Best Greek Islands Near Athens for a Weekend Getaway
The equivalent of summer in Greece, both for tourists and for locals, is a trip to one or more of the many beautiful islands of the country. There are so many to choose from with different lifestyle, different nature and for different budget. If your trip is limited to Athens, and you have not the time or the budget for a week on the Greek islands, don’t worry. You do not necessarily have to miss out on the island experience, as there are many islands near Athens as well, perfect for a weekend trip (or sometimes even for one day).
Aegina is my favorite weekend getaway island and it has a special place in my heart thanks to its picturesque villages, its archaeology, ceramics and my lovely personal memories from the island. I have also visited it many times as it is only 40 minutes away from Piraeus, making it the perfect destination for impromptu weekend escapes on a Friday evening after the end of your shift, like I did with my colleague, Matti. Ferries from Piraeus to Aegina leave every 10-20 minutes, so you don’t really need to book a ticket.
You will arrive in the main port of Aegina, which is busy, with lots of boats, cruise ships and catamarans, tourist shops and seafood restaurants. You can also visit the archaeological museum of Aegina and the Kolona, a single column remaining from the ancient temple of Apollo. If you have a car, don’t miss to visit the port town of Aghia Marina and the lovely small coastal village of Perdika. Alternatively, you can take the local buses. In Aegina is also located the Doric Temple of Aphaia (and its museum), dating back to around 500 BC.
If you decide to spend the night in Aegina, there are many bungalows, hotels and rooms to let around the island. I usually stay at Kalokenti Studios, which has a delightful interior garden. Aegina is also famous for its pistachios, so you will find shops selling pistachios and pistachio based products around the island, also a good souvenir idea. I have purchased the pistachio pesto, which was delicious, and a pistachio-based peanut butter. Still I prefer just plain pistachios in their shells to snack on the ferry ride back to Athens.
Travel time from Piraeus: 40 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes
Price: One-way ferry ticket costs between 8 and 14€
It is difficult to quite grasp that this small paradise with clean green-blue waters is literally less than one hour away from the port of Piraeus with the ferry. Agistri in Greek means hook, as the island hooked travelers due to its natural beauty. I was hearing about Agistri for years from friends, but only visited in 2016, as I did not manage to get any time off work, but still wanted an island getaway. My first thought was why on earth have I not visited sooner! I was pleasantly surprised, and I have visited dozens of Greek islands, so this is saying something.
Agistri is rather small, with beautiful nature, covered in pines and beaches with amazing waters. The earliest archaeological finds go back to 5th century BC. There are not many tourist attractions in the island, apart from the many churches, like Zoodochou Pigis, Agion Panton and Agion Theodoron, but Agistri is a beautiful attraction on its own. Agistri is considered an alternative destination amongst Greeks, due to its nudist beach Chalikiada, where people also go free camping. Megalochori is the port and the main village of the island, while Skala is also a popular tourist destination with its sandy beach. Other beautiful pebbly beaches are Aponisos and Dragonera.
In Agistri you will also have the chance to try many activities, like kayak, scuba diving, hiking and wind-surfing, while there are also a few clubs, beach bars and pool bars. There are also plenty of taverns and restaurants with excellent food in all the villages of the island. Personally, I ate in the restaurant of Alkyonis Rooms, with good Greek traditional homemade food, daily specials and a beautiful view to the sea.
Travel time: 55 minutes from the port of Piraeus with the ferry
Price: One-way ferry ticket costs 14,50€
Poros is in reality two islands, Sferia and Kalavria, separated by the Peloponnese peninsula by a narrow sea channel. It is a beautiful green island with many places of historical interest. The earliest settlement ruins date back to the Early Bronze Age period, while the island has also played an important part throughout antiquity up to the Byzantine period, the Ottoman rule and the Greek Revolution due to its strategic geographical position. During 19th century, the island also operated as Russian naval base. It is also said that the famous orator Demosthenes killed himself here by drinking conium.
During your stay, you can visit the Archaeological Museum of Poros and the Temple of Poseidon (built around 520 BC), the Monastery of Zoodohos Pigi (founded around 1720 AD) and the Cathedral of Saint George, with frescoes by painter Kostis Parthenis. Visible from every part of the island is the Clock Tower, up from you can enjoy a beautiful view. The most popular beaches on the island are Askeli and Limanaki tis Agapis.
The beaches on the island are generally sandy with clean waters, but they are, however, nothing too spectacular compared to other Greek islands. Poros has also hosted some scenes from Greek cinema like 1963 comedy Tyfla na'hei o Marlon Brando and the very popular 1961 musical Alice in the Navy. Personally, I had a lovely weekend in Poros many summers ago, even though my memory starts getting rather hazy after so many years (or maybe it is due to the tequila shots I had in the many bars of the port!)
Travel time: 1 hour from the port of Piraeus with speedboat and 2 hours with regular boat
Price: 24€ euros for the speedboat and 14€ for regular boat
Discover one of the world’s most astonishing destinations
Spetses is a rather romantic island with beautiful white neo-classical houses. Cars are banned from the island and you can transport with horse-drawn carriages, a local trademark, walk, bike or lend a scooter. The island was originally named Pitiousa up until the 15th century, when the Venetians named it Spezia (isola di spezzie, "Island of Spice") for all the nice smells of spices on the island, as it was a major trade route. Spetses has been occupied since the Mesolithic period (around 800 BC), and ever since has played an important role in Greece’s history.
