Hit the road and experience amazing natural settings and historic sites, all within a couple of hours from Athens.
One of the most magical things about Athens is its disappearing act. Sure, the city has tons to offer in terms of culture, nightlife, and history, and it is no accident that it is evolving into one of the most happening city-break destinations in Europe. But sometimes one just wants to get away from that city bustle and experience more tranquil moments.
Luckily that is easier than you might think. Head out of the city in any direction by land or sea, and the city will soon vanish, replaced by a far more bucolic setting. You can spend the day recharging your batteries seemingly a million miles away from the capital, and be back in time for dinner.
Below are our top nine recommendations for quick day trips out of Athens:
One of the mountains defining the edge of the Attica basin, Parnitha is a nearby and very popular day excursion for Athenians. Some come for the well-known casino, while many others come to breathe fresh air. It is a national park, and it’s almost hard to believe that such a blissful natural reserve exists so close to the capital.
There are dozens of footpaths to follow, and a designated mountain bike trail at Aghios Merkourios. Rock climbing is also possible at “Arma”,”Katebasma Gouras”, “Flambouri”, “Megalo Armeni”, and “Korakofolia”, and you’ll find two mountain refugees at Flambouri and Bafi.
The landscape was damaged by fires in 2007, but it is still a beautiful, green mountain full of wildlife (you’ll likely see deer, foxes, and rabbits), and much of the burnt areas are gradually making a comeback thanks to major reforestation efforts. A day here will bring fresh air to your lungs, and peace to your mind. You can also visit the multiple beautiful churches and monasteries. For a suggested route complete with a map – see here.
SARONIKOS AND THE ROAD TO SOUNION
Another popular excursion is a drive along the coastal road out of Athens to the southernmost tip of Attica: the cape of Sounio, where the temple of Poseidon crowns the hill surrounded by the dreamy blue backdrop of the sea. Its location creates an isosceles triangle with the Acropolis and the site of the temple of Aphaia in Aegina island, making this an interesting place to visit not just for the iconic Doric columns; but as a lesson in early science, geometry, and astronomy.
Along the way, is the municipality of Saronikos. In the summer, Athenians head here for the beaches, which are cleaner and less busy (some of them at least) than the ones closer to the city. If you enjoy windsurfing, Anavyssos bay has some of the best conditions on offer and features a windsurfing club.
Saronikos is more than just its coast however, with a mountainous, forested interior that makes for wonderful hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. The area of Kalyvia Thorikou also has a long tradition of animal raising and is renowned for its tavernas and grill-houses (which can get very busy on weekends).
You’ve probably heard of the Corinth Canal; the project of connecting the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf that was actually attempted in antiquity, and ultimately completed after many trials and tribulations in 1893. Historic figures have visited it, Péter Besenyei has flown through it, Robbie Maddison has jumped it, and you can easily reach it on a day trip from Athens.
Aside from seeing the impressive canal (from above or even while bungee-jumping), there are several more reasons to visit Corinth. Even long before the completion of the canal, it was a key area for both trading and military purposes, and therefore one of the largest ancient cities in Greece. You can visit the ruins of the ancient city of Corinth and learn about the area’s historic significance at the Archeological Museum.
If you head up the mountains after passing the Corinth canal, you’re in for a treat. There are many enchanting places here, but for a day trip, we recommend the villages of Trikala Korinthias. Three well-known villages: Kato, Mesaia, and Ano Trikala Korinthias (Lower, Middle, and High Trikala of Corinth) are the first that you’ll reach as you head up the hills.They all feature amazing views, pretty streets lined with stone-built houses, and nice little eateries.
Since it takes a couple of hours to get here (completely worth it – some of the best views are those you’ll gasp at while still in the car), most visitors will spend their time in the villages stretching their legs, breathing the fresh air, quenching their thirst with spring water, and eating traditional food at one of the tavernas.
If you want to add some sightseeing to your day, go see the Virgin of the Rock chapel, and if you want to shop some local products, go for beans, rose petal spoon sweets, and liqueur. There are also plenty of opportunities for nature walks and bird-watching around the area’s mountain lakes. For more information click here.
