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Matt's Greece Suggestions

Day Trips from Athens

Got some extra time in Athens? Seen the Acropolis? Walked through the Plaka? These destinations can be reached in one to three hours from the center of Athens. You can leave early and be back in time for dinner. Or you can do one of the tours and be picked up and dropped off at your hotel.

Nafplion and the Argolis

Nafplion HarborThe Argolis is probably the richest historical and archaeological area in Greece and though most people do it as an overnight so they can stay in Nafplion, Greece's first capital and one of the most beautiful towns in the world, it can still be done as a day trip. If you were doing it on your own or with George the Famous Taxi Driver you would leave early and stop first at the Corinth Canal. The old road has a bridge that you can walk over and enjoy the view. Then a quick stop at Ancient Corinth, another to enjoy the view at Acrocorinth, and then drive to Myceneae to see the ancient city. Go to Nafplion for lunch and drive up to the fortress and maybe go for a quick swim in Tolo to recharge before going to see the famous theatre of Epidavros. Stop at Palea Epidavros and see the small theater a farmer dug up in his backyard and then drive back to Athens, stopping at the ruins of Ancient Isthmia or the cafe at the entrance to the Corinth Canal and see the amazing bridge that goes underwater to let ships pass. An hour later you are back in Athens. This is pretty much what I did with George and wrote about it in my article Trip to the Argolis with George. You can also do something close to this with Fantasy Travel's One Day Tour to Myceneae and Epidavros. Personally I would do Nafplion and the Argolis as an overnight and include the Archaeological site and wineries of Nemea too. Better make that 2 nights! See my Guide to Nafplion and the Argolis for more information and lots of photos.

Corinth

Corinth Canal, GreeceYou could also do the Half Day Tour of Ancient Corinth which people do because they want to see where Saint Paul preached. But then you miss Nafplion, Myceneae and Epidavros. So if you were to do it on your own or with George you would stop at the Corinth Canal, a marvel of ancient and modern engineering, visit the archaeological site, climb around in the fortress of Acrocorinth, go visit the ruins and museum of Ancient Isthmia and somewhere in the course of events have lunch by the sea and maybe a swim in the Corinthian Gulf before heading back to Athens. On the way back to Athens you could stop in Elefsina which is to Greece as Linden, New Jersey is to America: A toxic wasteland of refineries and factories. But smack in the middle of it is the Ancient Archaeological site of Eleusis which is one of the most sacred places in the ancient world. The only problem with doing this day-trip on your own is that the bus system makes it almost impossible to see all these places in a day and the cost to rent a car for the day is expensive. So you might as well to the Argolis with George and make a day of it.

Delphi

Delphi, GreeceIf there is an essential place to visit on the Greek mainland then Delphi is it. Delphi was the most sacred place in the ancient world and thousands visited here, from kings and philosophers to common people to hear the prophesies of the Oracle and to watch and compete in the ancient games held here, similar to the Olympics. The archaeological site is one of the best on Greece with ancient temples and shrines placed dramatically on the side of one of Greece's largest mountains, close to the ski center which makes Delphi one of the best places to visit year round. It is a two and a half hour drive from Athens so it can be done in a way wither with George the Famous Taxi Driver, a rental car, or Fantasy Travel's One Day Delphi Trip. You could even do this by public bus though getting to and from the KTEL Bus Station from downtown Athens will make many people wish they had spent the extra euros to do the tour since it comes with a tour guide, free lunch and they pick you up and drop you off at your hotel. Fantasy also has a Two Day trip to Delphi but if it was me I would rather do their Two Days in Delphi-Meteora. Whatever you decide, see my Delphi Guide for more information and photos.

Meteora

Meteora, GreeceLet me start off by saying you can't visit Meteora for the day from Athens. It is too far. The trip is about 5 hours so it requires an overnight stay. Many people ask me about doing this as a day trip which is why I even mention it here. But if you have two days to spare this is one of the most impressive places you will ever visit, right up there with Santorini. Meteora is a flat plain where God in his great wisdom placed these giant rocks where monks could climb to the top to escape the world. These monks built impressive monasteries, some which could only be reached by ropes and pulleys, built and supplied by hauling material up in baskets. Now you can drive to pretty much all of them and it is one of the top tourist destinations in Greece. Doing a Delphi-Meteora trip is one of the most popular journeys with George the Famous Taxi Driver or Fantasy Travel's Two Days in Delphi-Meteora. Some people struggle with buses and trains but that can often take an entire day to get there. Renting a car is a good option but then you may as well take several days and see some other places too. See my Meteora Guide for more information and photos.

