Athens for us came once again as a one day stop on a cruise ship. This arrival was more than a little bittersweet for me, as it conflicted with my long held dreams of backpacking our way down through Greece. While this may seem like a sacrifice to some, arriving via cruise ship has allowed us to schedule backpacking visits to additional countries we would not have otherwise had the opportunity to visit.
I want to mention one additional thing about Athens. It is hard to escape negative views and feelings about Greece’s capital city. In the past I had heard Athens was dirty, full of graffiti and crime-ridden. Additionally, recent images of Greek people rioting in the capital’s streets were not the most positive. While we found much of what we heard to be true to a certain extent, what we enjoyed above all else was the beauty of the ruins, the significance of the culture and the friendliness of the people. Oh and the food! Ohhhhh the food!!
Given our limited time in Athens, we decided to focus on the city’s key sites. If you are arriving from the airport, a Metro line runs into the center of the city where most of the main sites exist. The same applies if you arrive in Piraeus, the city’s main port. I do suggest you check prior to arriving if all of the public transportation in the city is running on the day of your arrival. With many of the austerity measures required by the European Union, strikes are common. On the day we were visiting, the Metro line from the airport was closed. Luckily for us, the line running from the dock at Piraeus into the city center was open. The ride was easy, comfortable and well marked.
Our time in Athens started at the Acropolis. The Acropolis Museum and the site itself are located a short walk from the Acropoli Metro stop. At the entrance we bought a 12 Euro entrance ticket. (Students are half price and children 18 and under are free.) From the
entrance we began a short walk up the back side of the Acropolis before arriving at the Parthenon located at the very top. From there we were treated to stunning views of the city along with a realization that we were among meaningful history.
The walk up to the Acropolis is not difficult if you are younger. It certainly would be safe and relatively easy for children. The only people we saw struggling with the walk were elderly and even they seemed to make it up in the end. I
would recommend teaching your children about the history of the Acroplis and buildings as there is limited information at the site. Having some background knowledge will help to keep them from getting bored too quickly.
After around an hour at the Acropolis we went on to visit several other sites included in our ticket. Each of the sites had similar historic significance to the Acropolis. Among the sites we saw were the Roman and Ancient Agoras (These were like the municipal city centers), Hadrian Library and the Temple of Zeus. Much like we found at the Acropolis, sign posted information is limited. If you have young boys don’t miss the authentic Spartan shield housed in the small museum. Shawn Reece found it fascinating and there was no doubt that its sight sparked his imagination.
Most of the sites mentioned above are within a 10-15 minute walk from each other. I would say it would not take more than 3 hours if viewed back to back or 4-5 hours with breaks. Hadrian’s Library and some of the other sites are also
located within the city center. This allowed for great people watching opportunities. We even had the chance to see a community organizer speak to a mass of people outside of a Metro station. I can only imagine it had to do with recent protests, but we never were able to find out.
The last site I will mention is the old Olympic Stadium (Panathenaic Stadium). We walked past it on our stroll through the city. While the 3 Euro entrance fee is not significant, we found that standing near the entrance gives you just about the same views as you would enjoy inside. Unless you or your children want to actually sit where the spectators did or pose for a picture on the medal stand near the entrance, then I would say opt for a simple stroll by!
I hate to review the food of a city when we have only visited for one day. As we get more into the traditional backpacking portion of our trip, then the food reviews will go more in depth. Please note though that there is significant Western style food for all families and tastes in Athens. We opted for gyros found in the city center for our only full meal while there.
Jasmine and I enjoyed Lamb while Shawn Reece chose Beef which ended up the tastier option in the end. We also bought a few pieces of bread from street vendors. On our way back to the ship we found a Carrefour supermarket which was fully stocked with everything a family would need.
- As an adult, seeing the sites of Athens is a stunning event. Children will feel the same way if given the proper perspective.
- The sites have limited background information. It is best to bring printouts or at the very least review the history of the sites before visiting.
- Do not worry about children being able to walk through the sites. Everything is relatively stroller friendly and other than the ascension up to the Acropolis, the walk is pretty flat.
- Food is plentiful and varied in the city center. You will be able to find local Mediterranean style foods along with a good mixture of Western staples. Children should not have trouble finding things to eat.
- The Metro is safe and easy. Do not forget to validate your tickets at the entrance to the stations. If not validated the fine can be steep.
- Disregard the graffiti and other little signs of wear. We never felt unsafe and found the Greek people to be among the friendliest we have encountered!
- In the end families have it easy in Athens because it is relatively safe, the people are friendly, the food is tasty and there is more history than you know what to do with. Just sit back and watch history come to life for both yourself and your children!
If you have any questions about Athens or any other place we have written about here then feel free to comment on this or any post or send us an email via the “Contact Us” link. We are always here to help!