If you’re in Athens and want to spend some time at the beach, you could take a tram down to Glyfada – it’s a decent option. Better though, take a ferry from Piraeus to Aegina. Aegina is a decent sized island in the Saronic gulf offering many “typically Greek” attractions: a small traditional port, beautiful sea for swimming and nice beaches, and some ancient culture (Classic and Byzantine in this case).
From the centre of Athens, the Metro takes less than 30 minutes to Piraeus, then there are departures about every hour on either the super fast Flying Dolphin hydrofoil or the car ferry even in low season, meaning a day trip is really feasible. I do recommend spending one or two nights there.
We visited in October, had five full days, and spent two days in Aegina. To be close to the ferry back to Athens, we stayed in Aegina Town, which in retrospect was the nicest place in low season, unless you want total seclusion or the end-of season vibe when most places are shuttered up.
We stayed at a sweet little hotel 5 minutes from the port, called Aeginitiko Archontiko. It is a small family hotel housed in a traditional building rooms are tiny (tiny bathrooms appear a Greek specialty) but it’s so homely and friendly – the day we arrived we just came to drop our bags and were served a sumptuous breakfast in what used to be the salon of the house, then given the scenic tour of half-made up and still-occupied rooms to pick a room.
So, Aegina Town is pretty much the island centre – you will find banks, post office, a rather large port, and lots of shops as well as some decent beaches in walking distance – and some hotels and more restaurants you can try. There are also some excavations flanked by okay beaches – Avra and Kolona.
Avra Beach is literally next to the road leading out of town, and has the advantage that you can jump into the sea from the terrace of any of the small roadside restaurants. Same goes if you feel hungry after your swim. Kolona Beach is another few minutes along the road, quieter, and more rugged. In October, us and another couple were the only visitors there wading through a bit of seaweed to bathe in the super clear waters.
After our swim, we felt hungry, and went for lunch in one of the roadside restaurants. About half were open, and they looked pretty much the same with their checked tableclothes, outdoor seating and seaside terraces. Hello greasy Greek food!
It was tasty, and the main course fish was enough to feed us and the hungry cats prowling our table (only when the proprietress wasn’t looking, as most local business owners don’t like to see you feed cats from tables).
After lunch we checked into our room, held a siesta and were woken again by the church bells around 5pm.
Perfect to check out the waterfront cafes! Yachts are moored right across the road, plus it’s close to the ferry pier, so these cafes can be a bit crowded, and offer the usual “international menu”. Just fifty metres or so on, more and more basic little bars mix in, and you see people playing cards and board games at the tables.
Perfect place to watch the sunset, then eat dinner. We went to a courtyard restaurant in the pedestrian row behind the seaside promenade – they tended to be more Greek, less touristy, though, of course, plenty tourists who come to eat here. As a reader helpfully pointed out, the name of the restaurant is Kappos Etsi. Thank you Steve!
On our second day in Aegina, we drove round on a scooter. Two scooters, and being ever budget-conscious, we went for the 15EURO option and had to do without fripperies like speedometers or indicator lights. For twice the price, I believe you get a very new model without whatever some previous drivers managed to crack off in its hire life. So I’m not going to give you a recommendation, but you will see rental places everywhere and I recommend you look closer than we did! To be fair to our scooters, they ran very well all over the island! Riding our of town takes a while as town gently flows into suburbs with low rise houses with gardens, then farms with small houses, then woods and farmland.
Agios Nektarios and its monastery are the first point of interest if you travel the main road towards Agia Marina, the largest resort. The monastery was built to honour the local Greek Orthodox Saint Nektarios, a priest from Thrace who, via Cairo and Athens, came to write on the island of Aegina and died there in 1920, his sweater immediately healing a paralysed man in the bed next to him. Like the saint, the monastery is contemporary, and the large basilica containing his relics is one of the largest in Greece. The monastery sees a large number of pilgrims, and many reported miracles include cures of cancer and infertility.
