“A new tour reveals a side of the ancient city unknown even to locals” – The Sunday Times Travel Magazine
In response to great acclaim for our Easter in Athens tour, we proudly present a brand-new version of our Exploring Athens tour , the ultimate exploration of the city that dominated Classical Greek history and has been modern Greece’s capital for nearly two centuries.
Exploring Athens is certainly an archaeological tour, but far more besides. We offer you a historical panorama, a cultural exploration, a culinary experience, an array of world-famous ‘must-sees’, off-the-beaten-track secrets and very personal stories about a city with a remarkably turbulent and uniquely consequential history spanning well over four millennia.
Athens is most famous for its ‘golden age’, a period lasting just about a hundred years, the Classical fifth century BC. At its century’s start, at enormous risk and human cost, Athens led the resistance to the imperial might of the Persian behemoth in two victorious wars. Subsequently, the city became the affluent head of the ‘Delian League’, essentially an economic and political empire spanning across the Aegean Sea. By the turn of the fourth century, it had lost the gruelling decades-long Peloponnesian War against Sparta and barely been spared obliteration. But within those 85 years, Athens was the vibrant centre of a cultural explosion, a phase of unparalleled innovation in thought, in art, architecture, literature, drama, philosophy and science, associated with names like Themistocles, Aeschylus, Euripides, Herodotus, Thucydides, Pheidias, Pericles and Socrates. Through those contributions, Athens not only forms our perception of Ancient Greece, but exerts a still-lasting influence on Western thought and has forever attached its name to the very concept of European history.
We see the many traces of that flourish, most famously of course on the Acropolis, the venerable citadel and sacred rock that still dominates the heart of the city, crowned by some of the most famous architectural achievements in all of history. Its central focus, the enormous Parthenon, temple of the virgin goddess Athena, reflects the ups and downs of Athens’ rich history: abraded by time, hacked at by iconoclasts, wounded by explosives, denuded of its sculptural decoration, built and rebuilt, it still stands proud as the symbol of its city and country.
For us, however, the ‘golden age’ is just one aspect of an extraordinary history. It begins with the warlike Mycenaeans a thousand years earlier, and leads on through the pre-Classical Archaic era, when Athens was one of many emerging city-states, veering towards the experimental innovation we know as Democracy. After the fifth century, Athenian history goes on, continuing through the Hellenistic era as the pawn of greater powers, then as a museum of Greekness and centre of learning in the Roman Empire, a hotbed of renewed piety in the Byzantine period, and a seat of foreign rulers in the time of the Crusades and during the long Ottoman occupation. Eventually, the city, declared the capital of newly-liberated Greece, enters its modern story, rapidly growing from a village to the super-city that it is today, moving between glories and catastrophes at a dizzying pace.
Traces of every step in this long history are visible to those who know where to look.
We will immerse you in the lives and times and the ups and downs of the modern city that stands amidst and upon the remains of its predecessors. The sights and sounds of a vibrant metropolis, its aromas and flavours, and those of the surrounding region, all add to our panoramic story of Athens.
Athens, as it always has, offers so much: ideas, stories, insights and experiences. Our Exploring Athens tour is the supreme way to experience the city’s full potential.
Day 1: Arrival in Athens. Transfer from the airport, about 45 minutes away, to our hotel in the centre of the city. Welcome dinner.
Day 2: In the morning, we start our exploration of Athens by ascending the hill of Mount Lycabettus, a steeply conical limestone outcrop that dominates the city centre. At the summit, we see all of Athens and all of what used to be the Central Attic Plain, hemmed in by mountains on three sides and open to the Saronic Gulf in the distance. From our viewpoint we trace the city's growth before descending to its ancient margins amid the sculptured remains at the Kerameikos, for over a thousand years the most famous ancient Athenian cemetery, located on the sides of the ‘Sacred Way’, just outside the city walls. The walls themselves are a tangible trace of a long history: raised by Themistocles in 480/479 BC in the immediate aftermath of the Second Persian War and the sack of Athens, they were used and rebuilt for many centuries. We enter the ancient city by walking through the ‘Sacred Gate’. The beautiful site museum serves as an introduction to Athens’ beautifully-painted pottery and sculpture. After lunch, we explore the Agora, the very heart of the Classical city. Watched over by the wonderfully preserved Temple of Hephaistos and Athena, it served as a political, civic, commercial and religious centre, the place where the city enacted its identity. It is here that Attic Democracy was developed and performed, but also that Athenian thought and debate had their home.
Day 3: Today, we venture outside the city proper, to the eastern and northern parts of Attica, along the shores of the Euboean Gulf. Athens would never have become what it did without Attica, the peninsula that was its territory and agricultural hinterland, and the city-state was actually an amalgamation of many previously independent communities scattered throughout the Attic plains, mountains and valleys. We begin with Brauron (Vravrona), a revered sanctuary to Artemis and a key example of a rural shrine on Athenian land. The evocative site, centred on a rocky outcrop near a coastal swamp, and its superb museum open up tales of myth and worship, of the lives of women and girls in antiquity, of art and architecture as well. Afterwards, we continue along the coast to the site of one of antiquity’s most famous and most consequential battles: Marathon! This is the hallowed site where the Athenians, badly outnumbered, repulsed the first Persian invasion in 490 BC. The tumulus covering the remains of the 192 fallen Athenian hoplites, worshipped as heroes, stands in their memory – the ideal place to hear the whole dramatic story of what brought war here. We also pay a visit to the nearby Early Bronze Age cemetery at Tsepi, where a number of monuments commemorate long-forgotten ‘big men’ who held sway over the Marathon region nearly 5,000 years ago. After a seaside lunch, we return to Athens. In the evening, you are free to pick from the countless available options to have an Athenian dinner of your choice.
