Just a short ferry ride from Athens in the deep blue waters of the Saronic Gulf is the little island of Aegina, the perfect destination for families looking for a quiet, laid-back Greek island vacation. Perfect for a daytrip from the city or a full-scale island getaway, it has all the draws of the big-name Greek islands such as Mykonos or Santorini, without the throngs of tourists or hassle getting there.
Aegina is one of the closest islands to Athens, making it ideal for families who want the true Greek island experience but don’t want to spend the bulk of their time traveling. It is only a 40-minute jaunt from the Athenian port of Pireaus by Flying Dolphin and just more than an hour by one of the slower ferry lines. Once there, you will immediately forget how close you are to a big metropolis such as Athens.
The port town (also named Aegina) has a bustling waterfront lined with shops, cafes, restaurants and street vendors. Fruit stands burst with fragrant and colorful fruit in the summertime and pistachio stands are abundant year-round. It is the perfect place to sit back and enjoy a plate of grilled octopus while watching the boats coming and going from the harbor.
Pistachios, or fistikia in Greek, are the main product of the island and are available any time, but are truly celebrated in the fall during the Aegina Fistikia Festival. Held annually in September over a four-day period, the island celebrates the harvest of this delicious little nut. The lush green pistachios can be found throughout the island and are clearly visible from the mainland in nearby Athens.
The island is also home to native pine forests, creating a lush landscape throughout the island. It is the ideal home for some of Greece’s most beautiful wildlife, such as deer, pheasants and peacocks. These island natives roam the island freely and can often be seen during a hike through the pine groves.
Also tucked away inside the island’s pine forests are some of its most impressive sites, particularly the Temple of Aphaia. This shrine to fertility and the protectorate deity of the island dates back to approximately 480 BC and has been expertly restored, preserving much of its ancient wonder. The site of the temple is ideally located on a hilltop to give visitors an incredible view of the Saronic Gulf with the coast of Athens in the distance. Entrance to the site is reasonable at only €6 and includes access to the small museum located nearby.
Aegina’s many beaches are what make it a truly ideal destination for families. The beaches are sandy with shallow waters where swimmers of all ages, from small children to the elderly, can safely enjoy a dip in the warm waters. Some of the most popular beaches on Aegina are Marathonas, just south of the port town on the eastern coast of the island, and Agia Marina, on the western shore. All of the island’s beaches are easily accessible by the local bus lines, which depart regularly from the port city and make stops all around the island; however, renting a car and looking for your own beach haven is always a great way to explore a Greek island.
One of the most unique features of this island is the Hellenic Wildlife Hospital, also known as EKPAZ, located in the island’s hilly interior. The compassionate souls running this refuge rescue native animals from all over Greece injured from various accidents, including illegal hunting activities. The non-profit organization heals and houses upwards of 4,000 animals annually, mostly native birds and stray dogs. Visitors can tour the facility for free (donations are happily accepted) and learn about the wonderful work being done there.
If the island of Aegina isn’t laid-back enough for you, try taking a water taxi to the smaller, satellite island of Moni located off the southeastern coast of the island. A short five-minute boat ride will land you in this picturesque little slice of paradise where you are sure to have the beautiful beaches almost completely to yourself. Water taxis are available all day throughout the tourist season (May through September) from the town of Perdika.
Aegina is a popular island among Athenian locals due to its close location and limited number of tourists. Many Athenians have second homes on Aegina so they can enjoy their own summer island vacations without throngs of tourists. While most visitors to Greece will be anxious to get to some of the more popular and well-known island destinations such as Crete or Corfu, travelers in the know can visit this beautiful island and get a true idea of what Greek island life is all about.