Greece's oldest private museum, which underwent a facelift before the 2004 Olympics, houses extensive collections covering a variety of different cultural fields to offer a comprehensive look at Hellenic history. From antiquity to the formation of modern Greece and the many eras in between, over 40,000 historical items tell their tale.
Established in 1926 by a wealthy Athenian family and housed in a stately neoclassical home, the Benaki is a chronological collection of Greece from ancient times through the Byzantine era to the modern state. The permanent collections traverse prehistoric and ancient Greek and Roman art; Byzantine, Post-Byzantine and Neo-Hellenic art; historic heirlooms and a selection of paintings, drawings and prints. Think prehistoric pottery, examples of Roman jewellery, bed clothes from Asia Minor and even Lord Byron's pistols among the exhaustive displays. The Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika Gallery reopened last year and displays great Greek artists of the 20th century across three levels.
The Department of Childhood, Toys and Games showcases some 20,000 examples of toys, games and childhood items from around the world. Ranging from antiquity to the ‘70s, you'll see handmade traditional Greek toys to regional costume dolls. There's also a selection of art from around the world housed in various satellite locations under the banner of the Benaki Museum including examples of Coptic, Chinese, Pre-Columbian and Islamic art.
With such a wealth of art and historic artifacts to peruse in the permanent collections, not to mention current exhibitions, it's worth setting aside the time to look through the Benaki at your leisure. While the hours are sporadic, the later opening times mean greater opportunities to visit and enjoy the space. Full admission to the main building is €7 or free for people aged under 22 and on Thursdays. The new Benaki Museum wing on Pireos Street is between €4 to €6 for adults depending on the exhibitions, the Museum of Islamic Art and Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika Gallery costs adults €7 for entry while the Yannis Pappas Studio and Mentis Donation are free. To visit, take metro lines 2 or 3 to Syntagma and Evagelismos stations and walk for five minutes along Leoforos Vasileos Georgiou Street to the Benaki Museum main building.