short breaks to athens

Head to Athens’ Monastiraki Square and pore over the curious vintage wares at the flea markets. (Photo: Getty Images)

Tips + Trends

Short on Time? Make the Most of Athens in 24 Hours

Greece’s sprawling capital, Athens, may appear bewildering at first, but visitors soon tune into the irresistible energy and warm, welcoming vibe of this idiosyncratic European metropolis.

At the center of an oddly fitting juxtaposition of archaeological wonders and urban edginess is the Acropolis hill, where the 5th-century B.C. Parthenon stands tall and will make your jaw drop.

Athens’ city center is compact and easily walkable, plus it has a shiny, artifact-filled subway, which means you can pack in plenty of historic sites, contemporary culture, alfresco dining and a hip bar or two within 24 hours.


Make your way into the snaking, cobblestone alleyways of old town Plaka and start the day with espresso freddo and a vegetarian-friendly breakfast set to the soundtrack of classical piano at Yiasemi café.

Those with a sweet tooth dash to Estrella, the all-day brunch phenomenon that started in the pastry-mad northern city Thessaloniki. The restaurant’s trademark bougatsan, a hybrid of cinnamon-dusted, custard-filled bougatsa and croissant, found fame on Instagram.

Skip over to Monastiraki Square and pore over the curious vintage wares at the flea markets. Skip the alabaster ancient-god statues and pick up a quirky memento from Forget Me Not or a Maraθon Girl T-shirt from slow travel advocates Flâneur Souvenirs & Supplies.

If you’re hankering for a midmorning souvlaki, head to Hoocut on Agias Irinis Square. Founded by five of the city’s heavyweight chefs, Hoocut’s gyros use only the finest cuts of meat and shine a new light on the deceptively simple, nationally revered street food.

See the Herod Atticus Odeon, an ancient amphitheater. (Photo: Getty Images)


Tough times economically have translated to unprecedented freedom for Greek artists to create. As a result, the city’s art scene is flourishing. Immerse yourself in it with a visit to a clutch of cultural spaces.

A short stroll from central Syntagma Square is the Museum of Cycladic Art. It cleverly combines one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of Cycladic antiquities, including marble figurines that have influenced artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, with a space for contemporary art exhibitions, featuring the work of artists like Ai Weiwei.

An exhibit at the Onassis. (Photo: Getty Images)

Further out there artistically is the Onassis Cultural Center (known as “Stegi” locally), a 10-minute drive south of the city center, which plays host to an intriguing, no-holds-barred program of visual arts, dance, theater, music, talks and workshops for adults, children, teens and families.

Take the Metro to the gritty neighborhood of Metaxourgio and grab a well-priced lunch at Seychelles, a mainstay of consistently good and interesting Greek meze that stray slightly from classic recipes — think slow-braised octopus served with pickled okra and a black-eyed pea salad with smoked eel.

As afternoon wears on and the cruise crowds depart, make the trek to the Acropolis, dedicated to the goddess Athena, for late-afternoon wandering as the sun’s warm orange glow enhances the engineering marvel that is the Parthenon. Scientists still struggle to decipher its precision-built dimensions.

At the bottom of the Acropolis lies the Herod Atticus Odeon, an ancient amphitheater that boasts brilliant acoustics. From there, visit the Acropolis Museum, whose dimensions and orientation are the same as those of the Parthenon. Start at level three and work your way down. See the painstakingly sculpted caryatid female statues up close, the intricate Parthenon Frieze and its missing pieces, and a replica of the Parthenon Marbles, which are on display in the British Museum.


Enjoy sunset sips. (Photo: Getty Images)

Athenians have an innate spontaneity that’s unfailingly addictive. Don’t be shy to strike up a conversation. Follow their lead and you’ll understand why the best times are had without a plan.

Catch sunset and views of an illuminated Acropolis while sipping cocktails concocted with scientific accuracy and flair at one of Athens’ hidden rooftop bars and restaurants. Anglais Athens is a favorite for its central common table that invites conversation with new friends. Other restaurants with a spectacular view include Tudor Hall Restaurant, and GB Roof Garden Restaurant.

Standout choices in the city’s thriving dining scene are many. The Holy Goat (Theio Tragi), in Ano Petralona, has attained somewhat of a cult status for its imaginative Greek cuisine and vinyl grooves.

At Japanese gastropub Birdman, ever-innovative Greek-American chef Ari Vezene and his Japanese cohort Takaaki Otsuka dish out intensely flavored yakitori with premium spirits.

Complete your evening with a little bar hopping in the backstreets of Syntagma Square, stopping in at Drunk Sinatra, The Gin Joint and Baba Au Rum.