No one could ever claim that there is nothing to do or see in Athens, Greece. As the cradle of Western civilization, Athens is home to some of the greatest archaeological and historical treasures in the world. However, there is plenty more to see within a short drive of the city, including additional historic sites and glimpses of authentic Greek life.
Perhaps the most popular day trip from Athens, Mycenae will be familiar to anyone who has ever studied Greek history or read classic Greek literature. In Mycenae, you’ll find Agamemnon’s Palace and Clytemnestra’s tomb, as well as the legendary Lion’s Gate. The site tends to get crowded in the summer, but the springtime, when the wildflowers are in bloom, is an ideal time to visit.
The Temple of Poseidon at Sounion
Once the first sign to Greek sailors that they were nearing home, the Temple of Poseidon in Sounion is worth a visit. The temple itself is perched on a hill overlooking the sea, and it’s a short walk into town, where you’ll find several small beaches and plenty of restaurants serving fresh seafood.
Runners will be interested in visiting the battlefield town of Marathon, which marks the birthplace of the long road races. However, Marathon is more than just a sports landmark. It was the site of one of the most legendary victories of the Athenian army. The vastly outnumbered Athenians defeated the Persians, who had marched several thousand miles to conquer Athens, in a bloody battle. Today not much remains of the battlefield but an olive grove and some commemorative plaques, but the town is still a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Greek Wine Country
While Greece may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of wine producing regions, in the rural areas surrounding Athens you’ll find several burgeoning wineries. Spend an afternoon travelling the rural roads of the Attica region and visiting some of the small, mostly family-owned, wineries.
At one time considered to be the centre of the world, Delphi is the sanctuary of the god Apollo. It was here that the god was believed to have spoken through the priestess Pythias, who sat on a tripod and delivered Apollo’s answers to questions about both personal matters and state issues in the form of prophecies. Today the well-preserved site, less than two hours from Athens, is a popular tourist destination — and some visitors still look for answers from the oracle.
The ancient city of Corinth, about an hour from Athens, holds a great deal of religious and historical importance. While many of the temples and buildings have been destroyed or badly damaged by time and the earthquakes that rock the area, it’s still possible to see the remains of the temples of both Aphrodite and Apollo, as well as other significant buildings.
The waters near Athens are dotted with small islands, and one of the most popular among visitors is Hydra. A two-hour ferry ride from Athens, Hydra is a picturesque island, with a bustling harbor full of fishing boats and lined with cafes and shops. It’s a quiet island, where you can just sit back and watch the world go by and experience everyday Greek life.
In ancient Greece, theatre was a part of daily life — and it was performed in amphitheatres like the one at Epivadros, one of the best preserved and most beautiful archaeological sites in all of Greece. During the summer months you can still take in performances here or visit the town and the surrounding orange groves.
If you want to experience the flavour of island life without actually taking a boat to an island, take the short drive from your accommodations in Athens to the small town of Rafina. In the summer months, you can hit the beach here and soak up some Greek sunshine, or simply stroll along the quaint streets of the town and eat at one of the many fresh seafood restaurants.
While certainly not the oldest or largest zoo in Europe, the Athens Zoo, near the Spata Airport, is a welcome respite for families visiting Athens — and kids who have had enough of ancient history. The zoo is home to the largest bird collection in the world and also boasts a substantial exhibit of native Greek fauna.
When you’re planning your itinerary for your Greek holiday, include some time for exploring the outskirts of the city and all that the surrounding area has to offer. From fishing villages to ancient temples, you’ll find it all within a few miles of Athens.
About the Author: Although writer Christina Triganopolous grew up in Sydney, she spent every summer of her childhood with her grandparents at their farm outside of Athens. She now leads workshops in Greek culture and cooking at her local community centre.