by Anastasia Valti-Spanopoulou
The innumerable Greek tourist attractions and history are the obvious reasons people from all walks of life plan to visit Athens before they die - and we don’t blame them! - but more often than not, once they’ve been here they also find themselves falling in love with the heartwarming weather, that Greek food they just can’t get enough of, the notorious Athens nightlife we are so very proud of, and all the millions of quirky things to do in Athens, the city that never keeps quiet. And that’s about the point where visitors and locals find themselves on the same page.
But: as much as we love exploring our ever-surprising city, we know there’s just too much to see in this country to spend your holidays in Greece in just one place. And before you think you have no time or no money to consider too many places to visit in Greece, we’re here to tell you there are plenty of incredible things to without spending more than a day and only a little extra cash. So pack up and prepare for an adventure; these 9 Athens day trips will convince you that some of the best things to do in Athens are actually, well, a bit outside Athens.
#1 Cape Sounio - Breathtaking History (and Sunset)
Just an hour’s drive outside Athens, Sounio hosts the ancient temple of Poseidon, still standing tall on a hill up against the Aegean Sea. We promise you that watching the sunset here is not only one of the most unique things to do during your vacation in Greece, but also a once in a lifetime travel experience. Of course, you can also take a dive in the sea, and have some fish food in one of the local restaurants nearby before you head back to Athens.
Tip: Another reason why the temple is one of the most interesting landmarks in Greece, is that it bears the engraved name of Lord Byron. Nobody knows if he engraved it himself, but we do know it’s been there since the early 1800s!
How to Get There: Bus (1hr30), Car (1hr15)
#2 Delphi - The Centre of the Ancient Greek World
Almost all trips to Greece flirt with the idea of visiting this monumental - to say the least - place. In the small town of Delphi, surrounded by tall mountains, used to stand the most prestigious oracle of Ancient Greece. Today, one can still see the surprisingly well-preserved sanctuaries gifted to Apollo by various Greek cities, as well as the ancient theater and stadium. The adjacent museum hosts some of the most incredible artefacts of antiquity you’ll ever lay eyes upon.
Tip: As there really is A LOT to see in and around Delphi, we suggest you pay a visit with the pros, either by joining the Visions of Ancient Delphi tour which will take you to the site and other interesting nearby destinations; or (for adventure lovers) by joining the Hiking at Ancient Delphi trekking tour, which combines history with nature to give you a truly unique experience of this awe-inspiring place.
How to Get There: With your guides (door-to-door), Car (2hr10) or Bus (3hrs)
#3 Thermopylae - Where the Spartans, Persians and Hercules Meet
Ever heard of the battle between the Spartan and the Persian forces? Ancient Greek history buffs must have heard of the route crossed by the troop of Persian Xerxes, guided by Ephialtes, in order to seize the back of the Greek forces in 480BC. Well, that route is in the mountainous Thermopylae, an excellent choice for those of you looking for fun things to do outdoors and an off-the-beaten-path travel experience blending Ancient Greek history and Greek mythology (as mythology wants Hercules to have washed in the area’s hot springs after his toils to regain energy!).
Tip: Although the scenery is beautiful, there is not much to help a layperson imagine all the tremendous historical events that unfolded here so, to make the most of it, we highly recommend a guided tour, such as the Hiking Day Trip Through the Historic Thermopylae (during which you can also bathe in the hot springs, Hercules-style!)
How to Get There: Car/taxi or with your guide (about 2.5hrs door-to-door), or Bus (to Lamia)/Train (to Lilaia) and then car/taxi to Thermopylae (3hr50 and 2hr30 respectively).
#4 Evia - Green Meets Blue and the 'Greek Maldives'
As much as we insist that this country offers all kinds of tourism, we can’t deny that some of the most incredible holiday destinations in Greece are surrounded by water. However, not all Greek island vacations are the same. Evia, situated in central Greece, close to the prefecture of Attica, is definitely an island that breaks away from the usual or the expected, thanks to its massive size, vast green spaces, thermal sources (in Aidipsos (Edipsos) - which also means spas!), and ancient cities that complement the island’s incredible beaches. What else can you ask for from your Greek islands holiday?
Tip: If you have an extra day to spare and like the idea of combining green with blue, you are gonna love this Hiking and Sea Kayak Adventure tour that takes you from Athens to Mount Parnassos, to Delphi, and all the way to Lihadonisia - a small island complex often referred to as 'The Maldives of Evia'.
How to Get There: Car from AIA (50mins), Bus from Athens (1h40), Train to Chalkida and then car/taxi, or by Ferry from Arkitsa Port (45mins), Agia Marina (30mins), Oropos (25mins) or Rafina (45mins) to different parts of Evia.