Nemea

Ancient Nemea, GreeceUnfortunately none of the travel agencies offer a trip to Nemea. I think they should but what do I know? My reasons are simple. First of all Ancient Nemea is one of the best organized and impressive archaeological sites in Greece with a museum, the ancient Temple of Zeus, and a stadium, all restored by archaeologist Stephen Miller and his teams from the University of California at Berkeley. The second reason is because here is where they held the Ancient Nemean Games, similar to the games held in Olympia, and they now hold the modern Nemean game in the same simple spirit as the ancient Olympian games and not the commercial and corrupt blasphemy it has become.The third reason is that Nemea is one of the most important wine regions of Greece and you can tour the wine roads and visit the wineries and taste, and in some cases be fed as well. For this reason I suggest that until the travel agencies introduce a Nemea Archaeology and Wine Tour, that you use George the Famous Taxi Driver so he can get you there and back safely. I would recommend lunch and a swim in one of the small towns on the Corinthian Gulf and if you are renting a car I suggest staying there if you don't have a designated driver to get you back to Athens. See my Guide to Nemea for photos and more information.

The Temple of Posideon at Cape Sounion

Sounion, Temple of PoseidonThe temple at Cape Sounion was the first and last sign of 'civilization' Athenian sailors would see to and from their journeys. It's a magnificent site on top of a hill on the tip of the Attika peninsula. Not a bad place to watch the sunset either after a late lunch at a beach side taverna and there are two pretty good ones right below the temple. The small beach has sea almost as clean as you will find on the islands. Its one of the better beaches within striking distance of Athens. It is split into 2 sections and one appears to be a private beach owned by the Hotel Aegeon Beach. But guess what. You can't own the beach in Greece so don't feel you have to sit in the little stretch of sand outside the hotel boundary. If you are coming here on a day trip with three or more use George's taxi. Otherwise you can catch the KTEL bus at Pedion Areos Park or at Syntagma Square by the Post Office or firther up on Fileninon Street. Most Travel Agencies offer a Half-Day trip to Cape Sounion at sunset for a pretty reasonable price. See also my pages on Sounion.

Evia

Kimi, EviaThis is a great day trip any time of the year and the island of Evia is so big that you could do a dozen day-trips there and still not see it all. You have a lot of options for getting there since there is a ferry from Rafina to Marmari in southern Evia which takes a little more than an hour, a ferry from Agia Marina near Marathon which takes about half an hour, a ferry from Oropos to the town and ancient city of Eretria which takes about 15 minutes, or you can drive to Halkida and cross on one of two bridges. The nicest beaches are to the north which you get to by driving over mountains and through forests though there are closer beaches near Kimi and on the Aegean coast. The village of Steni on the slopes of Mount Dirfys is famous for its grilled provatina (mutton) and paidaikia (lamb chops) and the perfect place for a Sunday afternoon of eating and drinking with friends. You will need a rental car or you may want to use George the Famous Taxi Driver if you plan to do some drinking. Evia is pretty close to the authentic Greek dining experience with not only psistarias (grill houses) but lots of fish restaurants and ouzeries and it also has the most famous healing springs at Edipsos which is reachable in a day if you drive up the National Road and take the ferry from Arkitsa. You can take the scenic island road back after you have been rejuvenated. There is a lot to see and do on Evia so Visit My Evia Guide before you go.

Porto Germanos

Porto Germanos, GreecePorto Germanos is the best place to swim in Attika. The sea is postcard blue in color and the beach and town sit at the end of a large bay that faces west, with pine covered mountains on three sides. There is a modern looking town with houses and small apartment buildings, like condos, but the impression, at least in early May, is of a small coastal village somewhere more remote than Attika. If you have a free day and want to swim in the kind of sea you usually find in the Sporades, its worth the trip. But the most amazing part of Porto Germanos is the fortress and ruins of ancient Egosthena. The 4th Century BC fortress itself is one of the most impressive in Greece from that period with many of the walls and the towers still intact. There is a small church and the remains of a monastery within the fortress and inside the church are frescoes, the latest being from the 1830's, but they are replacing paintings that were damaged and much older, some of which can still be seen though they have been darkened by centuries of candles and oil lamps. To get here you need to drive to Elefsina and take the road to Thebes and follow the signs. This is a good daytrip to do with George the Famous Taxi Driver.

