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How to See the Best of Athens in One Day

Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures and experiences and makes the world a more tolerant place.

Our gang at the Parthenon

Our gang at the Parthenon

With just one day to spend in Athens it was actually quite easy to decide how to spend our time there. You really can’t go to Athens and not see the Acropolis! So we were up early and debarked as soon as allowed with a plan to visit the temples of the Acropolis followed by a visit to the new Acropolis Museum. As we would learn from our day in Athens, no visit to the Acropolis is truly complete without a visit to this incredible new museum that is appropriately situated at the foot of the Acropolis.

When visiting Athens as part of a cruise you will come into the port of Piraeus, which is located about five miles to the southwest of Athens. Getting from the port to Athens should be a very easy thing to do. There will undoubtedly be a host of taxis waiting to whisk you into town. The tough part is trying to negotiate with them. Or, if you don’t want to take an overpriced taxi there is always public transportation available but the problem might be getting to the train station, which could be compounded by exactly where your ship is docked.

As we were a group of six and we were meeting a guide at the Acropolis at a predetermined time we opted for the overpriced taxi and off we went. You can also always opt for an excursion offered by your cruise company but I find them to be overpriced and confining.

The first thing you will notice about Athens is that it is a sprawling city. It just seems to go on for miles in every direction. The other thing that immediately struck me was how modern some parts of the city were. I expected Athens to be much more like Rome where no matter where one looked you were seeing ruins or something that was centuries old.

View of Athens from atop the Acropolis

View of Athens from atop the Acropolis

As we snaked our way through the street of Athens early in the morning we could see the sunlight illuminating the top of the Acropolis and the pillars of the Parthenon. This was certainly a dream come true for me, and any true lover of history, travel, and adventure must certainly have a desire to visit Athens, one of the world’s oldest cities and considered by many to be the cradle of Western civilization.

We decided to visit the Acropolis prior to the museum at the advice of our guide and I think there are valid reasons for this. First of all the top of the Acropolis can get very crowded, especially during peak seasons so an early start will help to avoid some of this. There is also very little shade on top of the Acropolis so going in the morning before it gets too hot is another reason to go early. Lastly, after visiting the temples of the Acropolis a visit to the museum certainly ties everything together and gives you an opportunity to see many of the original pieces that came from the temples of the Acropolis.

View of the Ancient Agora and Athens from the Acropolis

View from the top of the Acropolis

View from the top of the Acropolis

Theaters of the Acropolis

As you climb and descend the Acropolis be sure to take note of the magnificent Theatre of Herod Atticus that is located at the base of the Acropolis. You get a great view of the theatre just before you get to the gate to the Acropolis. The theatre was built with a capacity of 5,000 and was used for concerts and plays. Today the restored theatre is a highly sort after venue for some of the top musical artists in the world.

There are actually two theaters at the base of the Acropolis and the larger Theatre of Dionysus is currently being restored with a planned completion in 2015. This theatre could hold 17,000 spectators and is actually about 600 years older than the nearby Theatre of Herod Atticus. Be sure to take in the view of the theaters from the top of the Acropolis as this is the best vantage point.

Theatre of Herod Atticus

Theatre of Herod Atticus

Theatre of Dionysus.  The new Acropolis Museum is behind the theatre.

Theatre of Dionysus. The new Acropolis Museum is behind the theatre.

Acropolis

The Acropolis in Athens dates back to the 5th century BC when most of the important buildings and temples were constructed. Of the numerous temples and other structures that once stood here, there are really only four that remain and cannot be missed.

Propylaea

The first structure of significance that visitors will come upon is the giant gateway to the Acropolis, which is called the Propylaea. Built of white and grey marble with classic Doric columns the gateway was constructed with the one central building and two adjoining wings on either side. The climb up to the Propylaea is steep so take your time and be sure to notice the detail work of the columns.

