17 Top Day Trips & Weekend Getaways from Athens
Travelers who spend time exploring the area around Athens will be rewarded with fascinating historical attractions, spectacular natural 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 Daphne, the inspiring Kaisariani Monastery, the hiker's paradise of Mount Parnitha, and the gorgeous Lake Vouliagmeni on the Athens Riviera coastline. Other destinations are slightly farther afield and merit staying overnight, especially Metéora, where amazing monasteries spring forth from a mystical landscape, and Nafplio, a romantic seaside town that is a perfect base for visiting archaeological sites in Mycenae and Epidaurus. Any of these excursions would make a fantastic addition to your Greece vacation itinerary. Plan your adventures with this list of the top day trips and weekend getaways from Athens:
In an enchanting natural setting between two craggy peaks of Mount Parnassus, the archaeological ruins of Delphi have a magical quality. This intriguing UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site was one of the most important religious centers in Greece in the 6th century BC (on par with the Island of Delos). During ancient times, pilgrims came to hear the oracle of Apollo (a prophetess believed to channel the words of the god Apollo) speak at Delphi's Temple of Apollo. At this legendary site, the oracle shared advice and prophecies. The Sacred Way that leads up to the Temple of Apollo gives visitors a sense of the pilgrimage path upon entering what was considered the hallowed Sanctuary of Apollo, a complex of several monuments. The nearby Archaeological Museum displays sculptures and other artifacts uncovered at the archaeological site.
Delphi is 180 kilometers from Athens, and it's possible to visit it as a day trip, although the drive takes about 2.5 hours. For those who have the time, an overnight trip is more relaxing, but for travelers spending only one day in Delphi, the best way to see all the essential places is by taking an organized excursion. The Delphi Day Trip from Athens is recommended because it features a walking tour through the archaeological site, led by a knowledgeable guide who shares insights about the ancient monuments and history.
Breathtakingly surreal and serenely spiritual, the Metéora monasteries spring forth from a dreamy landscape of rocky megaliths in the plains of the Thessaly Valley. The first hermits came to this far-removed corner of Greece at least as early as the 11th century to withdraw from the world and contemplate divinity. Christian Orthodox monks began building monasteries here in the 14th century. Originally 24 monasteries stood at this astonishing location, built onto the edges of vertiginous cliffs or perched on sheer sandstone formations as high as 300 meters. With their exalted heights and almost mystical inaccessibility, the Metéora monasteries seem to soar towards heaven and reflect the human striving for holiness.
Currently only a small group of monks and nuns live and worship at the Metéora monasteries. Most of the activity today at Metéora centers around tourism, as the UNESCO-World Heritage Site is an extremely popular travel destination. Six of the original monasteries remain and are open to the public. The largest monastery, the Great Meteoron Monastery, built in the 14th century, is now a museum. The Monastery of Varlaám, built in 1541-1542, is the second largest and has a magnificent church decorated with exquisite frescoes. Clinging to a steep precipice as if suspended in midair, the glorious 15th-century Monastery of the Holy Trinity is the most inaccessible; it's reached by a pedestrian pathway that leads to a staircase of 140 steps. The Monastery of St. Nicholas, dating to the 14th century, features a tiny low-domed church decorated with precious murals. At a lower elevation than the other monasteries, the Monastery of Rousanoú (now a convent) has pretty gardens tended by the nuns who live here. In a vantage point that offers superb panoramas of the valley and the mountains, the Monastery of St. Stephan (also a convent) is the easiest of the monasteries to access because it is reached by a footbridge rather than steps. Tourists who have enough time can hike from one monastery to the next.
Metéora is a long journey from Athens (about 350 kilometers away) whether traveling by train, bus, or car, so it can be difficult to fit in as a day trip. For the easiest and best experience at Metéora, a guided tour is the way to go. One recommendation is the Meteora Day Trip by Train from Athens that allows for visits to two or three monasteries, led by a guide who explains the unique history of each monastery.
3 Mycenae: The Legendary City of Greek Mythology
The real-life location of the city of Agamemnon in Greek mythology (often mentioned by Homer), the archaeological ruins of Mycenae are 120 kilometers from Athens and about 25 kilometers from Nafplio. Mycenae dates to the Bronze Age, when the fortified citadel at this hilltop settlement was an important center of ancient Mycenaean civilization, especially in the 14th and 13th century BC. The earliest archaeological fragments uncovered here date to the 15th century BC, considered the Prehistoric Era. Visitors can see remains of ancient palaces, fountains, ramparts, and the famous Lion's Gate and "Tomb of Agamemnon" (also called the "Treasury of Atreus"). Many of the ruins are remarkably well-preserved considering their antiquity.
