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A charming island close to Athens, Aegina will give you a taste of all the other Greek islands – and yet is only around an hour from Piraeus by ferry. Indeed, if you take a day cruise to the islands close to Athens it will likely be your first stop. But you’ll definitely want to come back to spend much more time here.
Aegina’s long summers, mild winters and proximity to Athens make it a year-long holiday destination. You’ll find antiquities and traditional tavernas, a port town with a 19th-century atmosphere, beaches, deserted Byzantine chapels, as well as pine-clad hills and mounds of freshly roasted pistachios.
Meanwhile, if you visit Perdika in the south, you’ll feel like you’re in a Cycladic village and at the Temple of Aphaia you’ll discover one of Greece’s most memorable ancient sanctuaries. So if you’re looking for an easy-to-get-to island close to Athens or an island escape during your city break to Athens, Aegina is for you.
First up, you should explore the old town. But before you set off, don’t forget to buy a bag of those pistachios Aegina is famous for. If you’re feeling romantic or just a little laid-back, you can take a tour in a horse-drawn carriage and be transported instantly back to the 19th century. You’ll pass the dazzling white chapel of Agios Nikolaos and brightly painted fishing caiques, some of which double as floating greengrocers, and the fish market with almost as many tavernas as stalls. Make sure you come back here to sample the seafood with a glass of ouzo.
Throughout Aegina’s old town stand imposing neoclassical buildings and monuments, vestiges from the early post-independence days when Ioannis Kapodistrias, Greece’s first governor, made Aegina its first capital (for a year before Nafplio took over). Venturing into the sidestreets, you’ll find cafes in shaded courtyards, galleries and shops selling hand-painted ceramics, clothes and various knick-knacks.
On your trip to Aegina island, you’ll come across the well-preserved columns of the Temple of Aphaia, predating the Parthenon. Rising out of a pine forest above the bay of Agia Marina, the peaceful setting invites you to sit and ponder the ancient triangle connecting this temple with the Temple of Poseidon at Sounio and the Parthenon at the Acropolis – a symbol of the mighty embrace of Athens perhaps?
For a glimpse of a more recent era, a stroll along the steep hillside of Paleohora will take you back to Byzantine Aegina. This was once Aegina’s capital, where the islanders moved to be out of sight of pirates. All that's left are the remnants of many of its 38 stone chapels. As you explore them, you’ll find yourself scrambling to the top of the hill to see the twin chapel of Saints George and Demetrius where the medieval fortress once stood. The hike is especially delightful in spring when wildflowers carpet the slope.
Orthodox Christians come from all over to visit the church of Agios Nektarios to honour Greece’s first modern saint. His body, which is considered to have miraculous powers, is interred in the monastery (also called Agios Nektarios), which you can also visit, just next door.
You should definitely make time to visit the little fishing port of Perdika, which is on the southwest coast of Aegina but you’ll think you’ve reached the Cyclades: whitewashed houses, flower-lined steps, fish tavernas just like in the postcards. The best way to get there is by hiring a bike and cycling down the coast. And just opposite Perdika is the little island of Moni (famous for its emerald waters and collection of protected animals, such as peacocks and deer). There are boats that do the 10min crossing to Perdika throughout the day. (Alternatively, you can catch a boat to Moni from Aegina’s main port.)
Even if you don’t want to buy anything, Aegina’s floating greengrocers will be a feast for your eyes. You won’t find fruit and vegetable sellers like these anywhere else in Greece, let alone on any of the other islands close to Athens.
Just outside the main town of Aegina, this old studio of one of Greece’s most famous sculptors, houses some of his best-known works and drawings. The bronze portrait of his mother looks out to sea opposite the house, where he summered from 1963 to 1991. And very close by is the one-time home of renowned author Nikos Kazantzakis (of Zorba the Greek fame).
The sounds and aromas of the Saronic Gulf wafted over one of the most important prehistoric settlements in Greece for thousands of years. Today, only the remains exist as at the end of the 6th century BC, the hill was transformed into a sanctuary and a Doric temple dedicated to Apollo came to dominate the site. The monolithic column that formed part of the temple was a familiar landmark for Venetian sailors, who named the area Colonna.
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