Aegina (Greek: Αίγινα) is one of the Saronic Gulf Islands, a triangle 11 km on each side. It's the closest island to Athens, reached in barely an hour by ferry, and in 2011 had a population of 13,056. The main reasons to visit are to escape the city heat for an agreeable old port, and to see the temple of Aphaea. It feels more like a beach suburb than a Greek island, and it can get busy, but most visitors are from the city.
Towns and villages
- Aegina is also the name of the main town and ferry port - and to avoid confusion it's referred to as "Aegina town" on this page. It's mainly geared for day-trippers, with some accommodation but lots of restaurants, and the Temple of Apollo is 500 m north.
- 1 Souvala (Σουβάλα) is the main village of the beach and resort strip along the north coast.
- 2 Agia Marina (Αγία Μαρίνα) is a small harbour on the east coast near the Temple of Aphaea.
- 3 Perdika (Πέρδικα) is a resort village near the south tip of the island.
In legend Aegina was a goat-nymph, though it was almighty Zeus who acted the prize goat with his predatory sex adventures. Aegina was carried off to the island that now bears her name (maybe not unwillingly) and bore Zeus a son Aeacus, who became king. Hera the wife of Zeus tended to blame the other women rather than her hubby, and wiped out the island population by plague. However Aeacus prayed to Zeus to convert the teeming ants into humans, the myrmidons, a sort-of warrior caste - honestly, how many of us would have thought of doing that?
In the 7th to 5th centuries BC Aegina was a maritime trading state and its currency, embossed with a sea turtle and later a land tortoise, circulated widely in the Hellenistic world. Trade rivalry with Athens escalated into war, the island suffered a massacre in 424 BC, and this time the trick with the ants somehow couldn't be repeated. Aegina lost its importance and fell under the sway of other city-states, passing (as did Athens) into Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman control. It has some agriculture but little industry, and has long been a holiday retreat for Athenians.
Frequent ferries ply from Piraeus port in Athens to Aegina town. Hydrofoils for foot passengers take 40 min, single fare €14, conventional vessels for cars and motorbikes take 70 min, single fare €10.
In normal times hydrofoils sail hourly 07:00-17:00, some continuing from Aegina to Agistri, Poros or Methana. In April 2020 only conventional vessels are sailing once or twice a day, reserved for residents and essential visitors and not available to tourists. The ferry operators are Hellenic Seaways, Alpha Lines,ANES Ferries and Saronic Ferries.
1 Aegina port is at the heart of the town. Ferries dock on the west pier, cruise ships on the east pier, and small craft use the inner harbour. There's lots of nearby cafes.
Direct ferries from Athens (Piraeus port) to Souvala and Agia Marina were axed in 2019.
There are five car rental agencies near the harbour, which also have motorbikes and scooters - book ahead to ensure availability. Some of their offerings are dilapidated.
For a day trip, you might do better to hire a taxi. The driver knows the roads, where to park and how much time to allow to return you to the ferry pier, and will regale you with what his great-grandmother got up to during the war.
Buses on the island are a limited service to enable villagers to get into town for essentials then get home. They are not well-designed for sightseeing outings, but it's possible given boundless patience. The three routes all start from the bus stand by the harbour, and take at most 30 min to the end of the line. A single ticket is €2, pay cash as you board. Destinations are only shown in Greek but if in doubt, get on and ask the driver.
- - Route 1 (yellow) follows the north coast, Aegina town - Kipseli - Vathi - Souvala - Agii - Vagia, with three M-F and two Sa Su.
- - Route 2 (blue) runs east across the island, Aegina town - Agios Nektarios - Aphaia Temple - Agia Marina. These run M-F with three outbound buses passing the temple. Two others turn off after Agios Nektarios along the lane via Alones to Agia Marina and don't pass near the temple, but they return that way, so there are five return services.
- - Route 3 (orange) follows the coast southwards, Aegina town - Faros - Marathonas - Aeginitissa - Perdika, with three M-F and two Sa Su.
- 1 Temple of Apollo (Archaeology Museum) (500 m north of harbour). F-M, W 10:00-17:30. Small museum and remains of a citadel on Kolona headland, you mostly come for the view. "Kolona" refers to the column, still standing, which was a daymark for approaching ships. Adult €4, conc €2, some free days.
- Churches worth a look in town are St Nicholas Chapel (on west pier, the whitewashed building just as you step off the ferry), Isodia Theotokou (which you'll see even earlier from the boat, as it looms over the harbour), the Cathedral (on Mitropoleos) and Fanomeri (1 km inland and underground; it's often closed).
- Landmarks and secular buildings in town are Government House (next to the cathedral, a modest 2-story building that in 1828/29 housed the newly independent Greek government until they could get set up in Athens), Eynardio (1830 building next to the cathedral), Tower of Markellos (a pink watchtower on Thomaidou) and the Kapodistrian Orphanage southside (looking uncannily like a prison, which it was).
- 2 Christos Kapralos Museum (3 km north of town near NW tip of island). W-F 08:30-16:00, Sa Su 09:30-17:00. Kapralos (1909-1993) was a Greek artist who often spent summer working here on Aegina; his best known piece is the 40 m Pindus Frieze. You'll know you've reached the museum by the statue of his mother outside. It's nowadays an annexe of the National Art Gallery (Alexandros Soutzos Museum) in Athens. Adult €5, conc €3.
- The writer Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957), best known for Zorba the Greek, lived on-and-off in Aegina from 1933 and built an idiosyncratic house on the northwest tip 200 m north of the Kapralos museum. It's now a private dwelling and you can't tour inside.
