Many tourists choose to start their Greek adventure in Athens, the country’s cultural and political capital as well as its largest city. While Athens has some incredible culinary offerings and some of the most iconic ruins in all of Greece, you should still make an effort to get out and see other parts of the country. Luckily, there are a wide range of exciting day trips from Athens that will allow you to see more important ancient sites, truly breathtaking scenery, and other attractions. Some of the day trips you may want to check out include:
One of the most culturally important cities in Ancient Greece, Delphi is an active, extensive archaeological site as well as a modern city. On a day trip from Athens, be sure to check out the Temple of Apollo and the Tholos, as well as the nearby town of Arachova, a picturesque winter resort. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Delphi once served as the home of the famed oracle; the Ancient Greeks believed Delphi was the “navel of the world.” The ruins in the area include stadiums, temples, and theaters, all situated on the southwestern slope of Mount Parnassus, with commanding views of the surrounding area. To orient yourself and learn the context for everything you’ll see, start your day at the Delphi Museum. To get to Delphi, you can rent a car and drive at your own pace, but there are also many guided tours that will take you directly from Athens to Delphi.
While Meteora is much further from Athens than Delphi, you can still make the trip in a single day if you’re willing to spend a decent chunk of time in the car or on a train. However, Meteora is worth the time it takes to get there. Another UNESCO World Heritage site, Meteora is home to many centuries-old monasteries constructed on top of enormous natural rock pillars. The natural scenery is incredible, and the manmade structures blend in perfectly with the imposing rock formations. You can also explore parts of the monasteries and meet some of the monks while enjoying the fresh air and natural scenery. There are several travel companies offering overnight tours that combine Meteora with Delphi; consider one of these to combine a trip to two stunning sites.
Not far from Athens is Cape Sounio, which can be a half-day or full-day trip from the city. The primary attraction in the area is the Temple of Poseidon, which dates back to about 50 BC. This ancient ruin celebrates the Greek god of the sea and provides some of the best views of the Aegean in the whole country. A nearby beach offers crystalline waters for swimming and diving during the summer months as well. In addition, the area is known for its tavernas with fresh seafood dishes. If you go, try to stay in the area to snap a photo of the sunset—the sun sinks behind the ruins and lights up the sky in beautiful orange and pink. Fortunately, there are number of different organized tours to the area, so a trip to Cape Sounio is easy to fit into a busy travel schedule.
Olympia is the home of the first Olympics held in ancient times, and you can see where the original games were played as well as view related artifacts on display at the nearby Archaeological Museum. This museum also houses a number of pieces from the Temple of Zeus, a local structure that has become a shining example of Doric architecture. To learn more about the history of sports in Greece, visit the nearby Museum of the Olympic Games.
Visitors can book private tours to Ancient Olympia that focus on both the gorgeous landscape of the area and its historic importance. Many of these tours also stop at the Corinth Canal, which divides the Peloponnese peninsula from mainland Greece. Built in the late 1800s to connect the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf, this narrow canal flows between steep limestone cliffs. Though its narrowness prevented it from ever attracting much shipping traffic, the canal is now popular as a tourist attraction.
Not all of the incredible day trips from Athens are bound by land. If you want to get your feet wet, check out Evia, near the Attica prefecture. This island breaks many of the preconceived notions about Greek islands because of its huge size and expansive green space. In addition, it features some great ancient cities to explore and spas heated by thermal springs in Aidipsos. However, if you’re after a more traditional Greek beach trip, Evia also provides that too—try the Lichades islands. This small group of islands off the northwest coast of Evia is often called the Maldives or Bahamas of Greece.
If you have a strong interest in Greek history, take a day trip to Thermopylae, the site where Persian troops led by Xerxes and guided by Ephialtes launched a surprise attack on Greek soldiers. The ensuing Battle of Thermopylae saw King Leonidas of Sparta staying behind with a small group of soldiers and fighting to the death to protect the rest of the Greek forces as they retreated. The story was retold in the 2006 blockbuster 300. Thermopylae also has significance in Greek mythology. Purportedly, Hercules used the hot springs here to bathe and regain energy after his exploits. Guided tours that take visitors on hikes around the area are available, and these options often include a dip in the same hot springs that Hercules is said to have used.