With over 3,000 years of history and culture beckoning, it’s no surprise there’s a lot to see and do in Athens. But Greece’s capital is also a convenient jump-off point to explore deeper into the underrated countryside.
An eclectic mix of locations like 16th century clifftop monasteries at Meteora, paradisiac Greek islands along the Saronic Gulf (including Aegina), and the ancient home of the oracle at Delphi, can be explored as day trips from Athens.
A typical Athens vacation itinerary will include a visit to the Acropolis, feasting on fresh Greek cuisine, and calling in to a museum or two. While these are indisputable must-dos for a first-timer’s visit to Athens, I also recommend taking a day trip or two outside the city.
These 5 day trips from Athens unveil remarkable sites from both ancient and modern Greece, that will take your Athenian vacation to the next level.
1. Meteora: 16th century clifftop monasteries
Meteora, meaning “suspended in air”, is home to otherworldly limestone landscapes that soar as high as 600 metres (1,968 feet) into the perfect blue sky. Perched atop several of these rocky cliffs were once 22 skilfully constructed Byzantine monasteries. After a series of disasters, including earthquakes and ransacking by Ottoman soldiers, many monasteries were abandoned and eventually destroyed. Only 6 remain and now function as Greek Orthodox monasteries.
Tip: Train tickets are emailed as a PDF document and mast be printed prior to boarding.
Tip: Bring plenty of water and snacks as food can’t be purchased onboard. Our tour guide stopped at 2 small bakeries in Kalabaka to buy takeaway lunch and dinner and that was the only opportunity to find food. If you want to eat anything else, bring it with you.
When we arrived at Kalanbaka station, a dozen or so cars, mini-busses, and coaches were waiting outside, each with a guide holding a list of passenger names. I quickly found my guide, Maria, and once all 20-or-so passengers were on board, we set off to explore Meteora.
The tour includes 3-hours in Meteora, visiting 2 monasteries and stopping at several lookout points along the way. Maria filled us in on the history of the rock formations, monasteries, and nearby villages as we drove between stops.
Tip: Each monastery charges €1 entry fee which is not included in the tour price so don’t forget to bring some cash.
Our first stop was the Monastery of St. Nicholas, the smallest of the 6 with only 15 resident monks. Women must wear skirts and cover their shoulders to gain entry (shawls are available to borrow for free at the entry for those dressed inappropriately).
Be prepared for a very steep, strenuous climb up rocky steps to reach intricate religious frescos and jaw-dropping views from the rooftop viewing platform.
As the bus snaked along the windy road, we stopped at several lookout points between monasteries. Some revealed views of all 6 remaining monasteries while others looked out over misty valleys with snow-topped mountains on the horizon.
We drove past the Holy Trinity Monastery which according to Maria, is the most popular for photographers. It was a filming location in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only and more recently, the backdrop of Tyrion Lannister’s prison cell at the Eyrie in Game of Thrones Season 1. Maria shared juicy stories on how these producers convinced local monks to let them film.
Our last stop was the Monastery of St. Stephen which thankfully has no stairs! The monastery was converted into a convent in 1961 and is now home to 35 nuns.
After a quick pitstop at a bakery (sorry if you’re gluten-free!), we were back at the train station for the 5-hour return journey to Athens.
This tour spends more time on the train than in Meteora and although Meteora’s extraordinary landscapes are well worth the long journey, I highly recommend staying overnight in Kalabaka and taking 2 days to visit Meteora if you have time.
2. Delphi: famous Temple of Apollo and home of the ancient oracle
Delphi has a significant place in Greek history and mythology, dating back to 800 BC. It was home to the sacred Temple of Apollo and his oracle, the Pythia, responsible for sharing future predictions with the people of ancient Greece.
I visited Delphi on a day tour through Fantasy Travel. The tour involved a 2-hour bus journey from Athens to Delphi, making one stop each way for a coffee break. Our guide, Effie, shared myths and stories relevant to Delphi and the regions we passed along the way.
Tip: Delphi is a very complex historical site. I recommend reading its history on Wikipedia before your visit so you better understand the significance.
Our first stop was the Delphi Archaeological Site, where we saw ruins of the Delphi agora, treasury houses, a theatre, a gymnasium, and of course, the Temple of Apollo. Only bases remain of statues placed at Delphi by each prominent Greek city to mark military victories or political prowess. Sadly, the statues were stolen over the centuries, but Effie held up renderings that showed the site in its prime.
Next, we visited the Delphi Archaeological Museum, which showcases excavation finds from the Delphi site including ivory, marble, and bronze statues, original tripods, and weapons of war. The final and best-preserved display was a bronze statue of a young charioteer, said to have won the Pythion games (a regional version of the Olympic games).
After the museum, we stopped for lunch at Chalet Maniati. The 3-course meal was definitely not the best food I’ve had in Greece. The waiters were rushed off their feet, serving mass-produced meals to multiple tour groups at once. I was pleasantly surprised when the restaurant managed to cater to my wife’s wheat allergy without complaint, promptly swapping her pie and pasta for stuffed tomatoes and capsicum.
Chalet Maniati’s lookout point made up for their less-than-amazing lunch. Before heading back to Athens, we enjoyed looking out over snow-topped mountains and a serene river.
Tip: A number of Athenians spend their weekends at holiday homes in Arachova, a neighbouring town to Delphi. Roads and tour stops can be quite busy as a result, so I recommend doing this tour on a weekday if you can.
