This itinerary works well for families with kids between 7 and 15 years old. We tried to balance the adults' reasons for coming all the way to Greece (seeing the glories of Greece) with the children's desires (swimming in hotel pools). As for food? The varied Greek menu should provide something for everyone's taste. And for better or worse, fast food is increasingly available all over Greece. Heat, especially in high season, should be a concern for travelers of all ages. Stay out of the midday sun, especially on the beach. Most forms of transportation offer reduced rates for kids 11 and under, as do most hotels, museums, and archaeological sites. Our itinerary assumes that you will rent a car for touring the Greek mainland. We also recognize that children wilt faster while traveling than adults do.
Day 1: Athens
Need to work off some fidgets after a long plane ride? Start your first day in Greece with the landmark you can’t go home without seeing: The Acropolis. True, there’s a lot of climbing as you ascend through the Beule Gate up a well-worn path, but what lies at the top makes the hike all worthwhile: The ruins of the perfectly proportioned Parthenon and surrounding temples. Find a spot to sit and just gaze at those massive columns, summoning up the glory of classical Greece. Then help the kids put it all together with a visit to the Acropolis Museum, at the base of the hill, where the original sculptures and statuary from the site are on display. If their legs are up to it, you can then stroll along the Grand Promenade, a cobblestone-and-marble, pedestrian-only boulevard that skirts the Acropolis Hill, and end your sightseeing by strolling around the evocative ruins of the Ancient Agora, where Socrates once conducted open-air seminars and St. Paul sought converts for the new religion of Christianity. After that, it’s time for dinner, maybe beneath a shady plane tree at a long-time favorite, the Platanos Taverna.
Day 2: Athens
Begin the day with a visit to Athens’ National Archaeological Museum, with the world’s finest collection of Greek antiquities. Youngsters will be intrigued by the gold death masks in the Mycenaean Collection, with its Trojan War connections; the Thira Collection’s colorful and charming frescoes from Santorini are as fascinating as an ancient comic strip. Then walk south down through Omonia Square to the lively, colorful Central Market. The sheeps’ heads and live chickens may gross them out, but there’s also tasty picnic fare to be picked up. Make your way down Aiolou Street for a look at the Roman Forum and the adjacent Tower of the Winds, then swing west through the Plaka to Syntagma Square. Enjoy your picnic in the National Gardens, where the kids can let off some steam. End your picnic in time to see the Changing of the Guard, every hour on the hour at the nearby Parliament Building. Walk northwest through Kolonaki—a neighborhood favored by well-heeled Athenians—to the funicular that climbs Lycabettus Hill. The kids will love the ride, and at the top, you’ll all be mesmerized by the views of the Acropolis and across the city to the sea. Return to your hotel in time for an late afternoon swim in the pool; if your hotel doesn’t have a pool, the Athens Hilton, in Kolonaki at 46 Vassilissis Sofias Avenue, will let you use theirs, 5 euros a person on weekdays, 10 euros on weekends.
Day 3: Corinth
Pile the family into a rental car. (For ease of getting out of Athens, you might want to zip out to the Athens airport on the Metro and get the car from a rental office out there.) No one’s going to get too squirmy, as there’s not too much driving to do today. First stop is the Isthmus of Corinth, the narrow neck of land, only 6.3km (4 miles) wide, that connects the Peloponnese to the rest of mainland Greece. Before the Corinth Canal was dug in the 1890s, ships had to sail an extra 400km (240 miles) around the Peloponnese to reach Athens. You can observe the canal, the ship traffic—and, most impressively, the 86m-high (282-ft.) walls of rock through which the canal was cut—from a well-marked overlook off the highway. You might also see some daredevils bungee-jumping off the railroad bridge across the canal.
