The days when the only city tours available involved a bus ride and a guide with a microphone are long gone. Today, many guides pair their love for the city with their passion for a certain hobby, like biking, food, of photography, and create action-filled adventures for every taste.
Here are some of our favorite alternative tour options:
VINTAGE BIKE TOUR
When Agis Kolivas, who assembles and sells tailor-made bicycles at his shop 48×17 Cycles near the Acropolis, noticed an increased interest in his two-wheelers, he decided to create a vintage bike experience for tourists. For the last year and a half, along with his colleague Kostas, Agis has been giving tours of central Athens, operating as Vintage Bike Tours. His way of seeing the city is the perfect experience for bike aficionados or anyone else who is comfortable pedaling.
On the tour, which lasts three and a half hours, you’ll roll through the city center and learn about all the historic and contemporary must-see places. The many stops include the Acropolis (which you’ll see from below), the Panathenaic Stadium, and a pause for a bite at Kostas, one of the city’s oldest and best souvlaki joints.
The bicycles provided are all restored vintage models, and include road bikes, city bikes, cruisers and mixte-frame bicycles. They’re all in top shape, with vintage gears and modern brakes. You’ll need to have a bit of experience with city riding, as you’ll be traveling on a few high-traffic streets and breaking a sweat now and then in your helmet.
The tours are available for English-speaking groups of up to seven people, and take place every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. They start and end at the 48×17 shop, located at 2 Veikou near the Acropolis Museum.
€35, Tel. (+30) 210.922.5488, vintagebiketours.gr
FOOD ON FOOT
After living in Athens for just five years, Anna Tzogia realized she had already managed to discover more than most locals about Athens’ eateries, so she decided to share that knowledge. Her company, Athens Food on Foot, now offers several different food tours (available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch and German) for groups of up to 12 people.
Tour options include wine tastings and street-food explorations, but perhaps the best starting point is the Classic Tour. The three-and-a-half to four-hour tour starts at 09:30 at Omonia Square. The first stop, for a breakfast treat, includes freshly fried loukoumades (a local version of the fried donut hole) with thyme honey, from one of the city’s old dairy shops. From there, the group moves on to grab what’s a more realistic breakfast for modern Athenians: a cheese pie from a bakery. Not eating too much of these first treats is a challenge, but a little restraint is well worth it in the end.
Consisting of many brief stops for everything from goat’s milk ice cream (from a chocolate boutique) to hearty bean stew and moussaka (in a taverna located inside the famous Varvakios meat and fish market), the tour serves up information as well as wonderful food.
€52 (free for children under 5, €25 for children 6-11, and €39 for children 12-18), Tel. (+30) 697.911.0469, www.athensfoodonfoot.com
A peek through a fence in Metaxourgio reveals an intriguing sight. As if you were looking through the window of a gallery, you’ll see art on the walls − the abandoned plot is surrounded by artwork, painted on the walls but respectfully organized so that each piece stays within its own space. This is one of the stops on tour company Greeking’s three-hour Street Art Tour, where renowned local artists take center stage.
Aside from artworks hidden in places you’d never think to look, the tour also includes individual pieces that have become artistic reference points in the city. “Snowblind,” by iNO, is the portrait of a faceless businessman with a blue smear across his shirt that represents his liver and is meant to create awareness regarding the prevention of Hepatitis C. On another wall, the picture of a dog titled “All Dogs Go to Heaven,” by the three artists Smart, Grams and Martinez, seems a sentimental tribute to a family dog – but as your guide will tell you, “Loukanikos” is the stray dog who participated in street demonstrations, and was made famous by Time Magazine.
The tours, which are all private (available for groups of up to eight participants) and conducted in English, are led by Sophia, a practicing street artist with a degree from the Athens School of Fine Arts, or by Theo, an archaeologist with extensive knowledge of history and a passion for modern art. They focus on art with political and cultural references, which often has strong messages about Greece today.