The climb up to the Propylaea

The climb up to the Propylaea

As you enter through the Propylaea you will also surely notice the scaffolding and restoration efforts going on all around you. The restoration of the Acropolis has been on-going since 1975. While the work should be completed by 2020 the task of reassembling, restoring and filling in the missing pieces has been arduous. There were over 70,000 original pieces that had to be cataloged, repaired, and reassembled.

Propylaea - Gateway to the Acropolis

Propylaea - Gateway to the Acropolis

Temple of Athena Nike

Just to your right as you come through the Propylaea is the Temple of Athena Nike. While we are all aware of Nike today as the athletic shoe company, in ancient Greece Nike meant victory. Athena was the Greek goddess of wisdom and war and this temple was used by citizens to worship Athena in the hope of victory in the Peloponnesian War against the Spartans. The restoration of the Temple of Athena Nike was completed in the summer of 2010.

Porch of the Maidens - Erchtheion

Porch of the Maidens - Erchtheion

Erchtheion

To your left, as you enter through the Propylaea is the Erchtheion. This temple was dedicated to Poseidon and Athena and was also constructed in the 5th century BC. The Erchtheion contains a porch called the Porch of the Caryatids and is famous for its six ionic columns known as the Maidens. The porch one sees today contains replicas of the maiden statues and five of the originals are now housed in the Acropolis Museum. The sixth statue is displayed in the British Museum along with other sculptures and pieces from the Parthenon. More on this later.

Erchtheion

Erchtheion

Parthenon

The most famous temple on the Acropolis is certainly the world-famous Parthenon. As the most iconic surviving figure of Ancient Greece the Parthenon stands as one of the greatest cultural monuments in the world. While reconstruction efforts will impede your view of the Parthenon for a few more years this is without a doubt a magnificent gift from ancient Greece to our generation.

Like many of the other temples here the Parthenon was dedicated to the goddess Athena and historians date its construction to being completed in 438 BC. At one time the Parthenon held a giant statue of the goddess Athena, which was sculpted of gold and ivory. Historical documents placed the amount of gold used in the statue at a staggering 2,400 pounds. The statue was removed by the Romans in the 5th century AD and its whereabouts today are unknown if it still exists, which is unlikely. There are a number of replicas of the statue located in museums around the world including the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, the Louvre in Paris, and the National Museum in Rome.

Parthenon

Parthenon

The fact that the Parthenon has survived for over 2,500 years is certainly a testament to its resilience. Like all great Mediterranean cultures, the Athenian Acropolis changed hands many times over the centuries and has certainly witnessed its share of war and natural disasters. The restoration efforts currently on-going to the temples of the Acropolis should leave them in good standing for future generations to enjoy. If you are visiting Athens do not miss out on your opportunity to be bear witness to this great archaeological site.

The New Acropolis Museum

After touring the Acropolis we made our way down through the ancient Agora and had a brief lunch at a wonderful café in the heart of Athens. We then headed to the New Acropolis Museum, which is itself a marvel of modern engineering. Started in 2003 and not completed until 2007 the Acropolis Museum was built at the base of the Acropolis a mere 300 meters from the Parthenon. As you approach the museum be sure to glance up at the top floors of the building where you will see the Parthenon reflected in the glass of the museum. Done by design, it is the first of many surprises built into the architecture of this amazing tribute to ancient Greece.

The New Acropolis Museum

Notice the reflection in the glass on the top floor of the museum

Notice the reflection in the glass on the top floor of the museum

The other thing you will notice as you enter the museum is that it appears to have been built directly on top of an archaeological site. Construction of the museum site revealed ruins below and the architects managed to design the museum on top of the ruins while protecting and preserving them. The ruins below the museum can be viewed through floor windows on the first floor of the museum.

The museum has four floors and contains many of the original pieces from the Acropolis. It is far too risky to have the surviving original sculptures placed on the Parthenon itself so most of them have been moved to the museum.

Ruins below the museum

Ruins below the museum

The ground level of the museum has the floor windows that give visitors a view down into the archaeological site below the building. As you walk up what is called the Slope toward the first level you will pass many pieces that were excavated from the slopes of the Acropolis, hence the name the “Slope”.

