Athens with children
Athens with children might not seem the obvious choice for a family trip. Compared to other European capitals as Rome, London and Paris it has less to offer in grandeur and family-friendly sights. But if you look past the smoggy surface, there is a wealth of history, culture and food to be discovered and enthuse your children (and yourself). Athens as the cradle of western civilization has its obvious appeal to thousands of tourists every year. And this is definitely the case when traveling with children. In the summer of 2013 we spent two full days in Athens with our two children as the starting point of our travel to the Peloponnese and the islands of Naxos and Santorini.
Athens has a metro system that will take you anywhere within its city limits. It is clean, safe and easy to use. The city of Athens decided to upgrade its metro system to prepare for the Olympic Games in 2004. In some of the metro stations, you can see displays of ancient artifacts that were found during those years when expanding the underground transport system. The metro station at Syntagma square offers a spectacular wealth of antiquities on display, such as urns, a grave and even parts of an ancient road. For families, the Athens metro is a great way of transportation. So there is no need for a rental car during your visit in the city itself.
We visited Athens’ Syntagma square at the end of the afternoon to start off our Athens trip. At Syntagma (in English: constitution) square you can find Greece national parliament building. Children will like the changing of the guards in front of the tomb of the unknown soldier, which takes place every hour. Next to the square you can find one of the entrances to the National Gardens. This is a perfect place for the kids to run around freely. It even has a small playground in the shade.
In walking distance from the Nationals Gardens, is the Panathenaic Stadium used for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Since we were visiting Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic games, in the next week, we decided to have a look at this stadium as well. It turned out to be one of the highlights of our visit to Athens. You can access the stadium itself and run around the track as a true Marathon runner. Inside, there is a small museum dedicated to the Olympic games. The stadium itself was built upon the ruins of an ancient Greek stadium and is one of the oldest in the world. There is no shade in the stadium, so plan your visit early in the day or at the start of the evening.
When you cross the road across from the Panathenaic Stadium, you access a fun playground in Zappeio park. After your Olympic adventure, enjoy a break and a drink at the Fokainos café.
On those summer days in Athens when the sun is blazing, it is great to have a hotel with a swimming pool to splash around in. After spending some time in the city, we used to go back to our hotel early afternoon for a nap and a swim. Our hotel had a swimming pool on the roof, a feature that is common in Athens. Up until today this is their favorite pool ever. While your kids dive into the pool, you can enjoy the view of the Acropolis. Not too bad either…
The evening is best to be spent at the Plaka with plenty of restaurants and small shops to keep both adults and children happy. Both kids were allowed to buy one souvenir, which kept them happily entertained strolling the leather and souvenir shops to find something of their liking. We had dinner at Zorba’s tavern in the photogenic Anafiotika part of the Plaka.
Climbing the Acropolis
We decided to spend the second full day in Athens on the ancient Greeks. If you suspect this might be too much for your kids, you’d better start with the Acropolis museum on the first day and save the Acropolis itself for the next. We visited the museum in the early afternoon, when it is too warm to stay outside. We climbed to Acropolis at the end of the afternoon, which still was rather an exercise to all of us.
The Acropolis museum, which opened in 2009, offers family backpacks which “gives families the opportunity to enjoy their visit and learn about the exhibits in a creative way”. I wish they had them during our visit in 2013, when there was nothing family-friendly to be found at the Acropolis museum yet. You can either choose the Archaic colors backpack – which teams with an online game – or the In search of the goddess Athena one, which comes with an app (in Greek!). Since past experiences had learned us that the best way to visit museums with children is to choose only to see a small part, we skipped most parts and set off for the top floor. On this third floor you can find the Parthenon gallery, which displays original parts of the Parthenon frieze and copies of the large parts that are to be found in the Louvre and British Museum. This will be a great introduction to the visit of the actual Acropolis.
When you take up the route from the Plaka, the climb up to the top is challenging but fun too, walking past tavernas and shops. Children can enter the site for free, adults pay 12 Euro (2014). During spring and summer, the Acropolis is open from 8.00 AM to 8.00 PM. As mentioned before, you’d better visit the site in the early morning or in the evening. You can find more information on opening hours, entrance fees and accessibility on the website of the Ministry of Culture.
The Acropolis is something you have to go see for yourself. Although most of the ancient buildings are in ruins, it still is a very impressive sight. When visiting with children, try to focus on the Parthenon and the Erechteion. Your children might not appreciate these monuments’ importance for Western civilization, but it will have them entertained for a while if you remind them of the stories about Zeus, Athena and other ancient Greek gods.
As a rule, we always choose a kids-choice activity after visiting a museum or cultural site. That evening our children chose to have pizza! So we set off to Oroscopo restaurant, supposedly famous for its pizzas and child-friendly atmosphere. We had a lovely evening eating outside and enjoying the food. It turned out the crowd was mostly guests from the Hilton hotel – and the like – around the corner, so it was not a genuine Greek experience. But the pizza was fabulous, according to my connoisseur son.
Boat trip to the island of Hydra
After these two days, we left for Delphi the next day. If you are lucky enough to spend more time in Athens with your family, there are some other great activities to be enjoyed. Our kids love boat trips. If yours do too, then head off to the island of Hydra for a day trip. Boats leave from Piraeus, which is a fun destination by itself with huge ferries arriving and leaving at every hour of the day. Catamarans from Hellenic Seaways run several times a day to Hydra and back, reservations are strongly recommended.
Did you enjoy Athens with your family as well? Please let me know in the comments what we missed and should visit the next time we are in Greece.