When we finally decided to visit Greece most of the people we spoke to online and in the Balkans asked “WHY?”
“Greece is expensive. There’s not the much to do in Athens with kids. Almost everything will be closed on the islands. People aren’t as friendly as here or Turkey. What about the economic crisis? There might be lots of strikes and things closed, trains not running. And it’s expensive, did we mention that?”
And for the most part they were right. Greece is expensive. Eating out in Greece was almost the same price as eating out in London. Most things on the islands were closed and being winter, a lot of the museums and sights in Athens were only open for a few hours in the middle of the day. We met a lot of incredibly friendly, caring, helpful people (like when Hayley almost got lost at the train station) but we also met more judgemental people than we have anywhere else.
But our two week Greece holiday were also some of the most enjoyable weeks we’ve had in our travels. The kids in particular had a fantastic time. They seemed to find something to delight them everywhere we went.
Their favourite experiences? Here their list:
Rocky wonderland – Greek island beaches
In comparison to Australia and Asia, the beaches we saw in Crete were a little underwhelming. Coarse brown sand and rocks hardly compare with white sand and palm trees.
Or at least that was the adults opinion. The kids were blown away by the beaches.
Rocks, rocks and more rocks. Rocks to collect and fill pockets with. Mostly Mum’s pockets of course. Rocks to climb on, rock pools filled with hermit crabs and sea urchins, small sea caves to hide in at low tide. We had friends with children with us for a few days and the kids had a wonderful time exploring the rock ledges. The coastline closest to our accommodation was made of soft sedimentary rock filled with fossilised corals and layers or pebbles. Geology lesson 101 right on hand.
When the weather turned bad the kids didn’t lament the fact that the sea wasn’t crystal clear any more. It meant huge waves to watch hitting the rocks and a chance to see exactly how the wind causes waves. The mediterranean is fantastic for this – on a clear still day there were no waves at all. As soon as the wind picked up waves appeared.
The waves also washed a lot of surprises up on shore. Sticks, seaweed, shells, sea urchins and even a toy car. They were pretty unimpressed with the rubbish washing up though. “Do people want the world the get hotter Mum? Every bit of rubbish means Australia gets hotter!” was every second word from Hayley.
The best rock mountain ever, otherwise known as the Acropolis
Colin and I were expecting to be amazed by the Acropolis in Athens, and we were. The views of the city, the history of the site and the scale of the buildings (and the restoration work) was astounding.
But we were expecting the kids to be a little bored by it all. How wrong we were. How could they be bored with a whole mountain of rocks to climb on?
Much of the top of the hill is an exposed marble and rock surface that’s been weathered smooth over the centuries by the elements and the over 6000 years of feet treading on the surface. Large smooth expanses of rock translates to “great fun for playing on, climbing on and sliding on” in the kids minds.
Obviously they couldn’t climb on the actual monuments and buildings themselves, but if there was a path that could by bypassed by climbing up rocks like a mountain goat they took it. And of course there’s the odd fallen over column to hide from Mum and Dad behind.
Greek Mythology and Museums in Athens
The museums in Athens did a wonderful job of engaging children. At the Acropolis Museumfamilies can ask for a special museum backpack. As well as information on the goddess Athena and Athens, the pack includes a puzzle, a memory match game and a treasure map with stickers of various statues of Athena that can be found throughout the museum.
The kids thought it was fantastic. So did we. It kept them occupied and interested just long enough for Mum and Dad to read all those ‘boring’ information signs all throughout the museum.
Another highlight of the Acropolis Museum was the see-through floor on the ground level through which you can see the excavations of ruins underneath.
Thanks to the museum and repeated watching of Percy Jackson the kids have developed an interest in Greek mythology. We’ve had a lot of discussion about Greek gods over the past week. When we were on top of the Acropolis the sun suddenly broke through the clouds and Hayley was absolutely convinced it was the gods coming down to visit Athens.
Just near the Acropolis Museum is the Hellanic Children’s Museum. Wow. Entry was free but even if it did have a fee we’d go back every second day.
The museum is a converted townhouse with two floors of rooms filled with hands on experiments, science fun, puzzles, make-believe, crafts and cooking. There are staff on hand that will happily sit and play with your kids.
We learned about the human body, constructed a food pyramid, did craft, played with tangrams and puzzles. If you go there with four or more children, the kids can bake their own cookies and learn about the science of cooking. Sadly there was just us there so we just pretended to bake cookies. Downstairs is a play kitchen. If I was to put a bed in the corner of the room Hayley would move in and never leave.
The museum is popular with school groups so it’s best not to go between 11-1 when you won’t be able to access some of the rooms as they’re reserved for the school groups.
Hmmm street side bakeries
What’s not to love about a country that has a vendor on every corner selling sweet breads, salty breads, savory breads, cheese breads, sesame covered breads, chocolate covered breads. We enjoyed a number of picnics in Greece thanks to these mobile bakeries.
Quirky car spotting
We’ve seen some fabulous old cars all around the Balkans, but Greece had some of the best.
This was Hayley’s personal favourite, particularly for the novel petrol cap.
Yes, that is an ice cream container sticky taped to the car.
Towers to climb
The White Tower in Thessaloniki, possibly the cities most famous monument, has a museum inside and you can climb all the way to the top. The museum isn’t that exciting for children and it’s all in Greek (although you can get an English audio guide for free). The true highlight for kids is the twisting staircases and doorways to hidden rooms and windows that are too small to allow an adult, unless you feel like practically crawling through them.
OK so they’re not quite that little but anyone over 4.5 feet is going to have to stoop.
Still hide-n-seek inside a tower that looks like it’s stepped out of a Rapunzel fairy-tale – what’s not to like!
On the top level the museum has these fantastic video tables to sit at where you can watch traditional dishes from the area being prepared. Noah would have sat for an hour watching the video if we had the time.
So there you have it. The kids highlights from two weeks in Greece. I wonder what else they would have discovered with more time? Greece was a wonderful, fun, educational experience that I’d recommend to any family with kids.