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Apart from the well-known ancient sights and museums, Athens may seem like a concert jungle overflowed by traffic jams and shabby apartment buildings. But when you look closer, you’ll discover many beautiful parks and gardens in the center of the city offering an easy escape from the urban hustle.
But don’t expect to see anything like the stately, well-cultivated parks of central or northern Europe. The green spaces of Athens are either wild, rocky hills covered by pine groves and cacti, or overgrown gardens filled with jungle-like vegetation and palm trees.
That being said, they all provide much-needed shade during the hot Greek summers and an easy escape to nature when longer trips outside of the city just aren’t possible. What’s more, there are no entrance fees to any of the parks mentioned below making them a budget-friendly way to spend an afternoon.
1. Filopappou Hill & The Pnyx
Calling the area of Filopappou Hill simply a park is an understatement. This place is an oasis right in the center of the city full of historical sights, lovely pine forest and stunning viewpoints. Thanks to its close proximity to the Acropolis, Filopappou Hill is a popular refuge for tourists and locals alike wishing to take a break from their sightseeing duties.
Filopappou Hill has few interesting sights on its own too. The 2nd century Monument of Filopappou, towering at the top of the hill, is worth the climb as is the neighboring Pnyx. The Pnyx was once an important gathering place where Athenians discussed the political issues of the time. Today, it serves as a beautiful picnic spot with some of the best views of the Acropolis and Athens.
At the foot of Filopappou Hill there is a small prison hidden in the forest – The Prison of Socrates. It is said to host the famous philosopher at some point before his trial and execution in 399 BC.
The National Observatory of Athens, sitting atop of the Hill of Nymphs right next to Pnyx is also worth a stop. Its neoclassic building is quite picturesque, especially when lit in the evening and you can book an evening tour or night sky observation events here as well.
The hills of Filopappou and Pnyx are crisscrossed by many trails and paved pathways and one can easily spend a couple of hours wandering across their pineclad slopes. The limestone rocks and walkways are very slippery though so be very careful at the viewpoints and wear reasonable footwear to avoid a fall.
My favorite time to visit Filopappou and Pnyx are summer evenings just before sunset. You’ll get to admire the stunning Acropolis of Athens bathing in the golden afternoon light while enjoying a refreshing breeze coming from the sea. And when the night falls and Acropolis lits up the whole scene becomes almost unbearable romantic!
How to get there: Filopappou Hill spreads between the Acropolis of Athens and the neighborhoods of Acropolis, Koukaki, Petralona, and Thiseio. Its main entrance can be reached on foot from the metro station at Acropolis or Thiseio in no more than 15 minutes. There are other entrances to the park along its borders providing easy access to the surrounding neighborhoods. Keep in mind though that some of them may close after dark.
What to see nearby: The Acropolis of Athens, Museum of the Acropolis
2. Lycabettus Hill
Best known for stunning panoramic views of Athens, Lycabettus Hill is one of the most popular spots to watch a beautiful sunset above the Greek capital. The top of the mountain can get very busy especially during the summer when it fills quickly with visitors hoping for that perfect sunset shot.
But venture deeper to the northeast side of the mountain and you’ll find yourself lost in a peaceful oasis disturbed only by the occasional jogger or dog walker. The shady pine forest of Lycabettus Hill is crisscrossed by a number of comfortable paths and there are plenty of benches and pick-nick tables scattered around as well.
My favorite spot on Lycabettus Hill is a small rocky canyon hiding at the northern end of the mountain. Walking through its shrubby bottom, it is easy to forget how close to the city center we actually are.
At the top of Mount Lycabettus, you’ll find a café, restaurant, and the charming church of Saint George with a small viewing platform in front. Slightly lower on the southwestern slopes of the mountain hides another picturesque chapel called Saint Isidor. It is partially built into a large cave and according to a legend (or conspiracy theories), it is connected to other parts of Athens by secret tunnels under the city.
For the best photos of the Acropolis, the top of the hill is actually not ideal. Not only it is very busy around sunset but there are multiple ill-placed antennas obscuring the view. Staying lower on the southern slopes of the mountain, covered with exotic-looking opuntia cacti, provides much better opportunities for photography.
How to get there: The closest metro stations are Panepistimiou, Syntagma, Evangelismos, or even Megaro Musikis and Ambelokipi depending on which one is closest to you and which part of the mountain you plan to explore. Bus number 060 from Akademia circles the whole length of Lycabettus hill but doesn’t run all that often.
Taking a taxi to the Lycabettus Theater is another option if you want to skip some of the uphill climb. A funicular runs to the top of the hill from Aristippou Street in Kolonaki. It is by far the easiest way to reach the top of the hill but quite overpriced for such a short and viewless ride.
