Ten things to do in Athens with children that don’t involve old rocks

Traveling with children should be a fun experience, but all too often parents forget that kids don’t always like the same things we like, or that they don’t always move at the same pace as the grown-ups move. There’s alot of archeology in Greece, and you have traveled far to see it. But to your kids, (and to some adults) after awhile all those ruins look the same. A common trip to Greece includes a quick stop in Athens to admire the Parthenon, followed by a whirl through Plaka and then a race to the port for the ferry to Mykonos and Santorini (neither of which are what I would call child friendly islands).

Athens may be a big city, but if you slow down just a bit, and you base yourself on the correct, family friendly side of downtown, you’re sure to fall in love. There’s much to explore in this at once modern and ancient metropolis, and much to entertain the children while you still get to explore the ancient sites.

So, slow down, plant yourself in Athens for 4 or 5 days, and plan to include at least half of these top ten Athens travel ideas that will please and entertain both you and your children:

1. Haridimos Shadow Puppet Museum and Workshop, perfect for the child WITHIN all of us.

2. Hellenic Cosmos Virtual Reality Exhibits, highly recommended before you drag them though the Ancient Agora or off to Ancient Olympia.

3. Visit the Caretta Caretta Turtle Rescue Center in Glyfada – you can combine this with your Tram trip (see #4 below).

4. Take the slow train to the coast, find a beach, and PLAY. There’s a kids’ “moonwalk land”, an old Navy boat that’s been transformed into a museum as well as a human sized chess game almost always in play on the boardwalk not far from the Flisovos Marina (Tram stop anywhere, but Trocadero is a good place to find lots to do), and during October 2010 you can pickup free bicycles to ride up and down the coast just by showing your tram ticket (limited to set hours, see the Tram website for more details).  If you feel compelled to “do” something “educational” on the way back, see number 6 below).

5. Visit the wonderful playground in the National Gardens near the Zappeio.

6. The Eugenides Planetarium in Palio Faliro.

7. Take a hydrofoil to Hydra.

8. Go to an outdoor movie, or if you’re visiting outside of the summer cinema season, consider the Village Theater in Pangrati on Ymittou. Before the movie you can take the kids for a tumble in the lower level indoor child’s playland, or upstairs to the fantastic children’s store, the Imaginarium, and after the movie you can head down the street to Ladokolla – see #9.

9. Let them eat with their hands at Archaion Gefseis (Ancient Flavors) – if they are picky eaters and don’t want to eat, that’s ok too, because the seats all allow diners to experience dinner as the Ancients did, while reclining – so, if the kids are tired, let them sleep! Yes, the place is a bit kitchy, but where else can the kids eat with their hands without you having to tell them to mind their manners? If kitsch is too much for you, go local and take them to Ladokolla, the waxpaper place, where sheets of butcher paper are your plates and eating with your hands from the pile of finger linking  good grilled chops in the center of the table is the rule.  The funny cartoons on the walls are captioned in Greek – but no matter, one of your friendly, energetic young servers will surely translate the captions.

10.  Ride the metro. Kids not only love trains, but the metro is an amazing archeological dig that puts things into much greater perspective than alot of the sites you’ll be dragging them to. Forget about the cases with urns, just check out the ancient graves, the aquaduct, an old kiln and more. And really impress your kids when you point out that the skeleton in the grave in the Syntagma station has two left femurs!

And finally, if you MUST visit a museum – consider the original Benaki Museum on Vas. Sophias avenue – if you are traveling with young girls, they’ll love the collection of costumes, you’ll get to see plenty of ancient relics as well, while the airplane lovers in your group will enjoy a peek at the outdoor aircraft on display behind the War Museum just up the street, and afterwards you’ll be able to make a quick exit to the playground across the street in the National Gardens.

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