The ancient site of Corinth is about an hour drive west of Athens on the isthmus that connects mainland Greece to the Peloponnese. There has been significant development there since the 8th century BCE. With ports on the Corinthian Gulf and the Saronic Gulf, Corinth controlled a great deal of trade and was very wealthy and powerful, especially in the Classical period, when the city was known for decadence. The flamboyant Corinthian Order (column) originated in Corinth and is a good reflection of the city’s character at its peak.
Ancient attempts to dig a canal through the isthmus failed but after the first try in the 7th-century BCE, a paved ramp was built so ships could be moved overland, to avoid sailing around the Peloponnese. In the late 19th century the canal was finally built, 4 miles long and only 70 feet across, too narrow for most modern seafaring traffic.
Many visitors to Corinth are interested in its biblical significance. Paul the Evangelist established a church there and visited several times. Two of his letters to the congregation in Corinth are part of the Christian Bible – 1st & 2nd Corinthians. Among the ruins are a 6th-century BCE Temple of Apollo, one of the oldest surviving Greek temples, a Roman Temple of Octavia, the Roman agora, and the Bema, a public square where Paul was judged after some of the locals complained about his preaching.
Less than an hour drive southeast of Athens is Cape Sounion, a windswept promontory jutting out into the Aegean Sea. A magnificent 5th-century BCE Temple of Poseidon commands the end of the cape. It’s a dramatic and evocative place, well worth the pretty drive from Athens along the Saronic Gulf.
With Saronic Islands day trips from Athens you visit three islands – Hydra, Poros and Aegina. If you’re short on time and really want to see more than one island in an organized, semi-escorted way, this is a good way to do it. On the other hand, you spend a lot more time traveling between islands and boarding and disembarking than you do on the islands. Personally, I’d rather have time to linger and soak up one place, and Hydra would be that place. Hydrofoils depart several times a day from Athens’ Pireaus port during the tourist season (March/April-October). The one-way trip takes about 1 ½ hours. The island is idyllic, with the pretty, whitewashed town tucked between amphitheater hills and the harbor, cobbled roads and no motorized traffic – the perfect recipe for lazy poking around and a long harbor-view lunch.