It’s hard to choose a Greek island vacation with more than 6,000 to choose from (even if only 227 are inhabited). And while ferry services are excellent and some islands have airports, they’re spread out over 4,660 miles, making island hopping an arduous task. For example, a ferry from Athens Piraeus port to Crete or Rhodes can take up to 11 hours.
It is possible, however, to enjoy a Greek island getaway and island hop without the hassle of traveling to far-flung destinations. Just off the northern tip of the Peloponnese region of mainland Greece, the Saronic islands are a mere 55-minute to 1.5-hour journey from Athens by high-speed ferry, making them perfect for a day trip or longer. As a bonus, the Saronic Gulf is sheltered from the wind, meaning ferry schedules operate year-round.
Plan your trip to this archipelago with our guide.
Possibly one of the most popular islands is non-motorized Hydra. Everyday life involves navigating your way through cobbled streets and using donkeys or mules to help with heavier items. Swimming from rocky bays in the crystal-clear waters is a popular pastime, or take a water taxi to hidden coves. Hydra Town has been restored and preserved exactly as it was in the 1800s—the Venetian-style architecture stands out immediately upon arrival, with many mansions belonging to ship owners. The magnificent building seen immediately at the entrance to the harbor is the Historical Archives Museum, a stone mansion built in 1918 by shipowner Gikas Koulouras and renovated in 1996.
The famous singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen found inspiration here to make it his home, and he's not alone—Hydra’s beauty and relaxed vibe makes it a quieter, more peaceful rival to Mykonos. With artistic exhibitions in the summer and boutique hotels such as the Orloff Boutique (a building with six rooms and two suites dating back to 1796), Hydra is perfect for those looking for culture and style.
The harbor on Poros curves and raises up to overlook the waterfront, which is lined with coffee shops, tavernas, bars, and souvenir shops. The green, lush island offers notable swimming bays: Askeli to the northeast surrounded by pine trees and offering organized water sports, and Vagionia a smaller, pebbly cove in the north. Poros is actually made up of two separate parts, formed after the volcanic explosion of the Methana region (where the Saronics are located) in 273 B.C.
Points of interest include the Naval Base (the first naval base in modern Greece, established in 1827 during the Greek War of Independence) and the Clock Tower, poised on a rocky summit overlooking the port and surrounding Gulf, a great place to walk up for sunset views and pictures. Head 2 miles east of the main port, and tucked into the pine forest, you’ll find the Holy Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi founded in 1720 by the then-Archbishop of Athens, who was miraculously cured from a personal ailment by drinking the spring water in the area. Three monks currently live there, and its interesting history and beautiful location make it well worth visiting.
Poros is great for day-trippers and weekend visits, and many Greeks have second homes here.
Aegina really does have it all—seafood tavernas, small pebbly beaches, archaeological sites, and a yachting and café lifestyle. Greek mythology tells us that Aegina derived its name from a nymph daughter of the river god Asopos. Zeus fell in love with this nymph and took her with him to the island. It’s also of historical importance as from 1827-1829, Aegina Town was the temporary capital of the newly formed Greek state.
It takes roughly 1 hour and 15 mins by ferry from Athens, making Aegina a popular option for a day trip or weekend break. Accommodation ranges from small, family-run pensions to boutique hotels. The family-run Vagia Hotel in a fishing village is five minutes from Vagia Beach and offers views to the ancient temples.
Vacationers tend to be drawn to Aegina for the archaeological sites. The Temple of Aphea Athena is a 500 B.C. Doric site located near the small town of Ayia Marina and one of three historical Greek monuments that form the so-called “holy triangle” of antiquity; the Parthenon in Athens and the Temple of Poseidon in Sounion being the other two. Visit one of the largest monasteries in the Balkans, the Monastery of Saint Nektarios, to admire its architectural magnificence. Souvala fishing village in the north offers thermal hot springs that have been known to help with rheumatism and other various dermatological problems.
As you arrive into Agistri's port town of Skala, you’ll see the blue-domed Church of Agioi Anargyroi, similar to those found on Santorini island. You’ll also find a beach with umbrellas and many tavernas and bars to choose from.
Relaxing on sandy beaches, swimming from rocky platforms, sea kayaking, and horseback riding are a few popular activities on Agistri. As with Aegina, Agistri offers smaller pension-style accommodation or family-run hotels. A particularly cute place to stay is Rosy’s Little Village, a simple retreat with just 17 rooms spread out across the pine-forest property, all with balconies.
Spetses has a long naval history which can be seen in the architecture of the island. Grand captain’s mansion houses have been regenerated into boutique hotels such as the Poseidonion Grand Hotel along the harbor front, offering 13 suites over two buildings.
In addition to its several sandy beaches (some surrounded by pine forests), Spetses is an island that has several historic sites worth visiting, such as the House of Bouboulina (a heroine during the 1821 Greek War of Independence). It was built around the end of the 17th Century, and it’s now a museum with a wood-carved Florentine ceiling, 18th- and 19th-century furniture, and a collection of old weapons, fine porcelain, and rare books.
Spetses Cathedral (Ayios Nikolaos) is important to the islanders as it was here where the island's Independence flag was raised on April 3, 1821. A fun fact: the body of Paul Bonaparte, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, was kept in a barrel of rum for three whole years here! He fought on the side of the Greeks in the War of Independence, and one can only imagine this was a way of preserving his body.