Just beyond the Isthmus, the Acrocorinth, one of the world’s most remarkable fortresses, looms into view, looking as if it’s still there to defend the city of Corinth below. Signs point to the temples, agora, fountains, and other sprawling ruins of the Greek and Roman city, where kids will get a good sense of this ancient powerhouse that once rivaled Athens in wealth. (See if they can spot examples of Corinthian columns, with their ornately decorated tops.) End the visit with a drive up to the Acrocorinth, with its three rings of massive fortifications, and mountaintop views that sweep across the sea to the east and west.
It’s just another 55km (33 miles) on to Nafplion, where you’ll settle in for the next 2 nights. A good choice for families is the Hotel Perivoli, on a hillside outside town with large family units and a sparkling pool. If you stay in a hotel without a pool, make your first stop Arvanitia, the town beach at the end of a pine-scented promenade.
Day 4: Nafplion & Epidaurus
Nafplion’s Old Town, crowded onto a narrow peninsula that juts into the Bay of Argos, is decidedly family friendly, almost entirely closed to car traffic in the area surrounding marble-paved Syntagma Square. The first thing young explorers will probably want to do is climb up (part of the way via 999 steps cut into the cliff face) to the fortifications of the Acronafplia, the southeastern heights which have defended the city for some 5,000 years. Here, the massive walls of the Palamidi Fortress ramble across a bluff above the sea and the city. Once back down, an ice cream from the venerable Antica Gelateria di Roma, at 3 Pharmakopoulou, is in order after all that climbing.
In the afternoon, drive out to Epidaurus, one of the best-preserved classical Greek theaters in the world. The acoustics are so perfect that a whisper onstage can be heard at the top of the 55 tiers—plant the kids at the top of the house then step on stage to demonstrate. The adjoining Sanctuary of Asklepius at Epidaurus was one of the most famous healing centers in the Greek world, dedicated to Asklepius, son of Apollo and god of medicine. Tell the kids that one of the sanctuary’s favorite treatments involved serpents flicking their tongues over an afflicted body part—they may never complain again about a visit to the pediatrician.
Day 5: Olympia
Pack up the car and set off for Olympia, site of the original Olympic Games. The drive is less than 3 hours, leaving time to visit the ruins and museums in the afternoon and early evening. Remains of the stadium, gymnasium, training hall, and dormitories richly evoke the city’s famous ancient games, inaugurated in 776 B.C. You can pique their interest by explaining certain gee-whizz aspects of the ancient games—such as the fact that strangulation and metal knuckles were considered perfectly acceptable tactics. Young athletes can stretch their legs with a lap or two around training fields still lined with columns. The Hotel Europa is a good choice for a night’s stay because it has a big pool; guests at the smaller but delightful Hotel Pelops may use the Europa pool as well.
Day 6: Delphi & the Sanctuary of Apollo
You’re in for a bit of driving today. It’s about 3 1/2 hours from Olympia to Delphi, but for much of the way the scenery is spectacular—you’ll follow the highway around the northern coast to Patras and then Rio, where a dramatic bridge crosses the Gulf of Corinth; that’s followed by more scenic coastline as you head east to Delphi. No other ancient site is quite as mysterious and alluring as the Sanctuary of Apollo. Even youngsters can sense the awe as they climb the Sacred Way to the Temple of Apollo, where priestesses once received cryptic messages from the god. Views over the cliffs and crags of Mt. Parnassus are pretty spectacular, too. Plan to be back in the car about 4pm or so. That allows 5 hours to make the drive to Athens (a little over 2 hr.), drop off the car, and get to Piraeus to board the 9pm boat to Chania, on Crete. (To save time and hassle, see if your car rental company will allow you to drop off in Piraeus.) One you’ve settled into the cabin for the night crossing, head to the dining room for a meal.
Day 7: Chania
You’ll arrive in Chania early, so settle in for a full day of relaxing in one of the most beautiful cities in Greece. An especially welcoming base for families is the Villa Andromeda, a former seaside estate that housed the German High Command during World War II and has a shady garden and swimming pool. When it’s time to explore the city, you won’t need to wander too far away from the city’s colorful Venetian Harbor, with its lighthouse, palaces, and massive arsenali (warehouses), one of which houses a replica of a Minoan ship.
