Sports and Leisure
In the past two decades sports in Greece went through a major revival with a large number of modern sports facilities constructed in and around the capital.
Nevertheless, the city's sports infrastructure has seen great improvements as a result of the 2004 Olympic Games that were hosted in Athens. In addition to the existing plethora of sports facilities, one big sports complex was built for the Olympics 2004, where sports like judo and fencing were hosted. It is located on the site of a former horse racetrack at Faliron Bay and its post-Olympic use is that of a state-of-the-art conference centre.
The coastal Aghios Kosmas National Youth Athletic Centre, a 78-hectare area that superbly hosted the 2004 Olympics sailing event, has undergone extensive improvements with upgrades including an expansion of the centres housing up to 204 beds. The nearly 20-year-old Athens Olympic Sports complex in the northern Athens suburb of Maroussi, including a 75000-seat Olympic Stadium, has also been upgraded. It hosted the swimming, track and field 2004 Olympic competitions while the complex's 18000-seat stadium hosted the Olympic basketball finals and its Velodrom was the venue of the Olympic cycling events.
Since the late 80's Greek athletes have been distinguished in many sports, from soccer, basketball, track and field to weight lifting and sailing.
For golf aficionados there is an 18-hole golf course at the affluent seaside suburb of Glyfada. The endless list of available sporting and leisure activities includes tennis, gliding, horse-riding, bird-watching, sailing, skin-diving, water-skiing, hiking, bowling.
Swimming and Watersports
In Athens, swimming is not a sport, it's a national pastime and an international phenomenon considering that it is the leading Mediterranean capital to be awarded the most "blue flags*" for its beaches. The coast is so close and the summer days so long, that many Athenians will head for a swim even after a long day's work. Die-hard swimmers can be found bathing as early as March and as late as November. The tram and public buses take you to nearby paralies or the organized beaches of Faliro, Alimo, Kalamaki and Glyfada in less than an hour. Most organized beaches provide lounge chairs and an umbrella and require a nominal entrance fee. Water skiing, jet skiing, parasailing, hangliding and paragliding are also on offer as are the fun banana boat and tube games that have kids screaming with delight! Beach volleyball and paddle ball are a given and enjoyed most of all by the local crowd.
Snorkeling and diving lessons or tours can be arranged and are usually offered at the many beaches along the coast and in the prefecture of Loutraki, about 1.5 hours away from Athens.
* The Blue Flag is an exclusive eco-label awarded to 35 beaches and marinas that meet strict criteria regarding cleanliness of the sea and the coast, good organization and safety, as well as the protection of the coastal environment.
The hilly and coastal topography of Athens and its nearby towns offers joggers a variety of exhilarating and motivating routes that are sure to remain unforgettable. Schedule a morning or late afternoon run along the path atop Lycabettus Hill for a panoramic view of Athens or through the lush and palatial Zappeion Gardens in the center of Athens. To add variety to your routine, why not take the tram to the esplanade along the Trocadero Marina in the coastal town of Palio Faliro, or Piraeus and jog while gazing at the magnificent yachts docked along the Saronic Gulf.
Hiking, Trekking, Mountain Biking
The hilltops and mountains are there for you to enjoy, too. The closest and quickest route for amateurs and novices (with a spectacular view of the city) is the 2.5 km (or 1.5 mile) track that circumvents Lycabettus Hill. When you're done, have a cup of coffee at the café atop the hill. More experienced trekkers, head just 30 kilometers (20 miles) outside of Athens to Mount Parnitha, the largest of the three mountains in Attica. Take the trails and seek out the close on 1,000 aromatic herb and flora varieties and 120 brilliant bird species, fox, hare, ferrets and other mammals. Hidden caves, forests, natural springs, valleys and lush vegetation of this National Forest are believed to have been inhabited since the Mycenaean period. The helpful (and multilingual) tour and travel operators can assist you in getting more information on tours and organized hikes. You can reach the forest by car or by public transport from Athens. Located in the historical Marathon locale, about 40 km (25 miles) from the city, is Schinias-Marathonas National Forest. The tomb, museum, and the artificial Marathonas Lake, comprise some of the basic points of interest for sightseeing in the wider region, made famous by the historic battle between the Greeks and the Persians in 490 B.C. There are about 370 plant varieties here, over 140 species of birds (of which several are rare), and a rich variety of mammals too. Another hiking alternative can be experienced southeast at the Sounion National Forest approximately 50 km (or 31 miles) from Athens and near the Temple of Poseidon. An inspiring coastal drive, along winding roads that overlook the Saronic Gulf and the Aegean Sea, will get you there. The dry climate and mountainous topography of Attica offers several trekking options.
Some of the favorite trekking destinations in Attica are: Mount Parnitha: Rematia Hounis, Kopsi Flampouriou, Katafygio Bafi; Mount Penteli: Spilia Daveli, Museum of ancient pit - quarry; Mount Ymittos: Douka; Keratea: Kaki Thalassa.
For trekking and mountain climbing, visitors should get in touch with the local trekking and mountain climbing clubs, that can safely guide you in the mountain paths.
Golfers can tee off just 12 km (10 miles) outside of Athens in the coastal town of Glyfada. Studded with 15,000 pine trees, and surrounded by vast blue seas, the challenging and tranquil course measures 6,776 yards for men and 5,634 for women. Par is 72. The ideal climate makes for favorable weather conditions. Facilities include comfortable changing rooms, restaurant, bar and a shop selling golf clubs and other equipment. A number of tour agencies offer a selection of golf tours combined with visits to the classical sites of Greece and the Greek islands. There is a Professional Golf Association (PGA) office at the site.
Tennis players take advantage of post-Olympic Athens and choose to play a set or two at The Olympic Tennis Center at The Athens Olympic Sports Complex (OAKA) in the suburb of Maroussi just 10 km (6 miles) north of Athens. Designed by world-renowned architect, Santiago Calatrava, OAKA is one of the most spectacularly designed stadiums and one of Athens' most modern monuments and works of art. This is an opportunity to play where renowned tennis athletes volleyed. The Athens Tennis Academy rents out its OAKA tennis courts to visitors as does the conveniently located Athens Tennis Club, just across from Zappeion. Call to reserve a court.
Yachting and Sailing
Greece's rich maritime tradition used to be reserved for the rich and famous. Not anymore, though. Cruising and sailing is now being enjoyed by travel adventurers who appreciate luxuries which have now become more affordable. The cruising of Greek seas is very popular and yacht chartering is a booming industry. In Athens, you can charter luxury sailing or motor yachts with a skipper; modern or traditionally styled motor boats for groups; flotilla and bareboat yachts. Most ports and marinas around Athens offer convenient boat and docking facilities and services. There are many excellent sailing schools and charter service companies in Piraeus and along the coastal highway to Glyfada.
A city surrounded by sea, Athens is well known for the beauty of its beaches. What is equally or even more beautiful but far less well known though, is the sea bed in the Saronic gulf.
Near the coastal line from Vouliagmeni to Sounion, the sea bed in its deeper parts is rocky with fields of poseidonians. The environment provides the necessary circumstances for a complex ecosystem consisting of many different kinds of fishes and plankton. Divers have the opportunity to meet with a hidden world full of colors and rare species.
Most naval clubs in Athens have a scuba diving department and there are also many scuba diving schools, which can inform and guide you into the secrets of the sea bed around Athens.