There was a time when Athens was viewed merely as a transit point to get to other parts of Greece, particularly to the sun and the sand of the islands.
But in recent years, the Greek capital has come into its own and people have discovered the rich archaeological treasures and the fun of the local neighbourhoods and modern cultural offerings.
With so many things to do in Athens, it’s easy to spend a few days just exploring the city. But if you’ve got time, I would also recommend considering some day trips from Athens.
There are some amazing places within easy reach of the city that will show you some of the best of Greece – from important archaeological sites, beautiful nature, vibrant cities, and even relaxing islands.
You may find it easier to drive for some of these Athens day trips. If you need to rent a car, I recommend using Discover Cars in Greece.
Before I get into the details, let me suggest a few highlights.
If you’re interested in history, then the Sanctuary of Delphi may be your best choice of these day trips from Athens, although there are some other of Greece’s World Heritage Sites in easy reach in the Peloponnese.
The nearby city of Corinth is really easy to reach and offers a great mix of history and beachside relaxation, while Nafplio is great but a bit further away.
And then there are the Saronic islands, which have enough to justify overnight trips but can also make for a good day excursion from Athens. Hydra is the most scenic, while Aegina is the closest and has the most variety of experiences.
To get a sense of where all of these places are, I’ve put them onto this map for you:
Doing at least one of these day trips from Athens really does add to your experience in the city, so I would highly recommend fitting one in if you have time.
Let’s have a look now at each of the options in a bit more detail.
Greece is full of history so it should be no surprise that some of the best day trips from Athens will take you back in time. Some of the most important sites for the Ancient Greeks were in easy reach of Athens, which is why you’ll find such a wealth of heritage just a short drive from the city.
One of the most popular day trips from Athens is to Delphi, the site the Ancient Greeks believed was the centre of the world. It was here, at Delphi’s Temple of Apollo, the the famous oracle would give her predictions to kings and military leaders – changing the course of history.
The sanctuary at Delphi was more than just a religious centre. It was also a hub of cultural activity and hosted the Pythian Games every four years. Although much of the archaeological site is in ruins, you can still see much of this infrastructure, set amongst beautiful mountains.
Delphi is about three hour’s drive away, so it’s quite an effort to get there and back, but I think it’s worth it to see one of the most important historical sites in Greece. There’s not just heaps of heritage to discover, it’s also a really pretty landscape up here.
Many of the tours stop in the nearby charming town of Arachova. If you’re driving out to Delphi yourself, you might like to consider that as well.
In some ways, Epidaurus can claim to be one of the birthplaces of modern medicine. It was here that the Ancient Greeks came as early as the 6th century BC to be healed of illness – and although it was thought the gods were doing the healing, many of the treatments are similar to ones we use today.
The archaeological site at Epidaurus, which is now a World Heritage Site, still has the remains of many of the buildings of this sanctuary, including some of the important Temple of Asclepius. But, really, it’s the theatre that is the highlight.
The Theatre of Epidaurus is considered to be one of the purest masterpieces of Ancient Greek architecture. The huge theatre could once fit about 14,000 people and it had such amazing acoustics that even someone sitting in the back row could clearly hear an actor talking.
Although it’s only about 150 kilometres by road from Athens, it is tricky to visit Epidaurus with public transport because there aren’t regular direct buses. It’s much easier to take a tour and I would recommend this small-group tour or this private tour.
Also in the Peloponnese, about 50 kilometres from Epidaurus, is another World Heritage Site called Mycenae.
Mycenae was the centre of the Mycenaean Empire which existed around 1600 BC, before the Ancient Greece that we associate with things like The Acropolis. It was a hugely powerful kingdom that featured in the Homeric epics of the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Even though it’s really old, there’s still a fair amount to see when you visit Mycenae, as you learn about this fascinating culture. As well as the famous Lion Gate, there are the beehive-shaped tombs where amazing treasures have been found. Plus you can explore the remains of other parts of the city.
Because Mycenae and Epidaurus are relatively close to each other, quite a few tours combine them into a single day trip (sometimes also with Corinth or Nafplio – more on those spots shortly). There are some great combined tours here:
If you’re looking for something private, then I would suggest this excellent tour.
This can be done as a half-day trip rather than a full-day trip, but I’m going to mention it here anyway because it does take you out of the city and can be extended, if you have time.