Lavrion

Ancient Theater in LavrionLavrion which is the closest town to Sounion, has a lively waterfront and town center full of restaurants, ouzeries, cafe-bars and a very nice fish market. In fact you should stop and see the Lavrion mineral museum as well as the ancient site of Lavrion which has one of the best ancient ampitheaters. If it were not for the silver mines of Lavrion the ancient Greeks would not have defeated the Persians in the battle of Salamis since that was how they were able to build their fleet. Lavrion is the gateway to the island of Kea, another nice place for a day trip and you can also get ferries to the Cyclades and the North Aegean Islands. They have spent a fortune upgrading the port and in the future there will be a train here since it saves two hours ferry travel to the islands. Lavrion is one of the up and coming towns and the coast around it is dotted with small coves and beaches. See my Lavrion pages

Rafina


Rafina ferry boatOne of my favorite places is Rafina on the other side of Mount Pendeli and Himitos. It's like driving to an island. Every year I visit Athens, whether it is summer or winter, I make a point to spend one afternoon in Rafina. If I can't get my family or friends to come I go alone. But it's almost like a pilgrimage for me. There are numerous restaurants that specialize in fried squid (kalamarakia), small fried fish(mareedes), shark with garlic sauce (galeos me skordaya) and other things from the sea. The most popular one is Agoni Grammi, the last one on the dock or the first one you come to when you get off the ferry. If you love fried fish, beer, ouzo, wine and afternoons where you can drink and relax and not worry about tonight or tomorrow, spend an afternoon in Rafina.

RafinaThere are ferries going to the Cyclades and Evia, going in and out of the harbor and lots of fishing boats. It's just like being on an island. There is a long beach there that is usually only crowded on Sunday. The town itself has a few too many apartment buildings for my taste but the waterfront is nice. There is nothing like spending the day with some close friends, some fried fish and several bottles of ouzo.

If you are going to the Cyclades islands the boat trip is two hours shorter from Rafina and boats leave later in the day though if you are coming from Athens you will lose most of the time you save. In the summer it's a very busy port with ships going in and out and the restaurants full of people. In the winter it is much quieter and much more enjoyable. The plan is that now that nearby Venizelos Airport has been completed, many people going to the islands will be leaving from here and the port of Lavrion further south, where they have done extensive expansion of the harbor. There is also a catamaran that makes it to Mykonos in less then 2 hours. The town has a fishing fleet and there are several fish markets with the freshest of fish and the biggest crayfish I have ever seen.

Rafina, Avra HotelThere are a couple ways to get there. The easy way would be to call my taxi driving friend George Kokkotos and invite him to be your host. If you split the cost between three or four people it will be quite inexpensive and you will have George there for translations and advice, not to mention entertainment. (Get him to stop at the Sanctuary of Artemis on the way back). You can also go by bus . Take the metro to Victoria Square and walk up Heiden Street at the top of the square. The first large street you will come to should be 28th of October Street. If it's not you are walking in the wrong direction. Keep going up Heiden until you come to Areos Park and can't go any further. Find the bus that says Rafina and get on the one that has passengers on it. It's a forty minute drive depending on traffic. They usually leave every half hour. Another option instead of the metro is a yellow trolley from Venizelou (or Panapistimiou street) Take the number 18,13,11,5, or 3 and get off at Alexandras Ave, just beyond the Archaeology museum. You will see the park and the buses one block up. In Rafina the bus will let you off in the harbor. Traffic can be heavy at certain times especially weekends when the weather is nice. Go during the week and leave Athens early on days when the stores close at 2.

Actually these days Rafina is not a bad place to base yourself since you can easily take a bus or taxi into Athens and see the sites and then come back for a swim and dinner. The Avra Rafina Smartotel (photo) is a Three-star hotel convenient to the ferries to the islands. Other hotels in the area include the Hotel Aquamarina, the Hotel Mati, the Cabo Verde, the Myrto Hotel, the Attika Beach Hotel and the Miami Hotel, all on the beach in the area of Mati just a couple kilometers from Rafina.

Vravrona

Temple of Artemis, VravronaIn between Loutsa and Porto Rafti is the town of Vravrona or Brauron, known for the giant resort Hotel-Spa Mare Nostrum. Its also known for the 6th Century BC Temple of Artemis in a beautiful setting right by the crossroads from Markopoulo. Monday it is closed, in fact I must always go by there on Mondays because the last three times I have seen it I have had to take photos from the other side of the fence. But it is one of those quiet magical places you find around Greece and to make it even more attractive the area around it has very little if any development. Its all farms, vinyards, olive and fig trees as well as rocks and bushes, trees and wild plants and looks like much of Attika used to look like. If you have some extra time in Athens I would suggest maybe visiting a winery or two, taking a swim at Avlaki, stopping at the temple and then having lunch either in Loutsa (also called Artemida after the temple and sanctuary). Actually if you have a stopover for 4 or 5 hours you could probably do this in about three hours with George the Famous Taxi Driver. I would say just grab a cab at the airport but if you could not find one for the return trip and you missed your flight then I would feel like it was my fault. There is also a brand new museum here with artifacts from the area. The pay beach at Avlaki is beautiful and has a Greek island feel. Not as much as it did when it was a quiet beach with one taverna on it and you did not have to pay, but it is still as nice a beach as you will find near Athens.

