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Athens Day-Trips: Sounion

temple of poseidon at sounion, greece

The Temple of Poseidon

The Temple of Poseidon at Sounion is the best half-day trip you can do out of Athens with the possible exception of the Zoo . That is why I was kind of embarrassed when I realized I had not been there since I was dragged there by my high school ancient history teacher, the now famous Nikos Stavrolakis (see www.greecetravel.com/jewishhistory ). I remember seeing the column with Lord Byron's name carved in it, or at least I think I remember. Maybe I read that it was there in a book. What I really remember was throwing rocks from the temple perched high above the sea and trying to reach the water. You had to have a really good arm to do it and be in the right spot and have the perfect rock. Now I think of how frustrating it must have been for Mr. Stavrolakis. Here he was teaching ancient Greek history in Greece to a bunch of American kids who were lucky enough to be able to go to the actual places he was teaching about and all we wanted to do was chuck rocks off the cliff and pretend to throw each other over the side. I suppose we did not appreciate what we had. To make it worse I had gone for years without visiting Sounion because in my mind I had already been there though I could not even separate what I had seen from what I had read in some book.

Athens, Greece, Anavissos So when my friend Ana Kamais invited me to come with her to buy bathroom appliances for her new house on a beautiful sunny warm day just after Christmas, I knew that she would want to continue on to the sea, hopefully as far as Sounion. With many Athenians out of the city visiting their villages it would be an easy journey, despite the beautiful weather that usually makes them escape to the seaside in droves. Within 20 minutes of buying her sink we (and the sink) were in the coastal town of Anavassos, famous for its seaside fish tavernas. We found the Akroyiali, recommended by George the Famous Taxi Driver as the one most likely to have the best food and sat down in the outdoor dining area by the shore. There was still a chill in the air so rather then having their tables in the open they were under a big tent with the wall facing the sea being clear plastic. It was not the clearest plastic but you could still sort of tell you were looking at water and you could hear the waves. If the Queen Mary sailed into the bay you might have had trouble distinguishing it from a low storm cloud but still it was a nice atmosphere and the food was good though in late December the fish menu is limited because of a lack of customers. There was plenty to keep us happy though...fried fresh kalamari and marides and marinated fresh anchovies and I celebrated my escape from the city with a glass of ouzo. If you come here in the spring, summer and fall and on winter weekends when it is unseasonably warm you will find it a lot more festive and lots of choices in fish, and the plastic will be rolled up and you really know you are sitting above the sea. (You can even feed seagulls your fish heads and bones,bread on the beach below.)

Temple of Poseidon, Sounion, Greece As you leave the coastal suburbs of Athens you pass towns and settlements, mostly in bays, harbors and beaches. Some Athenians have built their summer and weekend homes out here and villages have sprung up out of nowhere. But the closer you get to Sounion on the tip of the Attiki peninsula the less houses there are until finally you come to a few hotels and a nice little beach with two tavernas. The temple of Sounion sits above the beach on a mountain that juts out into the sea and was dedicated to Poseidon. In ancient times the temple was the last sign of civilization the Athenians saw as they sailed away from home and the first as they returned and even now when I sail to the islands on the ferry it is not until we pass the temple that I am 'offically' out of Athens. The choice of this spot was a good one. It is hard to imagine a more perfect setting for an ancient temple, in particular one dedicated to the god of the sea.

Temple of Poseidon, Sounion, Greece The temple is of Doric style and was built in the 5th Century BC, supposedly on the location of an even older temple. You are not allowed to enter the temple any longer and it is roped off but you can get close enough to appreciate it and even read the graffiti carved on the ancient columns, some of it hundreds of years old. Lord Byron is in there somewhere and if you have binoculars and a camera with a large zoom you can get a photo of it as did traveler Steven Christensen did: Lord Byron's Graffiti. Once you get up there you will understand how it is possible that a class full of 9th graders could be so distracted and the temple could hold our interest only fleetingly. The view is incredible. You can see the islands of Kea, Kythnos and clear over to the Peloponessos with ships and fishing boats passing by.

Temple of Poseidon, Sounion, Greece Below the temple is a small bay with the Aegeon Beach Hotel which is as close as you can get to being on a Greek island this near to Athens without actually being on a Greek island. The sea is clean here and the hotel controls about 90% of the beach. Still that does not mean you can't park yourself there and have a swim unless you are a guest of the hotel. By Greek law the beaches belong to the people. They may charge you for umbrellas or beach-beds but you don't have to use them. There are two nice little fish tavernas which can both be quite lively. The Akroyiali is right on the water and a good place to watch thesunset, the food is decent though the staff are a little eccentric. Taxi drivers say the upper taverna, called Elias is better and I have to agree. The  best food may be in nearby Lavrion at one of the ouzeri-mezedopoulions in or near the fish market so if you are with a driver or have a rental car, or your own car take the 20 minute journey there. It is also faster to get back to Athens via the Attiki Odos though not as scenic.

Frommers says to come to Sounion in the morning and avoid the crowds but I may have to disagree. I think putting up with the crowds is a small inconvenience for seeing such an incredible sunset.

If I were to do it again I think I would skip the shopping for the bathroom fixtures and go straight to Sounion. Then I would go down to the beach and swim, have a drink and mezedes at the taverna on the beach and wait for the sun to go down and the show to begin. Then I would sleep all the way back to Athens and be ready to go out that night. Or maybe I would just stay and have dinner there or in Lavrion.