Cape Sounion is about 60 kilometres south of Athens, at the very tip of the Attica Peninsula. With a dramatic coastline and a series of coves and beaches, the scenery here is really lovely.
But the main reason to visit Cape Sounion from Athens is for the heritage – specifically the Temple of Poseidon, the enormous monument from 440 BC. Dedicated to the god of the sea, it’s no coincidence that it would’ve been seen by sailors as they left for voyages from Athens.
The Temple of Poseidon is imposing at any time of day but it’s particularly popular to visit at sunset for the beautiful scene as the sky turns orange. You can drive yourself out there (although parking can be tough) or you can take this tour to Cape Sounion.
There are also some other good tour options here:
If you want to make your stay a bit longer, there are some beaches near the temple, or some small villages along the coastal road.
One of the most picturesque heritage sites in Greece is Meteora, where Eastern Orthodox monasteries have been built atop huge natural pillars of stone that rise above a lush green plain.
Founded around the 13th century, there were once 24 monasteries here, although only six remain. With their precarious positions, they are only reachable by staircases and paths that have been cut into the rock.
Meteora is about 350 kilometres northwest of Athens. It means travelling there and back takes a long time, but it’s possible to do as a day trip, and many people manage to squeeze it in to their itinerary.
It’s possible to get there by train independently, but you’ll waste time doing logistics by yourself once you’re on the ground (or up on the pillars, as the case may be).
There’s this busy day trip to Meteora from Athens I would recommend, or some other good tours here:
If you have time, though, consider staying overnight, particularly if you’re thinking of continuing on to Thessaloniki.
Athens isn’t the only city in this part of Greece and, heading into the Peloponnese, there are two other cities that make for lovely day trips.
Don’t worry, you’re not just swapping busy streets of traffic for even more traffic, both of these suggestions have lots of different things to do, making them worth the journey.
The city of Corinth is sometimes called ‘the Gateway to the Peloponnese’ because it sits right at the point where you enter the region. It’s been an important urban centre for millennia, and so you’ll find plenty of historical sights here.
One of the best things to do in Corinth is visit the Acrocorinth, the huge walled fortress at the top of a hill that is well worth a visit. Back down in the city, the archaeological zone around the Temple of Apollo is also a highlight.
Within modern Corinth, there are lots of cafes and seaside dining, and the nearby beaches are wonderful in summer. I would also recommend you see the remarkable Corinth Canal, the 6.4-kilometre-long channel cut through the rock of the isthmus.
It’s quite easy to get the train to Corinth, although the main sights are a long way from each other, which means it’s probably easier to visit with a car. Or there’s this tour of Corinth that takes the logisitical hassle out of a day trip from Athens.
Continuing deeper into the Peloponnese from Corinth, you’ll get to Nafplio, which is about two hour’s drive from Athens. It’s another city that has a very long history, although many of its sights these days are from the Middle Ages, when it became an important seaport.
The Venetian fortress of Palamidi are worth climbing up to, but you’ll also find plenty by just exploring the streets of the historic centre. Boutique shops, small museums, and views across the water are enough to fill the day.
A lot of people combine Nafplio with Epidaurus and Mycenae for a full day trip, and there are these good tours that will arrange all the transport for you:
Nafplio is also somewhere you might consider staying for a night or two if you’re looking for somewhere easy and close to Athens.
For many visitors to the country, it’s the Greek islands that are the main attraction, and the most popular ones are certainly not possible as day trips from Athens.
But, unbeknownst to many international tourists, the nearby Saronic Islands are easily accessible from the capital and, because they are popular with Athenians, they have a much more local feel.
After Salamina (which is not a popular tourist destination), the closest and the largest of the Saronic Island is Aegina – and it has a lot to offer day-trippers.
The ferry from Pireaus Port only takes 30 minutes and it drops you right in the town that’s full of seafood restaurants and shops selling local produce (pistachio nuts is a speciality).
But as you travel out from the town, you’ll find gorgeous and relaxed beaches like Marathonas, or quiet coastal towns like Agia Marina.
The most important landmark on Aegina, though, is the Temple of Aphaia, a huge monument at the top of a hill that looks out across the water to the mainland (it’s considered part of a trilogy with the Acropolis and the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion).
Beyond the remains of Ancient Greek, there are also historic monasteries, and even famous old olive groves – more than you’ll be able to fit into a single day.
