Your Athens Plan to Experience Greece
Updated: October 25, 2023
As Told To AAA Travel Editor Sherry Mims
Athens, Greece, is thought to have been inhabited for thousands of years. It’s been occupied by the Romans and, more recently, the Ottoman Empire, until its independence in 1831, leading to a rich blend of foods, culture and architecture.
For 20 years, Liz De Stefano, AAA Travel Advisor at AAA Northeast, has guided tours for several destinations, including Athens. “One of the most compelling things about Athens is you have 5,000-year-old ruins next to 21st-century buildings,” she says. The travel advisor adds that when you learn about the city and the neighborhoods and get a chance to walk the streets and explore, you’ll come across really cool scenery and experiences.
If you appreciate history and culture in particular, there are plenty of ways to engage with the Greek city and its people, even if you’re traveling with kids. Read on to learn how De Stefano suggests optimizing your trip.
See the Sights in Plaka and Kolonaki
On your first trip to Greece you’ll most likely spend most of your time in Plaka, aka Πλάκα, an old neighborhood where the ancient Athenians lived. These days there are charming shops, bars and restaurants for the entire family.
This also is where to find the Acropolis. Better known as the Parthenon, it’s the biggest destination to put on your bucket list. However, be mindful of the season. If you travel to Athens in May, June, July or August, you’ll want to avoid the heat and humidity of the day. While you might have been advised to get there at 8 a.m., now you'll need to book at time. Overcrowding has incentivized Greece to limit daily visitors at the site (and other historical museums and attractions). Since Sept. 5, 2023, you're asked to book a Hellenic Heritage E-Ticket. Plan to arrive 30 minutes prior to your time to access the Acropolis rock.
Fun fact: Each city has an “acropolis,” aka the highest point of the city. The Parthenon is actually on the second-highest hill in Athens due to the first, Mount Lycabettus, not being flat enough for the structure.
Kolokotroni Street in Kolonaki is where to shop. You’ll find Prada. You’ll find outside bars and cafes. Several feature unique themes. The Bank Job (located at 105 62 13, Kolokotroni), a well-known cocktail bar, serves libations in a former vault. At Noel (Kolokotroni 59B), there’s a Christmas theme year-round; it’s also where residents go to enjoy local cuisine.
For a perfect, one-day option, go to the Parthenon; the Temple of Olympian Zeus, one of the largest built; and the Hellenic Parliament by noon; and then spend the rest of the day in Kolonaki, where there’s a cable car (Aristippou 1) you can take to get to places to eat with a view. Best of all, while you’re riding the cable car, you can see the entire city, including the main port of Piraeus.
Browsing Museums and Shops in Athens
If you’re planning a summer vacation in Athens, you’ll want to escape the heat by dedicating an afternoon to the Acropolis Museum, which features antiquities from the Parthenon. Visitors can delve deep, literally, into the past and walk through layers of the city. (Note: The top floor is empty awaiting the return of the country’s classical statues; the Elgin Marbles, also known as the Parthenon Sculptures, are in the British Museum in London.)
Near the Parthenon and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, you’ll find the “Poet-Sandal Maker of Athens.” Pantelis Melissinos, who is the third generation of a circa 1920 family business, made sandals for the Olympics, which were based on classical designs, and continues to have a brisk business. Though there can be a line, anyone can buy bespoke sandals (around 30-60 euros) from him and his apprentices at the shop (Tzireon 16).
If you can’t get enough of ancient Greece (and need to buy additional gifts), consider Monastiraki Square. Its famous flea market (Ifestou 2) is worth a visit on a Sunday. This is where to find your souvenirs in Athens, ranging from T-shirts to religious icons.
On weekdays, you might want to remain in Plaka by walking from the Parthenon and Acropolis Museum down Adrianou. Altogether, it’ll take 20 minutes, but you should allot 2-4 hours to see the shops and take in a frappe, an iced coffee drink that’s popular in Greece.
Cool Restaurants and Attractions for Kids in Athens
The Greek people go everywhere with their kids and most of the restaurants are family-friendly, according to De Stefano, so feel free to bring the whole family along. To tide little ones over between meals, pack snacks, as Greek businesses often close in the afternoon after lunch, and then reopen at night for dinner, which is typically around 10 or 11 p.m.
Outside of Monastiraki, you’ll encounter the unique area of Psyrri, which is fun for kids. With bougainvillea abloom, and tables and bars with live music, expect plenty of ambiance. In this general area, you’ll find Little Kook (Karaiskaki 17), a local café that changes its décor several times a year in an over-the-top-fashion; enjoy a dessert (or coffee for the adults) amid lights and decorations.
To get around Athens, consider a tram, which can pick up outside and below the Acropolis Museum or Syntagma Square. The open-air ground tram will provide commentary about the city’s history and highlights. Other popular things to do in Athens with kids include the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (Syggrou Avenue 364, 17674 Kallithea), which offers children’s events and play areas with water jets and playground equipment made of sustainable materials, and the Attica Zoological Park in the nearby suburb of Spata.
Start Your Next Athens Vacation with AAA
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Sherry is an experienced #AAAEditor and former journalist who enjoys writing informative travel articles and reviews. Her commitment to making meaningful connections with people and places fuels her work for AAA. Sherry's favorite activities range from skiing to backpacking abroad and taking ghost tours.