Getting to Sounion

Athens Greece: View from Sounion To go to Sounion I recommend George the Famous Taxi Driver . You can see the temple, go to the beach, have a meal by the sea, have a drink and if you are up to it stop for dinner on the way home in Vari, the grilled lamb and pork capital of Athens for a feast. (My friend Nikos says "In America you have Silicon Valley. In Greece we have Cholesterol Valley") It may not be the healthiest thing for you but it sure tastes good and after all this is a vacation and not a way of life. Not yet anyway. There is information on Vari on my Athens Restaurants page. Also there are a number of excellent fish tavernas in the town of Anavissos, on the way to Sounion. What I recommend for wine lovers is using George and have him take you for lunch and a tour of Megapanos Winery and stopping at the Sanctuary of Artemis in Vavrona, continue on to Sounion and have a swim to recharge your batteries and then see the temple. There is also Billy's Bus Tours who provide the same service as George for groups too large to fit into a taxi.

You can also go to Sounion on one of the half-day trips offered by the travel agencies. See www.athensguide.com/agency.html or go to www.fantasytravelofgreece.com and click on 'tours'. You can also rent a car and see Sounion along with the rest of Attika as I did at www.athensguide.com/attika

The buses that run along the coast leave every hour on the half hour. You can count on it taking about 2 hours at the most and the Temple closes after sunset so just figure out when sunset is and give yourself 3 hours. They leave from the bottom of Pedion Areos (Green Park) at the intersection of Pattision Street and Alexandras Ave just beyond the National Archaeological Museum. You can also pick it up on Fileninon Street a block or so from Syntagma Square. There are also buses that go via Lavrion, leaving every half hour from the same terminal but the later buses may not continue to Sounion so ask when you buy your ticket. The first bus is sometime after 5am and the last bus along the coast is at 5:45pm. The last Lavrion bus that continues to Sounion is at 6:45 but since that may get you there after the sun sets go earlier. There are return coastal buses from Sounion til 7:30pm which of course means you would miss the sunset but at least you can enjoy it on the way back. However there are Lavrion buses that run later, though not as frequent as during the day. The buses cost about 5 euros. For schedules see www.athensguide.com/practicalinfo/suburbanbuses.htm

For those arriving on cruise ships in Pireaus just go to the main road that rings the harbor (Akti Maouli) and walk to your right and you will see bus stops for the E1(Express) and A1 buses to Voula. If you keep walking you will come to the terminal which you may want to do since you will need to buy bus tickets. Take the bus to the end (Terma Epivasis) and on the coastal road look for bus stop signs for the KTEL bus to Sounion. You will have to pay for that bus too because it is another company. Here's the tricky part though. They leave from Pedion Areos every 2 even hours on the half hour from 6:30am to 4:30pm so if you miss it you will have to wait 2 hours. So really your best option is to take a taxi to Pedion Areos where you can also catch the bus that takes the inland road which leaves every 2 hours starting at 5:45 am until 3:34pm. Anyway it is a risky adventure and there is a good chance that you may freak out and have to take a street taxi to get back to the ship before it sails away if you don't find yourself stuck somewhere on the way there. So if you can afford a cruise but can't afford a taxi, my advice is to make friends on the ship and share a taxi with your new pals and split the cost. You will probably have a lot more fun too. See George the Famous Taxi Driver

You can see large versions of all the photos on this page by clicking on the image itself.

Temple of Poseidon, Sounion, Greece

Temple of Poseidon, Sounion, Greece

Temple of Poseidon, Sounion, Greece

Temple of Poseidon, Sounion, Greece

See Also: Athens Day Trips , History ofGreece ,The Acropolis, Beaches, George the Famous Taxi Driver , Day Trips in Attika, Megapanos Wine Tours, Lavrion

Suggested Hotels at Cape Sounion

Cape Sounio, Grecotel Exclusive Resort 5 stars

Photo Cape Sounio, Grecotel Exclusive ResortThe hotel rises against a gentle slope, overlooking a tranquil cove, at the foot of a dramatic cliff, capped by the Temple of Poseidon. This resort is located on one of the world’s most celebrated archaeological sites and is fabulously secluded amid a natural pine forest. Beneath the imposing temple, private villas rise along stone-paved paths shaded by olive trees and pines. Grecotel Cape Sounio strikes a delicate balance with the environment by using natural materials extracted from the earth - clay, bronze and stone. Fountains on an open terrace separate the lounge from the lavish bar. Upstairs in the gourmet restaurant, the menu is as inspired as the view. The setting becomes breathtaking in the moonlight and is the perfect backdrop for a business reception or an unforgettable wedding. Wireless internet is available in public areas and is free of charge. For more photos, rates and booking information click here

Aegeon Beach Hotel 4 stars

Aegeon Beach Hotel is situated in one of the most beautiful spots in Europe, at Cape Sounio, right on the seashore below the Temple of Poseidon, one of the most famous archaeological sites in all of Greece. Aegeon Beach is built to blend with the natural environment with sober lines and earth colours. It is the ideal place for those who wish to combine luxurious living with a peaceful and quiet stay, far from the turmoil of the city. All 44 rooms enjoy a superb sea view with a private balcony to marvel at the world known sunset. Hotel facilities: Restaurant – Bar – 24-Hour Front Desk – Terrace – Rooms/Facilities for Disabled Guests – Family Rooms – Elevator – Chapel/Shrine – Heating – Design Hotel – Gay Friendly – Airconditioning in all rooms and throughout the hotel. Wireless internet is available in the entire hotel and is free of charge. The town of Lavrion with its fish tavernas and port are just 10 minutes drive. For more photos, rates and booking information click here

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