Athens is a vibrant city with an abundance of things to see and do during your vacation. Admire the ancient sites of the Acropolis, find a unique restaurant or taverna to eat like a local, or even take a day trip to the island.
Still, many people miss the Athens Riviera because they are either unfamiliar with it or haven’t given Athens enough time to explore. The Riviera is close to town and yet worlds away. With 40 miles of coastline, the region proves that you don’t need to go to an island to experience the island lifestyle with its blue flag beaches, port towns, ancient sites and a spa lake just a 40 minute drive from the centre is removed. All stretch along the southern coastal road from the major cruise and ferry port of Piraeus to its southernmost point at Cape Sounio.
Emerged after World War II, planners, politicians and businessmen transformed this picturesque coastline to offer locals their very own Côte d’Azur, just a few kilometers from the city centre. In the 1960s, the first publicly organized beaches appeared in the Riviera towns of Vouliagmeni and Glyfada, and Athenians began building second homes here.
Vouliagmeni soon became a luxury vacation spot for politicians like Thatcher and Gorbachev and movie stars like Joan Collins and Paul Newman in the 90’s. The 2004 Olympics transformed the beach facilities and nightspots here to meet the exacting standards that continue to this day.
I hope this article will tempt you to visit this unique and diverse destination and show you why I love it so much.
1. Astir Beach Club
One of the many reasons people come to the Athens Riviera is to relax on the beach and swim. There are several organized beaches along the 40 miles of coastline, one of the most exclusive being Astir Beach.
Surrounded by 900 feet of shoreline, facilities include beach beds or cabanas, massage therapists, paddleboarding and yoga classes, Greek designer shopping boutiques, and attentive food and beverage service at your beach bed.
It’s a hefty entrance fee that changes depending on the season and time of the week, so check their website. Still, it’s worth having a beach experience where you’ll be treated like royalty.
History buffs will also enjoy this destination as the Astir site is home to the 6th century BC archeological site. The Temple of Apollo Zoster was discovered in 1924 when a group of children from an orphanage came to play and dig in the sand, digging up more than they bargained for.
2. Balux house project
Asteras Beach is a more affordable luxury beach experience not far from the seaside district of Glyfada, an area famous for its elegant cafes and boutiques.
The Balux project is a large beach house with many spaces where you can relax all day long, such as All this with a great offer of Mediterranean cuisine and, as the name suggests, direct access to the beach with umbrellas and sun beds.
Pro Tip: Note that it’s also a good place for children as there is a separate children’s play area so it can get a bit noisy.
Further along the coast you come to one of the largest beaches on the Athenian Riviera. Varkiza Beach is popular with water sports enthusiasts, with activities such as water skiing and windsurfing, and there is a wide range of restaurants and clubs that even host the Hollywood elite.
Varkiza used to be a fishing village, so expect Greek fishing boats bobbing on the shore, and the open-air fish market is an interesting spot for those looking for a more down-to-earth and traditional experience, even if you don’t shop.
Pro tip: On market days you’ll find mostly crab and shrimp along with plenty of cats looking for scraps from the friendly fishermen which they certainly won’t be denied.
4. Vouliagmeni Lake
If you’re looking for a completely different swimming experience, this spa lake on the Riviera coast – just 30 minutes from central Athens – is for you. With a year-round temperature that does not drop below 77 degrees Fahrenheit, Lake Vouliagmeni is a combination of freshwater and seawater lake that formed a few years ago when it was originally a large cave and the roof eroded and collapsed due to the high temperatures flowing water.
Today it’s a unique spa experience, a pleasure to spend the whole day relaxing on the many sun loungers and swimming, booking a massage or staying in their “Prive” area – a private, secluded area on Grassland with luxury sunbeds and designated waiter service.
Pro Tips: Entry prices change depending on the day of the week/season, so check their website. Make yourself comfortable swimming in nature as there are many garra rufa fish in the lake – skin nibbling fish that make the experience even more therapeutic.
5. The Ellinikon adventure park
New to Athens (since late 2021), Ellinikon Experience Park has opened in over 70 hectares of urban parkland formerly occupied by the old Athens Airport and located on the Riviera in the suburb of Ellinikon, hence the name. The old airport site, which was abandoned for many years, is undergoing a major transformation and renewal that promises to give back to the local community and visitors alike.
