A few years ago, when we Island Runaways visited Greece, our ferry stopped in at the island of Aegina (also spelled Aigina). We didn’t disembark, but other riders did…and the briefly-glimpsed port aroused my curiosity. I’m always curious about the places I’ve missed: the little church I didn’t have time to explore, the restaurant people said was terrific (but again, didn't have time to eat there), and of course islands that I spot from a ferry porthole, but never get to discover for myself.
Aegina lies approximately 12 miles from the port of Piraeus, the massive harbor just outside Athens. Since it’s such a short ferry ride away, many Athenians use this isle as a quick escape from the noise and stress of city life. But the question remains, for anyone traveling within Greece, is Aegina worth overnighting in?
The Argo-Saronic islands, which descend south-southwest from Athens, are not nearly as popular as the Cyclades with travelers from abroad. You won’t necessarily find the row after row of stark, white-washed homes with Aegean blue trim ascending hill tops and crowding little harbors. The bar and hotel scenes of Mykonos and Santorini? A far cry from the quieter Argo-Saronics. So why spend the time? Because of two advantages: proximity to Athens and smaller crowds. And, let’s face it, if you’re visiting Greece to experience Greece, and to be in Greek culture and among Greek people, the Argo-Saronics are one of your best bets to enjoy an island experience with Greeks! (Since many of your fellow tourists will be Greek!)
So, what are the attractions of Aegina? Try Aegina Town, with its quaint harbor and waterfront tavernas and cafés. Take a horse-drawn carriage for a little ride.
A spot of souvenir shopping? Aegina’s known for its delicious pistachio nuts and pottery jugs. Of course, you can’t go wrong with a sandy beach, and there’s one within walking distance. The central attraction are the ruins of the Temple of Apollo, dating from the 6th century B.C., and the Museum of Kolona, with ancient archeological artifacts.
Island trivia: Have you ever read the famous novel Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis? He wrote the book on Aegina, in the village of Livadi.
Certainly one of the island’s biggest draws – and one I very much want to see for myself – is the Temple of Aphaia. This ancient Greek temple was built around 490 B.C., and you can wander up to it and inspect the columns and steps in close detail. You may be surprised that a “mini Acropolis” exists here, without a huge amount of tourist fanfare, and with an entrance fee of around 4 euros. Soak in the temple’s stunning views of the Aegean Sea, and imagine what the site looked like with worshippers over two millennia ago.
Other sites include Omorfi Ekklisia, a Byzantine church from the 13th century, and the Agios Nektarios, with its lovely chapel. Besides the draws of Aegina itself, many visitors also make time to get over to a smaller island Angistri (or Agistri), known for its unspoiled beaches and villages. With approximately 700 inhabitants, and a single bus running service, this is a place for those who seek the authentic, the simple, and the serene.
We hope Greece figures again in our future travel plans. For today, the Island Runaways are just day-dreaming...of a distant isle called Aegina.
(Photo credits: 1. C. Grand; 2. Gerry Labrijn; 3. Aleksandr Zykov; 4. Sarah Murray; 5. Dennis Jarvis, all from Flickr. Consult individual pages before re-using.)