A guide to the National Garden
In the heart of Athens, lie the beautiful National Garden which is tranquil and peaceful in contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city. The National Garden is the perfect place to relax and ponder on after visiting all the marvellous archaeological sites that the city has to offer.
The National Garden cover 24 hectares (if you include the Zappeion Hall). The garden was commissioned in 838 by the first Queen of modern Greece, Amalia. The garden was designed by German agriculturist Frederick Schmidt and his work took two years to complete.
During excavations on the site, a beautiful Roman floor was uncovered – buried by a metre of soil. The floor was once the courtyard of a Roman villa and is on display today. Once the garden was completed, it was like a tropical paradise and was known as the ‘Royal Garden’ or ‘Garden of Amalia’. Every day the Queen worked for three hours in the garden.
Schmidt imported 500 different species of plants and animals including beautiful peacocks, ducks and freshwater turtles. Sadly, many of the plants could not cope with the heat and were lost. Over the years they have been replaced and today there are more than 500 different species with 7,000 trees plus 40,000 shrubs and bushes. More than 100 of the species are Greek including the pretty oleanders and the carob trees.
Many of the trees come from all over the world and include Australian Pines, Chinese ‘Trees of the Heart’ and date palms from the Canary Islands. There are six small lakes in the garden and each has a variety of colourful ducks to admire, as well as freshwater turtles. There are numerous wooden benches for resting while and the ducks are happy to be fed!
During the 1920s the garden were opened to the public and renamed the ‘National Garden’. The gardens has a large conservatory – the first greenhouse in Greece- where young plants are first cultivated before being planted out in the gardens. A small zoo area was also established with monkeys, hawks, buzzards and other animals.
Today there are seven different entrances into the garden, but the main entrance is in Vasilisis Amalias Avenue. The avenue leading from this entrance is lined with 12 lofty palm trees that Queen Amalia planted and today are more than 25 metres tall. Close by there is a large sundial which is fun to try out!
As well as enjoying a stroll through the garden, the botanical museum is interesting. There is a library that opened in 1984, stocked with 6,000 books and with two reading rooms- the ‘Fairytale Room’ for children and the other for adults and known as the ‘Music & Film Room’. There is also a café for a welcoming frappé or ouzo and some mezedhes and a popular children’s playground.
Viewed as an extension of the National Garden, is the Zappeion Hall which is an exhibition centre with an impressive façade and courtyard. There are many statues to admire including those of mythological features and a number of modern Greek leaders and personalities. During the summer months there are outdoor films and puppet theatres (karagiozi) to enjoy.
Key information for visiting the National Garden
- The National Garden is situated just behind the Parliament building and the main entrance is just a few metres from Syntagma Square in the centre of Athens.
- The nearest Metro station is Syntagma (Lines 1 & 3) which is a two minute walk.
- Admission to the National Garden is free of charge.
- The National Garden is open daily from sunrise until sunset (approximately 06.00-19.30)
- Visitors to the National Garden are recommended to wear flat, comfortable shoes.