“Easter in Athens” is an exceptional tour, a unique opportunity to explore one of Europe’s most fascinating cities and experience its spectacular past and vibrant present during its most important annual celebration. This is a unique combination of first-rate archaeological and historic sites with hands-on experience of the living traditions in a modern capital city.
Greek Orthodox Easter is a special time to be in Athens. To Greeks, Easter is the biggest annual feast, far more important than Christmas. It consists of Holy Week, commemorating Christ’s sufferings and Passion, and the Easter night itself, a celebration of resurrection and salvation, of light, joy and beauty, and also of Greek identity. Our “Easter in Athens” is a one-of-a-kind invitation to witness that celebration, in all its sobriety and all its exuberance, and in the enfolding context of the city’s rich past.
Athens is a fascinating place, a city where monuments from three millennia and from diverse cultural contexts rub shoulders with one another: Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Neoclassical and modern. At the same time, a vibrant modern city with a very distinctive Athenian feel invites you to discover its own special sounds and scents, its own enchanting rhythms, its own time-honoured traditions, its own enticing lifestyles and its own joyful celebrations.
Two expert guides, steeped in the history and archaeology of Athens and her modern life, will introduce you to the unforgettable experience of an Athenian Easter. They will bring the wonders of the Acropolis to life, help you engage with the timeless art and architecture of Byzantine Athens, explain the intricacies of modern Greek history and show you the beautiful landscapes and seascapes that surround the Greek capital.
A range of activities has been selected to bring you even closer to the life of Athens, past and present: a specially-arranged visit to a pottery workshop will permit you direct contact with an ancient craft, and a personal cooking lesson will enable you to participate in producing some of the delights that form an integral part of Greek Easter.
Along with these experiences of Athenian culture through the ages, you will witness the events of Holy Week, the build-up towards Easter, as it is celebrated by Athenians in the city’s various churches. In the evenings, you will see their candlelit liturgies held in an intense atmosphere heavy with incense and deep piety. On Holy Tuesday, the air will ring with their mystical choral song in the venerable Byzantine tradition, the sound of centuries of devotion. On Good Friday, you will see local congregations lovingly and intricately decorate the bier of Christ with fresh spring flowers, before carrying it in procession through their neighbourhoods… It all culminates in Easter night itself, when the countless flames of a new season light the face of the assembled, young and old, believing or doubting, in a moment of celebration shared throughout Greece. You will share this unique experience, as well as the great and delicious feast of Easter Sunday.
Join us on “Easter in Athens”!
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Day 1: Arrivals in Athens, transfer to your hotel in the heart of the city, 45 minutes from the airport.
Day 2: In the morning, we visit the most famous of the Athenian sights: The Acropolis. Soaring above the houses of the Old Town, the sacred rock of the ancient city is an extraordinary place, a natural feature imbued with countless stories from mythology and from history, crowned by a series of ancient temples to Athena, superb monuments that stand witness to the stupendous creative genius and the superb technical skill of Classical Athens. The most famous among them, the Parthenon, is unique in its perfect proportions and architectural refinements.
In the afternoon, we continue our exploration in the Acropolis Museum, home to the sensational finds from the Acropolis itself. The state-of-the-art museum is home to one of the most important collections of Greek sculpture worldwide, its wonderful exhibits permitting us to follow the development of the highest achievements of ancient art.
After dinner, we visit a church in the heart of Athens to experience the celebration of Great Tuesday, the opening event of Holy Week and the commemoration of the Passion, the suffering of Christ in his most human humility. The evening liturgy features Byzantine-style choral singing, including the renowned Hymns of Kassiani and of the Fallen Women, sung before the Matins of Holy Wednesday.
Day 3: We start the day by touring the Kerameikos, the main cemetery of ancient Athens for many centuries. The site, a park-like oasis hidden away only a stone’s throw from the busy modern city centre, is of great beauty, and the carefully constructed and decorated burial monuments remain solemn and dignified, even touching, a hundred generations after their creation. The little on-site museum gives an excellent and very approachable overview across the history of another central aspect of ancient Athenian art and craft: pottery.
We continue to Eleusis, one of the most sacred places in ancient Attica. In Greek mythology, Eleusis is the venue of some of supremely dramatic and important events affecting the relationship between gods and humans: the abduction of Persephone, daughter to Demeter, goddess of agricultural fertility, by Hades, god of the underworld, Demeter’s desperate and mournful search for the girl, her generous reception by the local mortals, and the eventual reconciliation. The archaeological site is extensive and throws much light on one a key religious event in the ancient Athenian calendar: the Eleusinian procession and the Great Eleusinian Mysteries.
In the afternoon, we return to Athens to visit the workshop of a modern potter, specialised in recreating the beautiful black-figure and red-figure wares of ancient Athens. We learn about the process and participate in crafting a sample of this ancient art.
Day 4: Today, on Holy Thursday, we venture outside Athens and Attica proper, setting out from Piraeus, the ancient and modern harbour of Athens, to catch a glimpse of Greek island life on Aegina in the Saronic Gulf. After a leisurely crossing, we discover the key sites of the island, encompassing its long history, from prehistory to the recent past.