In the Museum of Spetses, the archaeology lovers will enjoy among others the ceramics from Aghia Marina settlement (3rd millennium BC), as well as the finds from the Dokos shipwreck dated around 2200 BC (considered the oldest shipwreck discovered by archaeologists) and the shipwreck of Irion (around 1200BC). The island has a very strong naval tradition and it was the first island to raise the flag of independence in April 1821, against the Ottoman Empire. It was also the hometown of fierce Laskarina Bouboulina, heroine of the Greek Revolution. Her house nowadays operates as the Museum of Bouboulina and her statue decorates the square of Poseidonio. You can also visit the mansion of Sotiriou Anargirou, the mansion of Hatzigiannis Mexis and the Anargyrios and Korgialenios School of Spetses, as well as the lighthouse of Spetses, which is one of the oldest lighthouses in Greece, along with the one in Kea.
As far as entertainment goes, there are your typical all-day bars around the island. If you visit Spetses in May, don’t miss out the Spetsathlon, a triathlon event where thousands of athletes from around the world participate in a race of swimming, biking and running, whereas if you visit in September you will enjoy the Armata Festival, with a live re-enactment of the 1822 battle of Spetses against the Turkish fleet. The beaches of the island are lovely, some near beach bars and others quite secluded, reachable either by buses or boats. I also suggest you visit the Bekiri Cave, for a little bit of adventure, where you can walk but also swim in this natural cave where locals used to hide from pirates!
Travel time: 1.5 to 3 hours for Piraeus
Price: One-way ferry ticket costs 38,50€ from Piraeus
Andros is the second largest island of the Cycladic archipelago after Naxos, with plenty of things to do. In picturesque Chora, the capital of the island, you can visit the many galleries and museums, like the Archaeological Museum of Andros, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Naval Museum and the Museum of Folklore, the ruins of the Castle (destroyed in 1943 by the German army) and the impressive lighthouse of Tourlitis, while you can enjoy a swim at Neimporio beach and Paraporti, also ideal for water sports. In Paleopoli, the old capital, you will find the archaeological site of the settlement from classical antiquity with an archaeological museum. For more archaeology, check out the ancient Zagoras settlement and the Neolithic site of Strofilas, with the amazing rock engravings depicting animals, fish and the earliest depictions of boats in Cyclades.
Andros is also known for the rich in minerals natural springs, like the source of Sariza in Apoikia and the Maenad’s Springs. If you love nature, head to the stunning waterfalls of Pythara and the Dipotama, one of the most beautiful parts of the island. Other attractions include the Cycladic Olive Museum, the Holy Monastery of Panagia Panachrantos and the absolutely amazing Foros Cave in Aladino. For swimming there are many nice beaches accessible by car or the public bus, like the Chrissi Ammos and Agios Petros, while a bit more difficult to reach are Achla, Vitali, and Tis Grias To Pidima.
For more active holidays you have the options of hiking, windsurfing, scuba diving and 4x4 off road. Andros has a few bars and clubs for nightlife, mainly in Batsi, like the beautiful cocktail bar Vraxos. I visited Andros for a weekend getaway with a friend from New Zealand during September, an off-season period hence not so busy, as I prefer it this way. We stayed at the camping area in Gavrio, which has good facilities and the most amazing camping manager ever, who we later met in one of the bars of the port and spent a great night out with shots and lots of Greek dancing.
Travel time: 2 hours from Rafina
Price: One-way ticket costs 19€ from the port of Rafina
When I talk about Kea, or alternatively called Tzia, what I immediately think of are camping in Pisses, great food, many long nights of sister bonding and star gazing at the sandy beaches. Kea is the closest of the Cycladic islands to Athens, even though in architecture it has little similarities to the rest of the Cyclades, and has been for many years the perfect getaway for Athenians, often owning summer houses there.
Kea is the perfect destination for a relaxing, but also adventurous holiday, as you can also get involved with plenty of activities and enjoy the nature. You can enjoy hiking which is extremely popular on the island, as the best tracking signposted paths of any other Greek island are located here. You may also try bird-watching, scuba diving and explore the many small caves around the island, like the ones in Kálamos and in Áyios Timótheos. For the fans of wheels, 4x4 driving is also enjoyed in the island’s roads. Kea also has very nice beaches, mainly sandy, like the ones of Pisses, Liparo, Korissia, Koundouros and Spathi. For a taste of archaeology, visit the Neolithic settlement of Kefalá (3,300-3,200 BC), the early Cycladic settlement of Agia Irene, as well as the ancient city of Karthea that flourished during the Archaic period, with the remains of the Doric temple of Pythiou Apollo and a theater overlooking the sea.
The capital of the island, called Ioulida, is extremely beautiful, with many good restaurants and the famous Lion of Kea, emblem of the island; an ancient sculpture from 600 BC. Around the island, like on Koundouros beach, there are many shipwrecks, an excellent opportunity for divers to explore the wonders under the sea. Also, do not miss the opportunity to visit the Panagia Kastriani Monastery, on the northern side of the island, 12km away from Ioulida. The view from there is incredible!
Travel time: 1 hour from Lavrio (which is close to Sounio)
Price: One-way ticket costs 12.50€ from the port of Lavrio
Last but not least, you can also visit the exceptionally beautiful and picturesque Hydra, which has been specially mentioned in our previous article. Whichever island you decide to visit, you will have a small taste of Greek island life and enjoy the lovely scenery Greece has to offer!