I was comparing various options to visit Greece and one thing that surprised me is that the RS Tour only dedicates 1 full day in Athens. I then compared that to a couple of other tour companies and all only offer 1 full day. Is there so little to do in Athens that 1 day is all that is needed?
You have to pick and choice. The BIG attraction in Athens is the Parthenon. That is a half day. Then there is a collection of smaller sites and, of course, the big museum. You could easily spend a couple of days at a slow pace.
I feel like 3 full days is good for a relaxed pace of the main sights. You can see the acropolis and one museum in one day, those are the absolute basics - but not much else. There are two major museums (acropolis museum and national archeological museum), other archaeology sights (Agora, temple of Zeus, others), smaller museums, and plenty of other places. It’s also a vibrant urban center that is very interesting for exploring.
I never base my decisions on how long to spend in one place by group tours’ allocation. Often times they only do a drive by, and they do not cover everything. When we were in Lisbon in 2018, a tour group was staying at our hotel. We happened to sit next to their tour director at breakfast one morning. She told me what their itinerary was. They were traveling through a lot of Spain and Portugal, and all of their stays were 1 or 2-night stays, which sounded like torture to me. You obviously cannot see a lot on a tour like that. It’s basically a quick sampler of places. I know this kind of tour works for some people, but it by no means is an indicator that a certain destination does not have a lot of interesting things to see.
Athens for sure deserves more than a day. I would highly recommend staying atleast 5 full days. It would give you enough time to explore the ancient sights, do museums, maybe even one of the close islands we did Aegina, do some shopping in Plaka. We stayed about 5 days and I had wished I had allocated a bit more time. We could have done more in Athens. Granted we were with our little ones 4 and 6 at the time so they wanted beach time. Tours are often fast and only go through the main attractions.
Allan, group tours want to attract customers, and one way to do that is to have a long long list of things they'll show you in 2 weeks --- but that means sometimes just a short "photo stop" and often a 1 night stay. In 2 weeks in Greece (15 days: arrive on a Saturday AM, return on a Sunday noon), to really enjoy it, I usually think you can just do 2- 3 islands and Athens ... and that means flying to one Island 2 hours after arriva (stay 2 nightsl, ferrying to Island #2 (3 nights), Ferrying to Island #3 (3-4 nights) , and Flying back for a final 3-4 days in Athens.
The Rick Steves tours concentrate on the Mainland, sometimes adding 1 day on Hydra, just so you can say you've been on an island. They do a good job of the Pelopponnese, but RS somehow doesn't like the islands. Maybe it's because a bus intinerary is easier than ferries, for a large group. Athens is useful for gathering his group in one place at the start & at the end. Many people instead stay on for 2-3 days at the conclusion of his tour, in order to see more of Athens... and with greater appreciation. For independent travelers who are "first timers" , I always advise saving Athens to the end of the trip -- for many reasons (1) An island or a seaside town is a great place to wake up to on your first morning, & to get over jet-lag (2) if Athens is last, you don't have to worry that a transport "glitch" could make you worry about your homebound flight , and (3) every country takes a while to "sink into"... and when you've been in greece for 8 or 9 days, you'll know how greece "works," and you'll have seen some ancient history and ruins, and the museum t reasures & famous Landmarks of Athens will mean so much more.
I have been to Athens numerous times in my many travels to Greece. I always stay in Athens a minimum of 2 days with 3 being better to see what the city is all about. There is more to Athens than just the usual tourist sites. Tours are basically like going through a drive through at a Fast Food restaurant. Drive up, get your food, then leave.
Here's a great site for Athens:
We just returned from the RS Greece tour. We got in the day before the tour started and left the day the tour ended. Enough time for Athens IMHO. We arrived and had dinner on the beautiful rooftop restaurant at the hotel with a great view of the Acropolis. The next day we did RS audio guide of Athens city walk. This 90 min tour took us 5 hrs ( with a stop for lunch). We met our tour group that night. On our return to Athens we had almost about a half day. The ancient sites are close together in Athens so it doesn’t take long to see them. We saw the 2 best museums ( the New Acropolis and the Archeology). We did the audio guide to the Ancient Agora on our free afternoon in Athens. Did we see everything? No. But, we saw the top sites and are satisfied. This is a fantastic tour!
Thanks for the replies, if I'm interpreting correctly Athens deserves 2-5 days depending on my interests.
Tammy/Diveloonie, I hope you're still planning on writing up a trip report, looking forward to it.
We had 2.5 days (3 nights) in Athens. We saw all the "big sites" in that time but would have enjoyed one more day.
We took the RS Greece Tour 2 years ago and arrived 2 days before the tour. We took a walk of the neighborhood and visited the Acropolis & Mars Hill after arriving. The following day we visited some of the recommended sites & museums not covered on the tour. We also went to the Sunday Changing of the Guards ceremony. The next morning we took a private Jewish History Walking Tour. Late that afternoon we met our tour group. On day 13 we returned to Athens (see tour itinerary).
Following the RS Tour we went to Santorini and Naxos for a total of 10 days. Our last night was spent in Athens at the Sofitel Airport Hotel.
Athen's definitely deserves several days. This is an active tour. It was nice to have a couple days prior to acclimate after the long flight. One of our favorite tours!
When I took the tour 2 years ago, it went to the Acropolis, the Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeology Museum and there was free time in Athens as well. Some of the Athens time was at the beginning of the tour, some was at the end of the tour. There is certainly more to see and do than what the tour covers, but that's true of most places and most tours. There are other good museums, other good archaeological sites and interesting neighborhoods to explore.