A world-class city, Athens is crammed with attractions and entertainment that can fill weeks of any visitor’s time. But a number of other outstanding destinations are located within easy reach – whether you travel by boat, public transport or with your own wheels. From ancient ruins to island beaches, these day trips from Athens are well worth considering.
The quickest way to a Greek island from Athens: Aegina
A trip to Aegina is the quickest way to find yourself on an island if you’re staying in Athens. The Saronic Gulf island boasts a perfect combination of important ancient ruins, attractive sandy beaches, charming neoclassical architecture and local delicacies like the internationally-renowned local pistachio variety. Outside the picturesque Aegina Town, the Temple of Aphaia, which is among the country’s top ancient sites, and the villages of Agia Marina and Perdika are also worth a visit. The huge Orthodox church of Agios Nektarios is a popular pilgrimage destination among both Greek and foreign visitors. Avoid the summer weekends if you can, as the island gets packed with Athenians escaping the city heat.
How to get to Aegina: Take the ferry (one hour 15 minutes) or the hydrofoil (40 minutes) from the harbor of Piraeus. There’s no need to book in advance as departures are frequent.
Walk in the footsteps of ancients in Corinthia
Within the modern village of Corinthia loom the extensive yet compact ruins of this ancient (mostly Roman) city. Home to legendary Jason of the Argonauts, stealer of the Golden Fleece, the streets of Ancient Corinth were once trodden by the likes of Pausanias, Roman traveler, and St Paul, who taught the gospel of Christ here. Follow in their footsteps by visiting the Temple of Apollo, the Peribolos of Apollo, the ancient theater and other highlights. The excellent on-site museum puts everything into context.
How to get to Ancient Corinth: Intercity buses depart hourly from Athens Kifissos station, arriving at the Korinthos bus station in Corinth City, taking about one hour. From here, buses depart to Ancient Corinth (20 minutes).
Visit the picturesque former capital, Nafplio
Nafplio, the first capital of modern Greece, is one of the prettiest towns in the country, with splendid Venetian and neoclassical architecture and fortresses like the hilltop Palamidi (a famous 999-step climb) or Bourtzi (a small fortified islet in the harbor). Plenty of elegant boutique hotels, tasteful shops and small restaurants hidden in narrow alleys make Nafplio a hugely popular destination for a day hop or a longer stay.
Further south is the posh resort of Porto Heli, where Greek and international jetsetters own luxurious villas and mansions. The region also has some agreeable sandy beaches and numerous local wineries, many open to the public.
How to get to Nafplio: Take the intercity bus from Athens Kifissos station to Nafplio. Total travel time is about two hours and 10 minutes.
Hit the hiking trails of Mt Parnitha National Park
Mt Parnitha, about 25km north of Athens, comprises a number of smaller peaks, the highest of which is Karavola (4636ft/1413m), tall enough to get snow in winter. The forest was badly burned in 2007 but has rebounded well. There are many caves and much wildlife, including red deer. The park is criss-crossed by hiking trails, with two large, full-featured hiking lodges. It's popular for mountain biking as well.
The easiest way to explore is on the path (about a 45-minute walk) through Tatoi, the 15-sq-mile grounds (40 sq kms) of the former summer palace (closed); follow Tatoi Rd out of Varibobi and look for a small trail sign on the right. For other common trails, see "Activities" on the park website, or contact EOS in Athens for current advice (the site is not well maintained).
How to get to Mt Parnitha National Park: Take the Metro's Green line north to Nea Ionia, then take bus 724 to Thrakomakedónes. You can also continue on bus 724 to the Parnitha Funitel, which takes visitors to the top of the mountain. Total trip time is about one hour one-way.
Soak up the mythology at Delphi
Myths, history and spectacular mountains meet at Delphi – just as in Greek mythology the two eagles released by Zeus met there, determining the Navel (or center) of the World. The Sanctuary of Apollo, built in the seventh century BCE, was a revered ancient oracle and home to Pythia, the priestess who mumbled her notoriously ambiguous answers on important or everyday matters to visitors from every walk of life. A stadium high on the hill, an ancient theater and Tholos (a circular temple, probably the most photographed landmark of the site) together with a small but significant museum, keep attracting the modern-day crowds. The idyllic clifftop village on the slopes of Mt Parnassos, overlooking the endless olive groves that surround the sanctuary, is buzzing with taverns and souvenir shops catering to day trippers.
How to get to Delphi: Take the KTEL intercity bus from Athens Liosion station to Delphi. Travel time is around three hours.
Imagine the sound of Homer at the World Heritage-listed Mycenae
On a hilltop backed by powerful mountains stand the sombre and mighty ruins of Ancient Mycenae, home of the legendary Agamemnon. For four centuries in the second millennium BC, this kingdom was the most powerful in Greece, holding sway over the Argolid and influencing other Mycenaean cities.
World Heritage–listed Mycenae is synonymous with the names Homer and Schliemann. In the ninth century BCE Homer told in his epic poems, "Iliad" and "Odyssey," of "well-built Mycenae, rich in gold." These poems were, until the 19th century, regarded as no more than gripping and beautiful legends. But in the 1870s the amateur archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann (1822–90), despite derision from professionals, struck gold, first at Troy then at Mycenae.
Before exploring the archaeological site, head into the Ancient Mycenae Museum for context.
How to get to Ancient Mycenae: Daily KTEL intercity buses depart from Athens to Fichti, the nearest town to Ancient Mycenae, on the Nafplio route. Total trip time is around one hour and 45 minutes.
Wander the car-free island of Hydra
Gorgeous Hydra is a rocky island with a rich history and spectacular, well-preserved stone mansions that once belonged to great naval families and captains of the Greek Revolution. The town is built on the hillside around a stunning harbor; it has a tranquil allure like no other Greek island as it’s completely car-free. Numerous small museums, art galleries and boutique hotels, together with the ever-present yachts docked in the harbor, contribute to its classy aura and more than make up for the lack of beaches.
How to get to Hydra: Hydrofoils from the harbor of Piraeus take from one hour 40 minutes to two hours. Buy tickets online.
Escape to the seaside restaurants of Halkida
Built on the channel that separates the island of Evia from the mainland, and famous for the six-hourly change in the direction of the water’s flow, Halkida can’t claim the title of tourist magnet by any means. Nevertheless, it’s a pleasant seaside town worth visiting if only for a relaxing break from a hectic city-sightseeing itinerary and for a taste of Greek small-town life. There are also plenty of good, clean beaches nearby, as well as countless seaside restaurants where you’ll enjoy extremely fresh seafood, with far more variety than you’ll see in Athens.
How to get to Halkida: Halkida is an hour’s drive from Athens via the main motorway to Thessaloniki. It’s also accessible by intercity bus from Athens terminal station or by train from Athens central station.
Watch the sunset at Cape Sounion
You can easily spend a whole day at either of these close-by destinations but if your schedule is tight, they both make perfect half-day trips. Cape Sounion, at the southernmost tip of Attica, is where the splendid Temple of Poseidon is located – this is one of the best spots around Athens to savor a gorgeous sunset. It can be combined with lunch or dinner at one of the many fish taverns in the nearby working-class town of Lavrio.
Northeast of Athens, Marathon is the site of one of the greatest battles in history and the place where the modern Athens Marathon commences, following the steps of Pheidippides, the legendary ancient courier who first ran the glorious route. The archaeological museum, the tomb of Athenians fallen in the battle, and the lake with its dam are the main attractions of the area.
How to get to Cape Sounion: Both places are accessible by intercity bus (KTEL) from Pedion Areos terminal station.