Day Trips from Athens
Rafina, Sounion, Marathon and Other Day Trips from Athens
There are ferries going to the
Cyclades and Evia, going in and out of
the harbor and lots of fishing
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.
There 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) For more info on George see his Greek Taxi Page. 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 Archeology 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. Going there on weekends can be hell. Go during the week and leave Athens early on days when the stores close at 2.
The Avra Rafina Smartotel has just opened. This is a beautiful Three-star hotel convenient to the ferries to the islands. See www.hotelsofgreece.com/athens/avra-rafina
In 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. (See www.greecetravel.com/taxi) I would say just grab a cab at the airport but then 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 Temple of Posideon at Sounion
The temple at 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 nicest 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 boundry. If you are looking for a hotel on the mainland with an island feel (even though there is no village nearby, just Lavrion which is more of a city) the Aigeon is not a bad choice though it is a long way into Athens to see the sites. Again, if you are coming here on a day trip with three or more use George's taxi. Otherwise you can catch the bus at the same place as the buses to Rafina. Try to find Lord Byron's name carved in the marble. Most Travel Agencies offer a trip to Sounion at sunset for a pretty reasonable price. See also my pages on Sounion and Lavrion
Everyone 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. Another spot that few people visit is the ancient city of Ramnous.
Schinias 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.
The 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.
Elias 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.
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
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.
more see my page on Lake Vouliagmeni
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 luxureous 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-Hotels for more hotels on the coast)
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. (Take a taxi). Don't get it
confused with Astir beach in Glyfada which
is also nice but does not have an ancient
Across 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 www.athensguide.com/beaches too. 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 on Amalias Street right by the intersection with Souri Street across from the National Gardens and goes down the coast as far as Saonida-Anavissos.
Porto 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 impressive part of Porto Germanos is the fortress and ruins of ancient Egosthena. The 4th Century BC fortress itself is the most impressive in Greece from that period with much 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 1830s, 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.
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 at www.athensguide.com/attika
Other ideas for day trips outside of the Attic Peninsula are the beautiful town of Nafplion
, former capital of Greece and sort of like a Plaka-on-the-sea. Nearby is
which are pretty much required for anyone with an interest in ancient Greek history.
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