4 Daytrips from Athens

Some of Greece’s top sites are close enough to Athens for an easy day trip.
Here are a few:

Delphi, Greece

Delphi, Greece

Delphi is a 2.5 – 3 hour drive northwest of Athens on the slopes of Mt.Parnassus, a really stunning spot. The ancient Greeks believed it to be the center of the world. According to legend, Apollo killed the Python that guarded the Omphalos, or navel of the earth, and thereafter, the site was dedicated to the god. The Delphic Oracle was a priestess known as the Pythia, who channeled the words of Apollo for seekers of wisdom from near and far. Delphi was also known for the Pythian Games, similar to the original Olympic Games.

The extensive remains are mostly from the 6th-century BCE and are scattered on several terraced levels right down the side of the mountain. The small museum holds artifacts found at the site. The modern town of Delphi is right there, with lots of hotels, restaurants and shops. Staying a night instead of doing the roundtrip to Athens in one day is a good option. There are motor coach tours either way.

Lion Gate, Mycenae, Greece

Lions Gate, Mycenae, Greece

Located about 60 miles southwest of Athens on the northeastern Peloponnese, in the region of Argolis, Mycenae was a major center of power in the eastern Mediterranean from about 1600-1100BCE. The Mycenaeans were culturally influential and the period is the source of a lot of Greek legend. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey sprang from this time. In the Iliad, Agamemnon, the legendary king of Mycenae, led the Greek forces in the Trojan War. War sparked when Helen (of Troy) ran off with Paris, prince of Troy. Helen was the wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta and Agamemnon’s brother. It’s a good story, really. Whether any of the bones of the story are factual is debatable but there’s no question that it was inspired by some complex power struggles, think Game of Thrones.
(See my brief retelling of the Iliad here and here.)

Excavations at Mycenae represent different periods, ranging from 17th-century BCE shaft tombs to the 14th– century cyclopean walls (so called because the stones are so large the Cyclops must have built them) and the 13th-century Lions Gate. A fair bit of walking over very uneven ground is required to see the site. Good, sturdy shoes are a must, and a big bottle of water.

Theater of Epidaurus, Greece

Theater of Epidaurus, Greece

About an hour drive from Mycenae is Epidaurus, on the Saronic Gulf. In mythology, Epidaurus was the birthplace of Asclepius, son of Apollo and god of healing. The Asclepion sanctuary there was an active healing center from the 6th-century BCE to the 4th-century CE and then continued as a Christian healing center for another century. The area thrived on the popularity of the sanctuary and the spectacular theater is one indication of that prosperity. The theater seats 15,000 and the acoustics are so perfect that normal voices on the stage can be heard clearly from every seat. The theater is still used for performances today.

Napflion, Greece

Napflion, Greece

The capital of Argolis is the sweet seaside city of Nafplio, widely considered one of the prettiest towns in Greece, which is really saying something. If you’re on a day trip from Athens, at least stop here for lunch and walk around the narrow alleys of the Medieval Old Town. If you’re on a longer tour of the Peloponnese, this is a good place to overnight.

NAME THAT COUNTRY Episode 32

A magnificent 5th-century BCE Temple of Poseidon commands the end of a windswept promontory, 200 feet above the sea. It’s a dramatic and evocative place, well worth the pretty drive from the capital city, less than an hour along the Saronic Gulf. It’s a popular spot for locals and tourists alike to watch the sunset.

Can you name that country? What about the site?
See below for answers

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Greek Island Cruise Diary – Day 1

We boarded our Greek Island cruise at around 10am at Athens’ Piraeus port. We’re traveling on a four-day cruise on the Louis Cruise Lines on the Olympia ship. Ports of call will be Mykonos, Kusadasi (Turkey), Patmos, Rhodes, Crete and Santorini. Continue reading

3 Day Trips from Athens

 

Temple of Octavia, Corinth, Greece

Temple of Octavia, Corinth, Greece

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.

Cape Sounion, Greece

Cape Sounion, Greece

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.

Hydra island, Greece

Hydra island, Greece

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.