Take the Kids to Athens: Great Value, Great Learning and Great Fun
If you are looking for a relaxing, invigorating, mind-expanding holiday with your kids, for excellent value and warm hospitality, then take a look at Athens.
My family had the dubious good fortune of air miles that had to be used and a small budget. Without breaking the bank we wanted to make the most of a little break away from London, try to enrich our minds a bit and perhaps enjoy some sunshine. After lots of debate about where we could explore for 5 days we arrived on Athens. We could not have been more impressed with the Greek hospitality and wonderful experiences we had; we will be returning as soon as we can.
Despite the grim economic news from Greece, there is no indication that there are any problems in or around Athens. The city is slightly less well-kept from the last time I was there (2004, just after the Olympics) but Athens is lively, busy, safe and clearly very happy to be in the hospitality business. Moreover, we found everyone surprisingly generous with restaurants giving free puddings, our taxi driver gave us olive oil from his home in Kalamata, a well-known artist gave us a print … it was just wonderful being genuinely treated like guests by the Greeks everywhere we went. Everywhere we went, people went out of their way to showcase all that Greek tourism has to offer; I feel compelled to share what we enjoyed.
The objective with our trip was to get a bit of a city break, see lots of culture, but also to get out of Athens to see the mountains and the islands. This was all easily accomplished in 5 days. We spent three days in Athens, one day in Delphi and one day on the near-by island of Aegina. We saw the Acropolis, Delphi, the temple to Athaia, The Acropolis Museum, Mount Lycabettus, the Museum of Archaeology, The War Museum, sat on Marathonas Beach and watched the kids swim in the Aegean sea.
Delphi was the most expensive part of our mini-break; it also took the better part of an entire day. We found a recommendation on Trip Advisor for Athens Tour Driver. This tour was worth its weight in gold, Manos the driver was warm, welcoming and so full of knowledge he kept us entrained for the two hours there and two hours back to Athens. Funnily enough, the day before we left for Delphi, we met a family that had gone with his son Dimitri (they run the company together) to Corinth and were equally impressed.
Delphi is absolutely beautiful and so different to Athens, it is worth the trip just to expand your holiday from being a visit to Athens versus a visit to Greece. Delphi is located in the mountains, just outside a very small, but lovely village. The site contains significant Greek ruins, the main one being the Temple to Zeus where the Pythia would read the Oracle. In addition to this temple is the Treasury of Athena (pilgrims would leave donations for various Gods and Goddesses when they came to hear their oracle), theatre, gymnasium, sport stadium and the temple to Apollo. We went at the end of March/start of April and the crowds were so light I was able to photograph the entire site without anyone in the frame.
We had the most enjoyable meal of our stay in Greece in Delphi, where we ate at a mountain taverna, Taverna Vakhos, in the village of Delphi. The traditional Greek food was prepared with local, fresh ingredients and everyone, including my son who only raves about chips and ketchup, thoroughly enjoyed the food. Our view as we ate was of the mountains, the Aegean Sea, an ancient Roman aqueduct, olive groves all complimented by a mountain goat herd complete with kids.
The Acropolis can easily be done in half a day. Whatever time of year you are there, it will be crowded, but July and August could be gruelling up there in terms of crowds and heat, so go first thing in the morning or at sunset. It is amazing walking through the columns, taking in all the views of Athens and the enormity of the site you are visiting. Be prepared, it will not be a quiet, contemplative visit.
The Acropolis Museum is a good way to add more to your understanding of the site (and take some respite from the heat), but it is not a have-to. Also good to know, you can get through the museum very quickly, if you are pressed for time and it has a lovely covered terrace with amazing views.
You can easily walk down the mountain and make your way over to The Temple of Zeus. After running around on the grass, my kids found two enormous tortoises and followed them around while we photographed the Corinthian columns. From here, its a 20 minute walk to Syntagma Square where you can see the Changing of the Guard once an hour. There is also free wifi in Syntagma Square in case you want to upload your time-laps photo of the pageant.
National Archaeological Museum
This is one of the most amazing museums, it is filled with Greek and Roman sculpture. The museum is arranged in a way that you can get really close and investigate the skill and artistry, you can get inches away from the reliefs to investigate the details, the layering while also stepping back and taking in an entire gallery. If you can make it to the Archaelogical Museum, make sure you go!
Mount Lycabettus is located just above the Kolonaki neighbourhood and rises into the middle of Athens. The views from Lycabettus are grand and worth every effort to get there. You can walk up or take a taxi up and walk the rest of the way. Alternatively, you can take a ride on the Lycabettus Funicular, and ride up on the mountain train, which costs about €5 per person.
Once on top of the mountain, there is a full service restaurant. We were still walking off a late lunch and opted for cold beverages before making our way back down.
Kolonaki is a neighbourhood filled with art galleries, it is just lovely to walk through. We had the good fortune to be welcomed into Apostolos Chantzaras’s studio just next to the Funicular. His work is bold, colourful and incorporates Greek gods alluding to Minoan themes in playful images reminiscent of Chagall – it is very beautiful and enjoyable artwork. Check out Apostles Chantzara’s to learn a bit more. If you can’t make it to Kolonaki, his work will be at the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea this October.
Our kids loved The War Museum; my 7 year old son in particular loved all the different weaponry displayed. The guns, flame throwers, swords from Greece and other countries thrilled the children. The exhibit on WW2 and the resistance movement included a gun that was made to look like a walking stick, amongst other relics. The museum did a very good job of explaining Turkey’s invasion of Cypress. The museum is not particularly hands-on, but if the kids tired of antiquities its a very interesting change of pace as it is a visually exciting museum, particularly for little boys.
Another great side trip from Athens, a much easier than Delphi, is to go to the island of Aegina. Aegina is a little more than an hour (or 40 minutes via more expensive service) for roughly €16 return. The island boasts some fabulous archaeological sights. Just near the port is the Hill of Kolona where prehistoric ruins have been excavated next to the Temple of Apollo. My kids loved this site as they could actually climb on the ruins.
The Temple of Aphea, located on the other side of the island, is outstanding. This temple is one of the few remaining that have an inner and outer set of pillars; it also incorporates a two-storied colonnade. The temple overlooks the Aegean sea and is surrounded by pine forests – it is just spectacular. To get there you can take a taxi from the port and negotiate a price to wait for you at the site, or you can check the infrequent bus service and take the bus. You can rent a car for a modest fee, too.
The last thing we did on the island was spend the afternoon on the beach at Marathonas there is a cafe near-by. We took a taxi out and the driver gave us his number and offered to come and collect us to get the fairy back to Athens.Tweet