#5 Saronic Gulf Islands - Express Greek Island Hopping
There’s no doubt that one of the most fun things to do in Greece is choose a handful of the milliards of Greek islands connected to Athens' port, Piraeus, and travel around between them by ferry, or hop on a Greek island cruise and get to explore more of that beautiful seaside in less time. In fact, we even put together a Greek island hopping guide to help you out with that. If you’re super short on time though, our advice is pretty straight-forward: go for the Saronic Gulf islands, such as Aegina, Spetes and Hydra. They’re really close to Athens, and small enough to see in one day. Hydra and Spetses are known for their artistic, picturesque character, while in Aegina there are also several antiquity temples and ruins to explore, not to mention the exotic Moni island (which we brought up in our guide to Taking The Heat of Athens Like a Pro) whose inhabitants are deers and peacocks!
Tip: Since you can't get a 4-wheeled ride in Spetses and Hydra, remember to ride a cart or a donkey for an authentic Greek experience! For the artist inside you, join a (door-to-door) getaway from Athens AND sharpen your skills in photography with a unique one day photography workshop in Hydra.
How to Get There: Ferry/Catamaran from Piraeus Port (about 1 hour). For schedules and tickets check these websites: TravelPlanet24, PameDiakopes.gr and Viva.gr
Got more time to explore Greece?
These are the best adventure tours and experiences from Athens:
#6 Nafplio - Greek Capital of Romance
Nafplio is one of the most popular day trips from Athens, not only because the architecture and local attractions tell the story of Greece from the Middle Ages to modern day, but also because of its super romantic character. With its picturesque little streets, ancient forts, traditional taverns, atmospheric bars, and view to the sea, the country's first capital is a definite must see during your holidays to Greece.
Tip: As you’ve probably figured already, Nafplio is a wonderful romantic getaway for traveling couples (who will also find inspiration in our guide to romantic Athens). The most romantic and unique thing to do while you're there is the 'Akronafplia' round walk, gazing over the Argolic gulf, passing from the 'banieres' (aka the facilities of the local nautical club) and all the way to the Arvanitia square.
How to Get There: Bus (2hr10), Car (1hr45)
#7 Mycenae - Kingdom of the Past
Mycenae was home to one of the most significant pre-hestoric Greek civilisations, the Mycenaeans, who were also a huge military force and occupied a big part of Greece for a while (you might remember this from Homer). Several impressive aspects of the kingdom survive still, including the city walls - so large that a myth claimed they were built by Cyclops, the lion gate - signature of Mycenaean power, and the Treasury of Atreus - a vaulted royal tomb. Naturally, there is a museum displaying many relevant findings (especially from the royal tombs), such as the gold death masks of Mycenaean kings.
Tip: If you’re spending your family holidays in Greece, keep in mind that the whole kingdom storytelling behind your visit to Mycenae will keep your little ones interested. And, by the way, if you are looking for more exciting things to do in Greece with kids, our Athens family guide may be of help!
How to Get There: Bus to Fichti Station (1hr30), Car (1hr30)
#8 Epidaurus - Not Your Average Theater
One of the most famous historic sites to visit in Greece, Epidaurus (or Epidavros) used to host a healing sanctuary established by Asclepius, the remains of which you can still see today. As expected, there is also a small museum there exhibiting the findings of the area. More importantly though, you have to visit Epidaurus for its ancient theater, whose acoustics and architecture manage to impress even in modern day. In fact, it is so great that plays are still held here, especially during the yearly Epidaurus Festival.
Tip: Close by, there is a pretty nice beach, as well as the ancient Epidaurus village, where you can grab a bite of food by the seaside.
How to Get There: Bus (2hrs), Car (2hrs)
#9 Ancient Corinth - A Little Bit of Everything
Corinth used to be one of the most powerful and culturally important cities of ancient Greece, thriving both in the military and artistic field. You can imagine there are several interesting things to see from that time, most notably the temple of Apollo from the 6th century, and the ancient Agora. Ancient Corinth is also an attraction today because St. Paul lived and preached there for quite a while, but also because on your way there you will pass by the famous Corinth Canal, where the Aegean meets the Ionian sea.
Tip: If you travel to Greece in the summer, and would like an extra shot of adventure in your vacay, keep in mind that many locals choose the Corinth Canal as their first bungee jumping spot!
How to Get There: Car and Bus (1hr), Suburban Railway from Plakentias Stations to Corinth (1hr15)
P.S. All opinions and suggestions mentioned in this post are 100% personal, from the heart, and not meant for promotional purposes of any kind.
Here’s a map of Greece to help you plan your day trip from athens
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