What to see nearby: The neighbourhoods of Exarchia and Kolonaki
3. Pedion tou Areos Park
Designed in 1934 as a memorial to the hero’s of the Greek Revolution in 1821, Pedion tou Areos is one of the largest parks in Athens. It wasn’t always a pretty place, though. Through the last decade, it served as an unofficial refuge camp, drag dealing hotspot, and meeting point for all sorts of sex workers and their clients. It wasn’t the safest place to visit at any time of the day nor was it very pretty.
Recently, however, the park took a turn for the better. It was cleaned and trimmed while still keeping most of its lush, sometimes almost tropical, vegetation. The gates of the park close at night while there are always a couple of security guards circling its shady paths.
Sure, there is still room for improvement, be it the nonfunctioning fountains and artificial rivers or the lack of public toilets. But overall, it is a lovely place to spend time relaxing in nature without leaving the center of the city. These days, the park is mostly frequented by families, dog walkers, and runners from the surrounding neighborhoods.
While strolling through the park, you’ll come across two lovely Greek Orthodox churches, a number of marble busts featuring the Greek revolutionaries, a statue of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and a patron of the city, an open-air theatre and a small, retro-looking canteen in the center of the park.
How to get there: The main entrance of the park lies only about 5 minutes away from the National Archaeological Museum and about 10 minutes walk from Viktoria metro station. There are numerous buses and trolleys stopping near the main entrance the crossroad of Mavrommateon Street and Alexandras Avenue, too. From the central Syntagma Square, you can take bus no. 224 or trolley no. 2, 4 & 15.
What to se nearby: National Archaeological Museum
4. National Gardens & Zappeion
The National Gardens near Syntagma Square are a surprising piece of jungle in the middle of the city. What starts as a traditional, well-kept park at the main entrance at Amalias Avenue quickly turns into a maze of pathways meandering through lush, green, and widely overgrown vegetation.
The 38 acres gardens were created in 1938 by Queen Amalia and fully opened to the public in the 1920s. During your stroll through the park, you’ll stumble across multiple ponds with ducks, goldfish and turtles, shady arcades, ancient ruins, and a couple of busts of Greek statements and artists.
There is a playground in the park, too, and a couple of well-trimmed lawns usually occupied by families and outdoor yoga groups. In addition to that, a small zoo with a few unhappy-looking farm animals is stationed in the middle of the park. I have no issue with the wild nature of the gardens, quite the opposite actually, but these poor creatures definitely need more attention.
At the southern end of National Gardens starts yet another beautiful park – Zappeion. It is centered along the stately, neoclassical Zappeion Hall currently used as a conference and exhibition center. With its large fountain in front of the hall and wide alleys lined by tall, majestic trees, this part of the park is more fancy and formal looking. But for me personally, it doesn’t have the same charm as the neighboring lush maze of National Gardens.
How to get there: National Garden lies right next to the Parliament building at Syntagma Square. Walking to the main entrance at Amalia’a Avenue from Syntagma metro station shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes. The gardens can also be accessed from Vasilisis Sofias Avenue, Zappeion, and Kalimarmaro Stadium.
What to see nearby: Syntagma Square, The Parliament, Temple of Olympian Zeus
5. Ardittos Hill
Ardittos Hill is a small pine-covered hill overlooking the Panathenaic stadium. The hill itself doesn’t offer much in terms of sightseeing but it is a lovely place for a walk or break under the trees.
The views from the top of the hill and its trails are worth the climb though! It is a great vantage point to see and photograph the Acropolis of Athens, Lycabettus Hill, Zappion Hall, and most importantly the impressive white marble Panathenaic stadium.
Paved pathways circle the hill climbing to its rocky summit but unfortunately, there aren’t many benches or picnic areas to rest and enjoy the views. The tracks following the top of the stadium are popular among runners and there is a small workout area on the right side of the park with pull up bars and few other pieces of equipment.
Overall, the park is much quieter and less touristy compared to its more famous neighbors. Thanks to its well-hidden entrance it is mostly only frequented by local runners, dog walkers, and teenagers hanging out under the trees. This doesn’t take away from its charm though, quite the opposite, especially if you are looking for a more authentic experience.
How to get there: The entrance to Ardittos Hill is tucked away at Archimidous Street at the backside of the stadium. To get there, circle the stadium from the left side, first through a flight of steep stairs and later following a small street called Agras. At its crossroad with Archimidous street turn right and search for an open gate to the grounds.
What to see nearby: Panathenaic Stadium, Metz Neighbourhood & Colibri restaurant for some of the best burgers in town.
If you are looking to leave the city behind for a day check out THESE posts about our hikes on Mount Parnitha, Hymettus and Pentelicus on the outskirts of Athens.