With so many islands to choose from, it’s often thought that in order to have a Greek island experience, one has to travel far from Athens by plane. This is not necessarily true, however.
The Saronic Islands lie in the Aegean Sea, known as the Saronic Gulf, between Athens and the northeast coast of the Peloponnese. A group of smaller islands and less known to the international tourist, they are easily reached by ferry from the port of Piraeus in sometimes under an hour, making them perfect for a day trip or even a weekend trip. end, and many Athenians have second houses there.
Once you’ve experienced the best things to see and do in Athens and the best cuisine to try, come with me as I explore the Saronic Islands and more to showcase the best day trips on the island . Usually the best time to go is summer, but while the islands aren’t as touristy as other popular Greek islands, expect them to be busier at this time of year. In good weather, which will allow you to enjoy the variety of activities, spring and fall are also good.
If you are planning to visit an island recommended for hiking, be aware that spring and fall are better times to visit and treks on these islands can be quite strenuous. Always ask for local advice before you go.
We start with Salamis, the closest island to Athens just 20 km from the small port of Perama, very close to the main Athenian port of Piraeus.
It’s often overlooked as a destination because it has a heavy industrial past in shipbuilding, not a glitzy appeal – but it shouldn’t be. There are plenty of nature walks to do, and you are bound to stumble upon ancient antiques, from the signposted monument of Kolones – a circular 4th century stone burial monument – to small stones with no indication of what they are. could be.
The fish market in Salamina, the main town of the island, is an interesting place to witness local life, while the local archaeological museum – housed in a magnificent building that was the old primary school – presents the historical past. of Salamina.
Although much of the island’s architecture has been replaced with new apartment buildings, the whitewashed, blue-framed house owned by famous Greek poet Angelos Sikelinos nestled by the sea is indicative of its past and is a great place to watch the sunset.
Pro tip: Travel by car ferry (which runs every 15 minutes) from Perama on the mainland to Salamis. The journey time is 15 minutes.
The port of Poros is what will first catch your eye to the island as you sail. The town of Poros is built amphitheatrically around the harbor – curving and rising from the bottom up, surrounded by lush pine forests.
The city’s aesthetically pleasing neoclassical buildings are an attraction in themselves, as is the clock tower on top of a rocky outcrop overlooking the city and surrounding Saronic Gulf. It’s the local equivalent of Big Ben and a great place to take sunset photos.
Despite its small size (19 square miles), Poros offers several small, sandy beaches to relax in, but if history is your thing, you’ll appreciate the handful of churches across the island, many with frescoes and paintings. ancient relics, the most visited being the Zoodochos Pigis Monastery – which also served as an orphanage for children born to men fighting the Greek Revolution of 1821.
The famous American novelist Henry Miller was moved when he saw Poros during his visit in 1939, declaring: âComing to Poros gives the illusion of a deep dream. Suddenly the land converges on all sides and the boat is stuck in a narrow strait from which there is no exit. It could be argued that not much has changed since.
Pro tip: It takes a little longer to reach Poros – 2.5 hours by slow ferry from the port of Piraeus to Athens, or by hydrofoil in about an hour.
From the pebble beaches – one in the fishing village of Souvala in the north of the island with thermal springs that help solve rheumatic and dermatological problems – to the Doric temple of Aphaia Athena in 500 BC – vs. Delphi, which is part of the Holy Triangle of Antiquity, to the Greek Orthodox monastery of Nektarios, one of the largest in the Balkan region, awaits you a lot when you arrive on the Saronic island of Aegina.
Greeks and foreign tourists come to Aegina for day trips and weekends and its lack of all-inclusive resorts makes it a popular destination for relaxing, sightseeing and drinking coffee along the waterfront. sea.
With ancient sites, relaxing coves and quaint seaside villages, Aegina is a good choice for a day trip to the island from Athens.
Pro tip: Slow and fast ferries leave for Aegina almost every hour, and the journey time is anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour depending on which one you take.
Aegina’s little neighbor, Agistri, is just 10 minutes from its big sister, and despite being only 5 square miles and has just over 1,100 permanent residents spread across its four villages, Agistri is a perfect day trip to a quiet island.
As you enter Skala harbor, the small blue domed church of Agioi Anargyroi sits at the harbor edge, ready to welcome you – this is the first thing you will notice about Agistri. Skala also has a clean and organized beach with lounge chairs and umbrellas, making it a popular place to get off the ferry and spend the day relaxing before catching the evening ferry to Athens.
If you want to explore the island further, the beaches are served by a small bus service that runs around regularly. Or walk along the coastal road to find a selection of tavernas and restaurants all serving fresh fish, as well as cafes and beach bars.
The attraction of Agistri is the beautiful natural environment of pine forests and views of the Peloponnese. For a leisurely trip and a chance to spend some time on the beach for a day away from the city, you can’t go wrong with this little Saronic Island.
Pro tip: There are regular connections from the port of Piraeus to Athens with journey times of 1 to 2 hours depending on which ferry service you take.
Known as the jewel of the Saronics, Hydra is possibly one of the most popular islands to visit on a day trip from Athens. It is famous for not allowing any motorized vehicles on the island – except fire and garbage trucks.
It’s not that popular for its beaches, but there are plenty of good swimming platforms and rocks for swimming.
Its main draw is the upscale port with several shops and small hotels, as well as a good selection of places to eat and drink. The port has been rebuilt to resemble the architecture of its heyday in the 1800s when it was ruled by the Venetians, and you don’t need to have a vast knowledge of architecture to appreciate the uniqueness of the houses. and mansions here.
Due to its relaxed vibe and being so aesthetic, Hydra has attracted many artists, both Greek and international – the most famous being the late Leonard Cohen who bought a house there and wrote âBird on a Wire â.
For a day trip to a sophisticated Greek island, Hydra is definitely the one you should choose.
Pro tip: High-speed services to Hydra operate from the port of Piraeus, and there are around five a day with journey times of just under 2 hours.
With its elegant restored mansions dating back to the Venetian era, Spetses has a distinctly vintage feel.
The main port of Dapia has several upscale cafes and bars to relax in, or if it’s swimming you are looking for, a visit to the secluded sandy beaches of Agia Marina or Agia Paraskevi is a must. Reach these beaches by car or by taking the inter-island bus service.
Walking and hiking along the ancient paths that cross the island from one side of the old chapels and small villages to the other is another popular activity, especially in the spring and fall when the weather is good. Fresher.
Spetses is a perfect place for downtime, to come and relax and just be.
Pro tip: The high-speed ferry from Piraeus takes around 3 hours and around five ferries run each day.
Finally, we look at the Greek island of Kea. Although not strictly in the Saronic Island chain, it is still possible to spend a day here.
Also called Tzia, the island is a Cycladic island with houses, churches and traditional farmhouses in earthy tones, not the blue and white of other Cycladic islands.
Nature lovers will love it here as there are several rare plant species as well as wild birds and reptiles.
The capital is Youlida, a place that forbids cars, and the medieval castle that stands guard over the picturesque village makes it an interesting visit.
Most of Kea’s beaches are sandy, small, and secluded, so you won’t have to worry about overcrowding. Fans of walking and hiking will enjoy the interior trails through archaeological ruins such as the Stone Lion, which according to mythology was sent by jealous gods to ravage the beauty of the island.
Pro tip: To get to Kea / Tzia, you take a 1 hour ferry ride from Lavrion port, located just over an hour from central Athens. For this reason, an overnight stay is worth it on this beautiful green island.
If you’re short on time, there’s a day cruise that lets you visit three Greek islands – Hydra, Poros, and Aegina – in one day, and the price includes lunch on board and Greek music.