Ancient Greek mythology, outdoor adventures, lively music and dancing, amazing eateries and shopping … Athens, Greece, is packed full of discovery for families. Take a lap around the stadium that hosted the first Olympic Games; learn about the battle between Athena and Poseidon for Athens as you visit the Acropolis; hike to the top of Lycabettus Hill for amazing views of the city; watch the elaborate Changing of the Guard in Syntagma Square; and absolutely do not pass go when strolling by Lukumades Donuts.
Athens is a one-of-a-kind destination full of art, history, culture and legends. The things to do in Athens, and the stories to hear, will have all travelers in your group remembering this place for a lifetime. If you want to go farther, pair a three-day stay in Athens with a trip to the Greek islands (the port of Piraeus is only a 30-minute drive from the city center). Here are some of the highlights for a 72-hour trip to this buzzing, historic metropolis.
The single best thing to do in Athens is to engage in a private guided tour of the Acropolis. This is the centerpiece of the city and you’ll be in awe walking among its centuries-old monuments, like the Parthenon, the Theater of Dionysus, the Temple of Athena Nike and others. When choosing a guide, consider the award-winning, boutique Greek tour operator Greeking.me. This local company has phenomenal guides who consistently create authentic, high-quality experiences, are excellent with kids and bring Athen’s landmark archaeological sites to life. Ciao Bambino’s expert Family Travel Advisors can book this for you as part of our trip planning service.
On a recent trip to Athens, my 9-year-old daughter and I engaged in a 4-hour private mythology tour of the Acropolis and Ancient Agora with talented Greeking.me guide Marialena. She knew just how to engage my daughter, getting down on her level to tell stories of Poseidon, Athena, Asclepius, Zeus, Arachne and so many more; drawing parallels to the Percy Jackson series, which delighted my daughter to no end; finding shady spots for her to sit, listen and ask questions; and divulging all of the secret spots in which to avoid crowds and take the best photos. I cannot emphasize enough how special this private tour was, and I can guarantee that a few hours spent in the company of an expert who has studied Greek mythology will make your whole trip worthwhile.
TIP: Greeking.me offers multiple types of tours in Athens and all around Greece. They even offer specific Percy Jackson-inspired mythology tours, as well as food tours and sailing adventures.
At the base of the Acropolis hill, you will find the beautiful pedestrian streets of Plaka. Known as the “Neighborhood of the Gods,” Plaka has been continuously inhabited for nearly 3,000 years, making it one of the most ancient continuously active neighborhoods in the world. It’s a great place to stroll and has such character, history and ambiance: colorful houses, ancient archaeological landmarks at nearly every turn, festive street music and dancing, locally owned tavernas and ice cream shops, byzantine churches, open air cinemas, and much more.
Discover Plaka’s alleyways and small squares, take in the energy it exudes, kick back with traditional Greek cuisine and be mindblown by the fact that this spot has been alive for so long. Alexander the Great, Socrates, Plato and Pericles walked these streets. Plaka is also full of archaeological sites to see, like the Temple of Hephaestus, the Tower and Bath House of the Winds, the Benizelos Mansion and the Monument of Lysicrates. The Museum of Greek Children’s Art and the School Life and Education Museum are both located in Plaka as well.
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After a full day of on-foot exploration, plan for a relaxing dinner in Kolonaki, Athen’s poshest neighborhood. Kolonaki lies at the base of Lycabettus Hill (the tallest hill in Athens) and is home to high-end boutiques, gastronomic excellence via an array of Greek and international eateries, and stunning views of the Acropolis. This is a truly beautiful part of the city, it feels unpretentious despite its upscale character, thanks to the laid-back nature of the Greek lifestyle. Make reservations at Filippou, a traditional family-owned Greek taverna, that has been in operation for nearly a century. You’ll feel warm and welcome and the food won’t break the bank. After dinner, take a stroll around Kolonaki, admiring the beautiful views of the Acropolis by night.
On your second day, get an early start and hike up Mount Lycabettus Hill. It’s a short, relatively easy hike when temperatures are mild, and you will be blown away by the 360-degree views of Athens (it is only here that you realize just how expansive this city is). You’ll also have clear vistas of the Acropolis and the sea beyond as you hike up to and reach the top.
The switchback hike will allow you to discover and appreciate Athenian flora and fauna. My daughter loved seeing the cacti and happening upon tortoises in the brush. There is a beautiful 18th-century whitewashed church at the top of Mount Lycabettus Hill, called the Church of Agios Georgios (or the Church of St. George). While it’s small, all are welcome to enter. There is a viewing platform in front of the church as well as a cafe that is open for breakfast and lunch. If you want to take it a step farther, hike Lycabettus hill at night and make dinner reservations at the very upscale Orizontes restaurant, which has spectacular views across Athens.
