is the hotel we stayed in while we were in Athens. It is located right on the edge of Plaka, and has a roof top restaurant with 360 degree views. We were able to dine at night with a view of the Acropolis on one side, and the Temple of Olympus Zeus on the other. Beyond the views, the food was amazing. It is not a budget restaurant, but if you are up for a splurge, it is a great place to do so.
More about the Athens Gate, and a link to their hotel is in our post on The Athens Gate Hotel.
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Click on Map to expand, and to use for navigation:
Notice the markers are color-coded: Blue = Sight, Purple = Food, Green = Shopping.
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