You won’t have heard this before, but Athens is one of the best cities in the world to cycle. Ringed by mountains on three sides and with the coastline of the Saronic Gulf on the other, few capitals can compete with such majestic geography—and a warm, dry climate makes cycling a comfortable proposition all year round.
On your bike!
Your first Athenian cycling experience should start with the pedestrianised circle that rings the Acropolis, passing through Plaka, Anafiotika, Monastiraki, Thissio and Koukaki, with a slight detour to pedal around the National Garden. Not only is this one of the most beautiful urban rides anywhere in the world, but it takes you on a journey through three millennia: from the ruins of Ancient Greek and Roman temples and monuments; Byzantine churches and Ottoman mosques; to the bustle of the modern city today.
Head for the coast
To leave the centre behind and escape to the sea, you can take the 7-kilometre bike track that begins at Thissio Metro station. This entirely flat and traffic-free route is perfect for riders of all skill levels. After riding down Ermou, follow the green-painted track along the side of Metro Line 1, through the leafy and serene Athenian suburbs of Petralona, Kallithea and Moschato. Follow the route of the ancient Ilissos River (now sadly buried beneath asphalt and apartment blocks) all the way to an incredible coastline reveal from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre in Faliro. (But be careful not to miss the left turn across the bridge at Lamprou Katsoni.)
From here, you can trundle along the seafront promenade of the Athens Riviera, passing through Flisvos Marina, Palio Faliro and Alimos to the buzzy coastal suburb of Glyfada. Or, if you have the legs (and a suitable bike), you can ride the full 60 kilometres to Cape Sounion and Poseidon's Temple, as many Athenians do in the evenings and at weekends. Hugging the shore all the way, this spectacular ride offers many opportunities to swim and cool off, on organized beaches at Vouliagmeni, Varkiza, Lagonisi and Saronida, or any of the more wild, free coves running the length of the coastline.
For challenge seekers
For more ambitious and independent riders, you can find incredible routes and challenging terrain in almost any direction. The near-1,000 metre Mount Ymittos can be reached by a grueling hour's climb from the city centre. Further afield, climbing Mount Pendeli gives you a thrilling descent down the other side towards the coast and beaches around Schinias. Tackling the formidable Mount Parnitha rewards you with an otherworldly, almost lunar landscape around the casino and an eerie, abandoned sanatorium.
For mountain bikers, the Parnitha National Park offers some intense trails, as does Hymettus, although that's a far rockier proposition. Trails through the cypress, olive and citrus orchards of Tatoi, home to the former Royal Palace 27 kilometres north of Athens, are easier and more accessible for beginners.
Nuts and bolts: Tips for cycling in Athens
It's true that investment in cycling infrastructure hasn't matched the pace of other European capitals in recent years, like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, or even London. Safety is still a concern and traffic pollution in summer heat can be oppressive. But cyclists are a growing community and the Municipality of Athens has committed to ensuring that cycling plays an increasing role in the city's future, by designating a number of strategic new bike lanes across the city as part of its Great Athens Walk project to create a less motorised metropolis.
The Strategy for Enhancing Sustainable Urban Mobility lays out the steps necessary to promote the bike as a viable alternative to journeys by car. The popular network of cycle paths, like the Thissio-Faliro route (mentioned above), as well as Agio Anargyroi-Acharnes and around Kifissia, is being expanded across the city, to help cyclists escape traffic for more of their journeys.
Currently still in pilot phase, AthensBikes is a new public bike-sharing service, similar to those in cities such as Paris, London and New York. Visit the help point at the Industrial Gas Museum Shop in Technopolis to get started. Each AthensBikes e-card comes loaded with five hours riding time and the first 30 minutes of each ride is free. Check out their website for a useful map of cycle ride suggestions in the city centre.
Vicious Cycles Athens in Psirri and the Handlebar next door are a mecca for cyclists of all stripes. Here you can get a feel for the city's vibrant scene. It's the best place to find out about cycling events, from road and mountain bike races to alleycats (where cyclists race one-another between checkpoints on city streets while avoiding traffic) and, of course, raucous street parties.
While the heat and the hills might be off-putting for some and the behaviour of Greek drivers frequently leaves a lot to be desired, for those in the know, Athens provides one of the most diverse offerings for cyclists anywhere in Europe. Where else could you finish work, summit a 1,000 metre peak, and cool off with a swim in the rejuvenating open sea, all before darkness falls? Athens might just be the cycling scene’s best kept secret.
"Athens provides one of the most diverse offerings for cyclists anywhere in Europe."
Cycle tours and bike rental
Let's Meet in Athens
Holland, the land of bicycles, in Athens. This company uses Dutch bicycles and is run by a Dutch woman who moved to Greece a decade ago. Offering a variety of tours for all ages, they also arrange tailor-made routes for larger groups.
If you’re a fan of electric bikes, this is where to go. Take a seaside tour of the scenic Athens Riviera or discover sights and flavours on their sights and food tour. Bonus here are the bike-friendly earphones that assure that you won’t miss any story-telling details.
We Bike Athens makes exploring the uphill and off-the-beaten track areas of Athens a piece of cake. Hop on an electric bike and stroll through the alleys of Plaka or head for the Athens Riviera without the extra sweat—baby seats and tagalong available. They do small or private groups and offer a great variety of bike tours that range from Greek meze tours, to after sunset strolls, and a daytrip to Aegina island.
Coco-Mat Wooden Bikes are made with solid ash wood frames, creating a wholly sustainable and stylish way to explore the city. Two routes both leave from Zappeion at 11 am each day. The Sightseeing Tour covers Athens historical centre over two and a half hours. The four-hour Riviera Tour takes you out to the coast, through Petralona to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre, Flisvos Marina and Glyfada.
GR Cycling offers road, mountain, e-bikes and city bikes for rental. This outfit organises mountain bike tours to Mount Parnitha, guided to rides to Lake Vouliagmeni and Sounion, as well as other routes across Greece.
Travelncycle offers half-day mountain bike tours to Marathon and Mount Parnitha, plus a wide range of other itineraries around Athens and Greece.
Attica Paths offers a range of guided bike rides from Athens, including Mount Hymettus and Sounion.
Athens by Bike offers fun and active trips around the city for the average cyclist. Combine secret spots and insider information with must-see monuments and landmarks, while also stopping for a coffee break. Join one of the daily group tours, book a private tour, or just rent a bike and fly solo.
Roll in Athens offers small-groups a customisable City Highlights Tour and a City To Sea Bike Tour to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre at Faliro. Both end up with mezedes and raki on a terrace that overlooks the Acropolis, above the company’s office in Monastiraki.
Funky Ride offers a range of city, hybrid and mountain bikes for rental, as well as repairs at their store in Koukaki.
Fat Tire Tours offers a half-day highlights tour available on a regular or electric bike.