Walking Around the National Garden, Athens

Walking Around the National Garden (Self Guided), Athens

The National Garden is an impressive, historic park in the center of Athens, complete with artificial streams and duck ponds. Formerly known as the Royal Garden, it was commissioned by King Otto’s queen, Amalia, in 1838, reason why it is located directly behind the Old Palace (currently the Greek Parliament building). Not only is it a welcome refuge from the swirl of traffic just outside the gates, but strolling around its landscaped grounds will lead to quite a few brilliant attractions.

First among these is the Benaki Museum, which affords a fascinating vast reflection of Greek art in all its manifestations, and where a lovely lunch can be had on the terrace restaurant with a modern version of local cuisine. The route will then take you by the seat of the Prime Minister and the next-door Presidential Mansion, where most folks like to take a selfie with the guards.

To see where the first modern Olympic Games took place, head to the Panathenaic Stadium and the famous statue of the Discus Thrower, inspired by models from classical antiquity, opposite to it.

The Záppeion, an imposing neoclassical building designed as a national exhibition hall in 1878, is set in its own gardens, and is immediately followed by the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the largest temple ever built on Greek soil. Today only 16 columns still stand, but their Corinthian capitals have a wonderful form and elegance.

Comprising these and more, our self-guided walking tour will help navigate your way through some of the National Garden’s most alluring attractions - so wear comfortable shoes and explore at your own pace.
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Walking Around the National Garden Map

Guide Name: Walking Around the National Garden
Guide Location: Greece » Athens (See other walking tours in Athens)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.4 Km or 2.1 Miles
Author: emily
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Hellenic Parliament House
  • Benaki Museum
  • Maximos Mansion
  • Presidential Mansion
  • Postal and Philatelic Museum
  • Panathenaic Stadium
  • Zappeion
  • Temple of Olympian Zeus
  • Arch of Hadrian
  • Lord Byron Monument
  • National Garden
Hellenic Parliament House

1) Hellenic Parliament House

The building that houses the Hellenic Parliament was once the old palace of the Greek Royal Family. After being damaged by a fire at the turn of the 20th century, the Royal Family moved to the new palace which is now the Greek Presidential Mansion.

This neoclassical building was originally completed in 1840 based on the plans of Bavarian architect, Friedrich von Gärtner. It served as the official residence of Otto, the first King to rule Greece after the end of the Turkish occupation. Otto’s father King Ludwig of Bavaria financed the building's construction, which was later remodeled to make it a suitable parliament house. It became the building of the National Assembly of Greece in 1935.

The building now houses the offices of the President of the National Assembly, along with archives and other services. To the front is the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guarded by an elite regiment called the Evzones. The changing of guard by the Evzones takes place on the hour and is a popular tourist attraction. The traditional outfit and the ceremony are something not to miss!

Keep in mind that you cannot step on the marble stairs and only enter one side of the palace that shows the beautiful marble walls/floors as well as the artistic ceiling of a palace. No tour guide needed.
Benaki Museum

2) Benaki Museum (must see)

Housing a collection donated to the state in 1954 by Antonis Benakis, son of wealthy cotton merchant Emmanouil Benakis, this is probably the only museum that covers all ages of Greek culture and history, and there are Greek works of art from prehistoric to modern times. Incredibly rich, very well organized and curated, and set in an easy-to-understand historical context, it is well worth saving €9 for, especially if you're visiting Athens in a short period of time and want a museum that sums up the history of Greece.

There are three floors with exhibits that go back to 6500 BC, including gold and silver bowls from 3000 BC, jewelry dating back to 1500 BC and an extensive range of ancient to modern costumes. There are also two rooms that are replicas of traditional Greek houses showing typical lifestyles of the people.

The museum's hidden assets are its ground floor gift shop and its rooftop café, the latter offering delicious foods and marvelous vistas of the National Gardens and the House of Parliament.

Try to visit on Thursdays, when it is both free and open until midnight.

Opening Hours:
Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat: 10am-6pm; Thu: 10am-12am; Sun: 10am-4pm
Maximos Mansion

3) Maximos Mansion

With the benefit of being located at the heart of Athens, near Syntagma Square and very close to the Hellenic Parliament, the Maximos Mansion has been the official seat of the Prime Minister of Greece since 1982.

Founded in 1912 by Alexandros Michalinos, a wealthy shipowner from the island of Chios, the impressive Neoclassical building was used as a guesthouse for important foreign dignitaries visiting Greece, including Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia in 1955 and Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom in 1980.

Previously, the German Admiral of the Aegian Sea used the mansion as his official residence during the German occupation of Greece. After the war, the building was briefly used as the residence of the U.S. Ambassador in Athens.

