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Time: GMT+2

Language: Greek
Currency: Euro (€)
Dialling code: +30
Tourist information: visitgreece.gr

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Family Holidays in Greece

The people are friendly, the sea is warm, the sunshine is guaranteed and the accommodation and food won’t upset the contents of your wallet or your children’s stomachs. No wonder Greece is such a popular family holiday destination. You probably went there as a kid yourself and know just the place with that perfect beach or laid-back taverna. The Greek Islands are the undisputed stars of the region, spattering the azure Aegean with over 2000 irresistible reasons to pack your bags and go Greek. Only a few dozen islands are holiday hotspots, but such is their diversity that you could easily spend a lifetime sampling them. Well-established favourites include Corfu, Rhodes and Crete. There’s also a lot to be said for combining beach bliss with a little culture. The Greeks practically invented the stuff, so it would seem rude not to spend a day or two exploring the historical wonders of Athens or strutting your stuff in Ancient Olympia.

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THE GREEK ISLANDS

Look at a map of Greece and it’s almost as if someone has shaken a pepper pot over the Aegean Sea, such is the abundance of islands and islets scattered between Turkey and mainland Greece. Some, like Corfu, attract hundreds of thousands of tourists each summer, while others remain quieter and less developed. Somewhere in this archipelagic constellation you’re bound to find a particularly bright star – an island that’s made in beach-holiday heaven.

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THE PELOPONNESE

Cross over the Corinth Canal to the Peloponnese and watch your children’s faces light up as you explain that this was the birthplace of winged wonder-horse Pegasus and the evil snake-headed Hydra. Tell them about Greek hero, Heracles (or Hercules to the Romans) who battled here to complete the daunting Twelve Labours. It’s all myth, of course, but that won’t stop your kids’ imaginations running riot when you explore the ancient sites of this enigmatic peninsula. Here are three of the best:

Ancient Mycenae Rearing from a rugged mêlée of mountains and ravines, this 3300-year-old Bronze Age citadel leapt to fame in 1867 when archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann discovered what he thought was the grave of a legendary king. “I have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon!” he proclaimed – moments before it crumbled to dust as he lifted the gold death mask. You can still see the grave circles where Schliemann toiled, but far more exciting are Ancient Mycenae’s Cyclopean walls, so-called because later generations, who had lost the ability to move such massive rocks (weighing an average of six tonnes), believed that the giant, Cyclops, must have had a hand in it. In places they still tower 15 m above you.

Epidaurus Snug in a cluster of hills clad in pines and oleanders, Epidaurus boasts the best-preserved theatre in Greece. Try to visit before the tour buses arrive so that you can demonstrate its near-flawless acoustics. Get the kids to sit 55 rows up in the spectacular scoop of tiered seats while you stand on the stage and whisper something. They should be able to hear every word.

Ancient Olympia For sporting fans these incredible ruins are a must-see. Inhabited as early as 4000 BC, Ancient Olympia only achieved esteem as a religious and athletics centre in 776 BC when the first Olympic Games were held there. Many of its treasures are displayed in the Olympia Archaeological Museum, including fine statues, temple reliefs and various sporting artefacts. Check out the Stone of Bybon, a 144-kg rock with the inscription, “Bybon, son of Phorys, threw me above his head with one hand”. An Olympian feat if ever there was one. Exploring the ruins themselves, you can almost imagine the roar of the crowd as you walk beneath the archway leading to the stadium where running races were held. You can still see the starting line, marked in stone with grooves for athletes’ toes. Challenge your kids to a race and then have them in fits of giggles (or disbelief) when you explain that ancient Greek athletes competed naked. Other essentials at Olympia include the remains of the Temple of Zeus and the reconstructed colonnade of pillars surrounding the Palaestra (a training centre for boxers, wrestlers and jumpers).

