12 Top Day Trips & Weekend Getaways from Athens
Travelers who spend time exploring the area around Athens will be rewarded with fascinating historical attractions, beautiful scenery, and peaceful spiritual retreats. Several top sights are easy day trips, just a short drive or bus ride from the city: the UNESCO-listed Monastery of Dafní, the inspiring Kaisariani Monastery, the hiker's paradise of Mount Parnis, and the impressive Temple of Poseidon on the Attic Riviera coastline. Other destinations are slightly further afield and merit staying overnight, especially the romantic seaside town of Nafplio as a base for visiting the archaeological sites in Epidavros and Mycenae. Any of these unique excursions would make an interesting addition to your Greek vacation itinerary.
1 The Romantic Seaside City of Nafplio
In a sheltered bay, 139 kilometers from Athens, Nafplio is one of the most picturesque and romantic cities in Greece. According to mythology, this town was founded by the son of the god Poseidon and the daughter of Danaus. Nafplio's history dates back to the Argonautic Expedition and the Trojan War. Later, the town was ruled by the Romans, Byzantine Empire, Venetians, and Ottoman Turks. Because of this rich heritage, the town has a charming Old World ambience and is full of ancient monuments: fortified medieval castles, lavish Venetian buildings, and impressive Ottoman fountains. At the center of town is the Italianate Syntagma Square lined with historic buildings. Another top attraction is the Palamidi Castle, perched on a hilltop more than 200 meters above sea level. It's worth the trek to see the castle, but it requires a walk of nearly 1,000 steps. Another castle is even more inaccessible, the Venetian fortress of Bourtzi on the islet of Agioi Theodoroi, which can only be visited by boat during summer. This iconic offshore landmark is one of the most-photographed sites in Nafplio.
About 12 kilometers from Nafplio, the ancient town of Argos is also worth visiting for its archaeological museum and the excavated ruins outside of town, which include the remains of a theater, Roman baths, and a medieval castle.
2 Archaeological Sites in Epidavros
This lovely seaside town lies 129 kilometers from Athens and 35 kilometers from Nafplio. The town is most famous for its archaeological sites, especially the fourth-century-BC Theater of Epidavros. At this well-preserved site, visitors can easily imagine the classical Greek dramas that were performed here more than two millennia ago. Other ancient ruins include a stadium that was used to stage games and sporting events and a Mycenaean-era bridge that dates to the 14th century BC. Tourists will also enjoy visiting the town's archaeological museum, which displays objects excavated at the Theater of Epidavros archaeological site.
3 The Monastery of Dafní
The Monastery of Dafní is a spiritual retreat in a sublime setting just 10 kilometers from the Athens city center. It stands on the site of an ancient temple of Apollo, to whom the laurel (daphne) was sacred, explaining the origin of the monastery's name. The pagan shrine was converted to an early Christian monastery, which was replaced by the present monastery in 1080. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the monastery is renowned for its exquisite gilded 11th-century mosaics that decorate the church interior. This glittering sanctuary is considered one the finest Byzantine churches in Greece, on par with the Church of Ossios Loukás near Delphi and the Church Néa Moní on Chíos. The Monastery of Dafní also has a splendid courtyard adjoining the cloister.
4 Mycenae: The Legendary City of Greek Mythology
The real-life location of the legendary ancient Mycenaean civilization, the archaeological ruins of Mycenae are 120 kilometers from Athens and 25 kilometers from Nafplio. In Greek mythology, this site was known as the city of Agamemnon; the city was often mentioned by Homer and other Greek authors. The earliest archaeological fragments uncovered here date to the seventh millennium BC, considered the prehistoric era. Visitors can see remains of palaces, fountains, ramparts, and the famous "Tomb of Agamemnon" (also called the "Treasury of Atreus").
5 Attic Riviera (Coast of Apollo)
The Attic Riviera is a gorgeous stretch of coastline between Athens and Cape Soúnion, also known as the Coast of Apollo. This area has many archaeological ruins as well as golf courses, well-maintained beaches, sailing clubs, and yacht marinas. The Temple of Poseidon stands on a steep crag at Cape Soúnion (about 70 kilometers from Athens). The site was referenced by Homer in the Odyssey, and held an altar in the seventh century BC, but the present monument was built in the sixth to fifth centuries BC. This splendid marble temple stands on a terrace with slender Doric columns in 6 x 13 rows, characteristic of fifth-century BC classical style.
6 Kaisariani Monastery
A divinely meditative place to visit only eight kilometers from Athens, the Kaisariani Monastery is surrounded by the serene Forest Park. This lush parkland is filled with shady trees, cypresses, Mediterranean shrubs, and vibrant flowers. Within the park is a nursery for young plants and a botanical garden of native Greek flora. The monastery was named after a spring that once channeled water to a sanctuary of Aphrodite. From this spring, the Emperor Hadrian funneled the water to an aqueduct to supply fresh water to Athens. The pure crystal-clear waters of the Kaisariane Spring were (and continue to be) credited with healing powers, particularly for women who wish to bear children. The spring water still flows from an ancient ram's head in the courtyard of Kaisariani Monastery. Take time for spiritual reflection at the monastery's 11th-century church, a beautiful domed sanctuary built in the year 1000, although the interior decor dates to the 16th century.