Marathon

Marathon Dam, AthensEveryone has heard the story of the Persian defeat at Marathon at the hands of the Athenians. Imagine marching several thousand miles only to be wiped out 27 miles from the city you came to conquer by an army a fraction of your size. Marathon is an interesting place to visit. There is not much to see of the battlefield really. There is a burial mound in an olive grove and a plaque that commemorates the great victory and a nice statue. You are not supposed to climb up the mound but from the looks of the worn footpath many people do, including me. There is also the place where the race begins. The beach at Marathon is pretty nice and nearby Schinias is even better. But the most amazing thing about Marathon is the marble dam that holds the water that supplies Athens. It is the only marble dam in the world and it is quite spectacular. Just beyond Marathon is the seaside town of Nea Makri. Formerly a US Navy communications base, it is now a very nice place to come for lunch or a swim. The nearby town of Oropos is about 45 minutes from Athens. There are beaches, cafes, restaurants and you can catch one of the ferry to Eretria in Evia. Its also the kite-surfing capital of the universe on a good day. The waterfront is a very nice area for strolling on summer evenings. There are hotels on the coast and though not very well known to American travelers, the area is popular with Greeks and tourists from Eastern Europe.

Schinias

Schinas beach, GreeceSchinias is the most beautiful beach in Attika. It is one of the few beaches that has a pine forest that comes right down to the sea and there are several fish tavernas which run on diesel generators since there is no electricity there. The sea is shallow, generally clean, and if you come in the off-season which means anytime but August and weekends in July, you may be surprised at how few people are here. Because it is shallow you don't need more than a few days of sunshine for it to be warm enough to swim and this is usually the first and last place I swim every year. The fish taverna Glaros is open year-round, the others are seasonal. If you don't have a rental car or go with George you can take one of the KTEL Attika buses at the bottom of Pedion Areos, or take the bus to Nea Makri and take a local taxi from there. Make sure you give him a time to pick you up. For some reason Schinias has traditionally been the favorite beach of American and European x-pats living in Athens and every year various groups come to clean the beach of the plastic and paper that the winter winds and seas have deposited on the beach or blown into the trees.

Ancient Amfiaraion

Ancient Amfiaraion, GreeceThe ancient sanctuary of Amfiaraion is near the town of Kalamos which is near Oropos, in north Attika, where you catch the ferry to Eretria, Evia. It was a healing center and the most important religious sanctuary for the nearby city of Oropos during the classical period. There is a temple to Amphiaraus with some columns still standing, a sacred spring which still has water, baths, an ampitheatre, a long stoa, and the remains of dwellings and shops on each side of a small stream in a wooded area in the hills that lead to the sea. It reminds me of a small version of Delphi or Olympia but its just half an hour from Athens. It was excavated in the thirties but the archaeologists lost interest and much of it remains undiscovered. But it is a beautiful and peaceful setting and nobody visits there. We were there for over an hour and the only other people we saw were the guy selling tickets at the gate (2 euros) and the caretaker in the old museum, which has been closed for years but still has statues, columns and pieces of the ancient buildings. It is an important site, there is even a book about it written by Basil Petracos, the Ephor of Antiquities. Once you see the site you can go to Agio Apostoli or Oropos for a swim and lunch at one of the many fish tavernas.

Ancient Ramnous

Ancient RamnousElias at Swift told me a story a few years back. A friend of his met an archaeologist who took him to a site that was just being excavated. "It was unbelievable! An entire city of which I was walking down its ancient streets!" he had told Elias and Elias had told us. Follow the signs from Schinias and follow the road through an unspoiled valley of olive groves and farms until you reach the turn-off for the Archaeological Site of Ramnous. Walk up the hill to the ancient Temple of Nemesis, goddess of retribution and mother of Helen of Troy. There is not much left besides the foundation and some broken columns and walls but it is still impressive because of its size and age. But just below is a gate that is slightly ajar and a path that looks like it was an old road, that goes past some ancient buildings. As you reach the crest of the hill you will see below the ancient city, the foundational walls and streets still visible. Walk down and try to capture some of the enthusiasm Elia's friend had when he walked through the ancient streets. I went in mid-August during a heat-wave and though there was a nice breeze blowing, the thought of having to climb back up the hill was enough to keep me at a distance. The site has a connection with the Iraq war. When Brady Kiesling, the US diplomat, stationed in Athens, resigned from the state department in protest of the invasion, he came here with a bottle of wine to contemplate his actions and the path his life would take.

