A glimpse of Greece’s new 15-minute city nicknamed ‘mini Dubai’

The Ellinikon
Four miles south of Athens, a new mega-resort is poised to 'seamlessly link the city to the sea'

An abandoned airport on the Athenian Riviera is being transformed into an ambitious new holiday resort and coastal park, although some say that it will be nothing more than a “mini Dubai”.

While in operation, Ellinikon International Airport, four miles south of Athens, was a popular gateway to the Greek capital, even if it had one of the most hair-raising take-offs and landings on Earth.

When it was deemed unsuitable for development due to noise pollution and security concerns, the airport was decommissioned in 2001.

After the airport’s closure, the 1,500-acre site was redeveloped into an Olympic Complex for the 2004 games, hosting hockey, fencing and softball, but has since been left abandoned despite multiple redevelopment proposals.

For two decades, weeds have grown in the cracks of the concrete while stray dogs hunt for shade. But that could soon change.

The latest development plan, The Ellinikon, is underway. The £6.8 billion urban reclamation project is the biggest in Europe right now, promising to “seamlessly link the city to the sea” and offer Athenians a brand new green space, bigger than London’s Hyde Park.

The Ellinikon
The vast new coastal park will be bigger than London's Hyde Park

This, on paper, will be a significant addition for the city which is better known for its dusty hilltop archaeological sites than expansive parks.

“Our vision is to seamlessly blend the region’s natural allure and distinctive attributes with smart city principles and sustainable infrastructure,” said a spokesperson for Lamda, the company that is privately funding the development.

“This is what we call ‘zip code paradise’. A true 15-minute city at the crossroads of east and west, boasting one of Europe’s best climates, with more than 300 sunshine days a year, 4km of coastal lifestyle along the Athenian Riviera, and international connectivity, just 30 minutes from the airport.”

According to the plans, The Ellinikon will transform the old airport into a vast coastal park (named The Experience Park), with five-star hotels, luxury housing, a one-kilometre stretch of beach, shopping malls, a cultural centre and an aquarium.

According to Lamda, the first residential properties brought to market have all been pre-sold.

The Experience Park
The new Experience Park will contain everything from hotels and luxury housing to a beach and an aquarium

There will also be a Hard Rock casino and hotel, which has already broken ground, while the skeletons of the new apartment blocks have also started to take form.

Architects Norman Foster, Kengo Kuma and Bjarke Ingels are among the big names behind the blueprints. According to The Ellinikon’s website, the “smart city” will attract more than one million tourists per year once open to the public.

The Marina hotel (set for completion in mid-2028) will be targeted at the Mediterranean yachting set with its direct access to the harbour, while The Beach hotel (to be finished by the end of 2027) is being sold as “a tranquil ambiance just steps away from the bustling marina.”

Overlooking proceedings will be The Riviera Tower, slated to be the tallest building in Greece, which will have rooftop views of the marina and, further away, a glimpse of the Parthenon.

The plans have certainly turned heads. Lamda, the company that is privately financing the development, was listed in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential Companies for 2024 – the publication claimed that The Ellinikon could contribute 2.4 per cent to Greece’s GDP, creating thousands of jobs and attracting many tourists.

The Ellinikon
Some question how the development will affect residents of the surrounding suburbs

The question is, will it deliver? Telegraph Travel’s Greece expert, Heidi Fuller-Love, describes the plans as looking so far like a “little Dubai”, adding: “It was meant to be a green lung for the city, so we are hoping that casinos and concrete will not get the upper hand.”

Some have suggested that The Ellinikon will be to Athens what Central Park is to New York City, although others question whether they will actually reap the benefits. One Athenian resident, Aikaterini Papalouka, says: “It’s great to see that part of the capital being developed.

“However, as an Athenian who lives near the neighbourhood of Elliniko, I wonder what the adverse effects will be for the locals living in the surrounding suburbs.

“It will forever change the fabric of the local communities, the appearance of the coast and of course the increase in traffic is another issue to be addressed. In addition, this enclave means that housing prices will increase making it near impossible for the locals to live in the Athenian Riviera.”

The Ellinikon
The developers promise to attract tourists and create jobs

Erstwhile Athens resident, Nikos Boutsinsis, who runs Santorini Walking Tours, says: “This monumental project will surely add to the value of Athens and Greece as a high-end tourism destination.

“But there are concerns about the gridlock it will cause in areas close to it. And locals are worried that the final space available to them might not be as much as it should be, for a project of that size.”

Phase one of The Ellinikon, which will include the opening of the Experience Park and the Riviera Tower, is set for completion in late 2026 to 2027, with the final completion date for the project in its entirety pencilled in for 2037.