Acropolis - Agora
The Acropolis was originally a residential fortress, naturally inaccessible (try scaling those rocks). In Classical Athens, it was central to religious festivals and a glorious symbol of the city. The Romans made their own additions, and in later centuries, the Parthenon was turned into a Byzantine church, crusader cathedral, mosque, then a warehouse to store gunpowder (a bad idea, since the Venetians blew the roof off the Parthenon, when the gunpowder exploded). Even with this wear and tear, kids will be impressed when they see the Acropolis, situated on a high plateau, smack in the middle of modern Athens, spanning centuries in one spot.
Acropolis Museum - Before visiting The Acropolis, visit the Acropolis Museum first!
The stellar Acropolis Museum has great goodies from all around the Acropolis, including a complete re-creation of the Parthenon friezes, pediments and metopes. Check out the original Caryatids from the Erechtheion, a little worse for wear, noses are flattened, but the gowns are lovely, mysterious smiling archaic figures, especially the kore (check out the hairstyles, jewelry and clothing), the three headed "Bluebeard" figure, some really fine statues of horses, exquisite gods and goddesses, and more.
Entrance to the Acropolis - You can start at the main entrance to the Acropolis and go straight up to the Propylaia but a nicer approach is to take the Panathenaic Way, following the procession route to the Acropolis. To go this way, first visit the Agora - the Panathenaic Way diagonally cuts across it. After you exit through the fence enclosing the Agora, follow the Panathenaic Way (lined with stone slabs) up the hill to the entrance.
Propylaia (Propylaea) - As you walk up the zigzag steps to the gateway, keep in mind that the space between the columns was wide enough for horses and chariots to pass through, as well as crowds in procession. On the right you'll see the Temple of Athena Nike, Athena in victory (nike).
The Parthenon - The Parthenon was dedicated to the goddess Athena Parthenos, and inside the temple stood an immense statue. Today you can't go into the Parthenon, but just imagine what it was like, stepping into the darkened inner room, where you would feel bug-like in comparison to Athena, over 40 ft high, covered in ivory and gold, topped by a majestic helmet sprouting horses, holding a tiny victory statue in one hand, and a huge shield in the other.
The Parthenon ruins have a luminous quality - the warm, creamy marble changes color in different lights. Count how many sections it takes to make up a Doric column (11 or 12). Outside the roped off areas, rub your hands over smooth marble, feel the nubby textures of stones eroded over time, look for swirling patterns in the rocks.
Erechtheion (Erechtheum) - Check out the Porch of the Caryatids and the olive tree next to it. The Caryatids, columns holding up the porch roof, represent six young ladies, daughters of the first king of Athens (they have excellent posture). About the olive tree, Athena and Poseidon had a little contest over who was going to be the patron god or goddess of Athens - Athena won, and where she stuck her spear in the ground, an olive tree popped up.
Arios Pagos (Areospagos) Hill - Once you leave the Acropolis proper, take a quick climb up Arios Pagos Hill, a smooth hunk of rock to the west. There are smooth worn steps to the top of the "Hill of Mars," where the judicial court met to decide criminal cases.
Theater of Dionysus and Odeion of Herodes Atticus - Is there anyone in your family who's always in the school play? The theaters on the south side of the Acropolis are a "must see." In the Theater of Dionysus, plays were presented to honor the gods, and the greatest Greek tragedies and comedies, by Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, were performed. The Odeion, built in the Roman era for musical events, is still in use today.
Filopappos Hill (Filopapou Hill) - Once you've tromped around all the sights of the Acropolis, it's time to head over to Filopappos Hill, a real oasis. From the wide pedestrian street, just follow the paths into the green shady trees - there are benches and picnic tables, so bring your lunch or snack, and relax. Once you've rested up, follow the paths to the top of the hill. This is where you get truly wonderful views of the Acropolis - seeing it at a distance, the Parthenon grows more impressive.
Pnyx Theater - There's a Sound and Light show, evenings April to October, in the theater on the Hill of the Pnyx. In classical Athens, this theater area was where the democratic assembly gathered.
The Agora - The Agora was the center of daily life in ancient Athens, but it was more than a busy shopping mall - it was also the law courts (and where people voted), a place to meet your friends to discuss stuff, you could attend a music concert at the Odeion and worship at the shrines and temples.
The Stoa of Attalos has been completely reconstructed, and houses the Agora Museum, which has items of daily life in Athens. Stroll on over to the well-preserved Temple of Hephaestus (rhymes with asbestos). Originally the temple housed two statues, one of Athena, the other the craftsman god Hephaestus, who used his hammer to crack open Zeus' head, so Athena could be born.
The Panathenaic Way cuts diagonally across the Agora - this is a nice route to follow up to the entrance to the Acropolis.
Horse carriage rides - Take an "old fashioned Greek taxi," a horse carriage ride to explore the neighborhoods around the Acropolis. Pick them up at the corner of the wide pedestrian street on the south side of the Acropolis, intersection of Dionissiou Areopagitou and Apostolou Pavlou.
Tips for enjoying the Acropolis
Acropolis Museum - Before going up to the ruins, go to the museum first. In the upper gallery are the complete Parthenon friezes, metopes and pediments. With this introduction, kids can visualize the incredible sculptures situated in the Acropolis.
Get to the Acropolis early in the morning to avoid the worst crowds. Then again, in ancient Athens, it was also a busy place.
There's much more to see than just the Parthenon, spread out over a largish area. Don't try to cram everything into one day - try to spread things out and come back on different days.
In summer, bring water bottles, wear sun screen and hats. There's lots of dusty, slippery-smooth rocks - wear shoes or sandals with straps.