Lifestyle & Culture

Christina Hudson in Greece: My expat guide to the rare green spaces of Athens, Pt. 1

Mostly gray, not much green - Athens by Christina Hudson

(Editor’s note: This is Pt. 1 of a two-part post on the green spaces in Athens. You can see Part 2 here.)

What could be more important for the sometimes high-strung residents of the bustling Greek capital than green spaces? There are nearly 4 million residents in the Athens metro area and it is crucial to know where you can take refuge from the onslaught of the sights, sounds and smells that are part and parcel of life in this teeming metropolis.

The gray of dingy concrete dominates Athens and if ever there was a city in which doctors should be prescribing a daily dose of nature therapy to all, it is this one … and now with the current COVID-19 concerns, we need even more frequent contact with our precious flora. Many of you already know that spending time in nature on a regular basis can reduce stress and improve sleep, but did you know that nature walks can also improve your short-term memory, reduce inflammation and bolster the immune system? And who knew that a date with nature can also boost your happiness and provide some natural pain relief as well?

I am happy to report that we have some truly top-notch green spaces here in Athens. The bad news is that there just aren’t enough of them ….

According to Statista, the overall green space in European capitals compares as follows (in approximate square meters per person):
• Rome: 166 m²
• Stockholm: 70 m²
• London: 32 m²
• Paris: 11 m²
• and Athens: 6 m²

Yes, you read that correctly – 6 square meters per person.

Sigh ….

Fellow Athenians, we really need to step up our green game. In the meantime, let’s all (locals and tourists) remember to regularly visit and appreciate the green sanctuaries we do have. The ones I describe below are some of my favorites.

My family and I happily visit these in rotation so as to maintain some semblance of sanity in these strange corona times. Corona-picnics are something we do nearly every week now. Athens’ typically mild winters make walking, picnicking and all sorts of outdoor activities pretty easy to do, so we really have no excuse for not getting out there.

Though a lot of our city’s green spaces have seen better days, I do actually like my parks rather untamed. I do not however appreciate the litter and neglected dog excrement that sometimes comes with the ‘wilder’ parks. That’s why my heart just melts when I see a sweet soul and fellow green-lover who cares so much that (s)he spends time picking up other people’s selfish detritus.

We Athenians are not generally known for our civic-mindedness, but I am super-happy to report that I am seeing some strides in that direction. We need to take more pride in our city, but progress has definitely been made.

Many residents who would normally (read: pre-COVID-19) spend their free time in a café or gym are now “forced” get to know out city’s parks and I hope it is giving them a new respect and perspective on them.

National Gardens

Leoforos Vasilisis Amalias 1, Athina 10557

Just a few minutes’ walk from Constitution Square and Syntagma metro station, you will find this surprisingly elegant urban oasis, formerly the Royal Gardens. This somewhat shabby-chic public park is nearly 40 acres in size and was commissioned by Queen Amalia in the mid-1800s. The main entrance is marked by a row of stunning, tall palms planted by the
queen.

The National Gardens are typically open from sunrise to sunset and boast a little café, a duck pond and a playground. Something for all ages!

Siggrou Estate (also spelled Syggros)

Androu and Dasous Streets, Marousi

Located in busy northern Athens, this enormous forest/park is a wonderful place to unwind and lose yourself among endless native pine trees. This lovely natural forested area used to be the property of renowned Greek philanthropists Andreas and Iphigenia Siggrou and it since has been gifted to the Institute of Agricultural Studies.

For the active among you, there are bike paths, a football field and a basketball court. For those who love to wander, there are footpaths galore. These paths are largely unmarked so if you decide to explore off the beaten track, be sure to carry water, a sunhat, snacks and a mobile phone in case you get lost. If you do get lost, don’t worry–you will eventually find an
exit (try following the sounds of the six lanes of traffic of Kifisias Avenue that sound rather like a big river flowing in the distance).

Philopappou Hill

Dionysiou Areopagitou & Apostolou Pavlou, Athens 11741

For unsurpassed views of Athens and the Acropolis, be sure to explore Philopappou Hill (also known as The Hill of the Muses) and its environs. If you want a nice little urban hike, walk right up to the top of Philopappou Hill. There you will find a monument which was erected in honor of the prominent benefactor of Athens during the Roman Empire who had a mouthful of a name–Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos!

The wide, tree-lined cobblestone walkways that wrap around the three hills of the area provide, in my view, one of the most pleasant strolls Athens has to offer. Take along a sunhat, camera, snacks and water and take in the unique ambience of this ancient, peaceful (and car-free) part of the city.

Attiko Alsos

Galatsi 11147

This sizeable city park is located at the top of Tourkovounia (Turkish Mountains–a name that comes from the historical Turkish occupation of Athens). Attiko Alsos offers the residents of this very densely-populated part of the city a breath of fresh air, a beautiful smattering of native Greek flora brought in from around the country, a playground, mini-football field, tennis courts and jogging lanes. This park is the real deal and rarely sees a tourist, but can get rather busy with locals on weekends.

Attiko Alsos is actually the highest point within the city and the Parthenon actually looks smallish from here. Just outside the perimeter you will find a wonderful open-air cinema and a convent (!) called Moni Profiti Ilia. I suggest you stroll around the convent to the dilapidated gazebo which serves as a unique lookout point. The city seems to rise up to meet you here in a weird and wonderful way. It feels like you are pretty close to the countless rooftops ….

Check it out if you have time!

About the author:

A Pittsburgher by birth, Christina T. Hudson is also half Greek and has – so far – spent most of her life in Athens, the chaotic but captivating capital city of Greece. She studied Language and Literature at Moravian College and has worked as a teacher, an editor, a writer and a photographer.

You can see more of her work here at A Pixel for Your Thoughts.

You can see more of her posts here.

See more about Greece in Dispatches’ archive here. See our Athens archive here

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