Beaches in Athens
When it comes to city breaks, few cities can match the diversity of Athens. And it’s not just limited to world famous landmarks, culinary delights and nightlife, of which Athens has in abundance. Athens is so much more than that. Look past the Acropolis, Mt. Lycabettus and the temple of Zeus and you will be rewarded with an authentic slice of every day Athenian life.
Surrounded by a string of mountains and flanked by the Aegean sea, Athens has it all. In the winter, skiers and winter sports enthusiasts drive two hours north to Mt Parnassus. In the summer, everyone takes a car or public transport and heads to the beach after a day’s work, which depending on where you live is mostly about a 20 to 30 minute drive. What’s more, there are several options. If you live in the northern suburbs, it’s a 40 minute drive to Nea Makri and the beaches on the north, while the southern suburbs and the center are merely a short distance from the Athenian Riviera. There is an abundance of beaches, too. You can find pebbly, sandy, rocky ones and even sheer cliff tops on which to perch yourself on and jump. There’s even lakes and waterfalls (for the adventurous).
True Athenian life is all about finding pleasure and joy in the simple things in life; go out after work to meet friends, have a drink, enjoy the balmy sun and the azure sea, have some mezedes from a sea side tavern, maybe feed a stray cat.
The southern beaches are obviously the easiest choice for someone living downtown. They are also some of the glitziest and most diverse.
Astir beach is a top draw, and has been for decades ever since local glitterati and celebrities such as Sophia Lauren and Marlon Brando decided to holiday in this exclusive beach club set on 300 metres of pristine Greek sand. Entrance fees are predictably steep but the amenities and lack of riff raff more than make up for it. At only 20 km from the center it really doesn’t get much better.
Further along the Athenian Riviera is Yabanaki beach in Varkiza. With great sports opportunities such as windsurfing, beach volleyball and tennis it’s a great family place where you can park the kids and grab a bite in some of the many restaurants that line it. Yabanaki has a nice sandy white set up and is similarly close to the centre at 20 km distance.
If you’re a fan of the rugged type of beach going you’ll probably want to head to Limanakia; a set of rocky coves and bays along the sea front that is amazing in its own right. Going down the rocky outpost and heading down the manmade stairs you encounter a serene bay populated with beach bodies strewn on the rocks like a flock of seagulls. Music from the one and only beach bar provides the soundtrack for this unique situation. Here you can dive off the small cliffs on either side of the bay and enjoy the calm.
The southern suburbs have all the juice. They also have Vouliagmeni Lake. And that adds points. Vouliagmeni Lake is actually a spa that maintains its 24 celsius degree temperature all year round through a subterranean cave complex that deposits fresh water from the sea and runs underneath mount Ymittos. Funnily enough, the underwater cave system has yielded few results as to where it might end, even after sonars were employed. Again, its 20 km from the city center and despite the considerable price of admission it is absolutely magnificent.
The southern suburbs are literally full of beaches. Some are good, some others are very good. The thing to remember is proximity. While you more than likely will find less crowded situations further out it also means you’ll be spending more time travelling in the heat, so that’s something to keep in mind.
If time isn’t an issue then it’s probably worth considering visiting beaches on the northern part of the Attica region.
Schinia beach, next to Marathon (yes, that one) is one of the more established and at nearly 3 km is easily one of the biggest, if not the biggest in the wider Attica basin. It boasts a spectacular pine tree forest that lends it some cool during the insufferable summer months. Organised, with water sports activities and beach volleyball, it is sufficiently big to encompass two different beaches, each with its own spiel. It’s a 40 minute drive from Athens, through meandering mountain roads with breathtaking views (word to the wise-pack the Dramamine).
On the way to Schinia lies a hidden gem known to few and enjoyed by even fewer; the waterfalls of Drafi. They’re not signposted and you probably will need the help of a local but boy what a thrill! Drafi waterfalls have two small pools on which to frolic. The water is cool but appreciably temperate, and its relative obscurity means you could catch some alone time for a few hours.
If you want to go even further off the beaten track, head for the hills! Or Dikastika, as they are known locally. They are essentially sheer cliff rocks on a 45 degree slope. They are ideal for diving and scuba fishing and are recommended for the spry and fit. Do not attempt it if you don’t feel sure, it will end in tears.
Athens is a summer destination by itself. With sea and mountains in close proximity, few other cities can possibly dream of such natural diversity. As an added bonus, you’ll be happy to know that 96% of the beaches are blue flag and are in fact kept as such by the lack of building permits near the sea. So yeah, you won’t be seeing Benidorm style monstrosities by the sea anywhere in Athens, or Greece for that matter. Enjoy!