Best things to do in the Athens Riviera
Just a few kilometres outside the centre of Athens, the urban landscape gives way to a unique seaside resort. The Athens Riviera begins at Paleo Faliro, close to the port of Piraeus, and ends at Cape Sounion, some 60km down the coast. Along the way, you’ll find a world of cafes, restaurants and bars as well as blue flag-awarded beaches, 5-star resorts and secluded bays that make you feel like you’re on a Greek island. You’ll be introduced to suburban neighbourhoods like Glyfada, Voula, Vouliagmeni and Varkiza (easily reached from the city centre by metro or tram and then by taxi or bus) or Lagonisi, Saronida and Anavissos further down the coast. It’s the best of Greek summer… but with a twist!
Visit the Temple of Poseidon in Sounion
We start at the very tip of the Athens Riviera, at the Temple of Poseidon in Sounion, which rivals the Acropolis of Athens in beauty and importance. The Doric temple we see today was built from local marble on the ruins of the Archaic temple in 444-440 BC, during the time of Pericles, the Athenian general who represents the Golden Age of Athens. Together with the Parthenon and The Temple of Aphaia on Aegina, it was part of a Sacred Triangle and was dedicated to the sea god Poseidon.
Perhaps its greatest legacy comes from the myth of King Aegeus, who jumped to his death from the cliff in front of the temple when his son, Theseus, forgot to replace the black sails of his boat with white ones to show that he was alive after defeating the legendary Minotaur in Crete. The sea that claimed the life of King Aegeus was thereafter known as the Aegean.
That’s something to think about as you look out towards the islands of Kea, Kythnos and Aegina, and even Serifos on a good day, or as you swim at the beach below the temple. Then find yourself a seafood taverna and make the most of your day trip from Athens.
Discover the beaches of the Athens Riviera
Driving to the Temple of Poseidon, you can’t help but notice the dozens of beaches and swimming spots along the way. The beaches of the Athens Riviera are another special feature of the Greek capital. There’s everything from fully organised beaches, luxury resorts and beach bars to secluded coves and beaches with no facilities at all, if you’re looking for peace and quiet and contact with nature.
It takes no effort to uncover resort beaches in Voula and Varkiza (Yabanaki), as well as Vouliagmeni beach and its glitzy neighbour Astir (if you want to spend a bit more). Mikro and Megalo Kavouri are free beaches in the same area, or you can travel a little further down the coast to the likes of Lomvarda, Althea, Mavro Lithari, Agios Nikolaos and Legrena, or – just below the Temple of Poseidon – Sounio beach.
Go Zen at Lake Vouliagmeni
The beauty of Lake Vouliagmeni is that it offers a year-round retreat for anyone looking for a Zen atmosphere created by a rare geological phenomenon. The remains of an enormous cave whose roof collapsed some 2,000 years ago, the lake maintains a temperature of 21-28 degrees Celsius and is a mixture of seawater and freshwater fed by underground springs. It is rich in minerals and trace elements such as potassium, lithium, calcium and iron, which are known to help with rheumatism, sports injuries, skin conditions and more. Add to this the bonus of the Garra Rufa fish (aptly nicknamed Doctor Fish) which offer a free exfoliation of your feet and legs as you get into the water and it’s unsurprising that Lake Vouiagmeni, which has sunbeds and a cafe-restaurant, attracts bathers throughout the year.
A labyrinth of tunnels is said to lead from the lake to the sea, whose water level is a few metres below that of the lake. Some are said to be up to 800m long and most are unexplored, adding to the mystery of a setting unique not only in Greece but across Europe.
Pick your seaside activity
On such a gorgeous stretch of coastline, you’ll be itching to add some sea activities to your holidays. Organised and tailor-made day trips by yacht, sailing boat or catamaran set out from the marinas of the Athenian Riviera. In just a few hours, you can be in Aegina or neighbouring Moni or Agistri, or one of the other islands close to Athens like Hydra and Poros. Alternatively, you can opt for a boat trip that takes you up the coast towards Cape Sounion, stopping at coves or islets (like Idroussa) along the way.
Or maybe you’re in the mood for some water sports. Many of the beaches you encountered earlier (in Varkiza, Voula and Vouliagmeni) offer water sports like SUP, wakesurfing and wakeboarding, as well as waterskiing and canoes for hire. There are also scuba diving centres in Vouliagmeni, Varkiza and Agia Marina, as well as in Sounion, where you can also go coasteering. The best spots for sea kayaking are in Kavouri and around Idrousa island, as well as from Agios Nikolaos beach to Arisa island and along Cape Sounion.
