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National Gardens

The site of an infamous pet monkey bite which changed European history, this central public park was commissioned by Queen Amalia in 1838.

TravelCurious Tip

The army sometimes uses a small part of the gardens to practise their marching and drill – it’s an impressive display if you’re lucky enough to see it.

Situated a few hundred metres east of the Acropolis, the National Gardens comprise a large, green, open space in the middle of Athens, and are a perfect place to relax for a couple of hours during a day’s sightseeing. There is a playground, a café, and a beautiful botanical garden, making a pleasant change from the often-hectic environment of central Athens.


Botching the Botany

Commissioned by the then-popular Queen Amalia as part of a wider strategy of social improvement, the gardens were completed in 1840. They were designed by plant specialist Friedrich Schmidt, who imported over 500 different species of plants to ornament the gardens, as well as a menagerie of exotic animals including peacocks and turtles. Unfortunately his expertise turned out to be somewhat lacking, and many of the plants did not survive in the dry Mediterranean climate. However, the caretakers quickly adjusted their sights, and the park is now green and lush with vegetation.


A Political Animal

The gardens were the setting for an extremely unusual episode which triggered a chain reaction of political consequences. The Greek king Alexander was strolling here in 1920 when he was bitten by a pet monkey belonging to an unknown companion. The bite subsequently became badly infected, and Alexander died three weeks later. His previously-deposed father returned to the throne and began to replace distrusted senior military staff with more loyal, less experienced officers. This was at a time when the Greek army was engaged in a fierce but very winnable war with Turkey, backed by its allies Britain and France. After the changes in military staff, however, the Western powers removed their support, and in the resulting chaos the Greeks lost several key battles and tens of thousands of civilians died in the Great Fire of Smyrna. Winston Churchill wrote that "it is perhaps no exaggeration to remark that a quarter of a million persons died of this monkey's bite”.


Nearby Attractions

See all attractions in Athens
Theatre of Dionysus
One of the earliest preserved theatres in Athens, this space was used during festivals to honour the wine god Dionysus.
Plaka Neighbourhood
Like a village in the city, Athens' charming old town is known as the Neighbourhood of the Gods.
Old Royal Palace
Overlooking Syntagma Square, this grand palace has been home to the Hellenic Government since 1934.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Commemorating soldiers who have died in service to Greece, this tomb is guarded 24 hours a day by the Evzones or Presidential Guard.
Agora
The Agora was the heart of ancient Athens, acting as a focal point for commercial, political and social activity.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
The colossal remains of this temple lie in the centre of the city, telling a long and fascinating history.

Related Tours

The Greek Essentials - Full Day Highlights of Athens
If you only have a short amount of time in Athens and want to see as much as possible in one day, then this highlight tour is the one for you. On your private full day tour, you will: 

  • Discover Athen's cultural sites, including the remains of the Temple of Zeus and the iconic Acropolis
  • Learn about myths and legends of Ancient Greece 
  • Wander through the New Acropolis Museum, discovering the beautiful art and architecture 
  • Walk along the Agora, the heart of classical Athens, and learn about the origins of democracy 
  • Enjoy a classical Greek lunch, at a place recommended by your guide (price not included in tour)
  • Explore the oldest district in the city, Plaka 
  • Immerse yourself in local life at the Monastiraki flea market
  • Visit the marbled Panathenaic Stadium, constructed for the first modern Olympic Games 
Classical Ruins

With your expert guide you will discover the city’s most important cultural sites, including the colossal remains of the Temple of Zeus and the Acropolis, a UNESCO world heritage site. On the plateau of the Acropolis you will find the awe-inspiring heights of the Parthenon pillars, gaze on the beautiful female forms of the Cartyid columns, discover on some of the earliest theatres known to man and enjoy panoramic views over the city. Your guide will explain the central role these monuments, and more, played in classical society and immerse you in the myths and legends of Ancient Greece.

Archaeological Wonders

After wandering the Parthenon you will visit in the spectacular New Acropolis Museum. Here you will learn firsthand the artistic wonders that once adorned the monuments of the Acropolis. You will also wander through the Agora, the heart of classical Athens. Once a bustling marketplace, in these now peaceful ruins you’ll walk in Socrates’ footsteps amongst classic temples and Byzantine churches, learning how Athens became the birthplace of democracy.

Thriving Capital 

Following a lunch of local cuisine, you will explore bustling Plaka, the oldest district in the city. Sometimes called “the neighbourhood of the gods”, Plaka is known for its winding alleyways and scenic shopping. Immerse yourself in local life at the Monastiraki flea market, before venturing to the grand Syntagma square, home to the Greek Parliament. Watch the presidential guards, in their famous skirted costumes, and be led by your guide through the natural beauty of the National Gardens. 

Finally, you will also visit the stunningly marbled Panathenaic Stadium. Constructed for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, this immense structure is a strong reminder of the continual legacy of ancient Athens in the modern day. 
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