Day 4: A day focused on the city's core and its most famous feature, the Acropolis and its slopes. We start by visiting the sanctuary of Dionysos, God of wine, ecstasy and performances. Its stand-out feature is the Theatre of Dionysos, where Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes gave their plays to the city – and to us! Then we pass by the Roman-era Odeion - concert hall - of Herodes Atticus to climb up to the top of the sacred rock where the city's most famous and most influential artistic and architectural achievements were concentrated. Passing through the great gateway of the Propylaea, we will see the fabled temples of Periclean Athens – Athena Nike, small and extraordinarily ornate, nestling on the rock’s shoulder, the strange and wonderful Erechtheion with its patient caryatids and, overlooking them all, the huge and incomparable Parthenon, a culmination of Athenian and Greek creativity, conceived by Pericles and designed by Pheidias. Our experts explain the mythological background to the site and the cultural and political significance of the monuments, but also the ongoing restoration project. In the afternoon, we complete the experience by touring the superb and state-of-the-art Acropolis Museum, offering a fuller understanding of the site through the remarkable works of art it once housed, including a superb display of the Parthenon’s famous sculptural programme. Once more, you are free to make your own arrangements for dinner.
Day 5: Our second foray outside Athens proper aims west, along the coast of the Saronic Gulf. Our first destination, reached by the ancient ‘Sacred Way’, is Eleusis, one of the holiest sites in all of Ancient Greece. The great shrine to Demeter, goddess of agriculture, and her daughter Persephone, abducted by Hades, God of the underworld, was the centre of antiquity's greatest mystery cult, focused on the individual’s initiation into some secret knowledge or lore. It played a major role in Athenian and later in Roman thoughts about life and death. From here, we also head to the waters between Attica and Salamis, where the Athenians devastated a huge Persian fleet during the Second Persian War in 480 BC, ending the Persian hope of dominating mainland Greece for good. Later, we continue north on the ancient road that linked Attica with central Greece to view the mighty coastal fortress of Aigosthena. It was built to protect a small harbour giving Athens some access to the Corinthian Gulf, but also to serve as one of a string of border fortifications defending Athens from its landward neighbours. After a seaside lunch, we return to the city. In the evening, we stroll through Plaka, the historic Old Town of Athens, to admire some of the city's medieval (Byzantine) and nineteenth century (Neoclassical) highlights before dinner.
Day 6: We begin the day with a tour of Greece's National Archaeological Museum, one of the world's most significant collections of ancient art. All of the achievements of Ancient Athens are present here, and our experts have devised a tour that highlights the richest finds and shows you just how much you’ve come to know on the trip, serving as an introduction to a vast museum that rewards the repeat visitor. From there, we set out for Piraeus, the ancient and modern harbour town closely associated with Athens. Then as now, Piraeus has its own identity. While its existence is owed to being Athens’ link with the wider world, in antiquity it was also home to the mighty Athenian navy. First, we explore the massive Eetioneia Gate, built during the Peloponnesian War to protect access to the main harbour. Then, we stop by the Lion of Piraeus, a copy of the ancient marble sculpture that gave the harbour its medieval name of Porto Leone (the original is now in Venice) – and learn about its Viking connection. After a maritime lunch, we stroll along one of the most attractive stretches of the ancient sea walls around the Bay of Aphrodite before returning for a rest at our hotel. In the late afternoon, we continue our encounter with modern Greek history by visiting the exquisite Benaki Museum, home to a series of unique displays of carefully selected items reflecting Greek history from the Neolithic era to the present, including ancient art, Byzantine icons, traditional costumes, and interiors, and much more.
Day 7: This morning belongs to the modern city and to the ups and downs of its turbulent history, all experienced as a lively story told while walking through the ‘triangle’, the heart of the planned new capital city designed during the 1830’s and still the most vibrant part of the city centre. Starting at Syntagma (Constitution) Square, set below the Hellenistic Parliament and former Royal Palace, as we walk through squares and avenues, and thread our way through streets and lanes past the monuments and landmarks that constitute today’s city, we also encounter contemporary Athenian urban life in all its facets. While doing so, we hear the many stories of twentieth-century Athens, stories about the most dramatic times in the city's history, from the unrest and displacements following the Greco-Turkish War in 1922, via the horrors of the German occupation and the heroic resistance against it, to the traumatic Civil War and subsequent developments, at the very sites of these events. Having completed our historic walk by the City Hall in Kotzia Square, we meet a local Athenian food expert for a tour of the Varvakio, the bustling central meat and fish market and its lively surroundings. After a very local lunch, there is free time for relaxation, further sightseeing or a bit of shopping in the now-familiar centre. In the evening, we meet for a final great Athenian meal.
Day 8: The end of our Exploring Athens tour. Transfers to Athens Airport about 45 minutes from the 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:We consider adequate travel insurance to be essential. You should ensure that you take out a suitable policy, to make sure that your trip is properly covered.
For UK Nationals, travel to the EU will change from 1 January 2021. Please check the current situation regarding visa requirements before you travel. You can find more information online here.
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.
Athens Destination Guide