What associations are conjured up by the magical, mythical name of Athens? The hulking presence of the Acropolis, rising white over the city skyline like a phantom ship emerging from the mists of time? Inevitably; the jagged edges of Mount Lycabettus, standing erect in the center of the city like a magnificent green iconostasis? Certainly; the Temple of Olympian Zeus, its ancient pillars melting into a backdrop of rocky outcrops, palm and cypress trees? Probably. But of all the associations one could make with Athens, the beach would not be high on the list. And yet surely when wandering around the Ancient Agora in 38 degree-heat the temptation must be to dive into the deliciously refreshing waters of the Aegean.
Although few visitors would think of taking a beach holiday in Athens, the city is surrounded by some wonderful places to swim and sunbathe. Most are easily accessible by public transport or car. Within the space of an hour or so you can be dipping your aching feet into the waves of the Saronic Gulf, the Gulf of Corinth, or the Aegean. Here is my list of the best places to go to.
For the romantics amongst you, the journey to Cape Sounio for one of the most dreamy Greek views you can imagine – the Temple of Poseidon on the headland overlooking the beach dates from the 7th century BC, restored by Pericles after it was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC. Lord Byron was so taken by the spot he included it in his paean to Greek independence. The beach itself is a very pretty, sandy affair, set in a charming bay looking out over the Saronic Gulf. You can take the KTEL public bus service from Pedion tou Areos in the heart of the city. It will take around an hour and a half one way. A much better and more relaxing option, however, is to take our Sounio and Temple of Poseidon Tour – the ideal way to take in all the sites.
Temple of Poseidon, Cape Sounio - credits: Aerial Motion/ Shutterstock.com
In the opposite direction and lying on the Gulf of Corinth in western Attica is the beautiful beach of Porto Germeno, with its stunning backdrop of mountains, including the 1,409 meter Mount Kithairon. Here you will feel a long way from Athens, and as close to the sensation of being on an island as you will get in Attica. The bay of Porto Germeno is situated in is simply beautiful. To get there take the KTEL from Pedion Areos. A much quicker option is to drive, which should only take around 1 hour.
Porto Germeno beach - credits: Aerial-motion/ Shutterstock
For something a bit closer to the city, the popular beach and resort of Vouliagmeni are certainly ones to recommend. Vouliagmeni is very popular with Athenians and visiting it will really give you the chance to ‘beach’ like a local. The sandy beaches around the resort are known for their cleanliness, consistently awarded EU blue flags for excellence. The main beach is complemented by a series of pretty coves between Vouliagmeni and Varkiza, which is also well worth a visit. In the opposite direction, heading west, is the sandy expanse of Kavouri, with its views of the city. On top of all this choice is the unmissable Lake Vouliagmeni, fed by underwater springs and known for its healing properties. 1,000-meter-high Mount Hymettus provides a suitably photogenic framing to the coastline here. The excellent fish restaurants behind the beach will ensure that your palate is also satisfied. To travel to Vouliagmeni, take bus 114 or 115 from Glyfada Square, which is itself on the tram line from central Athens.
Lake Vouliagmeni - credits: Touristikosodigos
A reinvigorating dip into the waters of the other Lake Vouliagmeni, located on the end of a peninsula jutting out into the Gulf of Corinth, is included in our day trip to the charming seaside town of Loutraki, west of Athens and adjacent to the Corinth Canal. Loutraki will refresh the mind with its thermal springs and views of a blue sea stretching out far into the distance. To fully satiate your appetite for both the spiritual and the beautiful, the walk through the pine infused hills of Geraneia to the monastery of Osios Patapios overlooking the town will do the job. The view over the Corinthian Gulf from here – 700 metres up – is mind-blowing.
If you’re looking for a long stretch of wild beach, head to Schinias much further up the eastern Attica coastline. This is one of the most beautiful beaches near Athens, with its seemingly unending strip of sand backed by a pine forest that stretches as far as the eye can see. Schinias is a good spot for windsurfing, and also has the advantage of being closely situated to the ancient site of Marathon, for those who want to see the site of the great Greek victory over the Persians of Darius I in 490 BC. It is best to drive to the beach. The journey should take just over an hour.
On the opposite scale to Schinias is the delightful sandy beach of Legrena, a mere cove just to the west of Cape Sounion. Its views of the island of Patroklos and out over the Saronic Gulf, along with its intimate nature, give the feel of a beach on a small Ionian island. You could combine a trip to Legrena with a visit to Sounio beach and the Temple of Poseidon. The water is clear and inviting, and after a hard couple of days exploring the sites of Athens is almost certainly what you need. I personally can think of a few better things than this. After a tough day on the beach, rounded off with a little sunset Ouzo, head back to the city for supper. Perfect.
Undoubtedly the best way to see the beaches of the southern Attica coastline is to take our Athens Riviera Sailing Cruise. Apart from the benefits of avoiding the sometimes rather slow traffic around Athens, you will gain immensely from the experience of being on the open sea with the wind in your hair. This tailor-made tour will see you gliding through the deep blue waters of the Saronic Gulf, seeing the highlights of the Athens Riviera while stopping for three deliciously invigorating swimming breaks. I would highly recommend discovering the beauty of the Athenian coast in this most elegant of ways!