My family is planning roughly a week in Greece, primarily a relaxing time in Santorini. We do, however, want to see the history in Athens. Is one full day sufficient for this? What are the main highlights, and how long do each of them take? We would be willing to pack a lot into one busy day in Athens.
It's been a while since I visited, but one days sounds a bit tight to me. Here's what I would want to see even in a revisit. I would want to see the Acropolis and there is a new museum there that I've yet to see. And then there is the the National Archaeological Museum. It is important to visit as most of the things found on Santorini are in Athens. Also, a visit to the ancient agora is good to do as well. I really like taking the funicular to the top of Mount Lycabettus. Wandering around the Plaka for a bit. I enjoyed having a coffee in Syntagma Square.
We are planning a trip to Greece and, based on RS advice from the Greece: Athens & the Peloponnese book, we are starting in Athens so that we will have a better understanding of what we will see in other places. Combining his estimates for how long it will take to see what we want to see with other online research, I came up with about 20 hours of sight-seeing time. We are old and slow and with 4+ solid days there, we will need to be very selective. I recommend that you get a copy of that book. It also includes Santorini.
Even with packing a lot into one day, you will need to be more selective than us and very organized with that packing. Depending on what day that is, things may open later or close earlier than you expect. For example, the Agora is outside and the source of agoraphobia, but according to the book, it is open "08:00-15:00, possibly open later in summer." The National Archaeological Museum is open "Tue-Sun 9:00-16:00, may be open later in summer; Mon 13:30-20:00, may close at 15:00 in winter." And the Acropolis itself is listed as "June-Aug, likely 8:00-20:00, Sept-May 8:00-18:00." Did you notice the "may" and the "possibly" and the "likely?" There are many of those kinds of terms for the hours listed in the "Athens at a Glance" pages of the book.
Below is what I came up with for us. You will see that it doesn't add up to 20 hours. I inflated the time to account for the ?? times and potential travel times between things, in case things take longer for us and to allow for frequent breaks. RSAT = Rick Steves Audio Tour which you can download for free from this website under Watch, Read, Listen. These are not in any order, but I divided them by outside and inside activities to allow for weather issues when we are there in mid-October.
Outside: Athens City Walk (RSAT) 2+ hours; Acropolis (RSAT) 2+ hours; Agora (RSAT) 2+? hours; Acropolis Loop ?? hours; Plaka and Monastiraki--Anafiotika ?? hours; Syntagma Square ?? hours = est. 8+ hours total
Inside: Acropolis Museum (no RSAT) 1.5+ hours; National Archaeological Museum (RSAT) 2+ hours; Benaki Museum of Greek History and Culture (no RSAT) 2+ hours; Museum of Cycladic Art (no RSAT) 2+ hours; Byzantine and Christian Museum (no RSAT) ?? hours = est 9.5+ hours total
I hope the estimated times help you with your decision-making.
I was there a few years ago and you can get the general idea in one day, no problem. Just focus on the biggies and it can be done. Get an early start and keep moving.
As Lo suggests the opening times have been a bit erratic, but in February the Cultural Ministry announced extended hours for 33 sites. This includes all the major sites and means they are open 8 - 8 seven days a week during the summer.
As ever though there are exceptions and it is worth checking nearer your visit. We were in Athens on Sunday and happened to walk past the Theatre of Dionysus which looked as though it was opening at 9 rather than 8. This may have been because of the election that day as the nearby Acropolis Museum was only open for half a day for this reason.
You can certainly do the highlights of the sites around the Acropolis in a day. I would start at the Keramicos, walk up though the Agora to the Acropolis and then down through the Theatre of Dionysus to the Acropolis Museum. From there you can walk on to the Temple of Olympic Zeus and, if you really want to be complete, across to the old Olympic Stadium.
There's a map here which shows how these relate
The thing you are missing out if you do this is the National Archaeological Museum. It's difficult to fit this in as it's across town. You are also not allowing much time for the separate museums in the Keramicos or the Agora. The Agora museum in particular I find really interesting: there are things from the early days of Athenian democracy including some voting machines!
I also assume you will want to stop for lunch. Depending on your speed it probably makes sense to do this before the Acropolis Museum. There are a number of places along the side of the museum but I would probably walk five minutes into Plaka and eat at the Byzantino. You might be interested in our write up of this
As I say covering the sites like this is possible. Whether you want to do it is obviously a matter of taste. For what it's worth I would spend the extra day in Athens but I recognise I am probably in a minority on this forum.
Have a good trip whatever you decide.
Thank you, everyone! This is tremendously helpful!