The Saronic Gulf Islands lie in the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea southwest of Athens. They are a short ferry ride from Piraeus and are popular for day-trips; some, like Hydra, are also visited by cruise ships. This makes them quite touristy, but it's almost all Greek tourism - those from further west are passing 5 km above as their aircraft descends towards Rhodes or Corfu. They are dotted with little churches and museums, but the only major classical antiquities are on Aegina.
This page only describes the larger islands, and even some of those are small. There are dozens of smaller islets, perhaps with a villa or church, or maybe just sheep and scrub - it depends on the water supply - but no ferries or visitor amenities.
Some mainland villages around the Gulf (such as Methana) were historically easier to reach by ferry than along the bad roads, and they retain that island ambiance. But nowadays there's always a paved highway, however congested, and a bus service from Athens, so they're not included here.
- 1 Salamis (Σαλαμίνα, "Salamera") is a large, busy island that's effectively a suburb of Athens. It's only 2 km offshore and construction of a road tunnel has been "about to commence" since 2007, with no visible progress yet.
- 2 Aegina (Αίγινα) is barely an hour by ferry, so it's the easiest for day trips. The main sight is the Temple of Aphaea.
- 3 Agistri (Αγκίστρι) is a small pine-clad island: the name means "fish hook". Milos is the traditional village and ferry port, Skala 1 km east is the tourist resort.
- 4 Poros (Πόρος) is two islands connected by a bridge: well-developed Sfairia island with the town of Poros and quieter Kalavria island. It lies within 200 m of the Peloponnese mainland, with frequent ferries from Galatas.
- 5 Hydra (Ύδρα) is a well-developed resort island, but the old harbour has been preserved.
- 6 Dokos (Δοκός), close to Hydra, is a very quiet place inhabited only by a few monks and sheep-herders.
- 7 Spetses (Σπέτσες) is a popular resort island, indeed crowded in summer.
- 8 Fleves (Φλέβες) and 9 Patroklos (Πάτροκλος) are two small islands to the east with no visitor facilities.
- 10 Agios Georgios (Άγιος Γεώργιος) at the entrance to the Gulf is uninhabited.
- 1 Athens Airport (ATH IATA) has a metro line through the city to the port of Pireaus, so with a morning arrival you should be able to connect with a ferry to the islands same day.
- 2 Piraeus is the busy port, with ferries to all the main islands. Many are fast hydrofoils for foot passengers only; these sail frequently in summer, seldom if at all in winter, and can be blown out by bad weather. Conventional vessels are slower but surer, carry vehicles and sail year round. The main routes (with several operators) are:
- - to Salamis, but it's usually reached by the short car ferry from Perama;
- - to Aegina, Agistri and Poros;
- - to Hydra and Spetses.
- Some islands (eg Poros) are so close to the mainland that you might prefer to drive and park long-stay at the nearest port and take the short ferry across.
Ferries connect the main islands, Piraeus and the Peloponnese mainland. Try to avoid bringing a car: indeed it may not be permitted on some routes, and foot passengers have much greater choice of sailings. Nevertheless the larger islands are too big for walking beyond the main port, and buses are sparse and not designed for sightseeing. Consider hiring a taxi for a few hours: it will save much time, sweat, and baffled perusal of maps stuck up a dirt track with a droll goat looking on.
- The islands are sprinkled with churches and monasteries, some ancient, but many confidently modern.
- Larger island ports have museums and perhaps a few ruins.
- On Aegina see the Temple of Aphaea on the east of the island.
- The islands all have walking trails, and the ascent of even a small hill will be rewarded by panoramas of the Gulf.
- Aegina has a sailing school, with RYA courses in English.
Each island's ferry port will always have the best selection of tavernas.
Local tap water is safe to drink, but there's lots of mineral water on sale.
Use sun protection even on cloudy days. The main hazard is idiot tourists trying to ride a motorbike for the first time, and petty thieving in crowded places.
- The closest parts of mainland Greece are Attica and Peloponnese. There's a natural circuit of both via the Corinth and Rio bridges.
- You need to double back via Piraeus for sailings to other Greek islands such as Crete.
- You can't miss out on Athens, but it's a very busy big city. So your decision is whether to see it at the start or the finish of a tour of this region.