I’d been dreaming of visiting Athens ever since learning about the Ancient Greek Art back in high school, so when I was finally planning my first trip to the Hellenic capital, I knew I had to find the best tour of ancient Athens. I was thrilled when I came across the site of Alternative Athens, a specialty local tour company that aims to show visitors the authentic side of Athens in a unique way. That sounded just right and their engaging and fun Mythology Highlights Tour provided us with the perfect crash course in Greek mythology illustrated through Athen’s top monuments. Grab Zeus’ thunderbolt or Eros’ arrow and tag along on our Athen’s Mythological adventure below!
The Birth of Greek Civilization & Athens
Begun in 2013, Alternative Athens is a made up a small team of local guides with an immense passion for their city. They’ve designed an eclectic range of tours focused on history, cool neighborhood explorations and Greek food. Their tours are capped at 12 people so guests have a chance to connect with their splendid guides instead of follow an umbrella around. I was really torn between the Mythology tour and the Street Art tour… but I wanted to get a good basis first, I’ll try to come back soon to try the later.
The tour started at the Olympian Zeus Temple, the unofficial gateway into Athens and the ideal place to learn about the birth of the city. Of course this was also where we learnt about our first ultimate Greek god Zeus and the real historical setting of the beginnings of Ancient Greek society. Sitting gloriously behind the breathtaking temple was the Acropolis hill, which we’d visit next and find out that it’s much more than the mere home of the Parthenon.
The Acropolis & the First City of Athens
The Acropolis clings to a prominent rocky outcrop, rising majestically 150 meters above sea level and dominating the surrounding valley. Human activity at the location dates back to at least the 6th century AD and it was no wonder early Athenians built their city here — there was no way in Hades that this place could be attacked (well, at least not for a few hundred years). What we can see of the site today was predominantly built under Pericles in the fifth century BC. The Parthenon Temple is the show-stopper, however, the hill actually has many other impressive sites, which our great guide Tania revealed as we gentle made our way up.
Stopping at the vast 17,000-seat Theater of Dionysus we discussed the social role of the theater and the site’s namesake, the god of theatre and wine. We even saw the special seats for the important guests — right in the center of course. Nearby was a “newer” theatre, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, built in 161 AD during the Roman reign. It can seat 5,000 and is still in use today, thanks to a renovated undertaken in the 1950s.
Glory and Art at the Acropolis
Up to now I was wondering where all the crowds were. Well, many groups go straight up to the top via a different entrance, unlike the peaceful and fascinating route Alternative Athens has designed. Our guide Tania gathered us into quieter corners while she continued with her vibrant narrative of the construction of this world heritage wonder, discussing the stories behind the Temple of Athena Nike (the Goddess of Wisdom and protector of Athens), the Temple of Erechtheion, with its stunning Porch of the Caryatids (above bottom right) and the breathtaking Parthenon. The whole site was heavily damaged by the Venetians during their 1687 siege of the city and vast sections ended up at London’s British Museum, nevertheless, the Acropolis is an exceptional feat of art and engineering and, for me, a once in a lifetime must-see made all the better with the background knowledge provided on our tour.
Daily Life at the Ancient Agora
The treasures of ancient Athens do not end with the Acropolis. Our tour meandered down the hill to the former city center, the Ancient Agora. The business and marketplace of the city, it was here that we gained further understanding into Ancient Greek society as well as the social, cultural and political context of Greek myths. We also heard how Athens thrived during its 5th century golden age to become one of the greatest cities of the world has ever seen. The Ancient Agora is where democracy was born and where you could have found great philosophers, like Socrates, debating. The site is also home to the Hephaisteion, one of Greece’s best preserved ancient temples, where we learnt about the famous myth of Theseus and the Minotaur in addition to the story of Zeus’ jealous wife, Hera, and Aphrodite, Goddess of love and beauty.
The Fall of Greece and the Afterlife
Fittingly our tour came to an end with a discussion of the decline of Ancient Greece as we toured the Cemetery of Keramikos. Built just outside the city walls alongside the beginnings of the Ηiera Hodos (the Sacred Way), we temporarily entered the kingdom of Hades, and had a look at ancient myths of life and death. The Peloponnesian War, spearheaded by the rebellious Spartans, led to the fall of Athens in 411, however, this Golden Age of Greece with its advanced art and society, left a lasting impact on the world and this fantastic tour certainly left one on us, in addition to giving us an excellent primer on Greek history to carry us through the rest of our trip.
This 4-hour tour costs 55 euros per person (plus entrance tickets) and is highly recommended on your first day in Athens. Learn more about it and the other fascinating and original tours of Alternative Athens here.
I was a guest of Alternative Athens, however, all of the opinions expressed above are completely my own.