The first floor of the museum contains areas dedicated to the Propylaea, the Temple of Athena Nike and the Erechthleion. Here you can see five of the original six Caryatids, or Maidens, that held the south porch roof of the Erechthleion. While we were there they were in the process of restoring and cleaning one of the statues using laser technology. It was fascinating to see.

View of the Acropolis from the museum

View of the Acropolis from the museum

The second level of the museum is where the restaurant is located with a beautiful terrace that looks out toward the Acropolis. While we did not eat lunch here it looks like a wonderful setting to have lunch or a snack while gazing up at the Acropolis.

The third level of the museum was easily my favorite. Here is the Parthenon Gallery that displays the Pediments, the Metopes, and the Frieze. What are these you ask? The Pediments are the two triangular spaces at each end of the Parthenon formed by the angle of the roof. This area of the temple contained large statutes depicting scenes from Greek mythology. The model in the photo below shows the Pediment and the Metopes. The Pediment shown contains only the sculptures that have survived.

Model of the parthenon showing the Pediment and the Metopes

Model of the parthenon showing the Pediment and the Metopes

The Metopes are the square sculpted marble pieces that surrounded the outside of the Parthenon just below the Pediments. There are 92 of them and each one is unique and contains a scene from a victorious battle between the Athenians and the Persians. The Metopes are laid out exactly as they would have appeared on the Parthenon and replicate the dimensions of the Parthenon. Clearly a lot of thought went into this display.

Foreground - Pediment Sculptures.  Above and behind - Metopes.   Below and behind - The Frieze Blocks.   All laid out exactly as they appeared on the Parthenon

Foreground - Pediment Sculptures. Above and behind - Metopes. Below and behind - The Frieze Blocks. All laid out exactly as they appeared on the Parthenon

The Frieze, in contrast to the Pediments and the Metopes depict scenes from the Great Panathenaia, which was the festival that occurred every four years to honor the Goddess Athena. There are 115 blocks to the Frieze that measured about 160 meters in length and contained 378 human figures and over 200 animals shown is different processions. The Frieze formed a continuous band around the exterior of the inner temple of the Parthenon.

Of the Frieze blocks that survive today (about 130 meters) there are about 50 meters in the Acropolis Museum and about 80 meters in the British Museum in London with a few scattered blocks in various other museums around the world. And here in is the source of a major controversy. For years the government of Greece has been trying unsuccessfully to get the original pieces returned from the British Museum to what they feel is their rightful home, Athens.

One of the original Frieze Blocks

One of the original Frieze Blocks

How some of the original pieces from the Parthenon wound up in London goes back to the early 1800’s. At the time Athens was part of the Ottoman Empire and the British Ambassador to the Ottomans, Lord Elgin, had a particularly keen interest in ancient Greek art. So, with the apparent permission of the Ottoman authorities he had about half of the surviving sculptures from the Parthenon shipped off to London, where they eventually wound up in the British Museum. The Greek Government feels that the British have no legal right to the pieces and they should be returned to Athens. The British steadfastly disagree.

Panathenaic Stadium

Olympic Stadium used in 1896 for the first modern games

Olympic Stadium used in 1896 for the first modern games

After touring the museum we had time for a quick visit to the Olympic Stadium that was used for the first modern Olympic Games. From there it was a short taxi ride back to the port before our ship sailed without us. It was a great day in Athens and we look forward to the day when we can return.

I hope you enjoyed this one day visit to Athens. While there is much more to see in and around the city of Athens if you are visiting as part of a cruise your time will be limited. But, with some careful pre-planning it is certainly possible to see two of Athens greatest treasures, the Acropolis and the new Acropolis Museum.

Our wonderful guide Vicky Miniotis, center

Our wonderful guide Vicky Miniotis, center

I need to give a big thank you to our wonderful guide for our day in Athens, Vickie Miniotis. She tirelessly led us through Athens and is an incredible wealth of knowledge on ancient Greece.