Day 8: Samaria Gorge
Any travel agency in town can arrange the 18km (11-mile) excursion through the Samaria Gorge, the longest gorge in Europe. Make sure your kids are up for a long though relatively easy hike. You know their limits, but keep in mind that once into the canyon—only 3m (10 ft.) wide in places with walls that can be up to 600m (1,969 ft.) high—there’s no turning back. Equip your clan with hats and sunscreen and carry snacks and bathing suits, for a refreshing dip in the Libyan Sea at the end of the hike. Don’t load yourself down with too much water; you’ll come upon several freshwater springs along the way. Your tour organizer will have you back in Chania in time for dinner.
Days 9 & 10: Rhodes City
If you’re up for a long sea voyage, take the bus to Heraklion and board a boat to Rhodes. It’s a 14-hour cruise (great for reading and sea-gazing) but if a day of enforced R&R doesn’t appeal to your traveling companions, fly instead. However you get to Rhodes, make Old Town your base. If the children are tired of togas and dusty columns, this medieval enclave is the perfect antidote—one of Europe’s great historic quarters, with all the storybook atmosphere a young traveler could desire. Many hotels have pleasant gardens, and the Spirit of the Knights has a little plunge pool. Two landmarks will fire up youngsters’ imaginations. The City Walls, 4km (2 1/2 miles) in length and 12m thick (40 ft.) in places, are complete with fortified gates and bastions. You can walk around the walls in their entirety, either in the dry moat between the inner and outer walls, or along the ramparts on top. The Street of the Knights is one of the best-preserved and most evocative medieval relics in the world, a 600m-long (1,968 ft.) stretch of cobbles where crusader knights of various nations maintained their towered, crenellated inns. For a quick dip, join the locals at Elli beach, where the waves almost lap up against the walls surrounding the Old Town.
Day 11: Lindos
Frequent buses make the trip to the most picturesque town on the island outside of Rhodes Old Town, a collection of white-stucco houses tucked between the sea and a towering ancient acropolis. Kids will probably want to board a donkey (also known as a “Lindian taxi”) for a slow plod all the way to the top. There, atop a flight of stone steps, are a medieval castle and an ancient Greek terrace littered with the remains of a great assembly hall with a grand columned portico. Way down below is a beach that is just too tempting to resist.
Day 12: Symi
Take a morning ferry to Symi, where even cranky young travelers will be impressed as the boat sails into beautiful, mansion-lined Yialos harbor. One of the pleasures of this rugged little island is the slow pace. You’ll want to climb the 375 or so wide stone steps, known as the Kali Strata (the Good Steps), to picturesque Horio, the old island capital. There the Archaeological and Folklore Museum shows off a replica of an old island house. The beaches on Symi aren’t spectacular, but there’s good swimming from the shoreline right around Yialos.
Day 13: Taxixarchis Mihailis Panormitis Monastery
A favorite outing from Yialos is this unexpectedly grand, white-washed monastery dedicated to the patron saint of seafaring Greeks, tucked away on Symi’s hilly, green southwestern corner. A charming museum is filled with wooden ship models, and a heavily frescoed church and chapels open off a courtyard. The most exciting way to reach the monastery, especially with kids, is by boat; there is also twice-a-day bus service from Yialos and Horio. However you get there, count on a refreshing swim in Panormitis Bay.
Day 14: Back to Athens
Now it’s time to head back to Athens. No better way to end a vacation in Greece than with a sea voyage, and, depending on timing, you can catch the once-a-week boat from Symi to Piraeus or return to Rhodes and take one of the overnight ferries than run a bit more frequently from there. Then, of course, there’s plan B—a quick flight from Rhodes to Athens.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.