A visit to Athens offers an almost overwhelming range of things to do, from discovering the majestic museums to gorging yourself on as much delicious, cheap food as you can manage. But if you are in the city for a little longer, you will probably find yourself looking out at the sea and lusting after a different kind of adventure. Step forward, Aegina Island: the perfect Athens day trip.
Situated just 40 minutes via Flying Dolphin (a sort of boat-insect hybrid that looks alarming but whizzes along) from the port of Piraeus, Aegina is one of the closest islands to Athens yet remains mainly un-touristy in spite of its popularity with Athenians.
As you fly up to Aegina port, you’ll be greeted by ruins from the Temple of Apollo, just one of the copious ancient sites on the island. The port itself is small and low-key, which makes arriving a serene experience in itself. In traditional Greek fashion, all adventures should start with a coffee, and a walk along the harbour will yield many spots to sit and enjoy the beautiful view. If you arrive in the early morning, you’ll find fishermen unpacking their hoard on picturesque boats, while others sell fresh vegetables from the back of their vessels.
Having soaked up the relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, a stroll up towards the Temple of Apollo is a perfect way to further acclimatise to the new environment. The small, beautifully curated archaeological museum, founded in 1828, which sits next to the ancient site, is full of discoveries, and unlike the museums in Athens during peak season, you’ll find that you have space to savour the exhibits. Spend time browsing the fascinating discoveries with highlights including ceramics from 1700 BC. In the winter months, the outdoor site is surrounded by wildflowers and luscious grass, but the main attraction, of course, is the ruins themselves, which date from the 6th century BC.
The most famous historical site on Aegina is the Temple of Aphaia. A sister of the Pantheon in Athens and the Temple of Poseidon in Sounion, the three sit equidistant from each other to form a perfect triangle. Located on the northeast side of the island, the easiest way to reach the Doric ruins is by taxi from the port. At peak season, expect the site to be fairly busy, though this shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the remarkable history and beautiful views down to the sea.
A morning of ancient culture will inevitably whet one’s appetite for traditional Greek food, and thankfully, there’s no shortage of delicious spots to enjoy. Outside of the summer season, head to Perdika village. Located on the southern end of the island on a small tuft of land that juts out along the coast, this tranquil village is a perfect destination for whiling away the hours. The restaurants run along the harbour, mostly serving freshly caught fish and a selection of classic Greek dishes. Antonis Fish Restaurant is one such place that specialises in fish: order the octopus and watch it being cooked on the grill outside, or choose your preferred fish of the day from an ice bucket inside of the restaurant. Fava, Horta and a Greek salad, perhaps accompanied by a beer, make for a sumptuous feast. If time allows – the last boat back to Athens leaves around 7 pm – small boats go across to the tiny island on the other side of the harbour, offering a chance to take in the beautiful natural landscape and wild deer who roam around it.
Summer (or anytime from May onwards) provides ample opportunities for an afternoon swim at any one of Aegina’s long and verdant beaches. The coastal stretch between the port and the Temple of Aphaia is full of options. Stop by either Vagia or Souvala, the first of which has two restaurants on the beach – perfect for a lazy lunch post-swim. On the way back, make sure to take in the abundance of pistachio and apricot fields for which Aegina is famous.
To catch the sunset in the winter months, take the ferry back from Aegina at around five to the mainland. At an hour and a half, the journey by ferry is a little longer than the Highspeed but worth it for the view. In summer, the last ferry back provides the same delightful aesthetic. Before boarding, make sure to pick up pistachios from one of the booths by the port. An island speciality, they are on offer year-round and provide the perfect evening snack.
Regardless of the time that you arrive back in Piraeus, you’ll have plenty of time to prepare for an evening back in Athens, making a trip to Aegina a relaxing and effortless getaway at any time of the year.