Nestled on the edge between the busy commercial area of Kallithea and the bay of Faliro, stands a cutting edge, architectural homage to the symbiotic connection between nature and man. It is a demonstration of vision and philanthropy gifted to the Athenian people by a man who used his wealth to enrich the lives of others. The Stavros Niarchos Centre is beloved by many of the city’s people and, whilst largely unknown by tourists, it is absolutely worth the time taken to visit. By day or night, it is a truly breath-taking experience. A testimony to what can be achieved when those enterprising men and women of a nation acknowledge the responsibilities of great wealth, it recognises that education and culture act as the imperative back bone of any advanced society.
After such a grand introduction, what exactly is the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Centre? It is an ambitious project to provide a new state of the art home for the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera as well as a vast ever-green roof top park and ground level sweeping esplanade. The long-term goal of is to provide the nation with a library that gives access to a world of knowledge to all citizens and to be at the heart of a network of libraries across Greece with connections to worldwide. The architecture of the building itself reflects the aspirations of a project of such magnitude. Glass walls, impressive stair cases and commanding views across Athens leave you feeling enlightened…before you’ve even opened a book!
Greek National Opera - credits: PitK/Shutterstock.com
The man who made all of this possible, Stavros Spyros Niarchos (1909-1996), like all philanthropic captains of industry, was a formidable man. Born in Athens he studied law at Athens University and in 1929 began working for his families’ grain business. Not content to simply accept the status quo, he devised to purchase his own freighters (during the Great Depression no less) in order to negate the significant cost of transportation of wheat. Through his drive, success and private investment he built and operated the Hellenic Shipyards which rapidly became the largest shipyard in the Mediterranean. For a time, he owned the largest private fleet in the world, operating more than 80 tankers and vessels worldwide. Serving as a naval officer in World War Two he leased his fleet of ships to the Allied operations in Normandy. Most of the fleet was destroyed however with substantial compensation he was able to rebuild a brand-new fleet and thus began his path to becoming a multi-billionaire and cementing his reputation as a shipping tycoon. Although he had rather a tumultuous romantic life and a penchant for expensive racehorses, he was undeniably generous. His final gift was that of leaving the majority of his estate to the foundation which he envisioned would continue his commitment to his country and Hellenism. Through his love of education, culture and social welfare, Niarchos wished to leave a legacy that would continue to empower those less privileged than he, years after he had gone.
A visit to the center certainly leaves you inclined to agree that it truly is a wonderful gift to the general public. A perfect spot to take a stroll or browse a seemingly never-ending library of books (when they arrive!), the foundation center also boasts music, film, sporting and child-focused events, all of which are free. Some may, however, require prior registration.
The rooftop park is nothing short of a verdant paradise. Perfect for children to play in, with its labyrinth of flora and fauna, fountains, alcoves, and open areas, you would forget you were in a city altogether were it not for the incredible views. During the summer a large screen is erected with movie nights offering classic and new films. Not satisfied with one level there is also a truly inspirational feat of engineering in the form of a photovoltaic canopy that covers an impressive terrace providing views across the city and the Aegean.
On the ground level is an expansive esplanade which runs alongside a striking canal feature that hosts rowing boats, kayaking, and sailing dinghies on certain days. Daily, people can be seen biking, running and walking dogs as well as activities organized by the foundation such as pilates, yoga and dance classes. Bikes are available to hire for 3, 5, 10 and 20 hours at €3, €5, €10 & €20 respectively.
Considering the array of activities, it is quite possible to spend the entire day at the center. Free WIFI is available throughout the building with access to computers allowing browsing of over 5,000 magazines and newspapers from 100 countries in 60 different languages…for free!
Stavros Niarchos - credits: Milan Gonda/Shutterstock.com
After hours of reading, there’s no need to think about leaving for lunch or any other meal for that matter either. There are several options for food and refreshments on-site:
Situated on the roof top terrace, this café boasts commanding views of the city. Offering hot and cold drinks, snacks and a selection of cold dishes.
Located in the heart of the center is the Agora Bistro serving a variety of Mediterranean inspired dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
Opening hours: 08.00-01.00 daily
In a minimalist, glass venue situated by the canal, this café offers healthy dishes and fresh coffees and juices daily.
Opening hours: 09.00-01.00 daily
Providing the park with a place to grab freshly made smoothies, juices, and snacks, the Park Kiosk is a perfect stop for a mid-morning snack.
Opening hours: 08.00-00.00 daily
Inspired by the very latest street food trends, this food truck prides itself on tradition and quality. Their specialty is ‘gezleme’, a delicious traditional handmade pastry filled with wild greens, herbs and feta cheese from Pontos.
Opening hours: Monday–Thursday 11.00-22.00, Friday–Saturday 11.00-00.00 & Sunday 10.30-00.00
Coffee & Juice Vans
Along the esplanade are small tricycle trucks serving freshly squeezed orange juice and coffees.
Opening hours: Coffee Van 09.00-19.00 daily & Juice Van 09.00-21.00 daily
How to get there
If you don’t have a car during your time in Athens fear not because with frequent buses, trams and metro services it is relatively simple to access the centre. If you are arriving by car, parking is currently free, however, this may change in the future.
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre is visionary and uplifting in its concept. A leader of industry and a pioneer of globalization (long before it became fashionable) Niarchos enabled the creation of a centre that is truly open to all. If, “the only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture” then it is tangibly manifested in the form of this centre. If you truly wish to discover Athens like a local, the Stavros Niarchos Centre deserves to be at the top of your list of things to do in our enigmatic city.
For a discovery of off- the –beaten- track places and hidden treasures known and loved by locals join us on one of our walking tours of Athens. Looking for the best hideouts of Athenian nightlife? Discover where we locals go on our brand new “Athens Nocturnal Gems” tour!