Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Athens Scenic Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 6.7 km (4.2 miles), terrain: 2 hills (110 meter gain)

To avoid the heat, crowds and traffic, try to run early in the mornings. You'll have Athens to yourself!

Athens Routes List:
Athens Kifisia Greenspace Run
Athens Kifisia Scenic Loop
Athens Ancient Sights Run

For more running routes, see the Route List

Here's a route that will take you through a lot of the nicest parts of central Athens, mixing the old-town, the Acropolis, pedestrian streets, parks and shopping areas together with some stunning views. It avoids any busy traffic and gives you a good feeling for this fascinating town. Don't worry about reading the Greek street signs: they all have the names in Roman characters below them.

We'll start at one of the main meeting-points in town, Monastiraki Square, north of the Acropolis. Monastiraki has a Metro station, where two lines cross, and the square is full of young people every evening.
Monastiraki, looking up to the Acropolis, past Hadrian's library
It's also the spot where the bazaar (Athens Flea Market) begins, but that street is either too crowded (during the day) or just a long line of closed, graffiti-drenched shopfronts at night, so we won't head down there. Walk down there some other time.

The square faces a little church and an ex-mosque (now used for tourist shops). Turn south, with the station to your right. Now head down Areos, with the impressive ruins of Hadrian's Library on your left, running past the line of jewelry stands.
Roman Agora
The scattered ruins of the Roman Agora follow the library, behind an iron fence. An "agora" was like a Roman forum: a market where people gathered to make money, debate, worship, philosophize and learn. The bigger Ancient Greek Agora is a few blocks in the other direction, but that's only open during the middle of the day and costs €4, so I left it out of this run.

Turn left at the first chance, on Andrianou, and continue following the perimeter of the Roman Agora, running east.

Andrianou ends in a block by running into another street at some patio restaurants, but just turn left and continue along the edge of the agora, as it then turns right.

You will now run by an idyllic green square, the Platia Agoras (Agora Square), full of restaurant tables. A great place to return in the evening!
Mnisikleous steps and happy guests
Run past the square and turn right at the next street, Mnisikleous. This is one of my favorite streets in the world. As you run south, you'll see that the street starts going uphill, turning into a narrow set of steps, with tavernas and cafés along each side. Just run up the steps and be envious of the relaxed groups of friends sipping wine and beer to either side. Remember to come back here, too, in the evening!

The steps end at a lane called Tholou, with the Acropolis looming above. Turn right, and then turn left at the first chance, where you'll see a sign pointing towards the Acropolis.

Now follow this lane (called Theorias), with the scrubby Acropolis hillside going up on the left, and a view opening up onto the Ancient Agora to the right.

After about 400 meters on Theorias, you'll see some rock cliffs rising on the right side, with stairs going up. Don't miss this chance to run up there and take in the breathtaking view. This is Areopagus Hill, located just bellow the entrance of the Acropolis. Ancient legends said this was the spot where the gods held war council, and was later used for murder trials.
View from Areopagus Hill to Lycabettus on left, and Acropolis
The Areopagus Hill is also where St. Paul preached to the Athenians, and made his first converts here. It's just a few steps to the top of the rocks, with clear views over the Ancient Agora and western Athens, and with the hills of the Acropolis, Lycabettus (the pointy hill) and Filopappos (just south of here, with the giant ancient monument on top) poking out of the sea of houses.

Having taken-in this inspiring view, now run back down the steps and follow the path southwards past the ticketing office at the Acropolis entrance and down the hillside to the pedestrian street below, the Ieatro Dionysoy (Dionysus Theater Street).
Filopappos Hill
NOTE: If you cross the street diagonally to the right, you can run in the large, pine-shaded parkland of Filopappos Hill, legendary home of the nine muses. I didn't get there yet, but you can loop through it to add a couple of kilometers of pleasant running trails, and another great view from the top.