- 3 Agios Nektarios along the road to Agia Marina is a large, elaborate, modern Orthodox church and monastery. It's dedicated to Metropolitan St Nektarios (Anastasios Kephalas 1846-1920), a monk who ministered in Cairo, Libya and Athens before retiring to Aegina. From the church, a path leads uphill to Paleochora (Old Town), the island's earlier capital with Byzantine architecture.
- 4 Monastery of Chrysoleontissa, on a hilltop in the middle of the island, is reached by a lane winding south from Agios Nektarios. It's nowadays a convent, open 07:00-14:00 and 16:00-18:30.
- 5 Temple of Aphaea (13 km east of Aegina town). Daily 10:00-17:00. Aphaea was a local goddess and this was her only shrine. She was worshiped from the 14th century BC but by the 2nd C BC she'd merged into Athena and Artemis. This temple, built 500 BC, was on the site of an earlier temple that burned down. It's a fine Doric shell on a ridge of pine trees, depicted by JMW Turner among others. Most of its sculptures are now in the Glyptothek in Munich. Adult €6.
- Agios Minas is a small convent 300 m southwest of the Temple of Aphaea, visitors welcome.
- There are dozens more churches across the island: look out for Agios Christophoros, Agia Anastasia, Pachia Rachi, Agia Ekaterina, and Omorphi.
- Perdika is a fishing village on the north prong of a peninsula at the southwest tip of the island. Most of it is nondescript modern breeze-block, but there's a pleasant cafe strip by the harbour and a scenic lane round the headland, with views towards Epidaurus. The south prong is scrub grazed by goats and donkeys, and officially off-limits. At the end of it, a cylindrical building is a 360-degree camera obscura: wait five minutes for your eyes to adjust within, and the whole landscape slowly appears on the round wall, upside down.
- 6 Moni is the bosky island just west of Perdika, 1 km long and reached by a 10-min water taxi. There's a beach bar at the landing point but it's otherwise uninhabited. The deer will come looking for handouts.
- 7 Nisida off Aegina's northeast tip is the other island, a wooded 100 m place flanked by two smaller outcrops, and seldom visited. Zoodochos Pigi there is not a menagerie for wild boar but a modern church: it means "life-giving spring" and is a common Greek place-name.
- Beaches: the best are Souvala on the north coast, Agia Marina to the east, Marathonas 5 km south of Aegina town, and Perdika.
- Climb the highest peak on Aegina at 532 m, helpfully called Oros which is Greek for "mountain". It's 5 km southeast of town, follow Lefkis road towards Anitseo. The well-marked path leads past the remains of a temple to Zeus and takes 45 min. From the top there's a panorama over the Saronic Gulf.
- Aegean Sailing School, 8 Martyros Leontiou, Aegina town (two blocks back from harbour), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Sa 09:00-17:00, Su 14:30-19:00. A sailing school offering RYA sailing courses in English. Courses usually start on Sunday at 17:30.
- Aegina town waterfront is lined with cafes. Good choices are Flisvos north of the pier (daily 10:00-00:00) and Pantarei on the harbour (daily 07:30-03:00).
- Agia Marina has Pita Tom (daily 12:00-00:00), where souvlaki and gyros are fresh and inexpensive.
- Perdika, at the southwest tip of the island, has a whole row of good tavernas.
- Vagia has Aeredes, Vagia beach (just west of marina), ☏ , email@example.com. Daily 10:00-00:00. Good Greek food, sea views and friendly staff.
- Perdikiotika at 38 Apheas in Aegina town has charming decor and casual food.
- Bartan and Barrera are on Irioti north end of Aegina harbour, with Belle Epoque on Pileos a couple of blocks inland.
- The rest of the island doesn't do free-standing bars, head for one of the waterfront tavernas.
- Aegina pistachios (φιστίκια, fistiki) are distinctive and have PDO status - "Protected Designation of Origin". The shell is paler and a bit more closed than, say, US cultivars. The kernel is red-green with an intense sweet taste. Buy them at any wayside kiosk; try them with salt and lemon juice to balance the sweetness.
- The fish market is in a pungent alley by the harbour. It's open daily 06:00-21:00.
- The main accommodation strip starts north of Aegina town and straggles along the coast through Souvala to Vagia. Other clusters are around Agia Marina and Perdika.
- 1 Aegina Hotel (Ξενοδοχείο Αίγινα), Dimitri Petriti St 23, Aegina town, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Simple 2-star hotel close to harbour, with 19 rooms and friendly staff. It offers 2 double rooms, 11 twin rooms and 6 triple (2 + 1 beds). All have private bathroom, a/c and TV, many have balconies overlooking the sea; some rooms have a refrigerator. There's a courtyard with palm trees and a terrace with views of the harbor and town. Free Wifi. B&B double €45.
- Hotel Rastoni (ξενοδοχείο Ραστώνη), Dimitri Petriti 31, Aegina town (200 m north of ferry pier), ☏ . Charming small guesthouse with garden. B&B double €75.
- Blue Dolphin studios & apartment, Eleitherioi Venizeloi, Vagia (north coast), ☏ , email@example.com. Small place with six studios and one apartment, and pool. Friendly, helpful Swedish owners. Double (room only) €75.
- Take care with sun protection and keeping hydrated - the sea breeze is cooling so you don't realise how sun-frazzled you're getting.
As of Aug 2022, Aegina town has 4G from all Greek carriers, but the signal becomes patchy 3 km out. You might pick up 5G from Pireaus on the ferry.
- Most routes mean taking the ferry back to the mainland. Pireaus port is worth a few hours of your time before heading into Central Athens.
- Seasonal ferries continue from Aegina town to the island of Agistri and to Poros and Methana on the Epidaurus mainland.