Created in the mid-1800s as the pet project of Queen Amalia, the former Royal Garden has been a focal point of Athenian life since it was declared a public space in 1927. The 158,000-square-metre park contains an impressive collection of plants—over 500 species—most imported from as far away as China and Guatemala, and arranged for effect like the striking row of Delos palms near the Amalias Gate. These botanical riches attract birds, from parrot colonies to woodpeckers and Europe’s only wren species. Ivy-entwined, wrought-iron gazebos and secluded benches create a romantic backdrop for courting couples and picnics.
The adjacent Zappeion Park is to families what the National Garden is to lovers. Fanning out from the horseshoe-shaped hall, which is used for exhibitions and formal receptions, the grounds are abuzz with activity from book fairs and small expos. You’ll usually find crowds of locals strolling in the shade, chilling at the upmarket café-restaurant, or taking in a film at the open-air cinema. There’s a sports park for kids too, with a climbing wall, trampolines, volleyball, tennis, basketball and football courts.