An abandoned Greek airport is about to be transformed into a vast coastal park

by | 23 Jan 2023

For decades, an abandoned Greek airport in Athens has been left unloved. But now there are plans to turn it into a stunning new coastal park. Renowned for its spectacular architecture, Athens is perhaps not so well known for its green open spaces. But this giant coastal park, the Ellinikon project, looks set to change that, with ambitious and sustainable plans to transform the city’s former international airport and its surrounding waterfront.

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The original Ellinikon International Airport served as the main airport in Greece for 63 years. Up to 20 million passengers arrived or departed through its doors annually. However, in 2001, the new Eleftherios Venizelos airport (also known as Athens International Airport) was built to support the 2004 Olympic Games. After this new airport opened, the Ellinikon International Airport was closed.

Decommissioned in part due to noise pollution and security concerns, this abandoned Greek airport became a sad symbol of the country’s economic collapse, standing empty and unused. One of Europe’s largest abandoned places, it had a partial new lease of life during the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, when it hosted venues for softball, hockey and fencing.

In a nod to the airport’s historical relevance, some of the site’s features will be preserved in its new role as a coastal park. The 1960s terminal hall, designed by the distinguished Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, will remain, along with the towering runway light poles. Over 300,000 square feet of concrete and tarmac from former runways will be repurposed into benches and paving and other uses.


Today, this 1,500-acre abandoned Greek airport site is being redeveloped into a coastal park that will include walking paths, gardens, sports areas and a marina. The Ellinikon project site will span 12 kilometers along Attica’s western coastline. The first phase, approximately 250 acres on the coastal front including the central Olympic Square, is expected to be completed by late 2025/early 2026.

Designed to encourage Athenians to actively explore the area and engage with nature, some 50 kilometers of walking paths and 30 kilometers of cycle lanes will be constructed. Visitors will also be able to enjoy sculpture parks, sport centers, open-air theaters, restaurants and cafes and a public beach.

Ellinikon is aims to become to Athens what Central Park is to New York city. It is designed to change the way Athenians use public space and will contribute to the public and ecological health of the city. Set to be popular with residents and tourists alike, the sustainable metropolitan park will also benefit local businesses.

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Forests and parks are the lungs of a city. They filter pollution and remove toxins from the air, reducing smog levels, improving public health and providing spaces for people to relax. They also strengthen the climate resiliency of the city. The plans for the new park have a heavy focus on sustainability, using both current and new resources to move towards a greener city.

The Ellinikon project is hailed as a ‘generational and transformational’ project for Greece by its architects Sasaki. The Boston-based firm were responsible for New York’s Greenacre Park, Charleston Waterfront Park, and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Green.

Concrete and stone from the abandoned Greek airport will be replaced with trees and shrubs. This helps to absorb rainfall and create shade, which has a cooling effect. In the grounds of the park, only species native to Greece will be planted. More than 3 million plants and around 31,000 trees from 86 species will provide an oasis of nature. Seed mixes with ecological benefits will be sourced, including those that thrive in the naturally arid environment. The park will be irrigated with treated wastewater supplied by a nearby plant, and a 3.7-acre lake will collect stormwater.

Once the park is open, carbon emissions will be minimized through the use of all-electric maintenance vehicles and organic fertilizers and pesticides.

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The park is also set to play a key role in regenerating the local economy. The area has suffered from decades of neglect and mismanagement, but this project will create hundreds of jobs for locals as well as attracting tourists from all over Europe.

The project to regenerate this abandoned Greek airport has been praised by both conservationists and economists alike. It is seen as an opportunity to move away from Greece’s current reliance on tourism towards a more diverse economic base that can help boost employment across the country. While there are still many obstacles to overcome before construction begins (not least finding funding), with its breathtaking views and easy access from Athens airport via ferry, it seems likely that this coastal park will become one of Greece’s newest tourist hotspots

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An idyllic tourist destination and voted Europe’s best cultural destination in the 2022 World Travel Awards, the Greek capital of Athens makes for an unforgettable vacation. A must for lovers of history and mythology, you can enjoy the numerous museums and historical sites and sample the delights of the city’s burgeoning culinary scene. With its Mediterranean climate, winters are mild and the summers hot and sunny. Flanked by gorgeous beaches, the city is the prefect springboard from which to explore the country and the sublime Greek Islands.

Read more: Welcome to Athens, recently voted Europe’s best cultural destination

If you are keen to explore Athens and Greece in comfort and style, take a look at our collection of premium guided tours to Greece.

I'm a writer, editor and interview specialist with a lifetime's love of travel. There’s nothing more inspiring to me than meeting, and writing about, the world's leading destination experts and travel industry insiders. The thing I love most about writing for Insightful is that I'm always learning something new.