With the warmer temperatures finally holding steady in Chicago, this is an ideal time for my family to explore even more of the amazing neighborhoods that dot the city's vibrant landscape. By choosing one new neighborhood at a time, we can set our sights on experiencing new cultures, foods, sights and more - in just one afternoon. And, that's just what we did the other weekend when we set out to explore Chicago's Greektown on a sunny Saturday.
The heart of Chicago's Greektown spans about four blocks - up and down a bustling stretch of Halsted Street. It runs from about Madison St. to the north and Van Buren St. to south - just a block or so from the 290 Eisenhower expressway. From its perch just west of the 294 expressway, you feel visibly connected to the crossroads and the very heart of the city. No matter where you go, you can see the formidable Willis Tower to the east and the other skyscrapers that stand in attention along its base.
Here are our top suggestions for where to eat, get a treat, shop, visit and play in Chicago's Greektown neighborhood:
1) Eat: Athena Greek Restaurant, 212 S. Halsted St.
I can honestly say that you can't go wrong with dining any Greek restaurant in Greektown. When my family "traveled" to Greece, during Navy Pier's Neighborhoods of the World, we got to sample Greek delicacies from tons of Greektown restaurants. Needless to say, we left happy and full! And, we pledged to dine in Greektown soon.
On a recent visit to Greektown, we decided to dine at Athena Green Restaurant. It was a bright, sunny afternoon, and we couldn't resist their amazing outdoor patio. We stared our culinary journey with hummus and taramosalata, a pink-hued dip made of fish roe and potatoes, which is a particular favorite of my younger son. We then split a mix of their seafood, swordfish and vegetable kabobs. Our waiter was very helpful in guiding us in how much to order for our family - and helped advise on a house white wine to enjoy with everything (adults only of course!).
2) Get a Treat: Artopolis, 306 S. Halsted St. and Pan Hellenic Pastry Shop, 322 S. Halsted St.
When we were at Navy Pier's Neighorhoods of the World, we also sampled Melomakaron, sweet cookies made of honey and topped with sesame seeds - and we were hooked. So, of course, after our lunch at Athena, we had to walk to Artopolis to get another helping.
Artopolis is an amazing Greek bakery and cafe just down the street from Athena. You can take sweets to go or dine there. We choose to load up on Greek pastries and then enjoy them al fresco.
Just down the street from Artopolis, you can find more Greek desserts at Pan Hellenic Pastry Shop. My friend, Yelena, raved about it and I was so glad to accompany her there - with our kids in tow. As Yelena assured me, the cookies were amazing and made my two sons oh so happy. They enjoyed the Amigdalota (almond paste cookies with an apricot jam filling) and Louie's Cookies (two chocolate and walnut meringue cookies with fudge in the middle). I enjoyed the Jordan almonds, which are available by the scoopful.
3) Shop: Athenian Candle Company, 300 S. Halsted St.
Whether you're on the hunt for candles or not, it's worth a trip into Athenian Candle Company. The store is packed with every kind of candle imaginable, and can make for hours of browsing - perfect for any candle enthusiast.
While I waited to cross the street and enter the store, I saw person after person enter into the candle cavern. So, of course, I had to stop in too. It's all part of the true Greektown experience.
4) Visit: National Hellenic Museum, 333 S. Halsted St.
At the southern end of Greektown lies the National Hellenic Museum. The museum, which opened in December 2011, is billed as the first and only major museum in the U.S. that is dedicated to the Greek Journey - from ancient times to the modern Greek American experience.
While there, you can explore, learn and experience Greek culture, history and art throughout the ages - up through today. Families will enjoy the special programs geared towards parents and children, which allow you to experience Greek history and culture through storytelling, videos, performances and arts and crafts.
On Saturdays, from 11:15 a.m. - 12:15 p.m., children can participate in Little Homer Story Hour. In just one hour, children can participate in interactive story-telling and craft-making - and browse the books packed onto shelves in the Children's Library and Discover Center.
5) Play: Mary Bartelme Park/115 S. Sangamon Street
Just west of Halsted, nestled between condo buildings, lies a new park that easily makes my top 10 list of the best parks in Chicago. The architecturally stunning Mary Bertelme Park features rolling hills just ripe for kids to run along and for families to stop and picnic in the setting sun.
A row of seemingly tipping square arches beckon people to come and rest along stone benches. But, for families, the star attraction is the children's play area with a unique climbing structure and plenty of nooks and crannies for kids to explore and enjoy together. It's an especially great park for families with slightly older children - like mine. And, there are even plenty of spots for parents to sit and chat together while your children run, climb, spin and explore to their heart's delight.
Traveling to Chicago's Greektown
You can head by car, bus, bike or "L" to Chicago's Greektown. We've always found there to be ample street parking - of course you have to feed the meter. And, at peak times, you always can valet park your car at one of the restaurants.
It's location on Halsted street, makes it easy to take a CTA's #8 Halsted St. bus there. It's also a short walk from the CTA Blue Line's UIC-Halsted station.
Of course, you always can head by foot or bike, which is always an ideal way to travel during summertime in Chicago.
What are your favorite places to eat, shop, visit and play in Chicago's Greektown? Please share your suggestions and stories in the comments below.
If you like this story, you also should check out my family-friendly visit guides for other Chicago ethnic neighborhoods: