You’ll already know about all the culture that awaits you in Athens. And you’ll probably have heard about the revolution in food and entertainment that have made it one of the hottest city breaks in Europe. But who’s heard about the greenery? Well, you’ll be astounded by the number of hills, parks and even woods right in or near the city centre.
Feel like a quick ice cream or chilled coffee before or after a museum visit? In the mood for a picnic rather than a taverna lunch? Want the kids to let off steam or looking for somewhere in the shade to read your book (maybe even with a view of the Acropolis)? Or what about your morning jog or yoga exercises? Wherever you are, there’ll be a green space nearby.
Each offers a healthy dose of fresh air and a soothing counterbalance to the energy and buzz of the city centre. And, as you’ll quickly discover, they’re a cherished part of daily life for many Athenians.
If there’s a jewel the crown when it comes to Athens’ green spaces, this is it. Together with neighbouring Zappeion Park, the National Garden covers a full 160 acres smack bang in the middle of the city. Created in the early 19th century at the request of Queen Amalia (wife of Greece’s first king, Otto), it offers tranquillity and escape right by Syntagma Square and the Parliament. There are more than 500 species of trees and plants from around the world (including 25m tall palm trees planted by Amalia and the magnificent Phytolacca tree from South America), as well as ponds, sculptures and busts of prominent Greeks, a Roman mosaic and a sundial. There is also a playground and traditional cafe, where you can stop for a coffee or a meze lunch. Look out for the impressive Zappeion Hall, built for the first modern Olympics in 1896 and now a space for cultural and political events.
You can’t miss Lycabettus Hill. It’s Athens’ highest spot and a trip to the top is one of the city’s recommended experiences because of the 360-degree view. The most common way to get there is by funicular but, if you’ve got it in you, you should definitely walk to the summit (almost 300m above sea level). It’s easier than you think as the paved path ascends mostly gradually through a pine forest planted in the late 19th century, containing bridges, benches and even an outdoor theatre. It will make the view from the pristine white church of Agios Giorgos at the top even more special. There is also a café-restaurant for you to savour the moment.
The hill opposite the Acropolis is steeped in history. Just a few steps from Dionysios Areopagitou (the pedestrianised street that takes you around the Acropolis), a path leads to the Hill of the Nymphs and Pnyx (which make up Philopappou Hill, named after a Roman consul whose funeral monument you will find at the top along with a 19th-century observatory). Pnyx was the meeting place of democratic legislatures in antiquity and you’ll also find the Prison of Socrates and the Byzantine church of St Dimitrios Loumbardiaris as you wander around. It’s also an oasis for rare tortoises and birds, with pine trees and other Mediterranean flora. From the top, there are great views of the Acropolis and the Athens metropolis.
Pedion tou Areos
The Field of Mars (as the name translates) was created in the 1930s to honour the heroes of the 1821 revolution and is the go-to green space for Athenians just north of the city centre. Within an expanse of around 230 acres, it’s the perfect space to amble or jog amongst plane and olive trees as well as Mediterranean shrubs and other greenery. There are shaded benches as well as a playground, cafe, two small churches and an open-air theatre. But what gives this park its special atmosphere is the collection of busts of revolutionary heroes. A statue of Athena the Defender was added in the 1950s, commemorating soldiers from Britain, Australia and New Zealand who died in Greece.
Smaller in comparison to the other parks, Eleftherias Park is found right next to the Athens Concert Hall (Megaron), making it ideally suited for spending time at before or after a show, or for a walk or picnic if you’re in the area. It’s also the perfect antidote to the busy Vasilissis Sofias Avenue next door. You’ll find cafes and a restaurant within the trees and its centrepiece is the statue of Eleftherios Venizelos, an early 20th-century prime minister and one of Greece’s most prominent statesmen.
Relatively unknown, Alsos Ilision (the Grove of Ilisia) is a 10min walk from Evangelismos metro station and covers an impressive 150 acres. You’ll find an entrance on Iona Dragoumi Street, next to the courtyard of the church of Agios Charalambos Ilisia, from where you begin your stroll between pine and cypress trees and past a playground. It’s also near Rizari Park, a recent addition to Athens’ green spaces, tucked away between two of the city’s busiest thoroughfares – Vasileos Konstantinou and Vasilissis Sofias avenues
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- If you are in Athens in May, you will enjoy the greenery at its best, while in the summer the parks offer shade and a cooling ambience.
- To get the most out of your Athens experience, visit between October and April when the summer crowds have thinned and you’ll most enjoy the company of Athenians going about their daily lives and feeling like a local.
You can enjoy the parks and hills of Athens all year round, with each season giving a different colour and mood.
How do you get to the centre of Athens from the airport or port?
- From Athens International Airport, you can catch a taxi (around €40 during the day), bus (Χ95) or the metro (blue line to Syntagma) directly into the centre. Alternatively, you can hire a car at the airport.
- From the port of Piraeus, you can catch a taxi (around €30 during the day), bus (Χ80 or 040 to Syntagma from Gate E12) or the metro (blue line to Syntagma) directly into the centre. Depending on which port gate you arrive at, it is a 15-20-minute walk to the metro station.
How do you get to the parks in the centre of Athens?
All of the parks featured above are in the city centre. The closest metro stations are:
- National Garden: Syntagma
- Lycabettus & Alsos Ilision: Evangelismos
- Philopappou Hill: Acropolis
- Pedion tou Areos: Omonia
- Eleftherias Park: Megaro Mousikis
- You can spend as much time as you want in Athens’ parks, from a half-hour break between activities to a picnic, jog or leisurely stroll.
- There are many walking tours that include a visit or picnic in one of the parks, lasting 2-5 hours.
- With the exception of Eleftherias Park, which never closes, the parks of Athens are open from sunrise to sunset. (This may be extended during summer months.)
- There are companies that will bring you a picnic in the park, which you can find online.