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 Athenians 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 locals 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.
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After such a grand introduction, you might wonder 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 rooftop park and ground level sweeping esplanade. Its long-term goal is to provide the nation with a library that gives access to a world of knowledge and to be at the heart of a network of libraries across Greece holding worldwide connections. The architecture of the building itself reflects the aspirations of a project of such magnitude. Glass walls, impressive staircases, and commanding views across Athens leave you feeling enlightened!
The man who made all of this possible, Stavros Spyros Niarchos (1909-1996), was a formidable man. Born in Athens, he studied law at Athens' National and Kapodistian University and in 1929, he began working for his family's grain business. Not content to simply inherit his family's 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 'Hellenic Shipyards', which rapidly became the largest shipyard in the Mediterranean.
For a while, 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, 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 he envisioned would continue the noble act of supporting his country. Through his love of education, culture and social welfare, Niarchos wished to leave a legacy that would continue to empower those less privileged than him.
A visit to the center will convince you 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, the foundation center also boasts of music, film, sporting and child-focused events, all of which are free but may 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. During summer, a large screen is erected with movie nights offering both cult classics and new releases.
On the ground level lies 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 possible to spend the entire day at the center. Free WIFI is available throughout the area, with access to computers allowing browsing of over 5,000 magazines and newspapers from 100 countries in 60 different languages!
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 rooftop terrace, this café offers commanding views of the city, along with 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 coffee and fresh juices daily.
Opening hours: 09.00-01.00 daily
Providing the park with a place to grab freshly made smoothies, juices, and snacks, 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
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, fear not, because with frequent buses, trams and metro services it is relatively simple to access the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center.
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 Athens. Find more off-the-beaten-path spots and hidden treasures, known and loved by locals, on one of our walking tours of Athens.