There’s something about Athens that is simply timeless. The famous Classical period ended over 2,300 years ago, yet when we think of Athens, we still imagine Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato teaching philosophy; the invention of democracy; and massive advancements in medicine, science, and the arts. These things shaped the very foundation of our modern western society, and they all happened in Greece.
No visit to Athens is complete without delving into the city’s rich history amongst ancient ruins and museums. The easiest way to explore Athens’ past is with a Turbopass Athens City Pass Complete. The pass includes fast-track entry to Athens’ most popular museums and historic sites so you don’t have to worry about deciding where to go or queueing up in the excruciatingly-long ticket lines. Simply take your voucher to the entry point and get ready to marvel at what remains of ancient Athens.
With this first-hand, expertly crafted itinerary, your 4 days in Athens will cover the most significant historic sites and get maximum value out of your Athens City Pass. I’m sure Plato would agree.
2pm - Check into your hotel
Check into your hotel or Airbnb apartment and settle in. I stayed at New Hotel, a stylish boutique hotel centrally located in Plaka which has buffet breakfasts to die for and a rooftop bar with incredible city views.
4pm - Collect your Athens City Pass
Before leaving for Athens, book your Athens City Pass online and choose to either collect it from Athens or have it shipped to your home. I chose to collect my City Pass from Hop In Sightseeing (open daily between 6:30am-10pm), a 5-minute walk from New Hotel.
The Athens City Pass comes in 3 levels:
- Athens City Pass Mini (€29.90) - includes fast track entry to the New Acropolis Museum; a 2-day hop-on-hop-off bus ticket; shopping, museum, and tour discounts; and free walking tours during summer months.
- Athens City Pass Classic (€79.90) - includes everything in the City Pass Mini plus fast track entry to the Acropolis, Parthenon and Slopes site; a city map; and 72-hours free public transport including airport transfers.
- Athens City Pass Complete (€112.90) - includes everything in the City Pass Classic plus fast track entry to the Ancient Agora and Stoa of Attalos; the Roman Agora; Hadrian’s Library; Aristotle’s Lyceum; the Temple of Olympian Zeus; Kerameikos Archaeological Site and Museum; the National Archaeology Museum; the Epigraphic Museum; the Byzantine & Christian Art Museum; and the Numismatic Museum.
This itinerary works with best with the City Pass Complete for maximum museum access. By the time you add up the entry fees (usually between €4 and €20 pp) and transport to and between the sites, the City Pass saves a fair few pennies and, let’s be honest, “museum hopping” is much more enjoyable when you can skip the ticket queues.
5pm or 6:30pm - Take a Sunset Tour
Athens is a city that comes to life after dark. I found the best way to get a feel for the vibrant urban culture is by taking a guided sunset tour. Choose either Athens By Bike’s Sunset Tour if you enjoy cycling or Greeking.Me’s Athens Highlights Evening Walking Tour with Meze Dinner if you prefer walking.
5pm - Athens By Bike Sunset Tour (OPTION #1)
This 3-hour tour meanders for 9km around central Athens making several stops for photos, stories, and background info. The tour starts at Athens By Bike’s office to get measured up for a bike, grab a helmet, and drop off any bulky bags before zipping off to explore the city.
You don’t have to be an expert cyclist to enjoy this tour. Our guide, Demetrios, kept to the pace of the slowest cyclist and stuck to pedestrian paths so we didn’t have to dodge traffic (except a couple cross-walks).
We cycled through the National Gardens to the Presidential Palace, where we arrived just in time to watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony (which I think inspired Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks).
My favourite thing about this tour was how perfectly the stops were timed. We arrived at Filopappou Hill just in time to watch the sunset and cycled passed the Parthenon shortly after the lights turned on, sending a soft warm glow over the Acropolis slopes.
Other sites we visited include the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Panathenaic Stadium, the Ancient Agora, and the Metropolitan Church of Athens, all of which we stopped at to take photos and listen to stories shared by Demetrios.
The tour finished with a short ride through Plaka back to the starting point. Demetrios suggested a few restaurants along the way, so after dropping off the bikes, we headed back to one of his recommendations for dinner.
6:30pm - Athens Highlights Evening Walking Tour (OPTION #2)
This 3-hour walking tour led by an expert archaeologist aims to share historical stories behind Athens’ many ancient ruins and showcase the city after dark.