3. Aegean Coastline: sail and swim in cerulean seas
Is it just me, or have you dreamt of sailing between picturesque rocky islands on a luxury yacht, leaping into idyllic blue waters for a swim, while sipping a glass of world-class wine?
I got to live out that dream when I booked Manawa’s day sailing trip from Athens. The tour left Athens from Kalamaki Marina, where we met our captain, Petros and his crew, Kostas and Konstantina, who did all the hard work of sailing for us while we relaxed, ate meze and enjoyed the scenery.
This private tour usually sails along the Athenian coastline and makes 2 stops beside small islands for swimming and snorkelling. It was a bit chilly on day of our tour (in early April) so we opted to stay on deck and enjoy the yacht, which was not at all hard to do with the luxurious interior, catchy music, and delicious food prepared by Konstantina.
We were served a plate of juicy, ripe strawberries upon boarding followed by a “snack” of traditional meze. This included freshly-made Greek salad, dolmades (wrapped vine leaves) dakos (Greek bruschetta), mini sandwiches, baked fava beans, and of course, Greek wine. I was full by the end of it.
While on board, Petros gave us some lessons in sailing, like how to chart a course and read a nautical map. I don’t think I’ll tackle solo sailing just yet, but it was a lot of fun learning the basic principles and handy to know in case the need arises.
Even without going for a swim, this day tour from Athens was one of the highlights of my trip. There’s something infinitely peaceful about sailing on silky smooth waters and seeing the city from Poseidon’s perspective.
4. Aegina, Poros, and Hydra: explore 3 Greek islands in 1 day
Choosing to visit either Athens or the Greek Islands can be an extremely tough decision, so you might like to know that several islands can be visited on a day trip from Athens. I visited 3 islands in the Saronic Gulf: Aegina, Poros, and Hydra on a 1-day cruise through Athens Day Cruises.
The 3-deck ferry left Athens at 8:15am from the One Day Cruise terminal next to the Amfitheas Yacht Club. Tickets are available as either standard or VIP class, with standard ticket holders having access to all areas of the ferry except the VIP lounge. The day of my tour was fairly windy and cold (in late March) and there was barely a free seat on any of the 3 decks. I can only imagine the tour would be even more crowed in the more popular summer months.
Breakfast, snacks, and drinks can be purchased from the onboard café or bar. While the food I purchased was fresh and flavoursome, it was also very expensive so I recommend bringing your own breakfast and snacks.
A basic buffet lunch is included for all passengers, but in 2 separate seatings. VIPs and other lucky passengers assigned to the first seating eat lunch around 1pm, between the 1st and 2nd islands, while the rest of the passengers don’t get lunch until around 2.30pm, between the 2nd and 3rd islands.
This tour allows very short amounts of time on each island and cruise staff encourage passengers to purchase in-house tours as the only means to explore the islands in the available time. Those of us who chose not to purchase tours simply walked around the waterfront, careful not to stray too far from the ferry.
Our first stop was Hydra, which had a classic Greek island feel with petite houses ascending into the mountains. The waterfront is lined with cafes, tavernas, souvenir stores, and locals selling donkey rides. Unable to bear our empty stomachs rumbling for another 2 hours, we chose to buy lunch at Hydra and spent our time relaxing at a waterfront taverna. It was the best food we had all day! After satisfying our hunger, we walked along the waterfront, took a closer look at the island’s clock tower and then returned to the ferry.
Our second stop was Poros, where we had only 45 minutes to quickly walk along the waterfront and stop for a drink and souvenir shopping.
The last stop was Aegina where we had a lavish 1 hour and 45 minutes to explore the island. We took a short walk along the waterfront to a nearby church, then wandered a few of the island’s narrow streets, where I discovered Aegina’s specialty is my favourite nut: pistachio! This island is overflowing with pistachios, so get your fix in the form of ice cream, pastries, nougat, raw nuts and pretty much anything else that can be stuffed with this khaki-coloured nut.
This tour provides an effortless taste of the Greek Islands for those with only 1 day to spare, but it involves more time onboard the ferry than at the islands. A lower-cost alternative is choosing 1 island to visit, like Aegina, and catching a public ferry to spend a day or two really exploring all the island has to offer.
5. Temple of Poseidon: drive along the Athenian Riviera to Cape Sounion
A frequent recommendation I received from local Athenians was to visit the Athenian Riviera and Cape Sounion, which they assured me is very beautiful, especially at sunset. I didn’t have time for a full day at the beach, so booked a half-day tour to the Temple of Poseidon through Athens Walking Tours.
The tour involved a 70-minute bus drive along the Athenian Riviera which, just as promised, is extremely beautiful. Along the way, we passed coastal towns, lush green hills, 2,000-year-old olive trees, and small fish farms, while our guide, Melina, shared stories from Greek mythology.
When we reached our destination, the Temple of Poseidon, it was extremely windy. This is definitely a tour best enjoyed in summer (rather than April, whoops!). Despite the blistering wind, we persevered uphill to the spectacularly persevered Temple of Poseidon.
Poor Melina couldn’t be heard over the wind, so saved her explanations until we were back on the bus, although she did manage to hold up a few renderings to show us the temple in its original form.
The Bottom Line
Greece is a country overflowing with history and natural beauty, and it can be almost impossible to choose just one area to visit. With its majestic Acropolis, oodles of museums, and exciting food culture, Athens has proven to be a popular choice for tourists, but starting with this city doesn’t mean you have to miss out on discovering the rest of Greece.
With these 5 fascinating day trips from Athens to choose from, now you have the impossible task… which one?
Ahhh! Too hard! Why not just take all five!