If you’re really going to get the most out of your Greek experience, you need to spend a few days in Athens. Well, you don’t HAVE to spend time in Athens, but one of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking they can do Athens in just a day or two. If you’re really pressed for time, you can get away with seeing the Acropolis and Syntagma Square and all that good stuff and not doing much else, but then, did you reeeally see Athens? It’s such a big, old place that you’re almost doing it (and definitely yourself) a disservice by not settling in and seeing some of the stuff that really gives Athens its character.
We have a whole page here full of guided tours and trips through Athens and the surrounding area, but if there’s something interesting we don’t have listed, ask us about it anyway! Some of the coolest things are the ones that take you just a little bit outside the zone of what you might already know. The Benaki, for example, is one of the coolest museums in all of Europe; it’s inside a huge, white neoclassical mansion smack in the middle of downtown Athens, right next to the National Gardens, and it’s something you just won’t have time for if you limit yourself to the sights and sounds of the Acropolis.
The Benaki Museum was the brainchild of Antonis Benakis, an art collector whose father had been a Member of Parliament and Mayor of Athens in the early 20th century. In 1931, he donated the family mansion and his considerable art collection to the public, and since then the Benaki Museum has become one of the standard-bearers of Greek art and culture throughout the past few hundreds and thousands of years. It’s worth noting that the main Benaki (there are actually five different branches of the museum spread out across the Athens area, each housing different parts of their collection so that the Museum in the mansion can focus specifically on Greek history and culture) looks at itself a little differently than your average museum.
It’s not just a place where you display a bunch of old objects with placards telling you why they’re important, in some kind of categorical or chronological order. They try to escape from the idea that history, particularly art history, can be neatly defined and categorized. They don’t like, for example, the idea of arbitrarily saying “the Byzantine period was from 750 to 1250.” What’s far more interesting is using the items on display themselves to show the evolution of Greek culture from ancient times all the way to now, in a way that makes the progression of style and substance obvious to a visitor, so that you can really get yourself immersed in the depth of this history. It’s immersive because you really get the full breadth of what this culture was, how it was used and how it grew, from the ancient masks to Byzantine statues to Renaissance-era costumes. So stop by—you just might learn something!