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Athens is a captivating city and one of the world’s top travel bucket list destinations, home to the iconic Parthenon and countless ancient treasures. While there is plenty to do in the city to spend a week or much longer, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to take at least one day trip. With so many different options, there’s sure to be a few things on this list that will be one of the highlights of your trip to Greece.
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Cape Sounion, located at the southernmost tip of Attica, is home to the Temple of Poseidon, one of the most popular half-day trips from Athens. It sits on a hill overlooking the Aegean providing breathtaking views and all sorts of picture-perfect spots. If you aren’t driving, there are multiple tour operators that offer this as an excursion, or you can reach it by taxi in about an hour. Built in 444 BC, it was constructed of local marble from Agrilesa and features carved graffiti from Lord Byron, who was said to be so impressed that he carved his name on one of the columns. This is also one of the best places to catch a sunset, so you may want to visit in the late afternoon, enjoy a swim and maybe an ouzo before returning to the city after a colorful finale.
Located right in the backyard of Athens, Poros sits in the southern part of the Saronic Gulf, about an hour’s ferry ride from the capital city. That makes it easy to do as a day trip, but despite the easy access the island has somehow managed to retain its authentic Greek atmosphere . This little island is a true gem; while its pretty beaches may not be featured in many “best of” lists, the fact that not anyone and everyone knows about it makes it even more alluring. Take in the magnificent views from the ring road that looks out to the glistening sapphire sea and dozens of surrounding islands. You can also enjoy exploring traditional villages that are linked by Byzantine footpaths like Parikia, Lefkes and Naoussa, which provide quintessential examples of Cycladic architecture, complete with whitewashed homes and blue-domed churches. In the capital of Parikia, discover a well-preserved 13th-century castle, grand Neoclassical mansions and more. There are plenty of tavernas, cafes and lively bars to enjoy throughout the island, many of which overlook picturesque fishing harbors.
On a day trip to Peloponnese, less than a two-hour drive from Athens, you can enjoy all sorts of delights. It’s one of the birthplaces of modern civilization with a rich and glorious historic past and offers plenty of natural beauty, including pristine beaches framed by crystal clear waters for snorkeling, soaring mountains and vineyards. The Argolis Peninsula is home to the Mycenae, a fascinating ruin from the flourishing civilization here some 4,000 years ago with huge stone block foundations that remain incredibly well-preserved. You can still walk through the famous Lion’s Gate, climb into the site’s secret cistern and explore the royal tholos tombs.
Delphi was one of the most important places in ancient Greece and one of the country’s most visited archaeological sites. It’s a popular day trip from Athens, with plenty of tours to join if you don’t want to head here on your own. Most will bring you to the Temple of Apollo and the museum, as well as the town of Arachova. Dedicated to the Greek god Apollo, the ancient religious sanctuary was developed over the 8th-century B.C. and famously houses the Oracle of Delphi and the priestess Pythia, known in the ancient world for predicting the future. It also hosted the Pythian games which are considered the most important only after the Olympics.
The Saronic Gulf island of Aegina offers an ideal combination of picturesque sandy beaches, important ancient ruins, neoclassical architecture and plenty of local delicacies. Easy to reach by ferry from Piraeus, it hosts the Temple of Aphaia, noted among the top ancient sites in Greece. The temple predates even the Parthenon in Athens. As the ferries dock right in Aegina town, you may want to take a short tour in a horse-drawn carriage. If island beaches are what you have in mind, head to Sarpa, the most beautiful on Aegina, located on the southwestern coast.
A bucket list island destination in Greece, Hydra boasts a long history and magnificent well-preserved stone mansions that were once home to the great captains and naval families of the Greek Revolution. There are no cars here, with small boats and donkeys serving as the local transportation. Visitors will find multiple small museums and art galleries to explore in a place that feels like stepping back in time. It’s a great place to just sip a cocktail or a coffee watching the world go by, including the donkeys that trod past. Or just gaze out at the lovely horseshoe-shaped harbor, one of the most scenic in the country.
The famous battle between the Spartan and the Persian forces crossed a route through the mountainous area of Thermopylae, guided by Ephialtes in 480 BC. Leonidas and a band of 300 courageous Spartans managed to temporarily halt the invading Persian army of Xerxes in the process. Today this area offers the opportunity to experience both ancient Greek history and Greek mythology, as Hercules is said to have bathed in the area’s hot springs to get re-energized. A giant statue of Leonidas honors the heroic battle and just a stone’s throw south is a small museum. Nearby is a flowing hot spring that fills a small natural pool for soaking.
Meteora is one of the country’s most fantastical dreamscapes, a region famous for its Byzantine-era monasteries that sit precariously atop rocky outcrops overlooking the hills of Thessaly. Meteora means “Suspended in the air” in Greek and it’s considered to be one of the most powerful examples of the architectural transformation of a site into a place of prayer, meditation and retreat. While it’s a four-hour drive from Athens, it’s worth rising early to view a slice of this significant period in history from the 14th and 15 centuries, a time when the eremitic ideals of early Christianity were restored to a place of honor by monastic communities. You’ll be able to learn more about why the monuments were built on the sandstone peaks and the reason the inhabitants chose to live their monastic lives there.