To get the most out of a visit to this incredible archaeological site, a guided tour is the best option. The full-day Mycenae and Epidaurus Day Trip departs from Athens, and stops in Mycenae, Nafplio, and Epidaurus. The visit to Mycenae includes a walking tour led by an expert in ancient Greek history, who illuminates the significance of the Mycenae ruins and tells interesting stories.
4 Athens Riviera (Coast of Apollo)
This lovely stretch of coastline begins just a few kilometers outside of Athens and extends for approximately 100 kilometers (a two-hour drive) until reaching Cape Soúnion. During summertime, vacation-goers luxuriate in the balmy weather, palm-fringed seaside esplanades, and well-maintained beaches. This area also has many archaeological ruins, as well as pampering spas, five-star hotels, traditional restaurants, golf courses, beach clubs, sailing clubs, and yacht marinas. Highlights of the Athens Riviera include the historic seaport of Lavrio; the mesmerizing Lake Vouliagmeni, therapeutic natural hot springs with underwater caves; and the impressive Doric-style Temple of Poseidon (dating to the 5th century BC), which stands majestically on a steep crag at Cape Soúnion overlooking the sparkling emerald-blue waters of the Mediterranean.
It's easy to visit many of the attractions along the Athens Riviera by using public transportation; the tram leaves from Syntagma Square in the Athens city center. Traveling by sailboat allows a different approach to the coastline's seaside villages and beaches. The most delightful way to discover the Athens Riviera is by taking an organized tour. The Cape Sounion Half-Day Trip departs from Athens for a scenic drive along the coastline, winding along the stunning coastal cliffs until arriving at the Temple of Poseidon. At the archaeological site, tourists can explore the ruins, take photos, and admire the ravishing sea view that extends all the way to the Island of Kea on a clear day.
5 The Islands of Aegina, Poros, and Hydra
Surrounded by the calm blue waters of the Saronic Gulf, the islands of Aegina, Poros, and Hydra are easy day-trip destinations for tourists based in Athens. The Island of Aegina, the closest to Athens (a 40-minute ferry ride from Piraeus), is famous for the Temple of Aphaia Athena, which is one of the best-preserved ancient temples in Greece. Other must-see attractions include the ancient ruins of the Sanctuary of Apollo and the Archaeological Museum with a famous 6th-century BC sculpture of the Aegina Sphinx. Known for its beautiful sandy shoreline and crystal-clear waters, the Island of Poros (a one-hour ferry ride from Piraeus) is ideal for family summer vacations and weekend trips from Athens. Highlights include the waterfront town of Poros and the seaside village of Askeli with tourist-friendly beaches, cafés, and restaurants.
Slightly farther from Athens but still an easy day trip, the Island of Hydra is the most touristy of the three islands. This tiny island is completely free of roads, cars, and motorcycles. Donkeys are the only means of public transportation. Quaint cobblestone streets and steep winding pedestrian paths add to the old-world feel. The island's capital, Hydra Town, has an attractive waterfront, a walled harbor, and stately old mansions. Also worth a detour are the little fishing village of Kaminia, with its traditional seafood taverns and lovely marina, and the village of Vlichos, which can be reached from Hydra Town by a seaside pathway (a 40-minute walk) that affords splendid views of the Peloponnese coastline.
All three islands are accessible by ferry boats from the port at Piraeus (12 kilometers from Athens). Each of the islands merits a visit, but because of the limited ferry schedule, it's only logistically feasible to visit one of the islands on a day trip if traveling by ferry. One way to see all three islands in a day (and much easier than traveling by ferry from Piraeus) is the Hydra, Poros, and Aegina Day Cruise. This full-day cruise departs from a centrally located hotel or meeting point near Syntagma Square in Athens and stops at all three islands. Sufficient time is allowed on each island for taking leisurely strolls, visiting the historic monuments, browsing souvenir shops, and basking on sunny terraces of outdoor cafés. The cruise also includes lunch onboard the ship and a traditional Greek folkloric dance performance during the journey back to Athens.
About 85 kilometers (a one-hour drive) from Athens and 40 kilometers (a 35-minute drive) from Mycenae, Corinth is a modern port town with a bustling waterfront scene and a wide selection of shops, restaurants, and cafés. For tourists, the main attraction is the Ancient Corinth archaeological site (nine kilometers outside the modern town). Standing on the highest point in Ancient Corinth, the iconic Temple of Apollo (dating to the 5th century BC) appears from a distance to dominate the landscape. Upon closer observation, the temple's massive Doric columns give a sense of the monument's original scale and grandeur. Most of the other ruins at the site date to the 1st century AD (during the era of Roman rule), including the forum, bathhouse, theater, the temple of Octavia, and the healing sanctuary of Asclepius.