Vouliagmeni and the Apollo Coast

VouliagmeniBesides being somewhere to go for the day, Vouliagmeni is close enough to Athens so that you can stay in a hotel on the beach and still get into the city to see the sites. Astir beach at Vouliagmeni is one of the nicest beaches near the city and it is one of the few beaches in the world that has the ruins of a Temple, to Apollo, the Sun God, of course. You have to pay to get into the beach but once you get in there are umbrellas, cabanas to change, beach chairs and a bar and snack bar. You can get here by taxi or by taking the A2 bus from Panapistimiou (The University) getting off at Glyfada square and taking the 114 or the 116 or taking the Metro Red Line to Glyfada and taking the bus from there. (Take a taxi. It's easier). Don't get it confused with Astir beach in Glyfada which is also nice but does not have an ancient temple. The town of Vouliagmeni has many restaurants and tavernas, especially fish restaurants, most of them located on the sea. There are also some great hotels on the beach like the Luxury Divani Apollon Palace and the equally luxurious Astir Palace Hotel or the 4-star Plaza Vouliagmeni Strand. For those who want to pay less and don't mind a short walk to the beach there are the Electra Hotel Apartments and Amarilia Hotel. See Athens-Coast Hotels for more hotels on the coast. See also my Guide to the Athens Coast.

Besides having just about the best beach within an hour from Athens on the Gold Coast, the amazing healing lake Vouliagmeni is the closest spa to the city. You may even have noticed it when you fly over Athens, just before your plane touches the runway or seen Lester Holt swimming in it during the Olympics. The water that pours into the lake from underground natural caves supposedly help relieve different ailments such as Rheumatism-Arthritis, Neuralgia, Osfialgia, Gynecological Problems, Salpingitis, Psychological disturbances etc. In the early seventies some American servicemen from the base disappeared looking for the caves that connected Lake Vouliagmeni to the sea. We always thought this was some kind of Greek urban myth but in 2006 their bodies were found. For more see my page on Lake Vouliagmeni

Varkiza Coves, AthensAcross the street from the Astir beach is Vouliagmeni beach one of the most popular beaches of Athens. As you continue along the road towards Cape Sounion you will pass the coves of Varkiza and the long sandy beach there, then the beach at Lagonissi and various other smaller beaches like Agia Marina. During weekends these beaches are packed as are the buses going to them. Most of them have snackbars and some have nice fish tavernas too. The town of Anavissos is famous for its fish restaurants which are open year round. The waiters actually stand on the road and becken you in. Between Sounion and Rafina there are several nice beaches including Avlaki, Vavrona and Loutsa and there is a temple to Artemis somewhere along the way. There are also many beaches heading back towards Pireaus including Voula and Glyfada. If you go back to Athens by way of the airport you can stop at the Cave of Penonia on Mount Hymitos.

Be sure to visit my Athens Beaches Pages too for photos and descriptions of almost all the beaches in Attika. Also take a look at my Guide to Attika. The E22 bus starts at the University (Akadamia) and stops at Syntagma Square and on Filenonon Street right by the intersection with Nikodimou Street across from Fantasy Travel's offices and goes down the coast as far as Saronida-Anavissos. The KTEL bus to Sounion follows roughly the same route but goes further.

Other Ideas for Day Trips from Athens

Also recommended for day trips are wine tours of Attika which is one of the largest wine growing regions in Greece. You can combine this with a trip to the Athens Zoo and have lunch on the sea in Loutsa. Attika is a facinating area and you can read more about it in my Attika Pages.

An excellent way to spend a free day is doing the One-day Saronic Gulf Cruise to Aegina, Poros and Hydra. The Spa-Resort town of Loutraki is famous for its beaches, natural spring water and world famous casino. The city of Kalavrita in the mountains of the Peloponessos offers the countries best skiing, the Cave of the Lakes, an amazing train ride through the Vouraikos Gorge and one of the worst tragedies of the Second World War. See George the Famous Taxi Driver for transportation and beach excursions. You can also visit several beaches in a day and a few cafes and ancient sites like Sounion and have a nice lunch in a seaside fish taverna before heading back to your hotel to rest up for the nightlife .

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