Family Vacations to Athens, Greece

Family Overview - Athens, Greece
The Acropolis, Greece's time machine, perched high above Athens. (PhotoDisc)

Athens Highlights

  • See the impressive Parthenon.
  • Meander through Plaka, window shop and pause at cafés for snacks.
  • Bargain for souvenirs at the Monastiráki Flea market.
  • Enjoy the shady paths of the National Gardens.
  • Take a boat daytrip to the island of Hydra and ride a donkey.

The first glimpse of the Parthenon still amazes viewers even after 2,500 years. The Acropolis, meaning "high city" in Greek, sits high atop a rocky hill in Athens. Crowned by the Parthenon, it is the city's main draw for visitors, but the sprawling city offers plenty of other options for families as well. After the 2004 Olympics, Athens is also much easier on visitors, especially families, as a result of the improved parks and the pedestrian promenade linking many attractions in the historic area.

The Acropolis, an area transformed by Pericles, who ordered marble temples and structures built in the 5th century B.C. stands as a testament to the best of ancient Greek architecture. The Parthenon, a temple to the goddess Athena, reigns over the Acropolis. To create the optical illusion of straight lines, the architect delicately curved the Parthenon's impressive row of Doric columns. The temple once held a massive 39-foot, gold-plated statue of Athena, but it was stolen centuries ago. The Erectheion is noted for its six caryatids, columns in the shape of women. The ones on the structure are replicas, however. The originals once stood in the Acropolis Museum, but that museum closed in July 2007. A new facility will house the collection of the site's friezes and sculptures as well as 300 additional art treasures that are currently in the process of being removed from the Acropolis and stored in preparation for the museum's 2008 opening. Expect disruptions when viewing the Acropolis.

At the world-class National Archeological Museum, discover artifacts from sites all over Greece. It's easy for adults—let alone kids—to get overwhelmed by this vast museum with its halls upon halls of sculpture, pottery, and other finds. Highlights for kids include the gold death mask, likely of King Agamemnon, bronze daggers and gold cups in the Mycenaean section, and the museum's ancient jewelry collection.

Balance time viewing antiquities with getting to know contemporary Athens, a lively city. Teens especially like the jewelry and souvenir shops, as well as the cafés of Plaka, an upscale neighborhood near the Acropolis. Late in the evening several cafés feature Greek music played on a bouzouki, an instrument resembling a mandolin.

Kids also like to bargain for take-home T-shirts, clothing, jewelry, and leather items at the Monastiráki Flea Market. Although the area's antique shops and stores are open daily, more vendors appear for the Sunday flea market.

After a day of museum visits, the National Gardens' shady paths, green lawns, and playground feel especially welcome. Another option: get out of town. Take a boat trip—an attraction in itself—to one of the nearby Saronic Gulf islands. Hydra's a good choice because of its ban on motorized vehicles. Either see the sites by foot or ride a donkey, a fun experience for kids.

Tip: The Acropolis can be a difficult visit for families with young kids. In summer, it's hot and crowded. Much of the walk is uphill, stairs are narrow and chipped, and the marble paving stones are slippery, especially after the rain.'s resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 26 Nov 2007 | Last Updated: 23 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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