There we were, in Athens, Greece, standing among the 2,000-year-old ruins at the Acropolis, when my 9-year-old son tapped me on the arm. He and his 12-year-old sister had been dutifully listening to our guide talk about Greek history all morning.
“Mom,” he said quietly, “Are we going back to the hotel pool soon?”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him we were on our way to an archaeological museum next.
Safe to say, my kids weren’t as in love with our summer trip to Greece as I was. Maybe it was the result of bad planning (or parenting?) on my part. Or maybe they’re so used to water parks! Disney! Digital and interactive everything! – that ancient ruins, romantic scenery, and leisurely meals at adorable tavernas didn’t do a lot for them.
Me? I absolutely loved Greece’s beauty and culture. The Greek people are lovely, and the food is phenomenal (and cheap). I’d go back in a heartbeat. But next time, I won’t be going to Greece with kids. Or I’ll bring them when they’re older and can better appreciate everything.
If you are traveling to Athens and Santorini with tween-aged children, here are a few things to know:
Santorini’s Beaches are Quiet.
There isn’t much to do with kids in Santorini, aside from a 1/2-day boat ride/snorkeling trip out to the caldera and seeing excavated ruins in the new Museum of Prehistoric Thira. But we all loved Santorini’s beaches, even though they were pretty adult and quiet. Everyone was sleeping or reading books, and it was all couples. So I always felt like my kids were being rude anytime they splashed or yelled while playing in the water. Our favorite beach, Perissa, was that way. But it had a beautiful view, a pedestrian-friendly shopping/restaurant area, water sports like parasailing and jet skis, and was lined with nice padded lounge chairs under umbrellas. If you ate lunch at the restaurant behind it, you could use the chairs for free. Otherwise, there was a 7-euro-per-chair fee.
Perissa beach, on the island of Santorini, is the most family-friendly. Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom
Delphi is a Good Day Trip from Athens.
About a two-hour (each way) drive from Athens, up in a picturesque mountain area, you can walk up through the ruins in Delphi from the 4th century B.C. There’s also an adjacent museum, and a cute, small town nearby. I still got the “Is it almost over?” face from the kids during the tour. But they seemed to learn a little more about Greek mythology from our Indus Travels guide here than they did at the Acropolis. Be sure to stop in town to shop for the handmade rugs and pillow covers, which the area is known for (and definitely bargain your price).
Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom The ruins in Delphi, Greece have a gorgeous mountain backdrop.
Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom Watching the changing of the guard at the House of Parliament was one of the kids’ favorite things to do in Athens.
Watch the changing of the guard ceremony
This was my kids’ favorite activity in Athens. We watched, and learned the history, of the changing of the guard ceremony at the House of Parliament. It’s even more entertaining and interesting than the guard-changing at Buckingham Palace in London, because the guards do a unique, choreographed, stretch-walk that will make you think of the Monte Python Ministry of Sillywalks sketch. You can pose for pictures with them once they’re in place.
Share Entrees When in Greece with Kids.
Kid menus were non-existent in Greece, and the restaurant portions were enormous (like, American-sized). Plus, meals always came with a bread basket and a large Greek salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese, olives and onions) that was a meal in itself. Definitely save money and calories by sharing entrees.
Cats are Everywhere in Greece.
Moreso in Santorini than in Athens, it was common to have cats sit near your table at an outdoor restaurant, or even hang out in the hotel lobby. We had two that sunned on our hotel room patio in Santorini. We didn’t pet them without asking someone about them first, but they were harmless, fun visitors.
Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom Cats are everywhere in Greece, especially outdoor restaurants.
The Greeks Love Kids.
Everyone talked to, and was nice to, my kids. My blond-haired 9-year-old son, in particular, always seemed to get patted on the head by waiters and tour guides. It was in a friendly way, not a creepy way, and it made us feel welcomed wherever we were.
In Santorini, Stay on the Caldera Side of the Island.
A beachfront hotel is a beachfront hotel, right? Not on Santorini. Do not stay on the airport-side of the island. Stay on the side that faces the caldera. We spent our first night in Santorini in an awful hotel near the airport called Mediterranean Beach, which, by the way, is nothing like it looks online. It was no man’s land. We ditched our reservation (and the sparse accommodations, dirty linens, and apathetic staff) and moved to a hotel on the caldera side of the island.
It was like night and day. We used Booking.com to find the gorgeous Apanemo Hotel, a super-friendly and reasonably priced boutique hotel with stunning views of the caldera. It’s in the small non-touristy town of Akrotiri. Suddenly, we had restaurants nearby, a bakery where we could buy fresh baklava and little handmade ice cream bars, and were a quick (and relatively flat) drive to the main towns of Fira and Oia.
Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom The views of the caldera are spectacular in the town of Oia, on the Greek island of Santorini, Greece.
Fly from Athens to the Islands.
It will cost you about $100 more per person to fly to the islands rather than go by ferry, but it’s so worth it. A 45-minute flight from Athens to Santorini beats a crowded, 5-hour ferry ride on choppy seas (especially for my seasick-prone kids). Plus, on Aegean Airlines, they even serve a snack and drink, despite the short flight.
Bring Water Shoes for the Beach.
The black sand beaches in Santorini are HOT in the summer! Even when you’re standing in the water. Some of the beaches are pretty rocky too. The kids and I wore water shoes most of the time.
You’ll Probably get Lost Driving on Santorini.
They have a bus, but the most efficient way to get around Santorini is to rent a car. For a Chicagoan like me, who’s not used to driving on narrow mountain roads in stick-shift cars, this was super stressful for me and the kids. Giant tour buses whizzed past us at 40 mph while we were on single-lane cliff-side roads. My heart was pounding on numerous occasions. And we were lost a lot, because there are very few street signs and no good maps. We were always stopping to ask for directions, which didn’t help. But take it slow, stay on the main roads, and don’t go up any roads that have a sign with a red circle and a white line across it (I learned that lesson the hard way), and you’ll get your bearings after a few days.
While the panic over Greece’s debt crisis has subsided, cash is still king. You can use your credit card in most places, and shouldn’t hesitate to do so. But just beware that you might get some “our Visa machine is down” attitude, so it is helpful to have some extra Euros on hand. When told I’d have to pay 300 Euros in cash for all of us to go parasailing (more than $300), I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t have that much cash” and started to walk away. Suddenly it was OK to pay with Visa.
Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom Expect huge crowds at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.
Athens is Crowded.
I know, I know. Europe in July. It’s crowded. It’s a big city. But exiting the Acropolis took more than 30 minutes of standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a crowd of thousands. We had more elbow room leaving the Taylor Swift concert in Chicago. So if you go to the Acropolis with kids who tend to wander off, be aware of this.
Read what other Traveling Moms Thought.
Triathlon TravelingMom Dana Zucker definitely did Greece better than I did. Read why she ranks it among her Top 10 best vacation spots in the world here. History Buff TravelingMom Angela Tiffin also found some unique things to see. Read her blog about Greece here.
Jamie Bartosch is an award-winning journalist in suburban Chicago. She loves to travel, and blogs for TravelingMom.com from the viewpoint of a "typical suburban mom." Her goal is to provide honest, useful information to help families save time, save money, and make the most of their family vacation. A married mother of two, Jamie grew up in the Chicago suburbs, lived in the city for 16 years, and is now back in the suburbs raising her two kids. Learn more about her at www.JamieBartosch.com