Unlike Amsterdam or Copenhagen, Athens isn’t renowned as a bicycle city, but cycling is one of the best ways to discover the many wonderful surprises that the timeless Greek capital has to offer. A favorable climate is one of Athens’ biggest attractions, which makes cycling an all-year-round proposition. With an average of just 65 days of rainfall per year, you can leave the waterproofs and mudguards at home.
What’s more, thanks to efforts from the Municipality of Athens, a popular network of segregated cycle paths is being expanded across the city, giving riders the opportunity to access even more of the capital. Exploring on two wheels not only allows you to move around in the historic center easily, it also lets you view it from a unique perspective. At the same time, being able to cover more ground makes it possible to enjoy more of the diversity of the city than is available at the main tourist sites. Tranquil, tree-lined suburbs; wonderful beaches, quiet countryside lanes and challenging mountains are all within a few hours’ ride from the center.
Today, Athens boasts a vibrant cycling scene that caters to riders of all stripes and skill levels: from the street riders at Vicious Cycles bike shop to the Lycra-clad crowd zipping along the Athens Riviera on their carbon-fiber creations.
PEPITA MEGLIACCIO – RAISING AWARENESS
Pepita’s epilepsy meant that she was unable to obtain a driver’s license. When she began cycling to get to classes at her university, she had no idea how much it would change her life. Loving the freedom that came with her bike, she soon became a cycling activist. In 2011, she cycled 600km from Thessaloniki to Athens to raise awareness for the Greek Epilepsy Association. “I wanted to show people that, even with epilepsy, you can do everything,” she says. “Cycling has become such a way of life for me that now I’m glad I never started driving. I love the weather and cycling the hills of Athens.”
Pepita, who studied to become a sports nutritionist specializing in vegan and vegetarian diets, regularly competes in cycle races around Greece. She’s passionate about making sports more inclusive and hopes one day to become a sighted guide for Paralympic cycling.
If you don’t have access to a bike but want to de-stress and burn off some calories, you can attend one of Pepita’s weekly spinning classes at ZarouZone in Gazi or at Fitness Star in Renti. “My lessons are somewhere between spinning and comedy,” she says. “Spinning is supposed to be challenging, but success for me is to get a whole room of people sweating and laughing together.” When she’s not in the saddle, Pepita runs Petaei-Petaei in Kolonaki, a jewelry shop established by her mother that features the work of 30 independent designers. Each piece is unique and hand-made – one of her favourites is a tiny metal bicycle pendant.
Her Favorite Rides:
“Down the coastal road to the Temple of Poseidon at the tip of Cape Sounion. It’s a flat route, but if your legs aren’t up to 60km in each direction, you can always stop early and turn around at any of the beaches or seaside towns along the way, like Vouliagmeni, Lagonisi or Anavyssos.”
PAUL EFMORFIDIS – THE GAME CHANGER
The number one priority is the air we breathe,” enthuses Paul Efmorfidis. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a billionaire or you’re dirt poor, we all breathe the same air.”
Sustainability and natural materials have been at the heart of Paul’s vision ever since he founded Coco-Mat in 1989. Over nearly three decades, the company, famous for making hand-made beds, pillows and mattresses, has become a global furniture brand with stores and hotels in 21 countries.
Both in business and in person, the irrepressible Paul breaks the mold: he doesn’t have a car or a mobile phone. “I’m not a ‘cyclist.’ I never train,” he says. “I ride every day. The bike is how I live.”
If there are two things Paul believes in, they are bicycles and wood – so it was only a matter of time before they both came together in one product. In 2015, he offered a prize to find the best design for an all-wooden bike. Today, the Coco-Mat Bike is available in five variations – from a children’s model to city bikes – and the distinctive ash-wood open frame has been lauded on design blogs worldwide.
“It’s my dream to change Athens,” Paul says. “I’ve offered to fund bike lanes across the city, and it’s my hope that the road space we currently use for cars will one day be planted with trees. When cycling becomes the main mode of transport, Athens will be full of happier people.”
His Favorite Rides:
“Coco-Mat’s two wooden bike tours, which leave from the Zappeio at 11am daily. The Sightseeing Tour lasts two and a half hours and takes you around the main attractions of the historical center, while the four-hour Riviera Tour takes you down to the coast. Bikes can also be borrowed from the Coco-Mat Hotel in Kolonaki.”
36 Patriarchou Ioakim, Kolonaki, Tel. (+30) 210.723.0000
Tel. (+30) 698.381.2428
DIMOSTHENIS KOUVIDIS – GUIDES ON WHEELS
“There are endless stories to tell in Athens,” explains Dimosthenis Kouvidis, “and because I come from a publishing background, I enjoy telling them. I like to bring the history, archaeology and architecture of the city to life with some tales from Greek mythology.”
Dimosthenis founded Roll in Athens Bike & Walking Tours with artist Lenia Economou in 2016. If you join them on their City Highlights tour, you’ll see monuments, temples and public buildings left behind by the Ancient Greeks and Romans, as well as Byzantine churches where people still pray today. You’ll also come across Ottoman mosques, picturesque alleyways and secret spots you won’t find in your guidebook.
“Cycling around Athens gives you a great feeling for the city,” Dimosthenis says. “You can stop whenever you like to talk with people and interact with the things around you. Even on hot days, there are plenty of shady spots to rest and escape the heat. We set our own pace, and the three hours pass very quickly.”