ANCIENT GREEK THEATER
Following the Saronic Gulf coast of the Peloponnese after crossing the Corinth canal, on the Argolic peninsula, you’ll reach Epidaurus. Most famous for its ancient amphitheater which still hosts performances and seats up to 14.000, Epidaurus is one of those places that any lover of ancient Greece needs to visit at least once.
First constructed in the 4th century BC, the limestone theatre is famed for its legendary acoustics. One can whisper at the proscenium and still be heard by people sitting on the highest rows. Each summer, it is the stage for ancient Greek dramas during the Epidaurus festival. Once you have taken in the theater there are plenty of opportunities to relax in the beautiful surrounding countryside and nearby pretty villages.
Aegina is one of the closest islands to the port of Pireaus, with a population of about 15.000 permanent residents living in Aegina Town and the smaller villages. A relatively small island, if you bring or rent a car you can see it all in one day. It’s a great option to get that island feel in a short space of time.
Drive up to Kontos and visit the famous Aghios Nektarios church and the monastery next door. Continue to the village of Aghia Marina where you’ll find the beautifully situated and relatively well-preserved Doric temple of Aphaia. Next, turn left above Aghia Marina and go for a drive in the mountains, passing by the small village of Portes and stopping at Anitseo to eat. Alternatively go straight to the fishing village of Perdika, stroll around the small harbor and enjoy excellent fish at one of the tavernas by the sea.
If you don’t want to drive, Aegina town offers plenty of options for coffee and lunch, and small streets and alleys full of stores (plenty of jewelry and accessory stores in particular) that are open all year round. Close to the port, you’ll find the ancient site called Kolona, named for the single standing column at its center. At the small museum nearby you’ll learn about the 11 successive settlements that have existed here going back to around 3000 BC.
The second largest island in Greece is close enough for a day trip, and has enough to offer that you’ll decide right away that you need to come back. Its size and natural wealth mean that in one day you will only be able to scratch the surface; but that’s what makes it exciting.
Starting at its center, where a bridge from the mainland reaches the town of Chalkida; the island’s capital, take some time to stroll along the seaside promenade and enjoy excellent seafood at one of the local restaurants. From here you will also be able to see the unexplained phenomenon of the tide changing direction(sometimes as often as 14 times a day) from the old bridge. You can stay in Chalkida all day, exploring the Red House, the Archeological Museum, and the Karababa fortress on the mainland side, or you can hit the road and experience some of Evia’s amazing natural landscapes.
Less than an hour away from Chalkida is the village and forest of Steni, with some truly magical hiking. Further out, pine forests, old monasteries, and the Drimonas waterfall call for attention towards the northern part of the island, while the Ohi mountain range, medieval castles, the archeological treasures of Eretria, and mysterious “dragon houses” await in the south.
And that’s just a taste of what Evia has to offer.
Mainly a destination for skiers during the winter, Parnassos has one of the best ski resorts in Greece. It operates from December to May, and offers some great slopes of all difficulty levels, including 12 black runs for experienced skiers. It is perfect for a day of snowy fun away from Athens. If possible, avoid the weekends though as it can get quite crowded.
If you’re not a fan of speed or winter sports, you can still enjoy the snow and mountain views of Parnassos. Hang out at the ski center’s café, or visit the village of Arachova. Don’t be fooled by the look of this mountain settling. The traditional milieu hides more than old tavernas including high-end boutiques, gourmet restaurants, trendy cafes and bars are bursting with life in the winter.
The mountain is also home to the magnificent archaeological site of Delphi, where the legendary oracle once made her prophecies. And of course, wonderful hikes in nature abound.
A popular destination for love birds, Nafplio is one of the warmest cities in Greece, making it perfect for strolling and glove-less hand holding even during the winter months. Not to mention it’s packed with perfect backdrops for those first couple-selfies. It’s a historic city, which is obvious not just thanks to the Venetian castlethat towers above it and the Bourtzi fort on the tiny islet in the entrance to the port.
In the old town, hugged by the old castle walls and the sea, half the buildings seem to have a story you could write a book about (like the Ottoman mosque which served as the parliament building during when Nafplio served as the capital of Greece).
Aside from being an obvious treat for lovers and history buffs, Nafplio also has a lot to offer anyone with an appetite for good food. Try some oranges from the famous groves of Argolida, the local “goges” pasta, and some traditional spoon sweets.
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