by Katherine Poseidon
The buzzing urban sprawl that is Athens offers everything from fabulous shopping to top-notch cultural exhibits, but what if you are a nature lover, or just looking for a moment of respite from the city’s vibrant pulse? Even if green space in Athens is not nearly as ubiquitous as many other European capitals, we’ve got you covered - grab some snacks or pack a picnic, and follow our guide to green space. Relaxing in and exploring one of the city’s secret gardens is one of the top things to do in Athens!
#1 Lycabettus | Kolonaki
Lycabettus (or Lykavittos) Hill is an unmissable Athens landmark, overlooking the city and visible from almost any viewpoint. From here you can see some of the top sights in Greece - the Acropolis, of course, but on a clear day all the way to the nearby islands of Salamina and Aegina. Rising up above the posh area of Kolonaki, the base of the hill is a large park criss-crossed with winding paths, which then opens to the rocky outcropping that rewards you with an incredible view. This is a great way to get in some exercise, but if you don’t want to work for it so much, there is an easy funicular that can deliver you straight to the top.
Tip: 'Hiking' in Athens is one of top 25 things to do in Athens in the fall - check out our list for more great recommendations!
Where: Lykavittos Hill; Funicular/Teleferique Station: 1 Aristipou (Closest Metro Station: Evangelismos)
When: Open 24/7 (be alert later at night)
#2 Diomedous Athens' Botanical Gardens | Haidari
This is one of the most unusual things to do in Athens, as even most locals haven’t made their way out here to explore, but the Athens' Botanical Gardens really do deserve a top place in any Athens guide. Nearly 500 acres are filled with green - some organised in classic botanic garden style, with labels and guides in gardens arranged by theme: check out ancient plants, like the ivy dedicated to the god Dionysus, or the poison hemlock plant used to execute Socrates. There is also a section with medicinal plants, a bamboo grove, lily ponds, and even a cactus garden. Beyond the more organised areas you can also explore paths that will take you all around the sprawling park, or you can bring a picnic and make it a great day trip from Athens.
Tip: The Garden offers free guided tours periodically - check when you get there to see if you can join one!
Where: 430 Iera Odos, Haidari (Buses from Egaleo Metro Station: 811 or 866)
When: Everyday 8:00 - 20:00
#3 National Gardens | Syntagma
Right in the bustling heart of Athens, the city’s best kept secret (garden) is waiting to be discovered. It’s easy to discount the National Garden because it doesn’t seem very big, but it’s actually 24 hectares of winding paths that conceal a green getaway full of hidden corners great for exploring. This urban oasis is actually home to more than 7,000 trees, and 519 different kinds of plants, along with six ponds and some wildlife. A visit to the National Gardens is one of the best things to do with kids in Athens: feed the ducks, watch the turtles, or check out the huge playground. This area used to be the royal gardens, back when the Parliament building was a palace, so channel your inner royal and duck into the shade to escape the urban jungle outside!
Tip: The National Garden is technically separate from Zappeion Garden, but together they create a huge green space for exploration. Zappeion often hosts exhibitions and special events, so check the area for posters!
Where: 1 Amalias Ave (Closest Metro Station: Syntagma)
When: Dawn ‘til Dusk
Explore Athens' Gardens and Parks with the Pros:
#4 Mount Hymettos/Kaisariani | Kaisariani
For some true mountain air just minutes from the centre of Athens, Mount Hymettos is your best bet. Right above the city, this huge park offers more than 20,000 acres of green, ripe for exploration. You can use the monastery of Kaisariani as your base - and check out this impressive Byzantine site while you’re there, it’s well worth it - and set out on one of the many trails and paths. There are also several paved roads criss-crossing the mountain, so you can explore even farther. This is one of the more unusual things to do in Athens, as the area is not easily accessible by public transportation, but you are rewarded by incredible views over the whole city of Athens.
Tip: Make this an even more memorable outing by joining the Athens Enchanted Forest Family tour to find out more about the monastery, or pack a picnic and make it a day trip!