Our guide, Penelope, kicked off our tour with a crash course in ancient Greek history, explaining human life in Athens dates back to 6,000 BC. Various civilisations like the Classical Greeks and Romans left their mark on land since buried, forming 5 distinct layers underneath the city. We stopped by the Syntagma Metro Station to see a fascinating cross section of these 5 substrata layers.
After our short history lesson, we visited the Greek Parliament building just in time to watch the Changing of the Guard Ceremony. We continued on to visit sites including the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Lysicrates Monument, the Tower of Winds, and Hadrian’s Library.
Penelope was full of captivating historical stories, like how a Byzantine monk predicted the fall of the 16th pillar at the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which fell during a storm in 1852.
To finish off the tour, our group shared an authentic Greek meal at Bandiera, where Penelope made sure we sampled the best of Greek cuisine like taramasalata, dolmades, pastries, and baklava with mastic ice-cream.
The focus of Day 2 is to explore the Acropolis area with the Athens Open Tours hop-on-hop-off bus ticket included in your Athens City Pass Complete.
Note: Bus timetables differ between winter and summer months. The times in this itinerary follow the summer timetable. Current timetables and live bus tracking are available online through Athens Open Tours.
8:45am – Catch the Hop-on-Hop-off Bus to the New Acropolis Museum
To use the hop-on hop-off bus for the first time, you’ll need to get your Athens City Pass card scanned by an Athens Open Tours staff member on the bus, so try to arrive 15-minutes early. Once your card has been scanned, you’ll be handed headphones and a bus ticket to use over the next 2 days, so be sure to keep them somewhere safe.
I caught the 8:45am bus from Syntagma Square and got off at the New Acropolis Museum. On the way, I plugged in my headphones under my seat and heard stories about the roads we travelled on and buildings and sites we passed.
To enter the New Acropolis Museum, you’ll need to get your Athens City Pass card scanned at the Group Ticket Counter and be handed a paper ticket. After dropping any bulky backpacks at the cloakroom, it’s time to learn the history behind the Acropolis and Parthenon.
The museum is brimming with valuable information like statues, reconstructed renderings, and timelines of the destruction and restoration of the Parthenon. I don’t think I would have appreciated my visit to the Acropolis site as much as I did without visiting the museum first. You’ll be amazed to learn how significant the site has been over the last 2,000 years.
10:30am – Visit the Acropolis and Parthenon
From the museum, walk about 3 minutes north to the Acropolis & Parthenon Slopes entrance and present your blue Acropolis Extended Area voucher at the entry gate. Staff will rip off the relevant coupon, hand back your voucher, and you’ll be on your way to climb the Acropolis slopes to the ancient Parthenon.
Just before entering the site, we were approached by a guide wanting to sell us a tour of the Acropolis slopes, convinced we couldn’t possibly understand the significance of ruins like the Theatre of Dionysus and Odeon of Herodes Atticus by ourselves. I turned her down and guess what... the sites were still mind-blowingly-amazing even without her guided tour. If you really want to know the history of the ruins on the Acropolis slopes, I suggest looking them up on Wikipedia before your visit. Otherwise, the museum (we just went to) is more than enough.
12pm – Explore Filopappou Hill
Not far from the Acropolis & Parthenon bus stop is a pedestrian path that leads to Filopappou Hill, one of my favourite lookout points in Athens. If you visited Filopappou Hill on the sunset cycling tour, you may want to skip the hill itself but it’s still worth exploring nearby sites like the Church of Agios Demetrios Loumardiaris, the Prison of Socrates and the Monument of Philopappos.
1pm – Catch the Hop-on-Hop-off Bus to the Temple of Olympian Zeus
1:15pm – Lunch
By now, you’ll have probably worked up an appetite so grab some lunch before continuing to explore the acropolis area. We went to Palea Athina for delicious homestyle Greek cuisine (7-minute walk north) which is open 12pm-10pm, Monday-Saturday.
2:15pm – Temple of Olympian Zeus
Walk back to the Temple of Olympian Zeus entry gate (at the northeast corner of the complex) and present your blue Acropolis Extended Area voucher. Staff will rip off the relevant coupon and let you in to walk among ruins of the once colossal Temple of Olympian Zeus.
I recommend reading the temple’s fascinating history on the plaques within the site. The stories told by your sunset tour guide should also add some context and boost your understanding of the ruins in front of you.
3:15pm – Catch the Hop-on Hop-off Bus to the National Archaeology Museum
Catch the 3:15pm bus from the Temple of Olympian Zeus to the National Archaeology Museum. This time, present your brown Athens museums voucher for staff to rip off the relevant coupon and stamp your voucher with the date of entry.
