by Katherine Poseidon
Looking for fun things to do in Athens?
Here is the ultimate guide to keep up with your running routine and at the same time explore the city of Athens, check out important landmarks and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Our main suggestion is:
Plan your route.
While it is a beautiful concept to put on your shoes, head out the door and just follow your instinct, this doesn't work so well in Athens, where you might just find yourself stuck behind a large group of tourists or a double parked van unloading huge quantities of frozen cheese pies (both have happened to us). Depending on where you like to run (on the street, through green spaces, around a track), check out our recommendations below and then check Google Maps for the best way to get there. Running in the city centre is totally doable, but requires a little planning.
Stay away from traffic.
We recommend areas with wide pavements/sidewalks, and/or low traffic. Because the sidewalks are sometimes a health hazard on their own (having been hit in the head by the low hanging oranges too many times to count), we suggest avoiding pavements wherever possible. This does not apply to the wider streets, such as Vassilissis Sophias Avenue, where the sidewalks can easily accommodate pedestrians and runners alike. Much of the historic centre also has excellent footpaths, but also high pedestrian traffic, which is not ideal. We tend to steer clear of these areas, such as Ermou Street, just because we don’t like weaving in and out of people.
However, if you're staying near a more residential area with less traffic, you can avoid the pavements all together and run in the street, as long as you stay alert for both regular traffic and errant vehicles that may not be following all traffic laws.
Second, take advantage of Athens' green spaces.
Combine running with sightseeing in Athens.
One of the best and more scenic areas is Dionysiou Aeropagitou, the huge pedestrian street that circles the Acropolis - but because it is a really lovely place to stroll there is usually quite a lot of foot traffic. We tend to avoid this area because it is so busy, but for visitors the classic sightseeing is unbeatable, so we recommend trying to head out early before the crowds. Right off the pedestrian road is Filopappou Hill, which is crisscrossed with a number of gently rolling footpaths that are ideal for escaping the hubbub around the Acropolis.
Right in the centre of Athens next to the Parliament building are the National Gardens, a hidden gem that provides a lovely shady respite from the sun especially in the summer months. The paths inside the gardens are twisty, and there are usually significant numbers of people also enjoying a brief escape from the city, but for green space in central Athens it doesn’t get much better. Added bonus – there are water fountains scattered throughout, unfortunately a very rare occurrence.
If hill running is your thing, Lykavittos has a number of twisting trails around the highest point in the city. The paths are mostly wooded, with unparalleled views of the Acropolis (from above) and the sea and islands beyond, but the area is not very well lit at night so we recommend running before it gets dark completely. You’ll also see a number of runners on the street that circles the base of the hill in a 3km loop, but fairly heavy traffic makes this a less than safe option for a visitor.
One of the best kept secrets of Athens running is the route above the Panathenaic Stadium (Kallimarmaro). The classic marble landmark is a stop on many tourist visits, but few know that a path runs along the top of the stadium (following the horseshoe shape) and there is also a park on the neighbouring hill with incredible views of Athens. If you are staying near the area of Pagrati, this is definitely worth a visit. The path itself is accessible from behind the stadium, through a gate on Archimidous Street. This is the only area we’ve found in central Athens that is basically a track - and there are always other runners for company – plus a view of the Acropolis and inspiration from the Stadium!
Finally, our one major tip for running in Athens is head out early. In the hotter months, this is pretty much a necessity just because of the temperature, but an early morning start allows you to freely explore areas of Athens that are usually crammed with people (Monastiraki, Plaka, Syntagma) and you see an entirely different side of the city as it is waking up. If you hope to avoid morning traffic, we suggest trying to finish your run by around 8am.
Escape the city centre.
If running in the centre of Athens still seems a bit daunting, or you just want to change up the scenery, there are a number of other options that are slightly outside the centre of town.
Faliro – A short tram ride from central Syntagma south towards the sea, the Floisvos Marina in Faliro marks the beginning of an almost continuous seaside pedestrian path that extends 12km to the south through the suburbs of Glyfada and Voula (aka the Athens Riviera). As if running next to the sea wasn’t enough, the tram also follows the same route so you will never be too far from an easy trip back to Syntagma.
Alsos Syngrou – A single bus trip can get you from the centre of Athens to the northern suburbs, where you’ll find the huge Syngrou Estate. A wooded park with innumerable trails to get lost in, this is probably the best ‘escape’ from Athens without going far – take a mobile/GPS map with you though – it is easy to get lost among the trees!
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Kaisariani – If you have access to a car, the monastery of Kaisariani is nestled into Mount Ymyttos, which is full of trails and paths ripe for exploration, as well as paved roads, with the added bonus of fantastic views over Athens.
Vouliagmeni - If you are staying closer to the Vouliagmeni Peninsula and Kavouri, runs along the coastline are superb and the view of the sea is a wonderful treat for an early morning or afternoon run. In the summer months it gets quite crowded during the day until late, so try to get out there as early as possible. If you prefer a track, there’s a secluded spot in Kavouri (The Vouliagmeni Athletics Centre) which is rarely crowded.
Run Athens with a group.
In our opinion the best way to run in central Athens is to sign up for a race, the numbers of which have dramatically increased in the past several years. The Athens Classic Marathon, (and accompanying 5km, 10km and fun run – held in early November)), and the Half Marathon (late March) are the major events for which the whole city centre is closed. However, there are a number of smaller events scattered across the calendar that provide the opportunity to run straight down the centre of many of Athens' busiest streets.
One other great way to experience Athens as a runner is to sign up with Nike Run Club Athens. Every week on Monday evening, a group leaves from the Nike store in central Syntagma Square, and guides you in either a distance or speed workout. Running in a group has the added benefit that you don't have to worry about where you're going plus it’s a great way to meet fellow runners.
Overall, with a little bit of planning and a healthy degree of awareness of your surroundings, running in Athens is one of the most rewarding ways to get more familiar with the city and explore.
Need a map to run in the centre of Athens?
Here you are!
And here is a map for running in Athens' suburbs.
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PS: don't forget to follow us on social media - we promise to keep it fun!
MapMyRun – Even if you don’t use this app while you’re running, the website provides a helpful compilation of routes used by its members. If you have time you can take a quick look at some of the more popular routes in central Athens to give you an idea of where to start.
Running Greece Calendar - If you are travelling outside of Athens, almost every city in Greece hosts its own races, from 5kms and fun runs to Ultra-Marathons. Check the ‘Running Greece’ calendar – there are few better ways than to explore a new place!
Athens Classic Marathon – For the ultimate in running tourism, the Athens Classic Marathon is the race. If you’re a marathoner, don’t miss it!