7 Ancient Cult Mysteries at Eleusis
This archaeological site gives visitors an insight into the famous Eleusinian Mysteries, the secret religious rites of the Mycenaean era (15th-century BC to 13th century BC). At Eleusis ( 21 kilometers from Athens), tourists can see the ruins of the ancient sanctuaries associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries, including the Sanctuary of Demeter that dates back to the 14th century BC.
The Eleusinian Mysteries cult arose out of the myth of the goddess Demeter, who lamented the loss of her daughter Persephone, abducted by Hades, god of the Underworld. According to the legend, Demeter went to Eleusis where she was reunited with Persephone. Since then, Demeter was venerated here as the Fertility Goddess to ensure bountiful harvests. The Eleusinian Mysteries (mystai) were performed annually around September and October to honor the goddess Demeter for providing fertile crops. These religious rites included a procession from Athens to Eleusis, followed by ritual baths in the sea, three days of fasting, and mysterious (and still unknown) recitations.
8 Piraeus: An Ancient Harbor, Modern Port, and Ferry Terminus
Greece's largest modern port, Piraeus boasts more than 2,000 years of history. The port was developed by Themistocles around 482 BC as a commercial harbor and naval base for Athens. About 12 kilometers from the Athens city center, Piraeus is still a main port of call for ships sailing to Europe and the Near East. This port is also the starting point of most domestic shipping lines as well as the touristic ferry routes to the numerous Greek Islands. The principal harbor of Piraeus is Kántharos. The smaller ancient harbors of Pasalimáni, Tourkolímano, and Mikrolímano are still in use. Remains of ancient boat sheds can be seen under water on the east side of Pasalimáni Harbor.
9 Lake Marathon
In a peaceful setting amid extensive pine forests, this tranquil lake was formed by a dam constructed between 1926 and 1931 to create a reservoir of fresh water. The reservoir, known as Lake Marathon, is 38 kilometers from Athens and is the city's main source of water supply. Bathing and boating are not allowed, but the area is ideal for taking nature walks, relaxing outdoors, or enjoying picnics on sunny days. Lake Marathon is eight kilometers west of the Marathon village, on the road to the Church of Ayios Stéfanos. Marathon was celebrated in antiquity as the place where Theseus killed the bull of Marathon and the scene of the first great battle between the Greeks and Persians in 490 BC.
10 Hiking and Climbing at Mount Parnis
Only 10 kilometers from the Athens city center, Mount Párnis offers a wonderful escape to nature. This idyllic area attracts many visitors who appreciate the pristine pine forests and pleasant climate. To reach Mount Parnis, drive from Athens' outlying suburb of Achárnes for about 12 kilometers. The scenic road winds its way up to the mountain with numerous sharp bends. Past the Chapel of Ayía Triáda on Parnithos Street, tourists will find the Parnis Palace Hotel at the foot of Mount Parnis. Nearby is a mountain hut where adventurous hikers can begin a climb to the summit of Mount Parnis.
For more hiking and mountain biking opportunities further afield, Mount Parnon, 200 kilometers from Athens, offers a relatively mild alpine climate as well as beautiful waterfalls, deep caves, and dramatic gorges.
11 The Temple of Apollo in Thérmos
For those who are interested in archaeology and have time to travel further from Athens, the Temple of Apollo in Thérmos (about 300 kilometers from Athens) is a fascinating site worth the journey. The ruins are in a picturesque location on the northern shore of Lake Trikhonis, a few kilometers from Thérmos. An earlier Helladic megaron (Temple of Apollo) was built here in the 10th century BC. The ruins standing today represent a successive temple that replaced the earlier one. These remains date to 625 BC. For more insight into the ancient history of this area, visit Agrínion (about 27 kilometers away), which has an interesting archaeological museum (1-2 Diamanti Street) well worth the detour.
About 218 kilometers from Athens in a spectacular location jutting from the slopes of the Taygetos range, the ruins of medieval Mystras are a UNESCO World Heritage site. The village lies about seven kilometers from Sparta and provides a fascinating glimpse of a town from the late Byzantine period (13th-15th centuries). A great place to begin a tour is at the hilltop fortress (constructed by Guillaume de Villehardouin) to see panoramic views over the beautiful countryside. Other highlights include the Mitrópolis, Mistra's metropolitan or episcopal church; the Palace of the Despot; the Pantánassa convent; the Vrontókhion monastery and its churches: the Áyii Theódori (1296) and the Afendikó; and the Perívleptos monastery with its fine Byzantine paintings.
While in the area, stop by Sparta's archaeological museum to see finds from nearby digs. South of Sparta is the village of Krokeés, which in ancient times was known for its quarries of Lapis Lacedaemonius, a dark green volcanic stone used to construct public baths.