Roll in Athens specializes in small, intimate tours for up to five people, and takes pride in customizing routes according to each group’s interests. Older groups might ask to see the city’s main Orthodox churches, while younger riders often want to explore countercultural neighborhoods, like Exarchia. No matter where the group goes, however, all rides end up with meze dishes and raki on Dimosthenis’ splendid terrace facing the Acropolis.
His Favorite Rides:
“The circle of pedestrian walkways that ring the Acropolis is one of the most beautiful rides anywhere in the world; you should always end the ride with a quick pedal around the National Gardens. If you want to see the coast, pick up the cycle path that begins at the Thiseio metro station. You can do this route alone or with us, on our City-to-Sea Tour.”
10 Voreou, Monastiraki
Tel. (+30) 697.423.1611
SOFIA GLITSA – MOUNTAIN RIDER
You’re as likely to find Sofia Gilitsa competing in full race gear on her road bike as you are to spot her blazing along challenging off-road trails on her mountain bike or shooting around Athens with the fixed-gear crew, competing in an alleycat urban checkpoint race.
“When I began riding ten years ago, there was no culture of cycling in Athens,” Sofia explains. “Drivers were surprised to see me on a bike. But, as people see others cycling, there’s been a real domino effect and cycling is now commonplace.”
Sofia is excited to see more riders on the roads, but what really delights her is witnessing the evolution of a tight-knit and fun-loving cycling community. Sofia says the best place to get to know them is outside The Handlebar, a café in Psyrri where you can rub shoulders with racers, commuters and cycle couriers.
Sofia’s first love is mountain biking. In Athens, she’s blessed: surrounded by mountains on three sides, the capital offers a variety of nearby mountain bike trails few cities can match. Even Filopappou Hill, right in the center of the city, has rocky obstacles and exciting trails. But if you have the time to get a little further out, you can enjoy a wealth of routes that crisscross the mountains of Ymittos, Parnitha and Penteli and the Tatoi Estate.
“When you explore in the mountains, you really feel the adrenaline,” Sofia says. “You smell the trees, the earth and the fresh air. Riding hard boosts your serotonin levels and keeps you healthy – physically and mentally.”
Her Favorite Rides:
“I love to ride the mountain bike trails on Mt Parnitha. The nearby Tatoi Estate is easier for beginners, and more accessible. Mt Ymittos is great, too and much closer to the center, although it’s a far rockier proposition.”
8 Melanthiou, Psyrri
Tel. (+30) 211.409.3002
DANAE MORAITIS – THE IRON LADY
Growing up in a sports-obsessed family, triathlete Danae Moraitis had no choice but to join in the physical activity from a young age. Her family business, Moraitis Beach, is a water sports center complete with a beach bar in the eastern Attica area of Schinias.
“I’ve always had an excellent connection with the open water,” Danae says. “When I competed in my first Ironman 70.3 triathlon in Thailand in 2016, I got hooked. I qualified for the World Championship in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the following year. But training for three disciplines simultaneously takes a lot of focus.”
Luckily for Danae, Schinias is an ideal location to practice all three: the pristine coastline is great for both swimming and running, and cyclists come to train at the Schinias Olympic Rowing and Canoeing Center, where they can ride on the wide perimeter paths without being distracted by cars.
Over the last decade, Danae’s own company, Transition Sports, has organized a range of sporting events, including the Greek national championships in duathlon and triathlon. Today, Danae’s primary focus is on encouraging more women to get involved in sports. She started a women-only triathlon club and organizes a range of women-only events, including a run around the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Faliro.
Her Favorite Rides:
“Schinias is a pleasant 50km cycle from central Athens, but to avoid the traffic on the outskirts of town, you can take bikes on the train from the Athens Railway Station, the city’s central station, to Aghios Stefanos, then embark on a hilly but spectacular 23km ride across the Marathon Dam, through Vothonas and Marathon and then down to the coast at Schinias.”
GARETH JONES – THE PARTY STARTER
“Cycling is really boring,” says Gareth Jones, who founded Vicious Cycles Athens in 2010. “The idea of opening an urban bike shop here in Athens was about doing rock ‘n’ roll, art and bikes together – and building a community of people who respect all of that.”
Raised in Shropshire in the UK, Gareth was drawn to Athens in 2004 by the underground music scene. There he met his future business partner, Dimitri Koutsovasillis, a street artist known as Peio who was also a member of a punk band. They picked their location on Melanthiou, then a run-down street in the Psyrri district, and organized a series of alleycat races, street parties and music gigs that helped nourish an emerging urban cycling scene.
Vicious Cycles Athens has helped revive the neighborhood’s fortunes; today, it’s one of the liveliest spots in the city. After the street became an unofficial cyclists’ hangout spot, they opened the Handlebar, a cycling-themed café, next door. Today, Gareth and Dimitri are focused on promoting their latest business project, Spray.Bike, a high-quality, non-drip bike paint that has been embraced by custom bike builders from Japan to California; every can that’s sold helps support a small, family-run factory in the suburbs of Athens.
His Favorite Rides:
“The summit of Mt Ymittos. It’s a challenging, hour-long climb that doesn’t let up, but it takes you nearly 1,000m above sea level and rewards you with an incomparable view over all of Athens.”
Vicious Cycles Athens, 8 Melanthiou, Psyrri, Tel. (+30) 211.710.9378
The Handlebar, 8 Melanthiou, Psyrri, Tel. (+30) 211.409.3002