The Athens Free Walking Tour
Here’s a tip: if you’re traveling on a tight budget, a tight schedule or just wanna get a crash course in history while exploring a new city with the help of a local guide, join a free walking tour! There are many cities around the world where you can find free walking tours, and Athens is one of them.
I happened to stumble upon the Athens Free Walking Tour website when I was researching things to do and sights to see there. As it turns out, since I was staying at City Circus Athens, it would’ve been one of their recommended things to do anyway, so I was really fated to go on that tour after all 😛
Our guide for the day was this standup chap named George!
As George explained, Athens is well-suited for walking tours as the city is quite compact, and most of the major attractions are all within walking distance of each other. And indeed, the whole walking tour lasted only about 3 hours, as we didn’t enter the historical sites that required admission fees.
The first stop for the day (which was also the meeting point), was the Acropolis Museum. It’s located on the slope on the way to the Acropolis, and was just only opened to the public in 2009. I’ve heard that the collections inside are well worth a visit, but unfortunately it was closed the only full day I was there. 😦
Interesting bit of trivia: the reason the Acropolis Museum is built at this specific angle is because the architect wanted visitors to be greeted with a reflection of the Parthenon upon arriving at the museum! Check out the glass panes along the top part of the building 🙂
The next stop a short distance away was Hadrian’s Arch, a gateway built to celebrate the arrival of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and honour him for the good things he did for the city.
Across from Hadrian’s Arch is the Temple of Olympian Zeus, a ruined temple dedicated to – who else – Zeus, the king of the gods. It was the largest temple in Greece in the Roman periods, but the columns are all that’s left today due to repeated pillaging and earthquakes.
The Panathenaic Stadium was our next stop! The first ever modern Olympics in 1896 was hosted at this stadium, and it’s the only major stadium in the world made entirely out of white marble (!!). The most interesting thing I remembered about the stadium was that it’s the finish line for the annual Athens Classic Marathon, which is related to the reason the stadium was built in that particular spot in the first place.
In case you didn’t already know, the reason why marathons are called marathons, and why they’re always 42km long is due to the legend of Pheidippides, a messenger in Ancient Greece who ran from the town of Marathon to Athens to announce the Greeks’ victory over the Persians in the Battle of Marathon. After running the entire distance of 42km, he collapsed and died of exhaustion right after he announced the news of the victory. The Panathenaic Stadium was then built at the spot where Pheidippides’ journey ended, and every year, the participants of the Athens Classic Marathon follow the same 42km route Pheidippides took from the town of Marathon to Athens 🙂
Up next was the Zappeion, the very first building erected specifically for the purpose of reviving the modern Olympics.
It’s been used for a number of historical events over the years, but currently serves as an exhibition and conference hall. I wouldn’t mind having a day long conference at a place like this…
Walked through the adjoining National Garden of Athens for a bit after leaving the Zappeion! Pity we didn’t have time to stop, it looked like wonderful place to chill and do absolutely nothing 🙂
Next on the route was the Greek house of Parliament and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, overlooking Syntagma Square.
Made it just in time for the changing of the guards! You don’t see tassels like that on shoes these days anymore…
Near Syntagma Square is the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens (Mitropoli).
Unfortunately, the Mitropoli was undergoing renovation works (until October apparently) so there wasn’t really much to see, but there were some pretty remarkable details about the cathedral, like…
… this naturally blue marble on the outside of the cathedral! How cool is that?
A short walk later, we were back at Monastiraki Square, drastically quieter on a Monday compared to the merry chaos of the markets the day before.
A short break later, we were off again, passing by the Roman Agora (or Ancient Agora).
It was built to replace the other ancient Greek Agora (which I’ll blog about later), which was a couple hundred years old by that time.
After that, it was uphill all the way towards the Acropolis, the toughest part of our trip. Haha. So Paul sat us down for a while do to his tour guide thing while giving us a break from all the stairs. Be prepared to climb if you’re heading to the Acropolis in Athens! You’ll be disappointed if you were hoping to find some sort of fancy cable car that would bring you up 😛
On the way up just before you reach the Acropolis, you’ll come across the Hill of Ares (which is actually a really, really huge rock). It offers really spectacular panoramic views of Athens, but to get to those views, you first have to get up onto the rock with the help of some stairs. You have the option of going up some nice, stable, metal, man-made stairs (not in the picture), or you could be adventurous and “follow the footsteps of Paul the Apostle”, and climb these innocent-looking stairs cut into the rock. That’s not too bad, right?
NO. THE STAIRS ARE LYING.
What you don’t know until you climb up is that the man-made metal stairs lead straight to a patch of rock that’s flat and pedestrian-friendly. The steps of these ancient stairs, however, get smaller towards the top, and once you reach the top, you have to walk (or almost-crawl, like I did) precariously over a whole bunch of uneven rocks to meet up with your tour group waiting on the nice, flat land.
Did I mention that the rocks are all marble, worn-out, smooth and slippery from a few thousand years’ worth of people trampling over it?!
The views are totally worth it though 🙂
DO YOU SEE THOSE ROCKS?!
And so ended the free walking tour, after we all came down from the Hill of Ares the sane people way, via the metal man-made stairs. 😛 We then parted ways, with some people heading back to town, while a few of us headed up some more towards the Acropolis.
If you’re ever in Athens for a couple of days, I highly recommend signing up for this tour! There’s no better way to get started with some Greek history and take in the main sights for literally the cost of nothing but a small tip. 🙂
Next – the highlight of my stay in Athens, the Acropolis! 😀