This has got to be one of my favourite museums in the world simply for its sheer quantity of ancient artefacts, dating back to the 6th millennium BC. Exhibits include original marble and bronze sculptures from ancient Greece, but there’s also exhibits of ancient Egyptian art, painted and engraved vases, and ancient technologies like the Antikythera Mechanism.
The 2-story museum is incredibly well laid out with mostly chronologically ordered exhibits, but it’s still quite easy to lose your way since the museum is so darn huge! 2 hours should be just enough to do the museum justice, but don’t worry if it’s not - the museum is open until 7.30pm.
Tip: To get the most out of this museum, download the free audio tour from Rick Steves (look for the MP3 file and PDF map below “National Archaeological Museum Tour”).
5:30pm – Catch the Hop-on Hop-off Bus Back to your Hotel
Catch the 5.38pm Athens Open Tours bus from the National Archaeology Museum to Syntagma Square, or whichever stop is closest to your hotel. This should complete the Athens line loop, so you’ll have seen the bulk of the city centre from the hop-on-hop-off bus.
Unwind in your hotel and rest your feet for an hour or two before heading out for dinner at a nearby restaurant. I can recommend 3 eateries in the area: Athena’s Cook & Ella Greek Cooking and the wine bar Oinoscent. If you can save room for gelato afterwards, try Le Greche.
Greece tip: Easily book a discount ferry from Athens to Mykonos. Find out how.
Day 3 provides a break from history, using the second day of your hop-on-hop-off bus ticket to explore Piraeus and the Athenian Riviera. You can always miss Piraeus to spend more time exploring the Riviera and beaches, or vice-versa, if you prefer.
10am – Catch the Hop-on Hop-off Bus to Piraeus
Refreshed from a glorious sleep-in, catch the 10am bus from Syntagma Square (or the bus stop closest to your hotel) to the Acropolis & Parthenon interchange where you can swap lines and catch the 10:45am bus to Piraeus. Don’t forget to bring your bus tickets and headphones from the day before.
We got off at Pasalimani and walked along the peaceful marina to get a feel for Piraeus.
11:30am – Stop for an Early Lunch
We stopped at Route Souvlaki 24 for a delicious souvlaki opposite the waterfront. 2 souvlakis and 2 bottles of water cost €5.20. Bargain!
12:00pm – Visit the Archaeology Museum of Piraeus
The Archaeology Museum of Piraeus is a 5-minute walk from the souvlaki shop and costs €2 per person in entry fees. The museum mainly contains marble and bronze sculptures purchased by ancient civilisations, like the Romans, that never made it to their final destination – they were discovered in shipwrecks off the coast of Piraeus. The museum also features funerary monuments, pieces of ancient war ships, and stone tablets declaring administrative laws.
Unlike most museums in Athens, this museum doesn’t showcase original and expensive sculptures of the rich and famous, but copies purchased by the less-wealthy or foreigners. It displays tablets detailing meat and fish prices and tax exemptions applicable to the common Athenian. I found it fascinating to see such indicators the lifestyles afforded by ancient Greeks.
1:30pm – the Hop-on-Hop-off Bus to the Acropolis & Parthenon Interchange
2:20pm – Catch the Hop-on-Hop-off Bus to see the Athenian Riviera
Catch the 2:20pm bus from Acropolis & Parthenon interchange. Plug in your headphones to learn about the Athenian Riviera and sites passed like Flisvos Marina and Kavouri Beach. I recommend getting off at Astir Beach and spending an hour or two soaking up the sunshine or indulging in a cocktail at a nearby bar or beach club.
4:50pm – Return to the Acropolis & Parthenon Interchange
6pm – Take the Athens Line Hop-on-Hop-off Bus Back to your Hotel
I suggest finding a restaurant for dinner on the way back to your hotel so you don’t have to go out again. Try one of my other recommendations from Day 2.
Day 4 is all about visiting as many museums and sites on the Athens City Pass Complete as possible. Many sites close around 3pm or 4pm so most of the visiting will be done during the morning.
9am – Visit the Ancient Agora of Athens
With your hop-on-hop-off bus ticket used up, the best way to get around today is on foot or via public transport. Your Athens City Pass Complete comes with 72-hours free public transport, just validate your public transport ticket at the coloured stamping machines before your first ride.
