A charming island close to Athens, Aegina will give you a taste of all the other Greek islands – and yet is only around an hour from Piraeus by ferry. Indeed, if you take a day cruise to the islands close to Athens it will likely be your first stop. But you’ll definitely want to come back to spend much more time here.
Aegina’s long summers, mild winters and proximity to Athens make it a year-long holiday destination. You’ll find antiquities and traditional tavernas, a port town with a 19th-century atmosphere, beaches, deserted Byzantine chapels, as well as pine-clad hills and mounds of freshly roasted pistachios.
Meanwhile, if you visit Perdika in the south, you’ll feel like you’re in a Cycladic village and at the Temple of Aphaia you’ll discover one of Greece’s most memorable ancient sanctuaries. So if you’re looking for an easy-to-get-to island close to Athens or an island escape during your city break to Athens, Aegina is for you.
Once upon a time, two small islands – Spheria and Kalavria – came together to produce a little jewel in the Saronic Gulf, the island of Poros. A short hydrofoil or ferry ride from Athens will bring you to this place, beloved of Giorgos Seferis, the Greek Nobel laureate, and Henry Miller.
Poros is a stone’s throw from the mainland, resembling a puzzle piece gone missing from the Peloponnese. Small boats bearing visitors come and go across the channel. When you land, you find quaint tavernas, yacht marinas, neoclassical buildings, a clocktower, pine-tree forests reaching the sea, serenity and relaxation. On foot, by bike or by boat, Poros invites you to discover its charming simplicity on one of the best islands close to Athens.
So close to Athens that you can hop across whenever the mood takes you, this small, hilly island in the Saronic Gulf has over the years mesmerised its visitors with its quaintness, rich history and cultural allure.
The moment you arrive on Hydra, you instantly feel the change of pace. The main port is cosmopolitan and elegant, with its 18th-century mansions, captains’ houses, old churches, wells and marble-covered alleyways that fan out everywhere. Everywhere you look, water taxis buzz around the island like bees.
The main town, Kaminia, Vlichos, Molos, Episkopi and Mandraki are just some of the highlights of an island which nurtured a revolution that won independence for an entire country.
Cosmopolitan Spetses, one of the favourite islands close to Athens, will make you want to return again and again. It’s an ideal destination for a quick retreat all year round and never fails to make you feel special – whether you are enjoying a leisurely coffee in Dapia, with a view of Kosta and Porto Heli on the mainland opposite, taking a romantic stroll along the Old Harbour, or learning about the island’s fearless heroine Laskarina Bouboulina.
Horse-drawn carriages, bicycle and walking will be your only modes of transport on Spetses – all the better to enjoy the well-kept captains’ mansions below Agios Nikolaos Monastery, the boatyards and Bouboulina’s Museum. And of course the ambience of the legendary Poseidon Hotel near the port, which has hosted royalty, politicians and dignitaries. Spetses has long been a favourite escape for high society, as reflected in the smart cafes, art stores and stylish boutiques.
You are in the Peloponnese, in the concave of the ancient theatre of Epidaurus. From the upper tier, peace and tranquillity reign over the horizon and you understand immediately why the ancients chose this place to construct the famous Asclepion (or holistic healing centre) of Epidaurus. Now take a deep breath and look around at the grandstand and the stage down below, from which you can hear the proverbial pin drop.
You’re in possibly the most beautiful open-air, ancient theatre in the world, the birthplace of Psychagogia, meaning entertainment – in the fullest sense of the word. The theatre of Epidaurus was built as a place for patients to have therapeutic fun and has become renowned for its extraordinary acoustics. Now a Unesco World Heritage Site, it is still a therapy for body and soul. And best of all, it is an ancient theatre that is still alive today as, since 1955, performances of ancient tragedies have found their natural home here, nowadays during the annual Athens and Epidaurus Festival.
Nafplio is a city in the Peloponnese that brims with life, preserving its legends and enticing you into its mystical ambience. It was the Venetians’ ‘Naples of the East’ and the first capital of Greece.
Viewed from above, Nafplio oozes romance: tile roofs, grand homes and a blue-green sea. The famous Bourtzi, Akronafplia and Palamidi castles add a sense of drama to this stunning seaport town, consisting of fortresses, neoclassical buildings, old neighbourhoods, wide sidewalks and large squares.