By Katherine Brubaker
Athens is a city constantly in motion. While its bustling atmosphere composed of lively crowds, delectable cafes and restaurants sandwiched between shops, and buzzing nightlife are the exciting essence of the city, you might be looking for a moment of respite during your visit. If so, The National Garden of Athens acts as an idyllic, lush oasis to relax among trees and flowers, multiple water features, shady picnic spots, and more.
The National Garden (formerly the Royal Garden) is a public park of 38 acres in the heart of Athens. It is open from dusk til dawn and has four main entrances at Vasilisis Amalias Avenue, Vasilissis Sofias Avenue, Irodou Attikou Street, and the Zappeion.
The vegetation of the National Garden includes both Mediterranean and alien species, some of which exist nowhere else in Greece. This list includes Washingtonia Filifera, Quercus Ilex, Taxus Baccata, Casuarina Equisetifolia, and more.
The main entrance to the garden houses the sundial, a lawn decorated with rows of orange and yellow flowers, and towering palm trees - an ideal spot to snap a photo! Venturing into the park, there are a myriad of sites to enjoy. Tucked away under the foliage of the garden is The Kafenedaki coffee shop. With cappuccinos, delicious Greek coffee, and an assortment of treats like Moussaka and Greek Baklava on their menu, the cafe is a great spot to grab a bite and take a load off (+21 0723 2820).
The garden’s playground is perfect for letting kids run wild: it is complete with swings, slides, wooden play structures, and is situated in a large, shaded area. Adjacent to the playground is a green expanse that is frequently used for hosting picnics. Nearby sits a large chunk of marble known as Amalia’s Rock. Amalia was the wife of King Othon and the designer of the garden. This rock is where she had her chair placed so she could supervise the work being done on her garden.
There is also a picturesque pond, frequently filled with birds swimming about, and bridge. Across from this area is the Zoo, which is home to wild goats, geese, ducks, rabbits, a peacock, and a wide assortment of exotic birds. Located on the side of Vasilissis Sofias Avenue is the Roman Mosaic Floor, which was previously used in the royal family’s outdoor atrium. For the garden aficionados, there is a Botanical Museum. For the little ones (or those young at heart), there is a Childrens’ Library, which has no entrance fee and invites kids to read books, listen to classical music, or participate in creative activities.
The Zappeion Exhibition Hall is essentially an extension of the garden. The hall houses a courtyard decorated with statues illustrating recent Greek history and mythology. Busts of politicians, kings, and historians alongside statues of mythological creatures that appear to be emerging from the greenery make an enchanting site. The Zappeion is currently being used as a conference and exhibition center for both public and private purposes.
The National Garden is a jewel of the city, ideal for escaping the summer heat and immersing yourself in nature, without ever leaving Athens. When you next find yourself in town, make sure to pack a picnic and enjoy a stroll through the garden!
© EUROKINISSI / LYDIA SIORI