© 2014 Bill De Giulio

Comments

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 29, 2018:

It’s definitely worth the entry fee to see the Acropolis. What an incredible place. The history here in Athens is amazing. You really can’t visit Athens without seeing the Acropolis. Thanks for stopping by.

Travel Chef from Manila on April 29, 2018:

I've been in Athens twice, but only last year I was able to visit the Acropolis. The place was so crowded, but despite of that they managed to release entrance tickets in a fast motion. It's worth visiting for 20 EUR.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 27, 2015:

Hi jcsales. Thank you. Welcome to HubPages. There are a lot of resources here to help newcomers and this is a great site to learn and publish articles. Welcome.

jcsales on July 26, 2015:

No wonder this is an Editor's Choice. I am new at making hubs. This is a great piece to learn from and follow.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 19, 2014:

Hi Nadine. So glad you enjoyed the tour. Athens was amazing and we look forward to returning someday soon. It is incredible what they were able to build and construct in ancient times. Thanks again for stopping by, have a great weekend.

Nadine May from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on July 19, 2014:

Thank you so very much for this incredible armchair tour and one day i would love to visit all the places you have written about. The photos are a great inspiration. The museum is also a must. Glad that the restorations give visitors an idea what incredible builders and artisits lived in anchient times.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 28, 2014:

Thanks Vicky, Athens was amazing. We hope to return someday when we can spend more time there.

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on May 28, 2014:

Fascinating! I love the photos!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 26, 2014:

Hi Jimmy. This was a dream of mine also and I can tell you that Athens was amazing. I try to do the same when visiting these incredible places, visualizing what it must have been like to live during that time. Keep Athens on your list, you won't regret it. Thanks for stopping by.

Jimmy Gent from California on May 26, 2014:

Great hub! Thanks to you I very much enjoyed visualizing the experience of touring Athens, Greece. This is a dream destination of mine. I hope to visit this country within the next year or so, thus your account of places traveled contribute to my overall intrigue. In particular, the "Theatre of Herod Atticus" is remarkable; just trying to imagine what it must have been like to live in this era is beyond comprehension.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 21, 2014:

Thank you Glimmer. It was a perfect day, clear blue sky and 75 degrees. We really, really enjoyed our day in Athens. Our guide was our neighbors cousin and she was wonderful. The museum is fairly new and replaced the old one that I think was up on the Acropolis? The museum alone is worth going back, simply incredible. We can't wait to return.

Claudia Mitchell on May 21, 2014:

Oh Bill, these hubs are bringing back such great memories of my trip. Looks like you had a perfect day when you were there. Everything looks the same to me except the museum. When I was there it was a small building. I'm ready to pack my bags again. Just beautiful and shared around!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 20, 2014:

Thanks Joan. It's an amazing place. Thanks so much for stopping by.

JoanCA on May 20, 2014:

Athens is the place I want to visit the most. I have a fascination with the ruins there.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 19, 2014:

Thank you Thief12. Athens is an amazing place. I look forward to returning someday soon. Hopefully you'll get there soon. Many thanks for the vote, etc.. Have a great week.

Carlo Giovannetti from Puerto Rico on May 18, 2014:

Beautiful hub, beautiful place. Wish I could go there someday. My older brother visited it in a school trip back in the 80's, and I think I was more fascinated by everything than him. I read books about Greece and learned about its temples and everything.

Voted Up, Beautiful, and Interesting!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 09, 2014:

Thank you awezome-writer. Athens is certainly worthy of any bucket list or dream destination. We really enjoyed our day in Athens and look forward to returning soon. Thanks so much for stopping by, have a great weekend.

awezome-writer on May 08, 2014:

Wow! I just added Athens to one of my dream destinations because of your hub. Thank you for sharing this beautiful hub. :)

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 05, 2014:

Hi MG Singh. We did not experience any of that, although we were only there for a day. Indeed the economy is not good there at the moment. I found the Acropolis and the new Acropolis Museum to be fascinating. Thanks for stopping by.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 05, 2014:

Thank you Kalai. Athens was amazing. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. Have a great day.

