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3 alternative ways to experience Athens

First-time visitors to Athens typically flock to the Acropolis where the iconic Parthenon taking centre stage on top of the hill. Perhaps also the Acropolis Museum, the National Archaeological Museum, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Ancient Agora. But for anyone seeking a different experience, heretag

are three unique ways to explore the city that we recently enjoyed, courtesy of the aptly-named Alternative Athens.

The Olympic Games Workout

As well as being famous for its ancient history, architecture, democracy and philopsophy, Athens is synonymous with the Olympics. The city hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and has a long association with ancient and modern Olympics. So what better way to immerse yourself in Athens than through an Olympic-inspired workout tour with a certified sports trainer? On this tour, you’ll discover the true essence of the Olympics, visiting venues connected to real Olympic events along the way. We began this experience at one of the city’s most beautiful neoclassical landmarks, Zappeion Hall, and the first modern purpose-built Olympic facility.

Here, we started with a jog around the building and a few warm-up exercises, before learning about how the Olympics began, what role the ancient Games played in society, how athletes trained, and what disciplines were included, as the games evolved. Our next stop was a 19th Century gym nearby, where we tried our hand at some of the earliest events such as javelin, shot put and long jump. Did you know the long jump used to be done from a standing start, without a run-up?

And then comes the finale – a visit to the Panathenaic Stadium, the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble, which hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Here, we had the opportunity to compete in a race before concluding our tour and exploring the rest of the stadium at our leisure. Remember, it’s not just about winning – competing fairly, respecting your opponents, and demonstrating good sportsmanship are all qualities that make a great Olympian!

Athens Street Art Tour

Art isn’t just limited to museums, and Athens is a prime example of this. The Greek capital is one of the world’s hottest destinations for graffiti artists, and street art has become an integral part of its urban fabric. Wander around the streets and you’ll see everything from giant, commissioned murals to scratty tags. Shop walls, shutters and even people’s homes are not immune to graffiti. Vehicles, too, sometimes fall victim to a coat of spray paint!

Our tour with Nikos, himself a graphic designer as well as a tour guide, took us through the history of graffiti and the development of Athens’ street art scene, one of the most vibrant in Europe, spurred on in part by the Greek financial crisis. We were led through cool neighbourhoods that support and showcase street art, and we’re told the stories between the artists and artworks.

Take Loukanikos, for example; this stray dog became a symbol of resistance during Athens’ economic crisis. He was often seen on the front line during the city’s riots, and captured the hearts of the Greek public due to his fearless presence. He was seen as an icon of hope and loyalty by many and has been portrayed though street art, with this particular example – found in Psirri on the corner of Riga Palamidou and Sarri Streets – serving as a poignant reminder of the social and political turmoil that the city endured.

Other examples we saw addressed issues such as the war in Ukraine, and a train crash disaster believed to be due to decades of mismanagement of Greece’s rail industry.

We also saw several examples of work by INO (Apostolos Kyriazis), a street artist widely known for painting black and white images with a splash of blue . His 90-metre-long version of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ highlights social inequalities due to the Greek political system.

This alternative tour is one that’s not to be missed, and a truly unique way to explore Athens. It’ll provide you with an opportunity to discover cool neighbourhoods and gain a deeper understanding of the city’s culture, how people think and some of the issues that they hold close to their hearts.

Delicious Athens

They say to only have a light breakfast before this tour; we decided to skip it altogether and certainly didn’t it! Greek food is not only central to the local culture, and offers a fantastic way to see a different side of Athens, by joining Greeks in one of their most passionate pastimes… food! We start with some Greek classics – spinach pies and baklava – before moving on to do some tasting of olive oil and Greek coffee, all the while learning about culinary techniques and the importance of provenance.

Our tour also takes us through , the bustling Varvakios Market, the biggest and most popular fish, meat and vegetable market in the whole of Athens.

And there’s an obligatory stop at ‘Kostas’ for a traditional pork souvlaki served with fresh tomatoes, onions and a sprinkle of paprika, all wrapped in a warm pita. It’s been serving souvlaki since 1950 and is one of the places to go for a true taste of Athens street food.

We could really have stopped at this point, but there was one last stop on the tour, at a deli for a selection of scrumptious Greek meze. This tour isn’t just about the food, though; it’s a unique way to experience everday life in Athens and to see the city in a different light.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Alternative Athens. Our trip was sponsored by AEGEAN Airlines.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Telegraph.

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  1. Stunning photos of the food. Especially the fish standing to attention. I have never visited Athens but this article inspires me to make the effort to go there.

    1. Thanks, Valery! 🙂 Do have a look at our restaurant reviews from the same trip also… some great creations by some very skilled chefs! 😀

  2. The Olympic Games workout is a great idea, especially as it encapsulates the spirit of the Olympics as well.

  3. Sometimes we can get stuck in our ways when visiting a new city or town and simply book a standard tour. Some very original ideas here to get the real feel of Athens.

    1. Yes, we actually visited the Acropolis independently rather than on a tour (I’d been before also), but these other ways of seeing the city were a great way to see Athens in a different light, I think.

  4. I’ve done a couple of Street Art tours and they give you a real insight into what’s going on in a city.

    1. They certainly do, Craig… and Athens is a great place for a street art tour as there are so many great pieces popping up all the time. I remember doing something similar around 10 years ago (also in Athens) and didn’t see a single artwork that I’d seen last time around (perhaps not surprisingly after that length of time!).

  5. That’s a brilliant walking tour for foodies as you get to see the locals going about their daily routines too.

    1. Yes, although I’d definitely say “skip breakfast”. I’ve noticed over the years that the Greeks like to be very generous when it comes to food.

  6. The Greek meze really should have UNESCO recognition. Something like a title of – “Unique feature of outstanding local cuisine and culture.”

    You really haven’t been to Greece until you’ve experienced a long and languid Greek meze lunch.

    1. I’ve done it quite a few times and I never learn… 🤣 I really thought that by the time we had souvlaki on this tour, that that was the ‘main dish’ of the tour. Little did I realise there was a whole table-full of meze yet to come!!

  7. These suggestions are a long way from the usual boring school-trip classical studies take on Athens!!!

    1. Most definitely, Rose! I think Alternative Athens specialise in smaller, more intimate groups, but something like this would really lend itself well to school kids, particularly the Olympics and street art tours, I feel… kids can be fussy when it comes to food!

  8. The Athens Street Art Tour would be my choice, a real antidote to all the heavy classical history that Athens is known for. It would probably be excellent for some very colourful photography too, very different to all the Acropolis at sunset cliches.

    1. Yes, there were certainly lots of great photo opps! I didn’t actually take my main camera on this tour, so everything you see is just from my (rather old) phone camera….

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