It's been said that photography, and particularly our ability to enhance images, is ruining travel. It's certainly not hard for a website to make a hotel, a restaurant or an attraction of any kind look much better than it is in real life, and glossy pictures often only set us up for a disappointment when faced with the truth of a place or an experience.
The Acropolis in Athens is so familiar from images that I expect it to be a let-down 'in the flesh'. But heading up to the top with my nine-year-old son Ripley, I'm amazed at just how much more there is to it than the snapshooter's favourite, the Parthenon – an open-air theatre here, a sanctuary there, and between them a stoa or two.
"Even in the midst of all these historical wonders, as we stand on the top of the Acropolis we can’t help but be distracted by the views across Athens itself, its narrow streets punctuated by other intriguing ruins that we identify on our map."
And that's just on the rocky pathway snaking to the top. On the upper plateau itself, there are a host of other ancient buildings to ogle. Yet perhaps what really makes it so awesome, for both of us, is that the Acropolis is still very much a living site, thronged with workmen, scaffolded to the hilt, dotted with diggers. The ongoing restoration makes the site feel part of the city around it, not a bunch of dead monuments perched on a rock.
It's best to do as we did and head into the New Acropolis Museum before you hit the hill itself. Do the museum upside down, too – scoot up to the top floor and watch the video presentation detailing the history of the site before you look round the rest of it, especially if you’re visiting with kids. Ripley's imagination is definitely fired by this visual reconstruction of how the site came to be and then how it was destroyed by fire and by a variety of looters, including Lord Elgin. Weeks later he’s still telling the story with gusto.
Again, the New Acropolis Museum isn't just about the past – you can watch history in the making by means of cameras that let you in on restoration work being carried out behind protective screens. And the award-winning contemporary building itself provides a stunning modern envelope for an incredible collection of treasures from the Acropolis. Light-flooded and spacious, its real USP is the strengthened glass floors that let you walk over yet more restoration work-in-progress.
Watching the video makes the museum exhibits and the Acropolis itself all the more real for both Ripley and me. But even in the midst of all these historical wonders, as we stand on the top of the Acropolis we can’t help but be distracted by the views across Athens itself, its narrow streets punctuated by other intriguing ruins that we identify on our map. We also seek out our hotel, the plush but kid-friendly Grande Bretagne in its plum spot on Athen’s main Syntagma Square, complete with gilded balconies.
That evening, after a refreshing dip in the hotel pool, we sit in its rooftop restaurant and bar and look over at the Acropolis, now all lit up, and we agree that Athens has far exceeded our expectations. It’s a good feeling.
Read more about family holidays in Greece, including things to do and places to stay and eat with kids.