Many of the objects excavated at the archaeological site are now on display at the nearby Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth. To truly appreciate the ancient ruins and artifacts, the best option is to go on a walking tour led by a knowledgeable guide. One recommendation is the Corinth Half-Day Trip from Athens that begins with a drive along the Saronic Gulf and stops briefly at the Corinth Canal before arriving at Ancient Corinth for an in-depth, 90-minute tour of the archeological site. The half-day trip concludes by stopping at a seaside village before returning to Athens.
7 The Romantic City of Nafplio
In a sheltered bay on the Argolic Gulf, this picturesque seaport is full of old-world romance. Nafplio's lively Mediterranean ambience is found throughout the town, but especially in its waterfront cafés and atmospheric alleyways. Boasting a rich heritage, Nafplio dates back to the Prehistoric Era with the Argonautic Expedition and the Trojan War. Later, the conquering Romans, Byzantine Empire, Venetians, and Ottoman Turks left their mark in a plethora of ancient monuments: fortified medieval castles, lavish Venetian buildings, elaborate Ottoman fountains, and domed Turkish mosques. At the city's center is the Italianate Syntagma Square, lined with historic buildings. Another top attraction is the Palamidi Castle, presiding over a hilltop more than 200 meters above sea level. It's a rewarding trek up to 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 reached by boat during the tourism season, but is still a popular destination and the most-photographed landmark of Nafplio. The Bourtzi fortress hosts many summertime festivals. Nafplio is about 136 kilometers from Athens in Greece's Peloponnese region. It's a great base for spending a few days to visit the archaeological sites in Mycenae (21 kilometers away) and Epidaurus (35 kilometers away).
Another ancient town worthy of a detour is Argos (12 kilometers from Nafplio), which has an excellent Archaeological Museum. Outside of the town are excavated ruins that include ancient Roman baths (thermae), a marketplace (agora), the Temple of Aphrodite (Venus), and a Hellenistic-era theater with seating for an audience of 20,000 spectators (making it among the largest in ancient Greece). The Ancient Theater of Argos is still in use today, when it becomes the venue for the Summer Festival of Argos-Mycenae from June through August. Attending a music concert or dance performance under a starry night sky at this spacious and beautifully designed ancient theater is among the most memorable things to do while on vacation in Greece.
8 The Ancient Theater of Epidaurus
This pleasant seaside town on the Saronic Gulf is about a three-hour drive from Athens and a 30-minute drive from Nafplio. The main tourist draw of Epidaurus is the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus, which dates from the 4th-century BC. At this well-preserved monument (Greece's best-preserved ancient theater), visitors can easily imagine the Greek dramas that were performed here more than two millennia ago. Taking advantage of the Ancient Theater's outstanding acoustics, the Epidaurus Greek Festival (on weekends in July and August) re-enacts performances of ancient Greek drama. Some of the festival performances are held at the Little Theater (also from the 4th-century BC). Other classical-era ruins in Epidaurus include the 5th-century BC Ancient Stadium, which was used for athletic games and sporting events and the 5th-century BC Sanctuary of Asclepius, the Asklepieion, a sacred place of healing believed to cure diseases.
Those who'd like to learn more about Epidaurus' ancient history will appreciate the town's Archaeological Museum, which displays statues, coins, and other objects excavated at the Epidaurus archaeological site. To ensure an enjoyable and educational visit to Epidaurus, try an organized excursion such as the Mycenae and Epidaurus Day Trip. This guided tour departing from Athens features a scenic drive along the Saronic Gulf and visits to the archaeological sites in Mycenae and Epidaurus, where a knowledgeable guide shares historical details that help bring the ancient ruins to life.
9 The Monastery of Daphni
The Monastery of Daphni is a peaceful spiritual retreat in a sublime setting, about 10 kilometers from Athens city center. In ancient times, this location was the site of the 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 gilded 11th-century mosaics adorning the church interior. The glittering sanctuary is considered one of the finest Byzantine churches in Greece, on par with the monasteries of Hosios Loukas near Delphi and Nea Moni of Chios. Next to the monastery's cloister is a pleasant courtyard.
10 Kaisariani Monastery
Another divinely meditative place to visit, only eight kilometers from Athens, the Kaisariani Monastery is nestled in a forest at the foot of Mount Hymettos. This lush parkland is filled with pine trees, cypresses, Mediterranean shrubs, and fragrant flowers. Monks once used the monastery's property for beekeeping and growing medicinal herbs. This delightful environment is supplied by a natural spring, the Kaisariani Spring, that once channeled water to a Temple of Aphrodite. The pure waters of the Kaisariani Spring were (and continue to be) credited with healing powers, particularly for women who wish to bear children. Spring water still flows from an ancient ram's head in the courtyard of Kaisariani Monastery. In harmony with the restful surroundings, the monastery's Byzantine church features a domed sanctuary built in the 11th century. The dazzling interior is decorated with ornate 16th-century frescoes.