Though it is the seat of the Greek Prime Minister, it is not his official residence, nor is it open for tourists and visitors.
Presidential Mansion

4) Presidential Mansion

Located near the National Garden and Parliament in Athens is the official residence of the President of the Hellenic Republic – formerly the official residence of the Greek Royal Family before the 1974 referendum that abolished the monarchy.

The three-storey neoclassical mansion was designed by architect, Ernst Ziller and constructed between 1891-97. At first, the structure was simple without any elaborate ballrooms as was customary in other palaces. When the Royal Family moved in (1909), Ziller designed an extension for a ballroom which is now used when foreign ambassadors present their credentials to the Greek President. In 1962 another extension, called the Reception Hall, was designed for the engagement of Sophia, Princess of Greece with Prince Juan Carlos of Spain. It is now the largest room in the palace.

Surrounded by gardens and covering an extent of about 7 acres, the building is not open for public viewing, but take the trouble to go and see the guards outside with their amazing uniforms and routines.
Postal and Philatelic Museum

5) Postal and Philatelic Museum

Established in 1978, the Postal and Philatelic Museum forms part of the Greek postal service, Hellenic Post, showcasing stamps and other postal material that is of interest to visitors and philatelists.

Exhibits in the Postal Hall include boxes, franking machines, bags, horns and a range of objects used by post, telegraph and telephone services. Mailboxes and weighing machines dating back to the 19th century are also on display. The museum houses an additional, rather impressive collection of stamps in its Philately Hall, including very rare ones from the 1st Olympics, with a representation of the Head of Hermes. There is also a section devoted to stamp-printing techniques and the models used as the original subjects of stamp art.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8am-2pm; free admission
Panathenaic Stadium

6) Panathenaic Stadium (must see)

The Panathenaic is the world's only major stadium that was built entirely of white marble. It's also one of the oldest in the world. In ancient times, the stadium on this site was used to host the athletic portion of the Panathenaic Games every 4 years in honor of the Goddess Athena. In 329 BC it was rebuilt in marble and in 140 AD was enlarged and renovated, giving a seated capacity of 50,000. After the late 4th century AD, however, the stadium was abandoned and fell into ruin.

The remnants of the ancient structure were excavated and refurbished for the revival of the Olympic Games that were held in the late 19th century. The stadium is much smaller than the Olympic stadiums built today, but one still has to be impressed with its simplicity and, of course, its five Olympic rings. At the entrance, you can see four stones carved with all the interesting history of the Olympics from the late 19th century to present day.

The first international Olympic Games in modern history were held in this stadium in 1896 and King George I of Greece opened the ceremony. Among participants were 241 male athletes from 14 countries, competing in 9 sports and 43 events. The first 9 modern Olympic sports were athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, tennis, shooting, swimming, weightlifting and wrestling. Every four years since then, athletes from all over the world came together to compete against each other. Only the great wars of the 20th century have prevented the normal schedule of the Olympics – but as soon as those wars ended, the tradition went on. The last time Athens hosted the Olympics was, in fact, in 2004. The stadium itself is very nice to visit but note that you'll probably get the best experience with the free audio guide provided.

Why You Should Visit:
It is a beautiful stadium and the place where modern Olympics were born.
The small museum on site offers an exhibition on the history of the Olympics.

Make sure you ask for the audio guide (included in the affordable entry ticket) upon entry and then climb to the upper tier for stunning views of the stadium.

7) Zappeion

Amid the nationalistic fervor of the newly formed Greek nation, millionaire Evangelias Zappas sought to build a hall to host world-fair-style exhibitions as well as ceremonies for the revived Olympic Games. Theophilos Hansen, who had demonstrated his neoclassical bent in his designs for the Greek Academy and National Library, designed the huge semicircular hall, inaugurated in 1888 and named for the man who financed the project. Hansen adorned the long facade with a portico and an elegant row of columns, but his showpiece lies within—a vast circular atrium surrounded by a two-story arcade supported by columns and caryatids.

The Zappeion was the venue for fencing competitions during the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, and in more recent years was the scene of ceremonies signing Greece into the European Union. Along with the gardens and fountain out the front along, and the shady paths, it is a nice place to visit as you make your way around the city.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am–5pm (hours vary depending on events)
Temple of Olympian Zeus

8) Temple of Olympian Zeus (must see)

Right behind Hadrian’s Arch, with a clear view of the Acropolis, is the Olympieion, also known as the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Its construction began in the 6th century BC during the rule of the Athenian tyrants, who planned on building the greatest temple in the ancient world. Their plans seem to have not worked quite well, as the temple was only completed some 640 years after, under the reign of Roman Emperor Hadrian, a known admirer of classical Greek culture.

