I’ve been to Athens many times, and it’s one of my favourite cities in the world. Apart from the opportunity to see all the ancient monuments, I love the chaos (hilariously they still park three abreast, goodness knows how anyone ever gets out) and buzz of the place, the food, the traditions, and seeing oranges growing on trees in the street. (OK, you can’t eat them raw, but they’re still pretty to look at).
No 1 and I visited Athens for the first time when he was starting to learn about the Greeks, Gods and Goddesses at primary school – the perfect age, I think, as he was able to marvel at the ancient treasures on the top of the Acropolis and tell me all the things we were looking at. Bizarrely, it had snowed, but that didn’t stop us climbing up to see the Parthenon. As you know I’m not great with heights but it’s totally worth it; up there you feel as though you’re on top of the world, and being surrounded by all that history is an extraordinary feeling. I can’t think of anywhere better to clear your head. And if your kids are fans of Horrible Histories (and the Groovy Greeks) I guarantee they’ll love it.
Our return to Athens a few weeks ago as part of our Grand Tour was in the heat of summer, which can make exploring exhausting – I’d recommend going in spring, or autumn, if you possibly can. Otherwise, be prepared to start early to beat the heat, pace yourselves, and drink lots of water.
The beauty of exploring Athens with kids is that it’s fairly compact – all the main sights are concentrated in one area. Start off by the statue of Melina Mercouri and from here you can easily walk to the gates of the Acropolis (entry is around 12 euros); or, if it’s fiercely hot, you can get a brilliant view (and see lots of ancient artefacts) from the brand new Acropolis museum (5 euros).
From here it’s a very short walk to the beautiful shopping and residential district of Plaka, with its charming neoclassical houses. A good place to amble around, and you can’t walk a few feet without coming across more ancient discoveries.
…and the stunning Temple of Olympian Zeus (completed in the 2nd century – mindblowing), which was something No 1 Son was very keen to see this time round. It’s a beautiful, powerful monument, absolutely extraordinary, and my boy was able to explain all the different architectural styles of columns, which is pretty cool.
And it’s just a pleasant stroll to Syntagma Square, where you can see the soldiers in their traditional dress outside the Greek parliament. They get paid 8 euros a month and do it as part of their national service; I can’t think of anything worse than standing around in those tights on a very hot day, but apparently the boys consider it an honour.
Carry on walking and you’ll come to the main shopping area, where you’ll find Attica, the city’s biggest department store, which is mercifully air-conditioned, and Zonar, the most famous café in Athens. It is pricey but totally worth it – slightly retro and very cool. Nearby is the magnificent library.
There are so many places to buy food and drink – from stalls…
To the fab yoghurt shop by Melina’s statue…
To the café at the Acropolis Musuem, where we enjoyed traditional Greek pastries, and iced coffees. Nom.
We did see a demonstration when we were in Athens, but it was very peaceful. It’s really an extraordinary city, and if you get the opportunity to visit Athens with kids, I definitely recommend it (it’s probably best for ages 8 and up, because this is when they’re most likely to appreciate what it is they’re seeing). For No 1 Son, our first visit cemented his interest in Ancient Greek history and the Classics, which resulted in him studying Greek at school; when we returned he could translate the inscriptions on the monuments. Says it all, really.