* Athens, Greece
At the risk of sounding extremely over-privileged, I am going to tell you that after a while Europe starts to blend together. The old town squares and the cobblestone streets all begin to look the same. Amazing, but the same. That’s why Athens was such a refreshing vacation. It’s like nowhere else I’ve ever been before. The Mediterranean has a vibe and a feeling all its own but add more than 2,000 years of history to that and you are left with an odd mix of culture. One that puts you somewhere between the awe of the ancient world and the relaxation of the ocean. It’s kind of incredible.
We saw a lot in the 5 days we spent in Athens, so here goes. Getting up to the Acropolis is a bit of a hike and you won’t be able to take a stroller. So, if your kids are small enough you will definitely want to carry them. It’s a good idea to make this one of your first days in Athens so that everyone’s legs, big or small, are fresh and ready for a good climb. You’ll have to make (at least) a 15 min ascent from anywhere in the city just to get to the gate (which is also where you will buy tickets). Then, the hike continues as you make your way up to the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, and Nike’s Temple. It is up pretty high but it’s well protected and I never worried that my kids were going to fall off the edge. However, it’s not exactly a place that the little ones can run wild, so you will want to go when they are feeling… respectful. I would plan at least half a day to see it. There is a bathroom at the entrance and one just next to the Parthenon but you won’t find anywhere to buy food or drinks (not even water) so be sure to pack something with you.
Your tickets for the Acropolis are good for 4 days and will also get you into The Temple of Zeus, The Roman Agora, and The Temple of Hephaestus. A word of warning: these ancient sites close remarkably early (when we were there in November everything closed at 3:00pm). So you will want to plan to go in the morning or early afternoon.
The entrance to the Acropolis is just a stones throw from Mars Hill (or the Areopagus) so make sure not to miss it. There is no admission fee and the view is spectacular. There are two sets of stairs to get up on top. One is an old staircase carved into the hillside. And while it looks a lot cooler, it’s carved out of marble that has become quite slick over the last thousand years. So just be sure to hold hands and be cautious going up with the kiddies. The other stairs (just to the right) are newer and a bit more stable.
Directly south of the Acropolis, you will find the new Acropolis Museum which opened in 2009. So great! The museum houses the original Caryatids from the Erechtheion along with all sorts of other impressive excavations and findings from the Acropolis. We were pleased by the family friendliness of this museum. You can borrow a Family Backpack full of fun activities for the kids as well as free-to-rent strollers. The other big museum, the National Museum is across town and while it was probably more impressive, it was definitely less child-proof than the Acropolis Museum. I was a bit worried the whole time that my almost 3-year-old was going to topple over an almost 3,000-year-old statue. That being said, it was SO amazing that I would totally risk it again. But next time, I might put my kids on a leash (don’t judge because I’m only kind-of kidding). Also be sure to visit the Parliament building for the changing of the guard and the University Library just down the street from that. Both are worth seeing.
Aside from the BIG tourist attractions listed above we would also recommend a few off-the-beaten-path places.
1. The Temple of Poseidon: You can take a tour for around 50 Euro or just catch a bus for about 5 Euro. Everyone says to go at Sunset but make sure to check bus times so that you don’t miss the last one back to Athens. We caught the 2:30pm bus down to Sounion and the 6:00pm bus back and had ample time to see it. The bus stop is a little hard to spot if you don’t know what you are looking for so be sure to ask someone at the travel office or at your hotel for directions. It’s about 3 hours travel time, round trip. The drive skirts the Ocean the entire way and makes for some pretty incredible views.
3. A Ferry Ride to a neighboring island: We took the metro down to the Piraeus Port. It’s the last stop on Metro 1 line (or the green line). From there we boarded a little ferry (you can buy tickets right at the pier) and took a day trip out to the island of Aegina. We stripped our kids down to their diapers and let them play in the ocean water. It was fantastic. We had fried octopus for dinner. It was not so fantastic. The harbor is beautiful and it was fun to explore the little island.
We used Athens as our home-base and took some day trips to other places close by. Our hotel was in a part of the city known as Plaka. I wouldn’t have traded that for anything. It was the perfect place to stay; close to everything and such a fun atmosphere. There are lots of little shops and fun places to eat. Our hotel was called the Magna Grecia, located right across the street from the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens. We booked through Orbitz and got a pretty good deal. We had an amazing view of the Acropolis. Once you added 2 baby beds for our kids, the room was pretty tight but worth it for the location and the price. I would recommend it to anyone.