When construction was at last completed, the Olympieion was renowned as the largest temple in Greece, housing a gold and ivory statue of Zeus that was one of the largest in the ancient world. It also had 104 colossal columns of which only 15 remain standing today. The other columns were destroyed by successive conquerors that used them as building material, but also by natural causes such as earthquakes. A 16th column that fell during a storm in 1852 lies near the ruined temple. The ruins extend past the gigantic columns, but you're not always allowed going into the temple as it's still an active archaeological site.

Why You Should Visit:
Although a lot of the temple is missing the sheer scale of the remaining columns and size of the site excites one's imagination. There is also a great photo backdrop with Acropolis in the distance.

If you have purchased the Acropolis multi-site ticket you can get into here automatically.

Opening Hours:
Summer: Daily: 8am-7:30pm
Winter: Daily: 8:30am-3pm
Arch of Hadrian

9) Arch of Hadrian

This triumphal arch was built to celebrate the arrival of Roman Emperor Hadrian and to honor him for his many benefactions to the city. It serves as a gateway between the ancient part of Athens and the then new district constructed mostly during the rule of Hadrian, who reigned over the Roman Empire until the year 138 A.D. Hadrian was a great admirer of classical Greek literature, philosophy and arts. During his reign, he sponsored a number of important projects in Athens, including the Library of Hadrian and the Hadrianic Aqueduct, as well as the completion of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, among others.

The entire monument to honor Hadrian is made of marble from Mt. Pentelikon, located 18 km away. The design is fully symmetrical from front to back and side to side; however, while the lower part recalls similar Roman arches, the top is typical of a Greek arch. There is one inscription on the west side that reads, "This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus." There is also an inscription on the east side that reads, "This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus." This monument can be viewed for free on your walk through Athens; but, if you want to get up close you'll need to either buy a ticket to the Temple of Olympian Zeus or a combination ticket for the major archaeological sites of Athens.

Why You Should Visit:
Worth a stop to understand the relationship between the Roman Empire and its province of Achaea, conquered by the Romans in the year 146 BC.

It can be viewed for free but if you want to get up close you'll need to either buy a ticket to the Temple of Olympian Zeus or a combination ticket for the major archaeological sites of Athens.
Lord Byron Monument

10) Lord Byron Monument

Close to the center of Athens, at the entrance to the National Garden, is a statue depicting Greece in the form of a woman crowning Byron.

Back in 1809, when Athen's Psyrri neighborhood was known as a haven for underworld thugs and a hotbed for revolutionaries, British poet Lord Byron, an ardent lover of Greece and Greek culture, boarded at 11 Agias Theklas St. (now a warehouse). His landlord’s 12-year-old daughter, Teresa Makris, inspired his poem “Maid of Athens.” Returning to Greece in the 1820s, Byron wrote part of “Childe Harold” while staying in the 17th-century Capuchin monastery, now destroyed, that once surrounded the Lysicrates Monument. At the Temple of Poseidon, he carved his name on one of the columns; visiting Marathon, he wrote: “The mountains look on Marathon, And Marathon looks on the sea, And musing there an hour alone, I dreamed that Greece might still be free.”

Mementos of Byron’s involvement in the Greek independence movement can be found at the National Museum and the Benaki Museum. Alas, before he could fight to free Greece, Byron succumbed to fever in the boggy, cholera-infested town of Mesolongi, where he died on April 19, 1824.

Βύρων ("Vyron"), the Greek form of "Byron", continues in popularity as a masculine name in Greece, and a suburb of Athens is called Vyronas in his honor.
National Garden

11) National Garden

The National Garden is a large green refuge right beside Syntagma Square and the Greek Parliament in the heart of Athens. It is open dawn to dusk, and is quite popular with tourists. Along with the large variety of plants and trees, this garden encloses some ancient ruins, Corinthian capitals of columns, as well as mosaics, and other features. On Southeast side are the busts of Capodistrias, the first governor of Greece, while on the South side is the bust of celebrated Greek poet Dionysios Solomos, author of the Greek National Hymn.

The park doesn't charge an entrance fee, but there is a fence surrounding the gardens, so you'll have to find an open gate for entrance and exit. The main entrance is on Leoforos Amalias, the street named after the Queen who envisioned this park. In the National Garden you will find a duck pond, a small zoo, a small cafe, and a Children's Library and playground. The place is quite clean, suitable and safe for everyone in daytime.

Why You Should Visit:
By far the best park in the center of Athens. Large variety of plants and trees. Quite clean, safe, and suitable for everyone in daytime. Could perhaps be nicer with a bit more upkeep but it is almost as good as it gets by local standards.

No entrance fee, but there is a fence surrounding the gardens, so you'll need to find an open gate for entrance and exit.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 6am-7:30pm

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