Athens is brimming with things to do and this vibrant, cultural city makes for a great stopover before heading out to explore the islands.

I must confess arriving in at 6am (after two back-to-back night flights) we were certainly a bit bleary eyed and struggling to muster up much enthusiasm for our 24 hours here. But after a power nap, a lengthy breakfast and some strong coffee we were ready to hit the streets and make the most of our 24 hours in the Ancient Capital.

With two little ones in tow we decided not to be over-ambitious and stuck to a couple of the tourist highlights. So much more than just a stopover we ended up having a grand, memorable day exploring Athens - here’s what we got up to:

The Acropolis always comes out at the top of the heap of things to see in Athens. The most famous of the Western world's ancient ruins; you can’t help but be impressed as you climb the marble steps and gaze upon the graceful Parthenon. The views perched at the top of the rocky outcrop are breathtaking, with the city sprawling as far as the eye can see. Visiting early in the morning beats the heat and the tour buses. We took our time ambling up the hill, taking in the view and learning a little about the monuments and ruins along the way. A real highlight!

At the base of the Acropolis is the Ancient Agora, a big open green space and some welcome tranquility in the middle of the chaos of Athens. The park is dotted with ruins and shady trees with impressive temples and picturesque chapels to discover along the way.

Plaka is the city's oldest neighbourhood, resting on the slopes of the Acropolis. Here you can discover the old Ottoman quarter, buzzing with atmosphere and overflowing with cafes, boutiques and fascinating architecture. True, it's a popular tourist haunt, but it’s also beautiful and charming and you can easily escape the hoards in its maze of cobbled laneways.

We took a slow wander through the winding streets and had our first taste of Greek cuisine at a lovely local taverna before making our way up the hill to the Acropolis.

Full of street artists, musicians, shops with old artifacts and stalls selling knick-knacks and trinkets; there are plenty of sights and sounds to absorb on your wanderings. We visited on a Sunday when the area was oozing atmosphere and bustling with tourists. With it’s colourful vibe, ancient ruins and antique shops it’s a great place to while away an afternoon in Athens.

We have to share this incredible discovery with you. We’ve travelled all over the world and spent many hours, in many airports and this place is one in a million. In 2002 Athens International airport in conjunction with voluntary organisation “The Smile of the Child” created a safe and welcoming area for young travellers to play and relax. Located on the second floor of the main terminal building it’s open daily from 9am-9pm. Jam packed with toys, jigsaws, drawing and activities the girls simply could not believe their eyes. Marina is so warm and welcoming and a dab hand at arts & crafts, she had the girls so engrossed in activities we almost missed our flight!

“The Smile of the Child” is an incredible not-for-profit organisation raising awareness on a variety of health, social and psychological issues affecting children. Since opening in 2002 this play area has welcomed over 50,000 children through it’s doors. Such a beautiful space it’s a proper haven for children to have fun and parents to catch their breath before travelling. If you’re travelling through Athens airport with little ones make sure you hunt it down!

The airport is a mere 12 miles outside the city centre and easily accessible by the cheap and efficient Metro system. The tourist highlights in the centre of Athens are also pretty close together making it simple to navigate either on foot or by Metro and compact enough to explore easily in a day.

Due to budget and last minute research we ended up choosing a hotel in Omonia. The Best Western Museum Hotel was clean, comfortable and served up a delicious breakfast buffet. We even scored an upgrade to their junior suite which was most welcome.

Unfortunately, it happens to be located in the area of Omnia which has fallen on hard times with all of Greece’s recent woes. What used to be the vibrant, commercial heart of the city is now the site of boarded up businesses and homeless taking refuge in doorways. Drug use is flourishing and pickpocketing is commonplace. We were absolutely fine here in daylight and sticking to the main streets but seriously I would not want to stay here alone or be out and about after dark. If we visited Athens again we’d suck up the extra pounds to stay in Monastiraki or Plaka.

If you are lucky enough to have longer than 24 hours in Athens there are many more sights to see; poke around in the treasure trove of it’s museums and or immerse yourself in local life at one of the thriving markets.

Athens really took us by surprise and instead of being just another stop-over it was a memorable, perfect 24 hours soaking up the vibrant culture and scenery on offer.

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