For a backpacking destination that’s both far from the crowds and also has plenty to see and do, the Greek island of Aegina is well worth considering. Situated in the dead centre of the Saronic Gulf, Aegina has a rich ancient history and once challenged even mighty Athens for dominance of the sea, but today it’s a relatively sleepy spot that’s a favourite summer getaway for Greeks. It’s also often overlooked by foreign tourists in favour of more lively locations like Santorini and Mykonos, making it an ideal place to relax and unwind for a few days.
The best way to reach Aegina is by ferry from Piraeus, near Athens. If you’re looking to get some use out of your professional sailing waterproofs, the island’s main port town (also called Aegina) has its own sailing school that will be glad to offer lessons for all levels of experience and daily cruise trips. Spend a couple of days snorkelling and swimming in the crystal-clear waters of the Saronic Gulf, and be sure to visit the nearby island of Moni – an uninhabited natural haven with a secluded sandy beach and wildlife ranging from seals to goats and peacocks.
The town of Aegina, on the west coast of the island, is a great place to use as a base for your stay. Its quintessentially Greek open-fronted cafés and tavernas offer fantastic seafood in a tranquil setting, and stay open late into the night. There are also three outdoor cinemas in and around the town that provide evening entertainment – just the thing to wind down after a hard day of exploring. A bus station affords easy access to the other parts of the island.
Aegina rewards keen explorers with a wealth of historical structures, religious architecture and natural beauty. Among the best-known is the Temple of Aphaea, built around 500 BC as the sole site of worship for the eponymous goddess. According to Greek mythology, Aphaea was a Cretan woman of great beauty who ascended to divinity through the favour of Artemis, goddess of hunting and wild animals. Today, the temple is among the most well-preserved you’ll find outside of Athens, and the on-site museum includes some remarkable sculptural fragments – although you’d have to travel to the Glyphothek in Munich to see the temple’s complete sculptures.
The island’s protector saint is venerated at Aegina’s largest religious building, the modern church of Agios Nektarios. One of the most visited spots on the island, the church features two bell towers and a connected monastery that is tended by a small community of nuns. A little further on is the mediaeval village of Paleachora, where the remains of 33 churches, linked by winding stone paths and in various states of repair, can be found. The oldest of these churches date back to the 13th century, and some have ancient frescoes and sculptures.
Naturally, you’ll want to spend at least some of your time in Aegina relaxing on the beaches, and the most popular ones are located on the north and west coasts – although the longest, the beautiful Agia Marina, is on the east coast. The beaches tend to be small but well-served by local cafés, restaurants and other tourist facilities – Marathonas, Souvala and Perdika are all great spots for a lazy day.
- The Temple of Aphaea, around 10km east of the port town, is the perfect destination for a day’s hiking
- The church of Agios Nektarios, one of the largest in Greece
- Paleachora, the ancient hillside village that was once home to 70 churches
- The Christos Kapralos museum, celebrating one of Greece’s most prolific modern sculptors
- The island of Moni, a great spot for nature lovers