ATHENS
With holiday bliss scattered so liberally across the Aegean Sea, the Greek capital is always going to have a hard time vying for attention. But spare a thought, and a day or two in your itinerary, for Athens. It’s a hot and chaotic city, but the ancient sites truly are amazing. The following should top your must-see list:

The Acropolis Still rising supreme above Athens, this 90m-high global icon is the crowning glory of ancient Greece. Inside this magnificent temple, with its 46 columns and 13,400 blocks of marble, stood a statue of Athena – a 12m beauty, clad in gold and ivory and bearing a huge shield. The exterior of the temple was lavishly adorned with sculptures and brightly coloured friezes – most of these have succumbed to erosion, wars or theft, but you can still imagine something of the fine detail of the Acropolis temples by seeking out the Porch of the Caryatids. You’ll find it on a building called the Erechtheion (a sacred site where Poseidon and Athena are said to have fought for control of the city) where, instead of columns, exquisitely carved priestesses support the roof.

Ancient Agora If anything, kids will be able to relate more to the Agora than the Acropolis. This was where the nitty-gritty of daily mortal life was carried out in ancient Athens. You’ll be able to find the remains of everything from law courts and markets to schools and a prison. The most obvious building is the replica of the Stoa of Attalos – a two-storey shopping arcade. The original version, opened in 138 BC, would have housed 42 shops, but the modern one contains the Agora Museum. Inside, see if you can find the children’s toys and an ancient potty.

Pláka & Monastiráki Lying to the north of the Acropolis, these historic districts are chock-a-block with ancient ruins, as well as some more modern goodies. Among the contemporary highlights are the curio shops along the pedestrianized streets of Pandrósou and Adrianoú and the flea market at Platéia Avissynías. There are also dozens of cafés, tavernas and restaurants. If your kids are game for more old stuff, however, start with the Roman Agora where you can challenge them to spot all eight winds depicted on the 12-m-tall Tower of the Winds – a multi-purpose sundial, water clock, weather vane and compass devised by Andronikos around 150 BC.

Syntagma Ermoú Street links Monastiráki with this city-hub district centred on Plateía Syntágmatos. However, it’s more fun to ride the metro – the underground station at Syntagma is a veritable museum of Athenian history with displays of relics uncovered during its excavation. Above ground, take a minute to watch the traditionally attired soldiers high-stepping in slow motion by the Monument to the Unknown Soldier, then seek refuge in the National Gardens. There are children’s play areas here, as well as shady benches, a duck pond and a café. Walk through the gardens and you’ll emerge opposite the Temple of Olympian Zeus. It’s a whopper, although only 15 of the original 104 17m-tall columns remain.

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Greece-Athena

Family-friendly places to stay in Greece

DAIOS COVE, CRETE
The sleek, sensational and shiny new Daios Cove resort on Crete has an exclusive Scott Dunn children’s club, making it one of the most desirable luxury family boltholes in the entire Mediterranean. Catering for children aged from four months to 13 years, the children’s club (run by qualified nannies) features a huge range of activities, from archery to treasure hunts.

SANI RESORT, HALKIDIKI
The Halkidikí peninsula has some of the best sandy beaches in Greece. Stay at the Sani Resort and you also get a superb watersports centre. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to family facilities at this luxury resort. There are also children’s clubs for tots to teens, a crèche and some very stylish family accommodation to choose from.

VILLA ARGIRO, KASSIOPI, CORFU
Sleeping up to 10, this gorgeous villa has sweeping views across the azure bays and forested mountains of northeast Corfu. Rent a small motor boat for your holiday and moor it at Soukia Bay, just a short stroll from the villa’s elegant terrace and swimming pool. Villa Argiro is impeccably furnished and is within easy reach of the amenities at Kassiopi.

APHRODITE HILLS RESORT, CYPRUS
Fabled as the birthplace of Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and love, Cyprus has holidaymakers well and truly smitten by its beaches, climate and scenery. Where better place to unwind than the luxurious Aphrodite Hills Resort? As well as a wonderful range of children’s activities, it offers family accommodation ranging from suites to villas.

Greece-Daios Cove
Greece-Sani Resort
Greece-Argiro
Greece-Aphrodite Hills

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