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The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC) is the newest attraction of the city of Athens. That sentence alone says a lot, given that we’re talking about a city that holds treasures that date back to ancient times. With fierce competition like this, it’s only reasonable to assume that the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre has brought a new breath to the Greek capital.
Indeed, the complex that now adorns the southern suburbs of the city -although relatively- new is already treasured as one of the most important sights in the city not only because of its impeccable design but also for its cultural significance.
In this article, we’ll go over the different sections that make up the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre, learn about the story behind the new jewel of Athens, and provide a few tips on how to get there, what to see, and what you can do there.
The story of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC)
The idea behind the creation of the recreational hub sprouted in 1998 after the Stavros Niarchos Foundation came up with the plan of offering a significant donation to the Greek state with the purpose of renovating the Greek National Opera and the National Library.
Soon enough, it became apparent that the best course of action would be to create a new complex that would host both institutions. The person tasked with the challenge of designing and building a new architectural wonder was Renzo Piano, and a visit to the magnificent site will serve to prove that he over-delivered.
The location chosen for the new cultural center is nothing less than astonishing. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre occupies a privileged piece of land in the area of Palaio Faliro in the southern suburbs of Athens that enjoys a panoramic view over the city.
Today, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre is one of the most beloved spots in the city. A beautiful complex that encompasses the headquarters of the National Library of Greece (NGL) and the Greek National Opera (GNO) as well as a huge landscaped outdoor park dotted with playgrounds and an impressive 400-meter seawater canal.
The National Library of Greece
Inaugurated in 1832, the National Library of Greece was formerly housed in a beautiful neoclassical building designed by Ernst Ziller on Panepistimiou street in downtown Athens.
From 2016 onwards, the institution boasts a 24.000 square meter building within the confines of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre that blends traditional elements with innovative design and cutting-edge technology.
The transportation of the library and its treasures coincided with a digitization project that made all its materials -along with other material relevant to the Greek civilization sourced from abroad- available to the general public.
In just a few years, the National Library was transformed into a modern hub for research, culture and knowledge that features impressive facilities in a superb setting. Its lauded collection includes over 4000 historical manuscripts, documents and archives from the 9th to the 19th century.
The Greek National Opera
The Greek National Opera occupies an area of 28.000 square meters making it one of the most impressive sections of the cultural center.
The venue’s exterior design is a manifestation of Piano’s contemporary aesthetics while the interior features flawless acoustics and innovative high-tech facilities. The building is split into two main parts: the main stage (also called the Stavros Niarchos Hall) that can host up to 1400 guests and a smaller alternative stage that can host up to 400 guests.
The latter also serves as a research hub for arts and culture with a focus on musical theater. You can find more information and the event schedule of the Greek National Opera here.
The Stavros Niarchos Park
The premises that surround the two institutions located in the SNFCC are just as exciting as the venues that adorn them. The Stavros Niarchos Park is a green oasis hidden in plain sight.
Designed in a sustainable and eco-friendly way, its vast open spaces feature a prominent Mediterranean character with local flora like flowers, herbs and olive trees lining the pathways that run through the park.
Here you will also find the impressive sea-water canal that flows along a wide esplanade, several pic-nic spots and playgrounds and cycling routes. Some parts of the gardens are actually located on top of the buildings of the library and the opera which feature a bioclimatic roof.
Last but not least, if you visit Stavros Niarchos Park, make sure to pay a visit to the famous Lighthouse, a viewing platform that enjoys a birdseye view of the city below.
Things to do at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre
Apart from the Greek National Opera and the National Library of Greece the modern hub of culture also offers excellent opportunities for a wide range of activities and events that attract over 6 million guests each year.
Below you’ll find a short list of things to do at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre.
Get on a bike and explore the SNFCC
There is a short-term bicycle rental service operating within the complex called the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center Bikes. They offer 50 bikes that are available at three different bike stations throughout the SNFCC: at the Visitors Center, the Agora and the Rear Agora. At the visitor center, you can also find 25 kids’ bikes. All bikes are equipped with headlights and taillights, baskets and safety locks.
Join a free tour of the Stavros Niarchos Park
If you’re more of an outdoors type, you can also join a free guided tour of the Stavros Niarchos Park and learn all about the concepts behind its design and how it tackles the issues of sustainability and environmental protection. The tour takes place every Thursday at 4 pm and starts off from the Visitor Center. Its duration is 90 minutes. In order to join the tour, pre-registration is obligatory with the exception of children below 8 years old.
Go ice-skating on the canal
Every year, from the end of November to the beginning of January, a considerable part of the park’s sea-water canal is transformed into an ice-skating rink that is completely free of charge and open to the public from 10 am to 10 pm. If you want to have a go and test your skating skills, you will have to pre-register for a session. The duration of each session is 40 minutes. There is a number of ice skates available at the ice rink but you can also bring your own pair.
Performances at the Greek National Opera
The Greek National Opera’s new building has rejuvenated the institution and quickly brought it to the forefront of the cultural scene of Athens. There are numerous performances taking place there every month by both classical and contemporary composers.
How to get to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
By the SNFCC Shuttle Bus
There is a minibus that runs from Syntagma Square directly to the entrance of the SNFCC with only a single stop at the Syggrou-Fix metro station. You can recognize it by the SNFCC logo.
On weekends, it departs every 30 minutes. On weekdays, the bus departs at 7.30 am, 10 am, 11 am, 4 pm, 5 pm, and 5.30 pm. Additionally, on Fridays, there are routes every 30 minutes between 2.30 pm and 11 pm.
On Sundays, from 10 am to 1 pm the shuttle bus departs from Syggrou Fix metro station rather than Syntagma Square due to the ceremony of the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
By Bus or by Metro & Bus
You can take buses B2 or 550 from the Syggrou-Fix metro station to reach the “Onasseio” stop on Syggrou Avenue. From there, you can reach Evripidou street and the entrance to the SNFCC simply by walking towards the sea until you find the main junction.
Starting from Syntagma Square, get on the tram and get off at the “Tzitzifies” stop. Then, walk down Peisistratou street and find the corner where it meets Sahtouri street. You will be able to see one of the entrances to the SNFCC right next to the parking lot.
Reaching the SNFCC by car is quite easier than it may sound. You can get there via Syggrou Avenue if you are departing from the downtown of Athens or via Poseidonos Avenue if you are departing from the southern suburbs. Either way, you will find many signs along the road that will point you in the right direction.
All in all, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center provides a unique blend of experiences that you cannot afford to miss on your next trip to Athens.
Whether you’re looking for a cultural visit to the National Library and the Greek Opera or just looking for a relaxing park where you can stroll along a beautiful canal, a visit to this incredible hub of arts and entertainment should not be missing from your itinerary. Now, in case you are looking for a whole day of exploration, after your visit here head to discover the wonderful Riviera of Athens.
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