4 must-visit towns near Athens


By Rebecca Hall


When I first came to Greece, I instantly fell in love with the chaos and beauty of Athens and found myself dropping anchor. But while the country’s capital has many ancient and modern sights to explore, there’s so much on offer further afield if you’re prepared to invest a little more time. Athens is the perfect base with no shortage of incredible side trips within a few hours’ drive or a ferry ride away.

From traditional island getaways and ancient monasteries resting precariously atop rocks to the Navel of the World in Delphi, escape Athens’ crowds with these day trips that’ll leave you desperate to extend your trip.



For 2,500-year-old ruins and chill beaches

Aegina is a small island about a 40-minute ferry ride from Piraeus, Athens’ port. (Ferries leave from Piraeus every hour on the half hour, usually from about 6:30 am.) It’s not a large island, so you can see the ancient sites, relax on the scattered beaches, stroll along the harbor and take a leisurely lunch, or combine it all into a single day trip.

You’ll disembark at Aegina Waterfront, where you can window shop at the Sea You Concept Store before stopping for a seafood or vegetarian lunch at Dromaki’s cute waterfront tables. Nearby is Avra Beach, a great option if you’re short on time as it’s a five-minute walk from the port, and you can spot your return ferry approaching from the distance, giving you plenty of time to gather your things.

If you’d rather explore, there are plenty of ancient sights to quench your thirst. My favorite is the Agios Nektarios Monastery, a huge Byzantine monument built in 1904 with two small chapels inside and its founder, Bishop Nekatrios, buried under a tree outside. Today, 14 nuns live on-site. The Temple of Aphaia—dedicated to the goddess Athena in the sixth century BC—is a 10-minute drive from the monastery, atop a pine clad hill with views across the island to the Aegean Sea.

When it comes to getting around, you can either rent a car at the port for the day (just know most options are manual) or negotiate pick-up and drop-off with a taxi driver. Note: It’s also possible to visit Aegina as part of a one-day, three-island cruise that offers a buffet lunch and live Greek music aboard, along with visits to nearby Poros and Hydra, if you want to maximize your island visits.

Tip: Aegina is best visited in the spring or the fall when the waters are still warm. You can try your luck during the summer but the island is popular and you’ll run into crowds, while winter ferry services are scant between November and March.

Where to stay: For something small and traditional with a relaxing shady garden that’s a stone’s throw from the harbor, Rastoni Hotel is your spot. For beachside, try the Irides Hotel on the north side of Aegina, which also has a swimming pool.



For Greek myths and ancient theaters

Greece is awash with ancient sites, none more popular than the oracle of Delphi, an archaeological site nestled on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, about a two-hour drive north of Athens. Delphi is considered the ‘Navel of the Universe’ because, according to Greek mythology, Apollo slayed the great serpent Python so that he could establish his oracular temple here. An omphalos—a symbolic stone artifact considered to be the central point from which all life originated (a.k.a. the “navel”)—marks the spot near the Temple of Apollo. The beautiful mountain scenery and fir forests, plus the fact it’s near to the Parnassus ski resort in nearby Arachova, makes it a popular trip for lovers of nature as well as ancient history.

Don’t miss: Beyond the temple, be sure to visit the fifth-century ruins of the Ancient Stadium, where the Pythian and Panhellenic Games were held every four years at the site’s highest point; and the Ancient Theatre, an amphitheater built into the limestone that could seat 5000 people along 35 rows. It has gorgeous views of the entire Delphi site and surrounding mountain countryside, and still hosts plays and cultural events in the summer.



For historic monasteries and breathtaking photo ops

Those in the know about this unique region of central Greece will tell you that visiting Meteora is like stepping into an alternate universe. Here, pinnacles of sandstone rocks, formed some 60 million years ago when the area was covered by the sea, tower nearly 1,000 feet into the sky. During the Byzantine era, Eastern Orthodox monks were so inspired by the beautiful natural phenomenon that they constructed their monasteries atop the stone towers to bring them closer to God. In total, 24 monasteries were built between the 13th and 14th centuries and six remain standing today with monks and/or nuns living there.

Day trips to Meteora from Athens are offered by train and bus, and feature multilingual audio guides. You can also take a guided day tour from Athens in an air-conditioned van that visits three monasteries and hidden hermit caves. But, since Meteora is a four-hour journey each way, I highly recommend you make this an overnight trip to make the most of your visit.

Tip: Be mindful of your dress. At Agios Stefanos, no shorts are allowed, regardless of gender, and women must wear a long skirt, even if they are already wearing trousers. Don’t worry if you forget the dress code—wrap-around skirts are provided at the monastery’s entrance.

Where to stay: Base yourself in the town of Kalambaka, a 10-minute drive from the monasteries, where you’ll find cute lodgings like the Guesthouse Papastathis with unobstructed views of the rocks from their courtyard. Hotel Kastraki is another option with rooms, suites, and a lovely open fireplace to relax near after a busy day.



For a visit to Greece’s original capital

Of all the day trips from Athens, Nafplio—a small coastal city in the Peloponnese peninsula—is one of my favorites. Nestled against a backdrop of mountains and the Argolic Gulf, just a two-hour drive from Athens, it’s a breathtaking destination. It also served as the capital of the newly formed Greek state for six years, after the War of Independence in the early 19th century.

For some of the best views of the city, trek over 800 steps to the 19th-century Palamidi Castle, used as a prison during the Ottoman Occupation. Better still, take a taxi up then walk down. A short boat ride from Nafplio’s harbor brings you to the Venetian castle of Bourtzi, a small fortress set on an island just off shore where the Palamidi Castle executioner resided. (Boats leave approx. every 30 minutes.) Once you’re back at Nafplio’s center, Akronafplia Castle is just a five-minute walk away. Built into a rocky peninsula, it’s the oldest castle in the town, with lower sections dating back to the Bronze Age, and also housed Greek political prisoners for around 20 years.

Don’t miss: Nafplio’s lovely paved seaside promenade leads to Arvanitia beach, which has gorgeous views of the Palamidi and Akronafplia castles and the island of Bourtzi. Relax on the sand or the provided sun beds and have a coffee at one of the many surrounding coffee shops, you can’t go wrong.

Where to stay: It’s worth staying overnight to not feel rushed. Some of the best hotels are located in the historic Old Town with its cobbled, bougainvillea-clad streets and boutique shops. Most offer sea views such as 3Sixty Hotel and Suites and family-run Pension Marianna.


Πηγή: TripAdvisor


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