From €40, depending on the size of the group (free for children under 10), Tel. (+30) 694.207.0899 / (+30) 210.956.7326, greeking.me
They call it “fearless post-crisis fashion.” The guides at Alternative Athens aren’t state-licensed professionals; they’re real local insiders who care about their city. In this spirit, the Greek Designers Shopping Tour is a way of promoting the country’s many innovative up-and-coming designers while also giving tour participants the chance to discover tomorrow’s trends today.
Greeting tour participants on pedestrianized Tsakalof Street in upscale Kolonaki, the guide leads them on a three-and-a-half-hour walk through the neighborhood, where the group makes ten stops at spots offering various types of shopping, from women’s fashion at Punchi Pupunchi and affordable jewelry at Prigipo to deli products at Yoleni’s Flagship Store. Other stops include a Greek cosmetics store, a furniture store, and a museum gift shop that promotes new designers.
Join-in tours are held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays at 10:00, and Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 16:00, in English and French. Private tours, which have a two-participant minimum, are also available in Spanish.
€50 (free for children under 12, €40 for children 12-17), Tel. (+30) 211.012.6544, www.alternativeathens.com
After meeting your guide from Athens Photo Tour at the foot of the Acropolis Hill in the morning (09:00-10:00), you’ll start your full-day tour shooting the Parthenon from below. Later, at Lycabettus Hill, you’ll photograph the city from above. You’ll also visit the Panathenaic Stadium, Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
The tour continues with a trip to the coast and a stop in Mikrolimano in Piraeus; a ride along the Athenian Riviera to amazing Vouliagmeni Lake; and finally, as the sun sets, an incredible photo opportunity at the Temple of Poseidon in Sounio. (Tripods are available for evening shots.)
Your guide is a professional photographer, ready to help you with everything from camera settings to suggestions for editing apps, whether you are shooting with a professional camera or your phone. The tours, which are in English, are all private, with groups no larger than four people, ensuring that everyone gets the help and attention they need.
€249 (free for children under 13), Tel. (+30) 210.920.0361 / (+30) 693.728.4218, www.athensphototour.com
FAMILY TREASURE HUNT
“A tour where the kids are bored is horrible for the whole family,” says Antonis Chatzis, managing director of Be a Greek. Their four-hour Athens for Kids tour is designed especially for families traveling with kids aged 5-13, and is in the form of a treasure hunt.
The adventure starts at 10:00 at Hadrian’s Arch (the “door” to ancient Athens), and continues through historical Plaka, where teaching experts Vicky, Danai and Katerina will enthusiastically share stories about the daily life in ancient Greece, the philosophers, the Gods of Olympus, and the birth of democracy. At every stop, there is a series of activities to complete, including writing in ancient Greek, playing custom board games and recreating events practiced at the ancient Olympic Games; all these require cooperative effort. There’s also a break for refreshments at a café.
The tour is available for private groups (of up to eight participants) every day, and for semi-private groups on Fridays, and can be conducted in English or Italian.
From €50, depending on the size of the group (free for children under 4), Tel. (+30) 694.833.2630, www.beagreek.com
As the guides at Athens Insiders know, fine-drinking tourism is a new, but growing concept and the Athens bar scene is one of the liveliest in Europe. Exciting things are happening at Greek cocktail bars as well as on the beer scene, with local microbrewery products suddenly available everywhere. Meanwhile, the quality of the domestic wines has also improved greatly, inspiring the establishment of a number of excellent wine bars.
On the three-hour bar-hopping tours that the company offers, any of these different bar scenes can be explored. Depending on the interests and preferences of each group, Athens Insiders creates private tours which can include tasting sessions for beer, spirits, or wine, as well as stops at up to six bars.
The guide that you’ll get depends on the specifics of each tour, so participants will always have the benefit of an expert. Locations will change as well; for instance, if it’s about drinks with a view, the guide will chose the city center, whereas if the group is looking for alternative neighborhood hangouts, the destination is likely to be Exarchia. Hotel pick-up and drop-off is included for those staying within walking distance of the areas visited.
The tours are available in English, French, Spanish, German and Chinese, and in other languages upon request.
(€150 for first person, €10 for every additional participant, drinks excluded), Tel. (+30) 694.284.2188 / (+30) 211.790.9879, athensinsiders.com