Near Agia Marina, we admire the Classical Temple of Afaia, one of the finest and best-preserved of its kind in Greece, its slender columns rising tall above a pine grove overlooking the Aegean Sea, inviting the visitor to ponder the mysterious character of its titular deity. At Palaiochora, we encounter the ghosts of the island’s Byzantine past in its long-abandoned medieval capital, of which only a series of painted chapels survive today, like a miniature version of more famous Mystras, but in an island setting.
We also view the tiny Omorfiklisia (‘beautiful church’), its entire interior covered in colourful 13th century frescoes. Later, we explore the important prehistoric settlement of Kolonna, also the site of a Classical Temple to Apollo – accompanied by a superb little museum – and the 19th century island capital, which briefly played the role of capital to the fledgling Greek state. We return to Athens.
Day 5: Good Friday is the most serious day of the Greek Orthodox Holy Week. We begin it with an easy stroll through Plaka, the Old Town of Athens, to explore its principal monuments from the Byzantine and Ottoman eras: venerable mansions, monasteries and old mosques, a palimpsest of residential and public architecture from various periods, and of course a fascinating array of the renowned Athenian Byzantine chapels, an often-overlooked treasure of the city. Stepping into them, we have a chance to observe the Greek Orthodox rituals of Good Friday with all senses, sight, sound and scent, focusing on the exuberantly ornate decoration of the ‘epitafios’, the symbolic bier of Christ, with spring flowers. This task is traditionally performed with great effort and passion by the faithful of the local congregation. `
Later, we enter the old food market of Varvakeio, accompanied by an expert chef. There, we explore the vast array of local and regional produce on offer, choosing some of the finest ingredients for a range of typical Greek Lent and Easter specialities, which we prepare together during a private cooking lesson.
In the evening, we go to the pleasant area of Thisseio, near the ancient Agora of Athens, to watch the celebrations of the epitafios, when the decorated bier of each parish is carried around the in solemn procession, accompanied by lamentation and the tolling of mourning bells.
Day 6: In the morning we visit the wonderful Benaki Museum, an eclectic private collection of art from all eras of Greek history. We discover its excellent display of Byzantine and post-Byzantine icons, venerated objects that are not mere illustrations of belief, but an expression of the underlying message of faith and salvation in pictorial form. We also view the superb exhibits to do with traditional Greek costumes and customs.
After lunch, we set to the well-known 11th century Monastery of Kaisarini, nestled serenely in a fold of the pine-forested Hymettos Mountains above Athens. In this idyllic setting, far removed from the urban sprawl below, we watch the celebration by priests and locals of the ‘first resurrection’ of Christ, namely the Three Marys discovering the Empty Tomb, the first event to herald the resurrection and our first preview of the great celebrations that are to follow later this day. We return to the city for a free late afternoon.
In the evening, after a light dinner and a sampling of some of Greece’s best wines, we set out into the heart of Athens to witness the main events of the resurrection, an event beginning in still-mournful darkness, but culminating in a deluge of light and celebration, shared by everyone present and expressed with the call “Christos anesti” – “Christ has risen”, and the reply “alithos anesti” – “verily, he has”. Afterwards, there is a chance to taste traditional Easter night treats, such as the famous Magiritsa soup.
Day 7: After a well-deserved late rising, we make our way to rural eastern Attica. Here, we visit the ancient site of Thorikos, a ‘deme’, or village belonging to Athens, famous for its role in the exploitation of silver that made Athens wealthy in the fifth century BC. The unusual and early theatre of Thorikos is a fascinating and very significant monument, standing witness to the early spread of dramatic performances throughout the Athenian state.
We enjoy a lavish Easter lunch of the typical Greek Easter specialities: spit-roasted lamb, oven-baked potatoes, tsoureki (a buttery sweet bread) and much more, accompanied by red wine. We perform the tsougrisma, the traditional tapping of red-painted Easter eggs. A free afternoon is followed by a (light) farewell dinner.
Day 8: Departures from Athens airport, 45 minutes from your hotel.
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Arrival and Departure Information
Arrival Airport – Athens
Departure Airport – Athens
Check in time at your hotel in Athens is after 14:00 so we recommend choosing a flight that arrives in the afternoon/early evening in time for the welcome dinner. Check out time is 12:00pm. We will arrange local transfers from the airport and to the airport on the first and last day of the tour.
Booking Flights The cheapest way to book flights for our Exploring Athens tour is directly with the airline online.
If you prefer to book with a travel agent, we are happy to recommend specialists in a number of countries around the world, please contact our office for more details.
Travel Insurance Travel insurance is a requirement of our booking conditions and we recommend you investigate the options thoroughly to make sure that your trip is properly covered. Please be advised some insurers may require you to take out a policy within 15-20 days of booking your holiday to receive all of their insurance benefits. If you would prefer not to take out travel insurance please let us know. We would require you to complete and return to us a travel insurance waiver form.
Visas Citizens of European Union member states, the United States, Canada and Australia do not need to apply for a visa to visit Greece for trips of less than 90 days duration.
Athens If you are planning to stay in Athens before or after your tour we have included below links to more information and things to see and do.