TIP: If someone in your group is unable to hike up to the top of the hill, there is a funicular available.
Next, make your way down Lycabettus Hill, across Kolonaki (maybe checking out a chic coffee shop or having lunch on the way), past the Presidential Palace and to the Panathenaic Stadium. Following several transformations over its long history, the stadium became the home of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and remains the only such structure in the world built entirely out of marble. Ticket prices to enter are modest, and history comes alive as soon as you enter the gates. Kids and adults alike will get a thrill out of running a lap around the track, standing atop the podium, trying out the long jump, sitting in the stadium’s marble seats and visiting the uber-cool vaulted passage. An audio tour is included in the ticket admission price.
A hop, skip and a jump away from the stadium, you’ll find a large open-air archaeological park, which is home to Temple of the Olympian Zeus. Visitors will be awestruck by the sheer size of its remaining 15 marble columns and feel the importance of the ancient Greek god it was meant to honor just by strolling through its ruins. It took the Athenians nearly 650 years to complete this vast temple, one of the largest in Greece. It went through several iterations of construction and a period of complete abandonment, and was ransacked and partially destroyed over the centuries by various foreign powers and raiders. One of the gigantic Corinthian columns fell during a storm in 1852, and still lies in the place where it fell, adding character.
Finish up your day by visiting what has been touted as one of the best museums of the world, the Acropolis Museum. Devoted to the Parthenon and its surrounding temples, the museum is located in an iconic spot with 360-degree views to Athens’ most famous archaeological sites through its large glass panes. It is a sanctuary for ancient artifacts that were found in and around the Acropolis and successfully tells the story about how the Parthenon sculptures once looked. What’s more, an entire excavated neighborhood that lies beneath the museum is open to the public, allowing visitors to see how the ancient Greeks lived in Athens. Villas, streets, mosaics and bathhouses are all visible across the excavated settlement. The museum, which opened in 2009, provides “family backpacks” filled with activities for young children, free of charge, including exploration leaflets that lead families on fun trails through the museum.
TIP: E-tickets can be purchased in advance online.
On your final day in Athens, make your way to the Hellenic Parliament in Syntagma Square to see the elaborate, impressive Changing of the Guard ceremony. The change takes place daily, every hour on the hour, and is performed by Evzones, a special unit of the Hellenic Army that guards the Monument of the Unknown Soldier. Throughout their 60 minutes on guard, the Evzones must stand perfectly still until it is time to switch with another guard. During the changing, they work in pairs to coordinate their moves exactly, which are carried out in slow motion to protect their blood circulation after an hour of immobility. Watching the ceremony is fascinating, particularly because the guards’ moves are elaborate, slow and perfectly in sync.
TIP: The official ceremony, including a parade, happens every Sunday at 11am, so if you happen to be in Athens on a Sunday, plan your schedule so as not to miss this special event. The guards’ official uniforms, worn during the Sunday ceremony, are intriguing — the white skirt has 400 folds to represent 400 years of Ottoman occupation over the Greeks and the traditional shoes are red, made of leather, with a small tuft in front and weigh three kilos each!
For an interactive museum experience sure to appeal to everyone, head over to the Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Greek Technology in Kolonaki. Modest yet intriguing, the three-story museum has a host of wonderful English-speaking guides that take you through awesome and impressive ancient Greek inventions, including the first home intruder alarm, mechanical robots, signaling codes used in battle, hydraulic screws, steam cannons and so much more. Kids will delight in testing out pulleys, levers, gears, belts, winches and valves to learn how advanced ancient Greek technology was all those years ago.
Finally, check out some of our favorite eating spots: Yoleni’s Greek Gastronomy Center in Kolonaki has a host of wonderful local Greek products that you can purchase and take home, as well as an eat-in deli; Lukumades Doughnuts are simply to die for; and Little Kook Cafe, while touristy, has an indulgent menu and is a spot that the kids will never forget, particularly if you are visiting around Halloween, Christmas or Easter.
St. George Lycabettus Lifestyle Hotel is a 5-star family-friendly property in the heart of Kolonaki, an upscale neighborhood in Athens full of great dining, shopping and beautiful Acropolis views. The hotel stands out not only for its unrivaled location and spectacular amenities, but also for the warm way it welcomes and cares for families. It is walkable to every destination listed in this guide and should be your home away from home when in Athens.
Editor’s Note: Photos and video by Loren Braunohler.
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