Now turn left and run down this pleasant street, first going past the big amphitheater, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. The theater is still used, and there are performances almost every night. Later, you'll pass the smaller Dionysus Theater, where the classic Greek playwrights all performed their plays.
Dionysus Theater
The new Acropolis Museum is on the right side of the street.
Acropolis Museum
After the Acropolis parkland ends, run one more block, to the end of the museum. Turn left here on Odos Vyronos, a little shopping street.

NOTE: As still another alternative, you could keep running straight for another two blocks until you come to the very busy Pireus Road. The gigantic temple of Zeus is straight ahead, across the street, as well as the grounds for the first modern Olympics, to give you a bit of running inspiration. You can enter the grounds towards the left. From the temple you can turn north to run past the Zappeion convention center, going around its right side, and into the National Garden from there.

On Vyronos, you'll run past an ancient, cylindrical monument (celebrating the first dramatic prize awarded at the Dionysus Theater) and the street name changes to Tripodon Street, a pedestrian shopping street.
Monument on Tripodon
Continue northwards on Tripodon for three blocks until you reach Flessa, where you turn right and head east again. We will now run for a few more blocks through the old town, a mixture of tourist- and business buildings here.

The street name changes, but keep running east until you come to Nikis Street, where you turn left and run two blocks to Xenofontos, where you turn right and run the two blocks to the entrance of the next interesting spot: the National Garden (NOTE: it closes at sunset and opens again at sunrise).
Entrance to National Garden
Run into the garden, and you will suddenly feel like you entered a shady, tropical paradise. It's really green and lush, with fountains and ponds. It's also full of paths, with few of them marked.

So just turn right and run to the south end of the park, where you turn left and continue circling counter-clockwise through the park. There is a small zoo, playgrounds, and an assortment of ancient stones lying about.
Pond in the garden
When you near the north end of the park, at the café, turn right to exit the park onto Irodou Attikou, where you turn north, running outside the park fence, past the ceremonial guard standing watch at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

At the busy intersection ahead, at Vasilissis Sofias, continue running straight. You'll pass the Benaki Art Museum on the left and run into chic Kolonaki ahead. This is the nicest neighborhood in the center of town, with a lot of wealthy people and a sprinkling of embassies.

Cross Kolonaki Square diagonally to the right and then continue northwards on Tsakalof, where you see the canopied café on the corner. This is a shaded pedestrian street, with interesting shops and restaurants. You will also be running uphill here, but then it will be all downhill back to the start.

After just two blocks turn right on Pindarou and run up the steps to Fokilidou, where you turn right and turn into the park on your left. Dexameni Park is a merry meeting place, full of kids playing ball, mothers chatting and people meeting for a drink in the tavernas on the far side of the park. This is the heartbeat of the neighborhood.
Dexameni Park
We will turn around here, but for your info, if you continue for a couple of blocks uphill to the left, you will come to the footpath and the elevator-train to the top of Lycabettus Hill, with its ancient church, an incredible view and a couple of cafés. If you don't mind the hill-climb or if you have the €7 for the train, I can heartily recommend the view from the top.

Now comes the downhill part of the run: exit the park and go straight down Iraklitou to Tsakalof again, turn left and run southwards through the square and back out to Vasilissis Sofias again. Cross the street and turn left to follow the north side of the National Garden and then the side of the Parliament.
In front of the Parliament
At the next big corner, turn left to round the Parliament and see its front side, with more ceremonial guards. Now cross the street into lively Syntagma (Constitution) Square, and keep running westwards along another pedestrian shopping street, Ermou. This is one of the main shopping streets, and full of stores for Athenians, not just tourists.
Ermou at night
Run west for about 300 meters until you see the Evaggilistrias side-street going off to the left, with all its outside dining tables. This will take you to the cathedral and a much more interesting little Byzantine church right beside it.

Cross the cathedral square and turn right on Pondrosou to run the last few blocks along this pedestrian street and its little shops, back to Monastiraki Square.

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