Are you looking for the best things to do in Athens Greece? If so, add the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to your list. The unique uniforms and maneuvers are amazing.
When visiting Athens, don’t miss the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The guard changes daily every hour on the hour, but, if possible, attend the guard change at 11am Sunday morning. It’s a bigger, longer (30 minutes), and more elaborate ceremony, and the guards wear their white ceremonial uniforms.
The uniforms and intricate maneuvers are unique, and they are also wrapped in historical and cultural significance. Everything the guards wear (from the red cap to the black pompoms on their shoes) and every step they take has meaning.
Here’s what this post includes:
- Changing of the Guard in Athens
- Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
- Greek Presidential Guard (Evzones)
- Significance of the uniforms
- When to go
- Getting there
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Athens Changing of the Guard
The perfectly synchronized ceremony is fascinating to watch. The slow-motion extended leg and arm movements and the uniforms are unique. The ceremony is free. Just show up, watch, and enjoy.
The tomb is guarded around the clock every day, and the guards are changed every hour. During their hour on duty, the guards can only shift their position every 20 minutes; otherwise, they must stand perfectly still.
Every Sunday at 11am
In the case of the 11am Sunday guard change, the guards are led by a military band and a large contingent of guardsman. The procession begins at the barracks behind the Hellenic Parliament building and proceeds on Vasilissis Sofias Avenue to the Tomb of the Unknown soldier in front of the Parliament building. The entire Sunday morning event (march in, guard change, and march back out), takes about 30-minutes.
Daily Every Hour on the Hour
All of the other daily, hourly guard changes have the same unique and intricate maneuvers to rotate the guards. What they don’t include is the procession and the white ceremonial uniforms. These guard changes only take about 10 minutes, and they are likely not nearly as crowded.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens
Athens’ Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a monument honoring all who have fought for Greece throughout its history. No one is buried in the tomb.
The Greek Presidential Guard (Evzones)
The Greek Presidential Guards are elite Greek soldiers who are especially trained to stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and perform other ceremonial duties. The guards are also called Evzones. Evzones is a term meaning light infantry; it comes from early Greek writings — including Homer’s Iliad.
The Presidential Guard Uniforms and Ceremony
Absolutely everything about the uniforms has historical and cultural significance. Here are a few examples:
- Pleated kilt: The kilt has 400 pleats, which represent the 400 years when Greece was occupied by the Ottoman empire. The white full-dress ceremonial uniform (in the above photo) is worn for the 11am Sunday morning guard change and other important ceremonies. For the hourly guard changes, the uniforms are blue in winter and khaki in summer.
- Red cap: represents the blood spilled and sacrifices made fighting for the nation’s independence.
- Black pompoms: There are multiple theories about the black woolen pompoms on the heavy leather shoes. They help keep the shoes dry and toes warm and/or provide a handy place to hide a small knife.
- Heavy steps: The guards elaborate maneuvers include an occasional step where they raise their leg up and then quickly swing it back down slapping the ground with their heavy leather shoes. This lets the dead know the Greek nation is still alive and free.
For a much more detailed description of the Evzone uniforms and their historical and cultural significance, check out this source. It’s in Greek, but thanks to Google Translate, it’s easy to read.
When to Go
I went on a Sunday in mid-May and arrived at 10:30am. It was not early enough. All three sides of the perimeter viewing area were already lined shoulder to shoulder. I found a spot with only one row of people in front of me. By the time the ceremony started, multiple rows had formed behind me.
I could see the band and guards pass by and the changing ceremony, but I only managed to get a couple of useable photos. As you can see from the photo above, we were really packed in. Luckily the crowd was good natured and considerate.
As the guards passed by, I noticed a Red Hop-on Hop-off tour bus just behind the crowd on the righthand side. I had a 48-hour ticket, so I dashed over and got on the upper deck of the bus and managed to get a photo and bits of video as the guards were departing.
The Changing of the Guard Ceremony takes place in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tomb is just below the Parliament building and across Vasilissis Sofias Avenue from Syntagma Square.
Syntagma Square is in the center of Athens and the Syntagma Metro station is beneath the Square. Metro Line 2 (red) and Line 3 (green) both stop at the Syntagma station. Hop-on Hop-off tour buses also stop at the Square.
I stayed at the Electra Metropolis Hotel, which was just a short block from Syntagma Square. It’s a beautiful hotel, and the restaurant on the top (10th) floor provides a great buffet breakfast and has huge windows with gorgeous views of the Acropolis and Parthenon.
Things to Do Nearby
There are so many things to do not far from Athens. We loved visiting places on the Peloponnese Peninsula such as the Corinth Canal, Epidaurus and its amazing theatre, learning all about the Kalamata olive, and exploring other sites such as Methoni and Pylos castles.
Athens is an amazing and very popular place to visit. It has so much to see and do. In addition to the experiencing the Acropolis and other ancient sites, vibrant neighborhoods, and wonderful food, do take time to see the Changing of the Guard. It’s really interesting and easy to get to, and it’s free.
For more on Athens, checkout these:
- Things to do in Athens in 2 Days
- Visit the breathtaking Acropolis
- Athens two best Museums
- Visit Lycabettus Hill for great 360° Athens views
Author bio: Ginny Vail is a travel writer, who loves sightseeing, photography, and videography. She’s been to 45 countries across six continents and traveled by air, car, bus, train, boat, and ship. Her articles can help you discover places to go, sights to see, and details about when and how to visit them.