The park itself is the first part of a much larger regeneration project that, when completed, will transform a total of 6.2 million square meters into a green city project.
Right now you can visit the Ellinikon Experience Park and explore the trails with over 55,000 plants, four relaxation spots, water fountains, a zen lavender garden and outdoor fitness equipment.
Admission is free and the park is open daily from 5pm to 10pm for the time being and offers various changing shows such as the stalactite show – a kinetic light installation.
Pro Tip: Take the Metro to the end of the Red Line to Ellinikon, where a free shuttle bus is written with the park’s name and logo on it: Glyfada Metro Exit.
6. Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
Stavros Niarchos was a Greek billionaire and shipping magnate whose foundation is one of the world’s leading private, international philanthropic organizations in the world of arts and culture, education, health and sport, and social welfare.
In 2017, the Foundation opened its largest project to date, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNFCC) Cultural Center, in Athens on the route from the city center to the Riviera along Syggrou Avenue.
The site covers 52 hectares of public space and includes the new National Library, home of the Greek National Opera. It also features architectural delights such as the Dancing Fountains, which are 59 water jets and 10 fountains that line the canal in front of the building, creating a play of light, sound and water to music in the morning and evening.
If you come during the day, be sure to visit the “Lighthouse” atop the Greek National Opera building, which is really a large, glass-enclosed area that offers panoramic views of Piraeus Port and the Saronic Islands in one direction, and the Acropolis in that others.
Other outdoor areas include the lavender garden and the outdoor cafe by the fountains.
With good Wi-Fi, the SNFCC is a gift for Athenians and tourists alike who want to come and relax in nature so close to the city. Many students or remote workers come to the library to study, and it is a unique place to treat yourself to a National Opera performance.
Pro Tip: Take the blue or red line metro to Syntagma, where a free shuttle bus will take you to and from the centre.
The busy port of Piraeus shouldn’t just be seen as a place to just hop on a ferry to the Greek islands. It’s the starting point of the Athens Riviera and next to the cruise and ferry terminal, you’ll find both large and small private yachts in the elegant port of Zea, so the facilities here reflect the exclusive clientele. Expect a relaxed cafe lifestyle with stunning views over the harbour.
Piraeus is also home to the luxurious, upmarket hilltop neighborhood of Kastella, “Little Fort”, which sits above and overlooks the smaller port of Mikrolimano. It features tree-shaded parkland, a very ‘British’ bowling green, renovated and abandoned neoclassical mansions and the Church of Profitis Elias (the Prophet Elijah). Kastella is undeniably one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in all of Athens.
Pro tip: If you’re looking for Michelin-starred seafood, you’ll find Varoulko here.
8. Cape Sounio
Cape Sounio, a 45 minute drive or bus ride from central Athens to the southernmost tip, is one of my favorite experiences. Here you will find the Temple of Poseidon, which rivals the Acropolis. Cape Sounio was the place where Aegeus, king of Athens, fell to his death. Myth has it that his son Theseus traveled to Crete to slay the dreaded Minotaur and told his father that upon arrival at the Sounio Peninsula he would fly a white flag from his ship if he was successful. Theseus successfully killed the Minotaur but forgot to hoist the white sail. When Aegeus saw the ship and assumed his son was unsuccessful and had been killed, he threw himself off the cliff to his own death.
The temple consists of 38 fluted marble columns 20 feet high and was built between 444 and 440 BC. built. Surrounded by nature, it offers sweeping views over the Saronic Gulf and lonely wind-sculpted olive trees.
Pro tip: It is a beautiful place to visit at sunset with stunning views. While it is possible to take a bus from central Athens, for the sake of freedom and without having to rely on a slightly irregular schedule, it is best to hire a car or even take a taxi.
Where to sleep
Base yourself on the seafront at the Four Season Astir Palace, and draw a variety of guests, including celebrities. Another option is the boutique hotel Margi in Vouliagmeni near Lake Vouliagmeni. It has an outdoor pool and indoor spa, as well as the cute Margi Farm, a day trip in itself, where you can visit the 20,000 square meters of olive groves, farm animals, and herb and vegetable gardens to see where your breakfast produce is grown – a true farm-to-table experience.
Enjoy your Athens Riviera experience after your time in the city.