Explore the azure waters of the Saronic Gulf and discover a tranquil escape just a stone’s throw from Athens. The largest island of Aegina showcases ancient marvels such as the Temple of Aphaia alongside quaint beaches, fragrant pine forests, and 17th-century churches.
Whether you want a relaxing beach holiday or an exciting archaeological adventure, Aegina is a great choice!
The main hub of the island, Aegina Town is where most people will stay during their visit. It’s a bustling waterfront destination that features classic Greek architecture and plenty of cafes, tavernas, and restaurants. It also has a handful of small museums and is home to some of the best beaches on the island.
The highlight of the town is the evocative ruins of Paleochora east of town. This inland city was built in the 9th century to protect inhabitants from pirates and once had 366 churches (now only 38 remain). Some call it an island-version of Mystras and the site is fascinating to explore, featuring cisterns and wells among the remains.
Gastronomy on the island is dominated by fish and you will find an excellent wet market near the port with fresh catches like octopus, boque, anchovies, swordfish, yellowfin tuna, and grey mullet served up at tavernas across the island. Pistachios are a must-try too – the island is famous for its tasty nut, and if you happen to be there during the Fistiki Festival, which celebrates pistachio cultivation and traditional crafts, it’s a must-experience.
Aphaia Archaeological Site
The Temple of Aphaia is a fascinating archaeological site that showcases the incredible craftsmanship and artistry of ancient Greeks. It also provides a glimpse into the island’s religious and cultural traditions.
Although the exact origins of this goddess are uncertain, she was a fertility deity who was worshipped mainly on Aegina. The 2nd-century-CE travel writer Pausanias explains that Aphaia was originally called Britomartis, a Crete-based deity who escaped from her rapacious husband Minos by slipping into fishing nets and becoming invisible to escape. The site became a sanctuary for women in Mycenaean times, and later, during the Archaic Period, three different temples were constructed here.
The surviving temple is a beautiful Doric structure. Its most interesting features are its pediments, which show remarkable progression from the Archaic to the Classical periods. They are filled to the edges with carefully planned sculptural scenes. It’s possible that the temple was also adorned with statues and other decorative elements, but only a few fragments of them have been preserved. The site also includes a small archaeological museum.
The highest mountain on the island, Ellanio, offers stunning panoramic views. At its peak, you can visit the ruins of the Temple of Hellanios Zeus and the 13th-century Byzantine church of Agios Taxiarchis. You can also hike along the signposted Paths of Culture which pass through beautiful and unspoiled areas.
At the eastern end of Aegina, a remote bay is famous for its hot and cold thermal springs and the beach of Sfentouri. Here you can swim and relax on a sunny day, with sea views of the neighbouring Moni and Agistri islands.
Aegina is one of the best-known and loved Greek islands, especially because of its proximity to Athens and its ferries that connect it to other Saronic Gulf islands. With neoclassical buildings in bright colours, picturesque streets, small taverns and a different atmosphere, this is a great place to explore any time of year.
You can enjoy a lot of these experiences on a day trip from Athens, particularly in summer when most ferries to Aegina are packed. You can also use it as part of an island-hopping itinerary, with most ferries connecting to the ports of Hydra, Spetses and Poros.
Agios Nikolaos Church
If you are in the area with a yacht charter, you can visit this mesmerizing church during your cruise. It was originally a basilica but underwent many tranformations during Turkish rule, including becoming the town’s biggest mosque and a minaret. It then became an Orthodox church, and its intricate details are hard to miss.
Saint Nikolaos is known as the patron saint of sailors as he was credited with saving the lives of many sailors when they were drowning in stormy seas. He is also known for giving gifts to the poor, thus being a precursor to modern day Santa Claus.
The church is an important landmark for the town and worth a visit no matter what your religious beliefs happen to be. Its exterior may look plain but its interior is filled with gorgeous icons and gold decorations. Its altar, silver plated icon of Saint Nicolas, and marble iconostasis are particularly breathtaking. The church is open throughout the day, and you can light candles here if you wish. It’s a great place to enjoy the views over the city of Halki and relax after an exciting day out exploring the island.
Tower of Markellos
The Tower of Markellos is a prominent salmon pink building that stands near the center of Aegina Town. It is believed to have been built in the 17th century and originally served as a harborside watchtower. It was later purchased by the Greek Revolutionary leader Spiridon Markellos and renovated to serve as his residence.
As you walk through the streets of Aegina Town, you will come across a number of impressive neoclassical buildings. These were constructed during the time that Governor Ioannis Kapodistrias ruled over the island.
Almost all of the buildings on Aegina are well-preserved, and they offer visitors a taste of the past. You will also see some more modern structures, such as the Aegina Museum.
Aegina is famous for its pistachios, so be sure to purchase some while you are there! Almost every shop and vendor sells these delicious nuts. You can also find them in many restaurants on the island. The flavor of the pistachios is very distinctive and they are delicious! You can enjoy them as a snack or in various desserts.