Tag Archives: athens

Greek National Opera at SNFCC

Summer Nostos Festival at Athens SNFCC – Huge, Fun and Totally Free

Featured image above by Ava Babili ccl.2.0

Head for Athens next week (June 17 to 24), for the Summer Nostos Festival at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC). It’s a huge, free international multi-arts and sports party being staged indoors and out at Athens newest major park and architectural landmark.

And while you’re there, you’ll have a chance to explore what the truly sustainable public buildings of the future could be like.

Venue for the Summer Nostos Festival
Auditorium of the Greek National Opera will see a lot more than opera during the Summer Nostos Festival in Athens.

What’s On

Music – including classical, pop, jazz and world music from all over Europe, Africa and North America. Among the highlights:

And that’s just skimming the surface – there are divas, bands, soloists, lots more.

Dance – with performances from several international ensembles including:

Plus – Circus performances and workshops, art installations, group participation performances, chorales, art workshops events for children and sports – from fencing and petanque to kayak racing  in the SNFCC’s  51 acres of parkland and 400 meter canal.

Everything is free but some events in smaller spaces do require advance booking. You can check out the full schedule and book as needed here.

About the SNFCC

While you’re there – or later if you miss the festival – take some time to explore the SNFCC – a remarkable park, cultural center and sustainable modern landmark, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano – in Kallithea, on the southwestern edge of Athens.

Some background

In the late 1990s, the Greek National Opera (GNO )and the National Library of Greece, both in need of space and viable new premises, approached the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for grants. Eventually both organizations and the foundation joined forces to develop the center with a foundation grant of €630 million. It was the largest single grant the foundation ever made and was to cover, design, construction and fitting out of the cultural center, relocation of the two companies and assistance with operating expenses for five years.

Work began in 2012 on what had been a former Olympics parking lot and then derelict ground. Today the site supports two state-of-the-art institutions – the multi-stage Greek National Opera and the million-plus volume Greek National Library along with a 51- acre park  bringing much needed green space to Athens.

Sustainability was always an objective in creating the SNFCC. During construction, 95 per cent of building waste was recycled. The finished result was awarded Platinum LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), from the US Green Building Council.

Take a free guided tour (they are given in English several times a day), for a behind the scenes look at both buildings.

Among the eco-friendly highlights:

  • The GNO’s “floating” energy canopy of solar panels. Weighing in at 4,500 tons, it contains 5,700 individually shaped solar panels. Energy monitoring in the first full year of operation indicates that during the summer months, the canopy generates almost 100 per cent of the center’s energy needs.

    SNFCC Canal
    Seawater fills the SNFCC Canal – where you can have a go at kayaking.
  • The Canal. It is 400 meters long, 30 meters wide and about one and a half meters deep. It’s filled with sea water from the nearby Bay of Faliro and processed  in reverse osmosis units. The treated water is used for irrigation of the park and eventually returned to the sea at the same or similar quality. 
  • A landscaped walk to the sea taking the park across a bridge over the highway to reconnect the site with the sea.

How to Get There

The SNFCC is just a few miles from Athens cruise and ferry terminals in Piraeus so easy to reach with a short taxi ride.

Other transportation options include:

  • Free shuttle buses, operating every 20 minutes from Syntagma Square at the corner of Ermou Street and Syggrou-Fix Metro station, Line 2, and from Faliro Metro Station, Line 1. Click here for full shuttle schedule during the festival.
  • Public Transportation by bus and Metro – There are a number of lines to choose from arriving from Athens Center, Piraeus and Kifissia. Check the Summer Nostos website FAQ pages for full public transportation information.
  • Car parking at the SNFCC will be limited but free parking will be available at the Faliro Olympic complex. It’s about a 15 minute walk and there will be free shuttle buses to the SNFCC. 


Byzantine Church in Athens

Are You Ready to Kick the Bucket List?

Last month, on a return visit to Athens, I found a tiny Byzantine church surrounded by olive trees in a square just off Ermou Street in the heart of the city’s main retail district.

As I sat beside it, in a cafe that could easily have passed for a Greek island beach taverna, I reflected on why I love revisiting favorite cities – going back for seconds, so to speak – again and again.

Skordalia and zuccini
Skordalia and fried courgette sticks – Greek island grub circa 1990 – right in the middle of Athens.

The Bucket List Race

If you are reading this travel blog, you are either a traveler or a travel dreamer. Visiting destinations we’ve read about and imagined for years is something we travel dreamers all try to do as often as possible. Whether we’re into cities, island, mountains, seashores, rivers; the perfect bed, the tastiest meal, the most breathtaking adventure or the most exquisite designer shoes, we all have our hit list – the targets we’ve saved and planned for for years.

Then we arrive and most of us do the same thing.

We rush around from one “top-of-the-pops” sight to another, making sure we see all the things we’re supposed to see, taste all the foods we’re supposed to taste, and, depending upon our generational tribe, take loads of photos or do the selfie thing in all the instagrammable places on our list. We take the pictures of the same places that everyone else photographs – The Tower of London, The Eiffel Tower, the Parthenon.

And then, just before we head home, we say to each other “I wish we could have seen more of….stayed longer at….learned more about….” 

Oh well, there’s always next time. “Next time we’re here let’s do….we should be sure to see….”

But, for most of us, there never is a next time, is there? Because we are off to the next destination on our bucket list.

Time for a Second Helping

Unless your only aim is ticking off items on your bucket list, there is much to be gained on second visits when the pressure to see the usual sights is off.

Breakfast at le Petit Cler in Paris

On my repeat visits to Paris, with no specific agenda and the freedom to wander at will:

  • I discovered a really great falafel shop in the Marais
  • bought watercolour papers in a side street near the Musée D’Orsay
  • walked along the Canal St Martin
  • spent a few days wandering the rue Saint-Dominique and the area around the Metro station known as La Tour Maubourg – right beside Les Invalides yet a world away.
  • Had capuccino and warm, fresh brioche in le Petit Cler on the equally petit rue Cler Market.
Lovers in Paris
By Canal St Martin in Paris

On a return visit to Madrid:

  • I found El Rastro, the huge Sunday flea market 

    El Rastro Market Madrid
    El Rastro – Fan seller at the Sunday Market in Madrid
  • had time to have espadrilles custom made in Casa Hernanz, on Calle de Toledo, just outside the Plaza Mayor 

    Casa Hernanz
    Queueing for shoes. Women line up for handmade espadrilles outside Casa Hernanz, Madrid’s famous shoemaker
  • stumbled into a city center food market where I bought a heavy iron plancha, perfect for grilling meat and veg. 

    Bull fighter
    Novice bullfighter waits for his bull at Las Ventas arena in Madrid.
  • and allowed myself to be talked into seeing a bullfight at Las Ventas (awful and moving at the same time).

And just last month in Athens, after I’d photographed the tourists gathering in Syntagma Square to video  the Evzones (I call them the men from the Ministry of Funny Walks – see why), I discovered a half a dozen tiny, thousand year old Byzantine churches tucked into quiet squares and side streets around some of the city center’s busiest neighborhoods.

None of us has time enough or money enough to visit every wonderful world destination we’ve heard about. We can either rush around trying to tick off as many items as possible on our bucket list or we can try a different approach. Next time you are planning a holiday or vacation go back for a second helping of a place that you liked and wanted to know more about. Then, instead of skimming the surface of a lot of places, you might get to know one place really well, get to scratch below the surface and have some real experiences  with memories that will last you a lifetime.