After admiring the church, tourists should spend time wandering the extensive grounds, perhaps sitting under a shady tree in quiet reflection or having lunch at one of the picnic areas. Visitors may also relax at the monastery's small café in the forest or venture out onto the walking trails. The scenic paths afford sweeping panoramas of Athens in the distance and the surrounding countryside.
11 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.
12 Piraeus: An Ancient Harbor, Modern Port, and Ferry Terminus
Greece's largest modern port, Piraeus boasts more than 2,000 years of history. The fortified port was developed by Themistocles in the 5th century BC as a commercial harbor for Athens (12 kilometers away). Piraeus is still Athens' main commercial port and is one of the busiest seaports in the Mediterranean, as the departure point for ships sailing to Europe and the Near East. Travelers embarking on a tour around the Greek Islands will most likely begin at the Central Port in Piraeus, which is the starting point for ferry routes to all of the Aegean Islands.
Although many travelers quickly pass through Piraeus en route to their next destination, the town does have some tourist appeal. The main attractions are the restaurants and shops at Zea Marina (Pasalimáni Harbor), the Archaeological Museum, and nearby Ancient Theater of Zea, the seafood taverns at the Mikrolimano fishing harbor, and the charming hilltop neighborhood of Kastella. During summertime, cultural events and performances are held at an outdoor theater in Kastella.
13 Lake Marathon
Amid the olive groves and vine-covered hills outside of Athens (45 kilometers away),
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.
14 Hiking and Mountain Biking in the Peloponnese Region
In the Peloponnese region of mainland Greece, many hiking and mountain biking opportunities abound at Mount Parnon, about a 3.5-hour drive from Athens (287 kilometers away). The largest mountain range in Greece with the highest peak at 2,000 meters, Mount Parnon is remarkable for its marvelous diversity of natural scenery: pristine forests, dramatic gorges, fertile valleys, crystal-clear lakes, waterfalls, and pastoral areas where sheep and goats graze. Many old monasteries (dating from the Byzantine and Ottoman eras) are found in the Parnon mountain range, including the Monastery of Elona (13 kilometers north of Kosmas, an adorable little mountain village). The 14th-century monastery, now a convent, presides above the landscape from an awe-inspiring position on the edge of a steep cliff.
About 218 kilometers from Athens and 10 kilometers from Sparta, in a striking location jutting from the slopes of the Taygetos mountain range, the ruins of medieval Mystras (Mistra) are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Called the "castle city," this captivating walled town provides a glimpse of life in the late Byzantine period (13th-15th centuries). The best place to begin a tour is at the hilltop castle (constructed by Prince William of Villehardouin) to admire the panoramic views over the countryside. Other highlights include the Palace of the Despot, the elegant and vibrantly adorned Pantánassa Monastery (still a working convent), and the more secluded Perívieptos Monastery with its intricate masonry work and delicate Byzantine fresco paintings. Mystras also has several other Byzantine churches with exceptional frescoes that represent a flourishing of Byzantine religious art from the 13th to early 15th century. The Archaeological Museum of Mystras presents an extensive collection of Byzantine paintings, sculptures, jewelry, and religious icons.
While in the area, tourists should visit the Archaeological Museum of Sparta (12 kilometers from Mystras) that displays objects found at nearby archaeological sites. South of Sparta (30 kilometers away) is the village of Krokeés, which in ancient times was important for its quarries of Lapis Lacedaemonius, a dark green volcanic stone used to construct public baths.
16 The Temple of Apollo in Thérmos
Farther afield (250 kilometers from Athens in Western Greece) than most of the other day trip destinations, Thérmos appeals to travelers who have a deep appreciation for archaeology. The Temple of Apollo in Thérmos is one of Greece's earliest Doric temples, while other ruins at the site date back to the Mycenaean Era (16th to 12th century BC).
The ruins are in a picturesque location on the northern shore of Lake Trichonis, 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.
17 Mount Parnitha
Only 40 kilometers (about a one-hour drive) from the Athens city center, Mount Parnitha in Central Greece offers a wonderful escape to nature. This idyllic area attracts visitors who want to breathe in the fresh air and soak up the unspoiled scenery of refreshing pine forests. To reach the Mount Parnitha National Park, drive from Athens' outlying suburb of Achárnes. The scenic road winds its way up to the mountain with numerous sharp bends. Past the Chapel of Ayía Triáda on Parnithos Street, travelers will find the Parnis Palace Hotel at the foot of Mount Parnis. The highest mountain peak in Greece at 900 meters above sea level, Mount Parnitha has sensational hiking trails that traverse a densely wooded landscape. A convenient base for those spending a few days exploring the National Park is the Mpafi Mountain Refuge. From this secluded spot, adventurous hikers can begin a climb to the summit of Mount Parnitha and then indulge in the refuge's homemade cuisine and rustic overnight accommodations.