In the later years and despite the economic crisis, Athens has evolved from a two-day stop to visit Acropolis and then head to the notorious greek islands to an alternative, highly praised destination in which tourists come to stay for good. Indeed, Athens is a multifaceted city, where ancient monuments and hip bars lay side to side, creating a dazzling mosaic of enchanting contrasts that invites you to explore even more.
If your are planning on visiting Athens, a delightful secret lies right in the heart of the city, one that many tourist guides might not inform you about; the National Gardens. Located next to the new Parliament building, right above Syntagma Square, this vast area is the former Royal Garden, created by Queen Amalia in the mid 19th century. The grounds cover an expanse of more than 24 hectares, while there are seven different entrance points, the most accessible being those at Vasilisis Sofias and Amalias boulevards.
What is quite distinctive about these garden is the variety and rarity of the vegetation it exhibits; indeed, it is home to more than 500 flora species, as well as a few fauna ones (mostly birds). The trademark of the gardens, however, remain the impressively tall exotic palm trees, planted by Queen Amalia herself, and belong to the Washingtonia kind. The plethora of verdure makes the place ideal for a walk- especially during summertime when temperatures tend to be quite high- as it provides shade and coolness, away from the crowded downtown streets.
The gardens are regarded a classic choice for a Sunday stroll – and not only. Guests are allowed to visit the grounds from the early morning hours to dusk, and many prefer the peacefulness of the garden paths to take their pets for a walk or exercise. In this extensive area you can also find six lakes, most of them being home to ducks – it is almost a tradition for small children to feed this playful swimmers with the doughy treats offered on spot. The sun dial at the entrance is another intriguing sight, inviting visitors to guess the hour of the day depending on the position of the sun.
If you are interested in Greek history, the National Gardens include also the Zappeion Hall, where you can learn about the country’s past, as well as admire the amazing architecture and the statues of venerable personalities, such as politicians, benefactors and national heroes. The statue, however, of Lord Byron stands out as a contribution in honor to the great philhellene poet and is regarded as a masterpiece. And even if, after a long day of strolling, you happen to need a cooling drink or satisfying lunch, the restaurant next to the hall offers a list of interesting choices.
So, next time you are planning on how to spend your next day in the greek capital, keep in mind to pay a visit to this wonderful secret garden, as new, thrilling aspects of the city always await just around the corner!