Athens makes a wonderful port day, because the main sites are easily accessible from the port of Piraeus, and all the main sites are clustered within walking distance in the city center. I will propose a couple of one-day itineraries that you can use if you are here on a cruise-ship stop. If you are staying here pre- or post- cruise and have some extra days, you can do the two itineraries back-to-back.
I will offer you two itineraries–the jam-packed high energy, outdoor, see-it all day, or a more reflective, indoor, lazy day itinerary.
1. See-It-All Itinerary
- The Acropolis
- The Roman Agora
- Lunch in the Plaka
- Syntagma Square
- Hadrian’s Arch
- Temple of the Olympian Zeus
- Acropolis museum
Get off the ship as early as you can and make your way to the metro station. The Acropolis will start to get crowded at about 10:00 when all the cruise tour groups arrive. You want to be leaving when they arrive, so try to be at the gate by 9:00 am if possible. See this post for detailed instructions of how to get from your ship to the metro station in Piraeus. Take the metro to the Omonia station and transfer to the red line direction Agios Dimetrios. Get off at the 3rd stop “Acropolis,” Walk up the pedestrian street towards the south entrance of the Acropolis. There are plenty of cafes here where you can stop and get some pastries and coffee if your rush to get into Athens has left you hungry.
Turn left when you see signs for the Museum, but look for the ticket booth on your right after you make your left turn. You are headed straight for the Acropolis–you will stop at the air-conditioned museum later when you are tired of walking around all day in the hot sun. Buy your combined ticket for 12€ here. This includes admission to everything you want to see today. Make your way up the hill, stopping briefly to see the ruins scattered along the south slope. Enter the actual Acropolis at the top of the hill at the west entrance.
The Acropolis never fails to disappoint. Its perfectly proportioned buildings and spectacular setting are jaw-dropping. Take up to an hour to soak it all in. The west side of the Parthenon has been covered in scaffolding for years, but you can get some great pictures on the other side.
You will know its time to leave when the cruise ship passengers on ships’ tours arrive. Leave the Acropolis by the west entrance (the way you came in) and turn right to head down the hill to the Roman Agora.
Agora means “market” and this market built in the 1st C BC was an open courtyard surrounded by columns and shops on all sides. Take about an hour to wander the Agora and see the exhibits in the Agora Museum. Admission is 4€ for a single visit, but free if you bought the combo ticket at the Acropolis.
By this time you are probably hot and tired, your feet hurt a little, and all you want is a beer. Its time to head for your lunch stop in the Plaka.
Lunch in the Plaka
Exit the Agora near the Tower of the Winds and enter the oldest part of the city, the Plaka. Here in this maze of streets you will find many restaurants. Just stroll until you find a table and menu you like, and order a beer while you order from the menu. Go ahead and enjoy that beer, because I am suggesting that you only have one, since you still have a lot to see! Wondering what to eat? Order this and you’ll never go wrong: 2 beers or 1/2 kilo of wine, Greek salad (one to share), grilled calamari (squid, one order to share). We are big eaters and this is enough for lunch. Price will be about 25€.
If you only want to see ancient sites while you in Athens, you can skip this stop. Syntagma Square is the political center of the city. The Parliament Building takes up one whole side of the square, and this is where demonstrations take place. If you are there on a Sunday at 11:00, you can see the evzones, or soldiers dressed in traditional costume, performing the changing of the guard.
Walk down the huge street that the Parliament is on–Amalias Avenue, passing the Gardens on your left, until you come to Hadrian’s Arch. The axis of the arch is parallel to Amalias, but it originally spanned a major road that ran from the center of Athens to the Temple of the Olympian Zeus. It was built to honor the Roman emperor Hadrian’s arrival in the city.
Temple of the Olympian Zeus
The huge columns you see in the grassy plain to your left as you are arriving at the Arch are all that is left of the Temple of the Olympian Zeus. It may appear on your map as the Olympieion. Construction on it began in the 6th century BC, but it wasn’t completed until Hadrian’s reign 7 centuries later. At that time it was know as the largest temple in Greece. If you are running short on time, you can skip the entrance to the Temple. But if you have time, go on in. The entrance is 2€, or free if you have bought the combined ticket. The view from the Temple site up to the Acropolis is wonderful.
If you are a trooper and are not totally exhausted at this point, you have your last stop of the day to look forward to. You’ll retrace your steps back up the hill to the Acropolis Museum. Check the closing times before you visit–it closes early on Monday. Entrance is 5€ and is NOT included in you combined entry ticket.
This museum is a very manageable size, and you can see everything in 1 1/2 hours. All the goodies excavated from the Acropolis site are there. Remember seeing the statues of beautiful women holding up the porch of the Erechtheion in the Acropolis? They were actually really good copies. Four of the originals are here in the Acropolis Museum.
There are many artifacts from an older Acropolis structure that burned in the 5th C BC. One part of the museum has a collection of statuary that shows the gradual artistic development over hundred of years from the highly stylized Egyptian statues, to the statues of Classical Greece
Don’t feel bad if you just don’t have the time or energy for the Acropolis Museum at the end of your day. The last time we visited Athens, we ran up to the Acropolis, went to the Acropolis Museum, visited Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of the Olympian Zeus and I thought THAT was a full day. But if you are determined to see all you can in one day, the Energizer Bunny of an itinerary that I have given you will allow that.
Indoor Reflective Lazy Day Itinerary
Those who travel with me know that I really only like to plan one major thing to see or do in a day. When you travel a lot, memories tend to become blurred, especially when you see a million things in one day. On our way to Crete last winter, we had one day in Athens before we flew out to Heraklion, Crete in the evening. We made the National Archeological Museum our activity of the day. We stayed at the Best Western Museum Hotel the night before, but you can easily get there from other parts of Athens, or from Piraeus.
The National Archeological Museum
This fabulous museum is the most important museum in the world for Greek antiquities. It contains some of the “Gold of Troy” from Heinrich Schliemann’s excavations, the famous golden Mask of Agamemnon, and the frescoes from the ancient Minoan civilization in Santorini. This is a wonderful indoor day. You can spend 2 hours to all day here. Cost is 12€, and you can check opening hours at the museum website.
If you are coming from Piraeus, take the metro to the Victoria stop. The museum is a 10-minute walk away. Here is a map with walking directions from the Victoria metro station to the museum.
I admit that my first itinerary is very ambitious. It is designed for travelers who only have one day in Athens and want to see as much as possible. Over the last few years we have spent a total of three days in Athens. Here is what we did each day:
Visit One (cruise port day)– Acropolis and Ancient Agora
Visit Two–(on way to Crete)– National Archeological Museum
Visit Three–(on way to island hopping)–Acropolis, Acropolis Museum, Hadrian’s Arch, Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Have a great port day in Athens!