What to Do on a Layover in Athens

Athens | ©Lambros Kazan/Shutterstock
Athens | ©Lambros Kazan/Shutterstock
Photo of Ethel Dilouambaka
13 September 2017

Stuck at the airport for a few hours before heading back home or to the islands? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Whether you have a three-, five-, seven- or 12-hour layover in Athens International Airport, here’s a list of things you can do while you are stranded on Athenian grounds.

If you have 3 hours

Unfortunately, a three-hour layover in Athens is not enough to get out and visit the city, but don’t worry, there is still plenty to do. First and foremost, if you are traveling with young children, you may want to let them play at the airport playground located on the second floor. It is open daily from 9:00 AM until 9:00 PM. Designed for children from one-and-a-half to seven-years-old, the playground is free of charge.

On the same floor, you will find the airport’s museum. Though small, the area includes a permanent exhibition of the Acropolis site, where replicas of stone blocks and other artefacts are on display. Another additional collection of original artefacts ranging from the Neolithic and post-Byzantine eras are exhibited at the departure level by Entrance 3. The museum is open every day, from 6:00 AM until 11:00 PM.

If you are really bored and tired of the whole airport atmosphere, head across the street to the Sofitel Hotel by the train station. If money is not an issue, book a room to catch some z’s or head to the lobby and order a good drink. Alternately, you can enjoy the panoramic bar, the elegant spa with its indoor pool and sauna or eat at one of the restaurants. It might not be much, but it is definitely better than the hard chairs from the departure lounge.

Courtesy of Sofitel Athens

If you have 5 hours

Besides the options listed above, you can also opt for a visit to the Attica Zoological Park. This small zoo is home to about 2,000 animals of 400 species, including the third largest collection of bird species in the world. Located 10 minutes away from the airport by car, the zoo is perfect for a fun activity outdoors to breathe some fresh air.

While the airport is home to several shops and boutiques, you can still get your fill of tax-free shopping at McArthurGlen designer outlet village, where you will find over 100 brands of clothing, accessories and homeware. The center also includes a playground and is connected to a Smart Park mall, where even more stores are available. This shopping heaven is easily accessible by car or taxi (about 22 euros for a 15-minute ride) or by a combo of train and bus. From the airport, take the train and stop at Doukissis Plakentias where you will find a McArthurGlen shuttle bus awaits. Save yourself some time and catch a taxi from there if you miss the bus.

If you want to feel the sand between your toes, catch a bus and head straight to Rafina. This important seaside town and port also has a few beaches nearby, making it perfect for a relaxing break from the airport floor. While you may not find showers to get a good rinse before heading back, you can still enjoy a stroll around town and even a great seafood meal in one of the many tavernas nearby.

If you do have five clean hours of layover, then take the metro and head straight to Athens city center. Stop at Monastiraki (about 40 minutes) and stroll around the square and into Plaka and the Sacred Rock of the Acropolis. You may not have time to go all the way up, but you will be able to enjoy the view. For a nice meal or drinks, head to the Acropolis Museum. The restaurant-café is a nice compromise to enjoy excellent food with unparalleled views of the Acropolis. From there, make your way back to the Parliament and Syntagma metro station but not without passing by the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the National Gardens.

View of the Acropolis from inside the Acropolis Museum, Athens | © Mike Norton/Flickr

If you have 7 hours

A seven-hour layover allows you to enjoy a leisurely stroll around the city and probably one museum. With the same itinerary listed above, it is up to you to choose which museum you want to explore. The Acropolis Museum, with its fantastic collection of finds excavated on site and around the Acropolis is definitely a must-see, but if you want a more comprehensive view of Ancient Greece, then the National Museum of Archaeology is ideal. Comprising a vast collection of artefacts from all over Greece from Pre-history to the late Antiquity. If you are heading to the Cyclades and want to learn more about their history and art, we highly recommend the Museum of Cycladic Art but if you have always wanted to learn more about Greek culture and history then search no more and head straight to the prestigious Benaki Museum, housed in a beautiful neoclassical mansion. For delicious food, hit Kafeneio, known for its delicious meatballs in Plaka. For drinks, make a stop at six d.o.g.s, an enchanting bar with an open-air courtyard and mouthwatering cocktails.

A stroll around Thisseio | © PixaBay

If you have 12 hours

In half a day in Athens; you can see quite a lot. From the airport, get the metro and get out in Syntagma. If you are lucky enough, you may see the changing of the guards by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The ritual is performed every hour by the evzones and involves a surprising and unique march. Save yourself the hustle and book (in advance) a walking tour around the city. There are plenty of options out there and depending on your tastes, whether you enjoy history, art or even food, there are countless ways for you to discover the city.

If however, you prefer to explore on your own, make tracks to the National Gardens and explore the exotic flora around you. If visiting during the summer, make a coffee stop at the café inside the gardens, before heading to the Zappeion, a conference center. Opposite it, you will find the site of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, located across the pedestrian street Dionysus Areopagitou which takes you straight to the Acropolis and its museum. Depending on the time, have a meal at the museum’s restaurant or make your way to Thissio and its many little stores and cafés. Street vendors are plentiful around there so you may find a small and unique souvenir to bring back home. Make your way through Monastiraki and its flea market, unless you prefer to explore the Ancient Agora and the Temple of Hephaestus. Need a break? Pop by Couleur Locale for refreshments and a spectacular view of the Acropolis. Still have more time? Head to Ermou Street for some last-minute shopping or make your way to one of the many museums dotting the city. Or, you can simply enjoy the city vibes with a nice stroll around the center.

Courtesy of Couleur Locale

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