If you’re organising it yourself, I suggest booking your ferry ticket in advance here. There’s this excellent organised day trip to Aegina that I would recommend, or I’ll mention shortly some boat tours that visit multiple islands.
Of all the Saronic Islands, I am comfortable declaring that Hydra is the prettiest. It’s not just the way the verdant forest rolls down the slopes to the cliffs of the coastline, and it’s not just the way the main town sits so perfectly within a bay.
It’s also because Hydra has no motorised vehicles, so it’s so calm and peaceful without the constant noise of traffic. Although there are donkeys and horses to get around, most people just walk, and it means you take in your surroundings in more detail.
There are quite a few things to do in Hydra, from museums to monasteries, plus the beaches of course. But one of my favourite activities is to walk the coastal path from the main town to some of the smaller villages like Kamini.
It’s easy to get the ferry from Pireaus (definitely book in advance here), and if you have the time, staying overnight in Hydra means you can enjoy it when it gets calm in the evening.
A day trip is still lots of fun but most of the tours to Hydra include other islands, which means you can fit lots in, but I would warn you that they can feel a bit rushed:
At least this VIP cruise includes tours on the island, so you can make the most of your time on each of them, rather than wandering aimlessly or trying to navigate public transport.
In between Aegina and Hydra, the island of Poros is another beautiful spot and offers a slightly different experience as a day trip from Athens.
Technically it is two islands (although they’re separated by such a narrow channel that you won’t even notice). The smaller one is dominated by the main town, which is a charming collection of restaurants and shops mixed with local homes and heritage buildings.
The larger island, on the other hand, is covered in nature and there are some excellent hikes here through the hills, or quiet beaches where you can head for a swim (and possibly a cocktail from the small pop-up bars).
Poros is quite popular with Greeks because it’s only about 200 metres from the mainland and there are regular car ferries. If you have rented a car, you might consider taking it over, although you can get by without one too.
As I mentioned earlier, there are tours like this one from Athens that will include Poros on a day trip with Hydra and Aegina, so that’s also an option. Or you can just book the ferry there yourself from Pireaus.
Spetses is another beautiful island that can be done as a day trip, but it’s further than the others (about 2.5 hours by ferry – book here) so is often overlooked as an option.
It has a reputation as the trendiest of the Saronic Islands and the large Poseidonion Grand Hotel across from the ferry wharf, with Ionic columns and turn-of-the-century grandeur, is a nod to the A-listers who have come here for decades.
In the peak of summer, Spetses has a vibrant nightlife, but it’s contained to small restaurants and bars along narrow coastal paths opposite a line of moored yachts.
Most of the island is much quieter, though, and you can spend some of your time walking through inland pine forests, before popping down to secluded beaches with pristine water.
Obviously part of the appeal of the islands is the nature, with the sparkling beaches along the shoreline. But there are a couple of other day trips from Athens that I want to mention where the nature really is the star attraction.
Just 30 kilometres north of central Athens, Mount Parnitha is an easy way to get away from the city without going too far. This beautiful natural escape almost has an alpine feel to it, covered in pine trees and with wildlife like deers and foxes.
Although people come for the snow in winter, and sometimes just for a meal at one of the restaurants or picnic grounds, the main activity here is hiking. There’s a huge range of trails of various lengths, offering something for everyone.
Along the walks, there are some heritage sites – particularly churches and monasteries – as well as other possible activities like rock climbing.
Although Mount Parnitha is perhaps not a landmark in the way some of my other suggestions are, I think it’s a fantastic way to break up a lot of sightseeing with some beautiful hiking.
And finally I want to talk about Nemea which has one of my favourite types of nature – wineries!
The rows of vines along the ancient plains define the landscape of Nemea, including the largest single vineyard in Greece. The best know variety of grape here is Agiorgitiko, which has been grown for more than 3000 years, but there are other types too.
Although there’s plenty of history in the region, it’s really for the scenery and the wines that most people come to Nemea. Located in the Peloponnese, you could combine it with a stop in Corinth or a visit to Mycenae.
Although, if you want to concentrate on the drinking, rather than the driving, there’s this private wine-tasting tour from Athens.
Greece may not be the most famous wine-making country in Europe, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Like all of these day trips from Athens, there are some real treasures for visitors within easy reach of the city.