Where: (By Bus: 223 and 224)
When: 24/7, some areas closed after dark for fire safety
#5 Flisvos Park | Palio Faliro
South of the Athens city centre right next to the sea is a lovely green park recently refreshed and rejuvenated, with modern playgrounds and outdoor exercise equipment for adults. Strolling around the Flisvos Park is a truly local activity, as this is completely off the tourist path. Just around the corner is the Flisvos Marina, which houses trendy cafes and restaurants right next to the sea, as well as the floating museum, the Battleship Averof. You can easily get lost among the 20 acres of flowers and trees, or start from the park and walk along the sea towards the beachy suburbs of Glyfada or Vouliagmeni to check out Athens bars or nightlife.
Tip: Flivos Park is also home to a summer cinema, so when the weather is good you can catch a film here too!
Where: Flisvos Park (Closest Tram Stop: Parko Flisvou)
When: Open 24/7; Playground Mon-Fri 7:30-22:00, Sat & Sun 9:30-22:00
#6 Philopappou Hill | Acropolis
Top of the list of best things to do in Athens is exploring Philopappou Hill, as it really offers something for everyone! This lush pine-studded hill is located right next to the Acropolis, and from there you can enjoy the whole city laid out before you. You’ll also find a perfect view of the Acropolis (Instagram-ready!), great wooded paths for romantic strolls, a historic monument to check out, and true serenity. Many Athens tours might mention the monument at the top - built for Roman General Antiochus Philopappos, one of Athens' benefactors, in around 115, but the hill is also known (more romantically) as ‘Hill of the Muses.’ Bring some munchies and find a spot to sit down (picnic tables are scattered throughout), and recharge before exploring more local attractions!
Tip: It's easy to become totally enchanted by the view from Philopappou, but check out the magical pathways too - they were designed by famous Greek architect, artist and city planner Dimitris Pikionis, and the designs are totally original and combine natural motifs with classical and Byzantine patterns.
Where: Philopappou Hill (Closest Metro Station: Acropolis)
When: Open 24/7, but be alert later at night
#7 Stavros Niarchos Park | Kallithea
Newest on the green scene in Athens is the brand new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre, quickly becoming one of the top things to do in Athens. In addition to cultural events, the complex was designed to provide a ‘respite from urban concrete’ and a burst of life for Athenians, and it totally lives up to its promises. The Stavros Niarchos Park includes classic green space, flowers, pine and olive trees and fountains and canals that fill the area with the refreshing sound of running water. The impressive complex is an Athens must see, and a great choice for things to do with kids - there are creative playgrounds and even a labyrinth.
Tip: The Centre has a full programme of activities for all ages (mostly free!). Check out the most recent listings here!
Where: 364 Leoforos Syngrou (Shuttle from Syngrou-Fix Metro Station every 30 minutes)
When: Mon - Sun: 6:00 to 00:00 (until 31 Oct); Mon - Sun: 6:00 to 20:00 (1 Nov - 31 Mar)
#8 Alsos Syngrou | Marousi
If you want to get out of the city and off the beaten path, one of the more adventurous things to do in Athens is to check out the sprawling Syngrou Estate. This more than 200 acre wooded park has innumerable trails to get lost in, which are great for jogging and walking (for more running ideas check out our guide here!). The paths are all well-maintained, but the nature is left pretty much on its own, so this is really a true ‘escape’ from Athens. Just make sure to take a mobile/GPS map with you though, to make sure you don’t get lost - and then head to the luxurious suburb of Kifissia afterward, for some shopping or some of the best places to eat in Athens.
Tip: The Syngrou Estate also houses part of the Agricultural Sciences Department of the University of Athens, so there are greenhouses and even educational programmes happening from time to time.
Where: 182 Leof. Kifissias (Closest Metro Station: KAT)
When: Dawn ‘til Dusk
Hopefully this has convinced you that it isn't impossible to escape Athens' urban sprawl without heading too far afield. Of course, if you do have some more time or are looking for a real getaway, we've collected some of the best ideas for Athens day trips here. And if the Athens weather lets you down and your picnic gets rained on (not so frequent here, but it does happen) check out our guide to surviving a rainy day! Finally, if we've missed any of your favourite parks or green spaces, let us know! There are always unexplored corners of Athens waiting to be discovered!