I’d seen the Ancient Agora from the outside and I must admit, I had underestimated it. Inside the massive Agora site are ruins of ancient buildings dating back to the Classical period, some better preserved than others. We walked passed ancient houses, through ancient law courts, and visited an ancient Greek temple and a Byzantine church, to name a few.
Within the Agora site is a museum housed inside the Stoa of Attalos. The museum exhibits items mainly relating to the Athenian democracy like statues, sculptures, coins, and inscriptions. The most interesting display for me was the ancient Greek jury selection process.
10:30am – Visit Hadrian’s Library
Hadrian’s Library is a 5-minute walk east from the main Ancient Agora entrance/exit. The ticket office is located through the entry gate and under the staircase. Present your blue Acropolis Extended Area voucher to have the relevant coupon ripped off, then spend around 20 minutes exploring the ruins of the 2,000-year-old forum constructed to house papyrus scrolls.
11am – Visit the Roman Agora / Roman Forum and Tower of the Winds
Continue walking for another 5 minutes south to reach the Roman Agora and go straight to the entry gate at the west end of the complex with your blue Acropolis Extended Area voucher to have the relevant coupon ripped off.
Within the forum are ruins of several buildings from the Roman empire’s rule in Greece as well the Tower of the Winds, a 2,000-year-old clock tower believed to be the world’s first meteorological station with a sundial, water clock, and wind vane.
12pm – Lunch
1pm – Visit the Numismatic Museum of Athens.
Take the metro from Monastiraki Metro Station to Syntagma Metro Station and walk north about 5 minutes to reach the Numismatic Museum of Athens. Present your brown Athens museums voucher for the relevant coupon to be ripped off.
The museum is located within the former residence of Heinrich Schliemann, the man famous for finding the ancient city of Troy. A number of coins and letters displayed inside the museum are from Schliemann’s personal collection.
The museum mainly showcases coins, dies and stamps dating back to the 14th century BC. Most coins were discovered during archaeological excavations in Greece, other were donated from further abroad. I found it fascinating to see faces of ancient characters, like Roman emperors and Trojan king Priam, stamped into the ancient currencies.
2pm – Visit Aristotle’s Lyceum
Take a 10-minute bus ride (no. 235, northbound) from outside the Numismatic Museum to opposite Aristotle’s Lyceum (or walk 13 minutes eastward). Present your blue Acropolis Extended Area voucher to have the relevant coupon ripped off. Spend around 30 minutes exploring ruins of an ancient temple to Apollo and a peripatetic school founded by Aristotle.
2:30pm – Visit the Byzantine and Christian Art Museum
Walk about 2 minutes from Aristotle’s Lyceum eastward to the Byzantine and Christian Art Museum and present your brown Athens museums voucher to have the relevant coupon ripped off.
The museum showcases intricate paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and potteries featuring religious icons or scriptures originating from the Byzantine empire’s rule in Greece.
4pm - Return to your hotel
Take the metro from Evangelismos Metro Station to Syntagma Metro Station, or whichever metro station is closest to your hotel. Take the evening to rest in your hotel before finding a nearby restaurant for dinner.
Alternatively, to congratulate yourself on an itinerary well done, grab a drink or two at 360 Cocktail Bar or A For Athens (rooftop) located on Monastiraki Square, which provide brilliant views of the Acropolis.
If you have extra days in Athens, make the most of your Athens City Pass Complete by visiting the Keramikos Archaeological Site and Museum and the Epigraphic museum, which I couldn’t fit into this 4-day itinerary.
You could also take a free walking tour (summer only), go on a shopping spree with up to 20% discount at the McArthur Glen Designer Outlet, go on a sailing tour with 30% off Yacht Hop tours, or make use of the several other discounts included in your Athens City Pass Complete.
The Bottom Line
Athens is a city that overflows with ancient history. Literally. Inner city construction works are frequently stopped when potentially-valuable ruins are uncovered by workers.
Choosing which of this city’s many museums and ancient ruins to visit can be a daunting task, so I let my Turbopass Athens City Pass Complete do the hard work for me. This itinerary is jam-packed to get the most value out of your Athens City Pass and to enjoy 4 days in Athens.
By the end of your holiday you’ll definitely be exhausted, but you’ll also be enlightened by the wonder of the ancient Greeks.
Hmmm… maybe it’s time to put on a toga and consider the meaning of life like Aristotle.
Or you could just read some of my other recent articles about Athens! Both are sure to make you wiser. ;-)