MG Singh from UAE on May 04, 2014:

This is a very nice post. Liked it, but my sojourn in Athens 6 months back brings only memories of young Greek girls willing to pull down their jeans for a few US dollars. Economy was terrible

Kalaichelvi Panchalingam from PETALING JAYA on May 04, 2014:

this is one place i always wanted to go. Looks so beautiful and you have arranged your article well. Love it.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 04, 2014:

Hi travmaj. So glad this brought back some great memories. We had wanted to visit Athens for years and it was worth the wait. I would return in a heartbeat. In fact we have already discussed a return to Athens for sometime in the next few years. So many places to go and so little time! Thanks for the visit, so glad you enjoyed the tour.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 04, 2014:

Hi Rebecca. Athens really is a fascinating place. There is so much history there that it boggles the mind. We love these ancient cultures and it really was a dream come true to be able to visit. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 04, 2014:

Hi Kathleen. Yes, we had a great lunch at a wonderful local place. This cruise really was a smorgasbord as you mentioned. We stopped in a number of wonderful places that we would love to return to. I think certainly Athens , Malta and Santorini at a minimum. Thanks so much for stopping by, have a great week.

travmaj from australia on May 04, 2014:

What a great hub, I haven't been to Greece for many years and I enjoyed this journey with you. Amazing photo's to accompany the journey. Made me want to revisit. Thanks for the day out in Athens.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 04, 2014:

Thanks Heidi. Glad you are getting some inspiration from my travel hubs. Athens would be a good one to add to your bucket list, it really was amazing. Thanks so much for the vote and share. Have a great week.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 04, 2014:

Hi Linda. Thank you. We really enjoyed Athens and look forward to returning someday when we can spend more time. The history of ancient Athens and the Acropolis is fascinating. So glad you enjoyed the hub. Have a great week.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on May 04, 2014:

What an awesome hub! Very helpful travel article for Athens. What a fascinating place. You really have be wanting to go to Athens to see all those ancient places.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 04, 2014:

Thanks Thelma. It really was beautiful. We also had an opportunity to visit a few of the Greek Islands and they are everything you read about and more. I hope you get someday also :)

Thanks for stopping by, hope you had a great weekend.

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on May 04, 2014:

Looks like a great day! I hope you had some of the fabulous food for lunch.

A cruise is like a smorgasbord where your get a small taste of many places. But you have to go back not on a cruise and feast on the ones you like best. If only I had the time and $$$ to go back to as many places as I have an appetite for! Greece is definitely one of them.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on May 04, 2014:

Your beautiful travel hubs make me so jealous! I've got to start creating my travel bucket list. Appreciate all the inspiration! Voted up, beautiful and sharing! Happy Sunday!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 04, 2014:

This is a great hub, Bill! It's very interesting and informative, and the photos are beautiful. I loved learning about history by reading your article. I'll share the hub.

Thelma Alberts from Germany and Philippines on May 04, 2014:

What beautiful places to visit! I already love eating Greek food and reading books about Greece. I hope I can go there one day. Thanks for sharing this very informative and useful hub. Happy Sunday!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 04, 2014:

Hi Bill. As much as I love Italy I must say that Athens was amazing. We will definitely return to Athens some day in the near future. Have a great weekend.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 03, 2014:

If Bev had her choice of one place in Europe, this is the city she would choose. I'm passing it on to my bride with thanks, and I'll keep this in my Bill folder for the day when I can finally travel to Europe. Thanks, buddy, and have a great weekend.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 03, 2014:

Thank you Flourish. We will definitely return to Athens in the near future. What an amazing place. I'm glad you enjoyed the visit and I'm sure you'll get there soon enough.

Thank you for the vote, pin, etc. have a wonderful weekend.

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 03, 2014:

This was beautiful, Bill. I learned so much from this hub (Nike means "victory," huh?) I definitely must go to Athens and spend more than a day! Simply a marvelous hub. Voted up and more, and pinning!