See into the future at The Ellinikon Experience Park
The Ellinikon Experience Park is a first taste of one of Europe’s most ambitious urban regeneration projects. Work has already begun to transform the 6.2 million square metre site of the former Athens International Airport (known as Ellinikon) into a fully sustainable metropolitan hub, with greenery and leisure facilities, residential and commercial spaces, hotels and restaurants and much more.
In the meantime, we can enjoy the Ellinikon Experience Park, which informs visitors about the overall project (emphasising the sustainability factor). It provides a 70,000-square metre oasis of greenery for Athenians, with a playground and an interactive fountains for kids to play in during the summer. There is also an athletics track and facilities for film screenings, yoga classes and concerts. It’s all the proof you need that Athens is changing fast.
Indulge in the food & drink scene
Breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner … or maybe you’re looking for a coffee or cocktail spot by the sea… there are places to satisfy your every craving all the way along the Athenian Riviera. Closer to Athens, Flisvos has a selection of cafe-bars (especially in the marina, which is a great spot for food and cocktails) and the beach bars in Kalamaki and Alimos have a vibe that goes on late into the night. Glyfada and Vouliagmeni (the original dining and nightlife spots in the southern suburbs) have everything you could ask for, from everyday tastes to high-end Greek and international cuisine. And other coastal settlements in the south – such as Voula, Kavouri and Varkiza – are other great spots for Mediterranean cuisine and seafood. If you are looking for something more traditional, there are fish tavernas in Flisvos, Kavouri, Varkiza and Vouliagmeni and (even more relaxed) further down the coast, in settlements like Palea Fokea or in Sounion, with a view of the Temple of Poseidon.
Find your seaside stroll in the Athens Riviera
Another great joy of discovering the Athenian Riviera is finding a spot to take a coastal stroll. There are plenty to choose from. Part of the experience of visiting the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) is to include a walk or bike ride along the seafront. Opposite the SNFCC is the Marina Delta (Kallithea), from where you can walk past Flisvos Marina (save your coffee break for here) and end at the Faliro Park, which has a great playground. On the way, you pass the Averof, an early 20th century Hellenic Navy cruiser that is now a floating museum. If you’re visiting with kids, the Benaki Toy Museum near Flisvos Marina has one of the largest collections of vintage toys, games and children’s books in Europe. Other suggestions include walking along the promenade from Paleo Faliro beach to Alimos Marina and the waterfront path by the beaches and marinas of Glyfada.
Uncover a hidden natural escape
If, on the other hand, you prefer a nature stroll, there are two routes we can suggest that you have to be told about to find. Both are family friendly and ideal for a walk and a picnic, with wonderful sea views. Above Lake Vouliagmeni is Faskomilias Hill, with a network of trails to explore and benches to sit on and enjoy the sea or lake views from above.
Alternatively, the Lavrio-Sounion National Park is the smallest national park in Greece, located between Sounion and the port of Lavrio. It covers 35,000 acres, of which about 7,000 acres are covered with classic Mediterranean vegetation, including pine trees and holly bushes. Look out for the remains of disused ancient silver mines, a remnant of the silver and lead mining that took place here between 3,000 BC and the 6th century AD (contributing to the riches that helped propel Ancient Athens to its position of power in antiquity), and then from the 1860s to the 1970s. Highlights include the 55m x 120m crater-like hole known as Chaos (most likely caused by a collapsed cave roof) and the ancient silver ore washing tables on the site where silver was cast into ingots.
Go local at an open-air cinema
The last of your things to do in the Athens Riviera is to join the locals in one of their favourite summer pastimes. Open-air cinemas operate from April/May until late September, and Athenians don't need a second invitation to get tickets for everything from European classics to new releases. Classic venues near or by the sea include Cine Alimos and Cine Flisvos and the Ria and Arian outdoor cinemas in Glyfada and Varkiza, which have been operating since 1959 and 1963 respectively.
Best things to do in the Athens Riviera
Whether you decide to include it as a day trip to the beach during your stay in central Athens or make it the focus of your holidays, the Athenian Riviera offers the best of a Greek island holiday without ever leaving the capital.
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