Ah, Athens. One of the world’s oldest cities. Where classical, graceful, historical meets gritty, graffiti-splattered, and dirty. Athen’s port, Piraeus, once the major import/export center and navy base for the ancient Greeks, now launches ships daily outward to the pristine Greek Islands. But as you book your flight into the city of Athens and prepare for your onward journey to Santorini, Mykonos, or other points south, you might be considering whether a trip to Athens is worth it. And if so, for how long?
The quick answers: Yes. And, depends.
Why You Should Stay in Athens
When planning our trip, Tim left in one night in Athens, so that we’d be spared an exhausting whole day of traveling (flight from Berlin to Athens: 3 hours, ferry from Athens to Naxos: 3 hours). Knowing we’d be up early for the 7:30 ferry, he booked us into Hotel Eva, a 10-minute walk from the port and an easy ride into Athens center with public transportation. With the train, we zipped right to the base of the Acropolis and enjoyed a lovely (but energetic) sunset stroll en route to the summit.
We arrived at the ticket counter at 7:30pm. The clerk eyed us dubiously. “It’s 20 euros per person and we close in half an hour,” she said. We pushed our money over. I won’t lie, it was a bit hectic, but the nice part of arriving so late in the day was that the biggest crowds of the day (and the hottest heat) had already passed. That left us with open-ish vistas and magic hour—a magnificent stretch of golden light and a moonrise that dropped our jaws.
There’s plenty to see at the Acropolis. Theater fans would enjoy touring the Theater of Dionysus, considered to be the world’s first theater, and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a large amphitheater also at the foot of the Acropolis that still hosts concerts and shows. You can easily spend 3+ hours touring the extensive site and deep-diving into the history—but as we proved, you can do a “Best Of” tour in half an hour to see the major sites and take photos. As someone who loves history, theater, and architecture, though, I wish we could have taken more time to really enjoy the space and views.
After our whirlwind walkabout, we headed down the slopes again. The marble-cobbled road to the top is lined with market stalls selling all the usual tourist bric-a-brac, but was largely closed when we came down. We headed deeper into Athens, to the old town of Plaka to catch a bit more of the city vibe and snag some dinner and wine.
This part of Athens is brightly lit and full of life. I felt very safe walking around Athens in the evening, but of course, use your street smarts, watch out for pickpockets and don’t be too flashy. After a six-month uninterrupted stay in Germany, it was nice to again be in a city that stays open later than 9pm! It’s very touristy, but even so, the tavernas and little shops are charming. We grabbed a dinner of small plates (country pies, feta wrapped in puff pastry, olives, bread, and meat) and wine, and then wandered the surrounding streets, peeking into shops, admiring the ceramics, and people-watching.
And that was it! Our stay in Athens. The next morning we were on the ferry as the sun rose—but you know what? Even with barely a 15-hour stay, I highly recommend visiting this ancient city.
How long should I stay in Athens?
How long you stay is dependent on what you want out of your trip to Greece. If you want to absorb all the history and culture, then you should definitely plan to stay longer—at least 3-5 days to give yourself time to visit all the sites, read the placards, experience the city. (Ok, and maybe a day more to schedule around the tour buses!)
If you’re just passing through Athens on your way to the beaches, it’s still worth stopping through, even for a few hours. It contextualizes all the rest of what you’re going to see. The smaller temples. The island cities. The Aegean waters themselves.
This city was once the beating heart of one of the greatest civilizations in the world—and paying some homage to the things that happened here, were thought, invented, reasoned, and performed here—is definitely an experience worth having.