I have to admit feeling a little trepidation about this tour, initially. If you have ever seen people drive through—or even just park on—the streets of Athens, you might understand; the roads are hectic. As someone who hasn’t been on a bike in several years, I didn’t know that I would be cut out for this particular adventure.
But there really is nothing to be afraid of, or at least not as much as I thought. This tour is planned with caution at the forefront, as our tour guide Danae explained in the beginning. “It’s a safe route,” she explains. “These are low-traffic streets, and we’ll be cycling all together at a reasonable pace.” And in fact, the real problem when biking in Athens is the pedestrian traffic. Groups walking eight people across, those who stop quickly or make abrupt turns are all out to get in your way, it seems—so do pay attention at all times.
Another important thing to know: marble is a tricky surface, and one that is ubiquitous in the city. If you have to brake on it, you probably will not stop quickly. Just beware.
Catch all the major sights in hours
Once you get all the basics down, it’s time to hit the road and let any anxiety fall by the wayside. Gliding past the city’s most famous monuments, the wind in your hair and a distinct burning in your thighs that tells you you’re putting in the work to justify all that feta you’ve been eating—it’s lovely, relaxing, and fun. Even if you know in the back of your mind that you will inevitably need to hit the brakes to dodge rogue pedestrians.
At every sight, Danae pauses the tour to give a few minutes of historical background (and to give you the chance to snap a few photos; trust me, it’s a bad idea to try to do this from your moving bike). As we pull over right under the Acropolis, she quizzes our group of 12 about why it was built and how old it is. She explains the debates over the Parthenon marbles: British aristocrat Lord Elgin had a team steal a chunk of carved stone from the Parthenon in 1803, and to this day there is a heated discussion about whether or not they should be returned to their home (if you can’t guess where Athens falls on this issue, you should head to the Acropolis Museum, where a space is kept open for the marbles when and if they are brought back to Greece). She also tells us about the ongoing renovations on the Acropolis. Then we move through what Danae calls “the most interesting few hundred metres in the city”: the monuments cover all the major periods in Athenian history, from Classical to Byzantium, as we soar past the Tower of the Winds and down to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens.
As the tour winds down, we cruise through the National Garden, a shady, lush park with trees and plants imported from around the world. As Danae points out, the garden isn’t just pretty greenery: it contains a zoo, ancient fragments and Roman mosaics. Through the gates enclosing the park, you can also catch glimpses of the Parliament building.
We pause at the historic Zappeion hall and the Panathenaic Stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held. We end by watching the changing of the guard in front of the Presidential Palace. There, Danae fills us in on what it takes to be an Evzone, including plenty of unusual facts I was unfamiliar with, from their salaries to the weight of their shoes.
Exploring the city like a local
Since this tour covers so much ground—literally and figuratively—there are lots of chances to talk about things other than the ancient monuments. Throughout the tour, Danae fields questions on nearly every topic, including why there are so many cats wandering around the city streets (many are actually looked after by the Athens Municipality). As we soar past Cine Thisio, Danae talks about how she regularly goes there, and recommends that everybody make it to an outdoor cinema while in Athens.
When we stop for a quick snack break, the conversation turns to food and drink. Danae tells us about the piney resin mastiha, from Chios island, and everybody tries it in a heaping scoop of ice cream. She is more than happy to suggest places to try when the tour ends. But if you aren’t able to jot all these down while on a bike or chowing down on ice cream, don’t worry: Athens By Bike will send you a list of recommendations in the city after the tour wraps up.
What’s the verdict?
For those in Athens for a layover, this tour is ideal: you’ll cover all the major historical highlights of the city, while also getting a local’s take on where to eat, drink and play.
- Duration: 3.5 hours
- Cost: €35 for adults 18+; €25 for children 12-17; an extra €10 to rent an electric bike
- Time: 9:30 am daily