The kids and I packed our little backpacks, got a cheap Ryan Air flight, and snagged an apartment in the Plaka of Athens via Air BnB. I found that two days in the city was enough for us to see all the big sights and still have time for fun kid stuff.
Day 1: History
We woke mid morning, starving after a late night arrival. Our flight landed at 8:30pm and the train into town was so very slow, then broke down, so we needed to disembark and ride the next. No worries. Athens rarely sleeps, and we instantly found Syntagma square bustling with people and nut vendors. It was a quick walk to our rental; no kid complaints with mouths full of toffee peanuts. In the morning we found some cheap breakfast at a fruit stand around the corner, and ate on the go.
First stop was the big one: the Acropolis. Staying in Plaka means being able to walk everywhere, which really cuts down on frustrations. I highly recommend the area if your travelling with kids. The Theatre of Dionysis entry was a few blocks away. I paid 30Euro for my multi-site ticket, and the kids were free. Another benefit of kid travel…. they are cheap! The ticket included six major ancient sites in downtown, with a single entry pull-off tab for each. With my first tab pulled off, we pushed up the hill. Actually, we ran into the gate and then stopped for another 20 minutes of cat petting. There are tons of sweet kitties all over this city, and my kids must stop to see each. There is enough time, and it’s so important they enjoy themselves.
After kitty time we saw the Theatre of Dionysis, stopped to pretend we were watching a Greek drama, and continued up to the Acropolis entrance. It’s quite the walk, and it was hot, so we stopped often for water and pictures.
Both Zoe and Avi were super interested in all the ruins on the way up…then we got to the top and into the crowds and they were more interested in the kitties who lived up there. They still found the Parthenon amazing and the view incredible and wanted the stray cats in there pictures with the monuments. That’s the fun with kids.
Wandering around in the crowd got us super hungry… Avi very nearly hangry as he didn’t eat all his breakfast apple. So we walked down the north side of the hill. These two are quite fast downhill! We nearly ran, until more cats showed up, of course, so we needed to stop and pet a few. One fuzzy calico in particular was rubbing all over Zoe; she named it baklava.
The first main road that runs parallel to the north slope is the flea market road, but one half block further is an entire road of cafes. We scarfed our souvlaki, turned down a balloon salesman, and Avi bought a bracelet from his new friends: the Jamaican guys with bracelets. I let each kid have 8 Euro for their souvenir money.
From there it was a quick walk up the road to see Hadrians Library. Zoe especially had fun here visualizing where scrolls were kept and classes taken. Avi was more interested in the resident tortoises. We started playing “I spy a kitty or tortoise.”
Another couple blocks away was the Roman Agora, and then another to the Ancient Agora. This was a sight! It’s a huge tree covered open space full of ruins and a museum and the beautiful temple of Hephaestus. It was Zoe’s favorite; she wanted to explore the whole place and even thanked me aloud for bringing her to this place, “its like all you’ve ever read to me,” she said. Avi enjoyed the statues, and especially our eye-spy hunt in the museum for the sculpture on the cover of the brochure.
All that and a little fall of rain led us inside a creperie for some snacks and a coffee (for me), which gave us enough energy to continue down the road a bit further to the Kerameikos cemetery. It was interesting to see the ornate headstones. By now, both kids (and I, to be honest) were getting a bit mush-brain about Greek ruins, so this was the perfect last stop on that bandwagon. It’s mostly outside, and a nice quiet place to run and explore a bit. One of the only spots we didn’t find watchers with whistles blowing people off the ruins.
Walking back to our apartment in Plaka was slow, but fun, we meandered through trinket stores, junk shops, and the tourist shops along the flea market. Both kids bought an evil eye for .50, and we got our daily baklava.
Late afternoon found us relaxing in the apartment, and then mean mommy made both kids do schoolwork. Evening hops around here, so we went out later for dinner and a walkabout in the cool night air.
Day 2: Parks!
We slept in after our ‘late night out’ – being 10pm for my kids. The fruit stand was another hit for breakfast and then we walked out of Plaka across to Hadrians arch and the Temple of Zeus. Even after our ruins day yesterday, the sight was exciting to see. It’s a fun place to try some pictures pushing over the columns. And as a bonus, we found more tortoises. The kids are obsessed with the tortoises.
Continuing north from there is a massive city park – it’s really two, but the Zappio and National Gardens really run together. They are beautiful green spaces with lots of room to run, a great playground, and some birds and animals in a mini-zoo. It’s such a wonderful breather after all the dry dusty ruins yesterday.
From there, our goal was to walk between the president’s and prime minister’s homes to see them and continue on to the final sight on my pull-tab ticket: Aristotle’s Lyceum. We were surprised to see lots of police and secret service all over the place. The road was even blocked. I asked if we were permitted to walk, and the uniformed guard said, “two minutes” and, a few seconds later three cars came squealing around the corner, two stopped in front of us and the thired peeled into the P.M.’s house. It was all so very exciting that I didn’t take any pictures. And then we were allowed to walk.
Aristotle’s Lyceum was interesting in that its newly uncovered and actively excavated, otherwise, the kids were bored with it. I enjoyed reading the informative brochure days later on a train ride and found it all way more interesting. This isn’t a sight I would recommend to others with kids unless you are a bit crazed, like we are, about getting your money’s worth and coming home with a ticket sans all the tabs.
Our walk back to Syntagma square was a bit rough. Tired slow hungry kids and then there were a bunch of armed guards, and many busses with cops and the riot gear at the ready. It felt as if we were walking into the prep for a protest as we went past Parliament building. I felt paranoid and my safety radar was pinging a bit, so we glanced at the changing of the guard and walked on to find a cheap eats souvlaki place a couple blocks onward. I scoured the news later and found nothing, so problem averted…I suppose?
We spent the late afternoon having a rest and doing schoolwork in the apartment. Early evening and the kids were rowdy again, so out we went! It was just for a wander, but we found ourselves enjoying a hike up Filopappos Hill. Avi and Zoe raced each other up! The hill is covered with random trails, so the goal is simply up and I let them choose the route. Views from the top are wonderful! You can see the nearby Acropolis, the city, and even as far out at the port and island beyond. This is a spot for fun pictures, too.
Racing back down the hill was a success. No one face-planted as is the norm, so it was a good hike. We walked back along the base of the acropolis, got some street food, and tucked in for the night.
If you go with your kids…
- book a hotel in Plaka, it saves transport time and stress.
- visit the ‘biggies’ – the 30 Euro ticket – first day and prioritize them:
- Acropolis and Ancient Agora are a must. If these are all you get to with your children, then it’s a successful day!
- Theatre of Dionysis, Roman Agora, Hadrians Library, Temple of Zeus, and Keramikos are all worthwhile.
- Aristotle’s Lyceum is low priority.
- Use the second day morning for one more sight OR visit a museum. The Acropolis Museum is nearby in Plaka and excellent. The Archaeological Museum is a subway ride away.
- Then go to the park!
- Help them learn! Here are some reading suggestions:
- D’Aulaires Greek Myths (read aloud for any age)
- Tales from the Odyssey (parts 1 & 2), Mary Pope Osborne (excellent read aloud for all)
- Magic Tree House #16: Hour of the Olympics, Mary Pope Osborne (elementary)
- Magic Tree House Fact Tracker: Ancient Greece and the Olympics (elementary)
- Black Ships Before Troy (Iliad) & The Wanderings of Odysseus, Rosemary Sutcliff (for middle grades)