One turn to the left and half a kilometre past Agios Nektarios is Palaeochora, a place I have been dreaming to revisit for many years. Back in 1995, I visited Aegina all-too-briefly in a day trip from Poros, and lets just say my companion was less inclined to crawl around abandoned churches. Combined with the promise of a great view when climbing that hill and a lazy afternoon, it was much easier to motivate my current travel mate! I will put this in a separate post, because it’s such a culturally rich place, and deserves to be visited.
Agia Marina at this time of the year was sleepy, almost shut down. We found one taverna that was still open, and the beautiful sea front had closed restaurants and an eerily empty promenade. We didn’t stay long.
Just a couple of kilometres above Agia Marina, another treasure justifies the long ride across the island: one of the best preserved Greek temples anywhere, resplendent with a near full set of Doric columns but missing a roof. Once the antiquities were admired, the view wasn’t bad either, and conveniently, there is was small cafe serving homemade pistachio ice cream.
Back in Aegina Town (where all roads meet), it was not yet time to go to the cafe and watch the world go by – we did this instead in Perdhika, which is lovely but well away from any action. The little village was nearly deserted – its streets certainly were, while about five people drank coffee on the terrace restaurants overlooking the marina. One yacht was just mooring, and the tiny boats taking people to the islet of Moni (even more deserted but good beaches I hear) were idling in the harbour.
On our return, we had the choice of stopping in the village of Marathonas where a beach taverna with proper sunbeds and gastronomy beckoned, or one of the deserted beaches along the road. Again, super clean water here, and a sandbank meaning you walk in for a few hundred meters unless you like a good crawl in the sand. However, rocks here and there (in Aegina Town as well) make the beaches on this side one for the swimming shoes, but don’t let that put you off.
We returned the scooters, where just a cursory look was taken, and I don’t think we could have bashed them up much more), fed the cats again on what had now turned into a pretty big round as we spotted more groups of hungry kitties, then fed ourselves. Sea food this time, in a tiny restaurant called Geladakis right by the entry to the fish market. I am pleased to report the cats looked quite well fed here. We even saw some of the sellers feeding them fish from their stalls.
So far, we had spent a day and a half in Aegina, but due to the scooter rental, had seen a lot. I used the last morning to stroll to the harbour and to find yet more hungry cats, fed them the remaining cat food and wondered whether I ought to research my holiday destinations better and just travel to places with a decent animal welfare record, but even where I live, in Germany with its excellent animal protection laws, animals get abandoned, and not just turned into shelters but dumped in the street, too.
After another humongous home-baked breakfast, we bought some more pistachios and set back to Athens for the big-city part of our little autumn sun catching trip.
How to get to Aegina: Flying Dolphins from Piraeus about every hour or two, and a car ferry every three hours until the early evening. Most boats go to Aegina Town, and public transport from there can be tricky although there are some buses (and numerous taxis offering fixed price rides to the sights and major villages)
Where to stay: In low season, definitely Aegina Town. We stayed at the Aeginitiko Archontiko Hotel for approximately 45EURO per night. It has no website but can be booked through a number of the mainstream hotel booking sites.
Things to See: Aegina Town has a couple of low-key museums and an excavation site near the harbour. Other sights are the Temple of Aphaia, Paleochora and the Monastery of Agios Nektarios. Perdhika is a sleepy picturesque village with boats to Moni if you desire more seclusion. Agia Marina is a resort centre with a lovely sandy beach but not much else to offer in low season.
Where to eat: The small pedestrian street running parallel to the road hugging the harbour has at least ten restaurants which all looked pretty good. There are three opposite the fish market, of which Geladakis is one, and a Cretan restaurant called Kriton Gefsis further along, which gets good reviews. Some rustic but greatly placed restaurants right by the sea in Avra Beach.
Other islands in the Argo-Saronic are similarly underrated, though have worse ferry connections. But what other islands are there that aren’t over-touristed, and are within fairly easy reach of the mainland, especially Piraeus or Rafina? As always, and advise is much welcome. Thank you for reading!