The Athenian Riviera reaches for around 30 miles of the Saronic Gulf, from the capital’s port of Piraeus to renowned Cape Sounion, redolent with Greek mythology and the southernmost point of this great peninsula.
This long stretch of palm-lined coast is dotted with resorts close to the metropolis but opens up past the Athenian suburbs into a sun-baked route dotted with tiny coves and vast beaches, all kissed by the Mediterranean blue of the Aegean Sea.
As a rule, the further one drives from the capital, the better the beaches, but the fewer facilities on offer. Follow this journey south to find the best beaches in Athens and you’re sure to find a stretch of sand along the way with your name on it.
Kalamaki Beach, Kalamaki
Back in the 1950s, the coastal suburbs closest to Athens were remote villages with laid-back beaches. As the capital sprawled outwards, its progress only halted by the Aegean Sea, their popularity as a place to hang out by the sea began to decline.
The Olympic Games of 2004 changed all that, as this stretch of coast was spruced up to accommodate both athletes and visitors. Now, Kalamaki is one of the most popular beaches near Athens, within easy reach of the city center.
Home to both public and private beaches, it has several beach bars and a small waterpark. For those with an interest in military history, a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery is a few minutes’ walk away.
Glyfada Beach, Glyfada
Stretching from the Greek mountain of Hymettus to the coast, Glyfada is Athens’ largest and most prosperous southern suburb. A long stretch of glorious beaches is divided by several yacht-filled marinas and a traditional fishing port where the daily catch is still landed from brightly colored boats.
The sand ranges from smooth to pebbles here but the gently shelving waters make it ideal for those less confident in the water. The town’s nearby square is home to a host of cafés and restaurants selling some of the best food in Athens, and high-end designer shops for those looking to match their beach day with some retail therapy.
Voula Beach, Voula
Voula Beach is just a few hundred yards or so down the coast from Glyfada but a million miles away from its brasher neighbor thanks to it being a largely residential suburb with fewer shops and services.
Formerly part of a campsite, the town’s free beach is now home to sun loungers and a couple of cafés, plus excellent views over a small islet called Ydrousa (also known by locals as “donkey island”).
You’ll see a rocky outcrop on the west side of the beach. Swim around it and there’s another small cove, although this spot is clothing-optional.
Mikro & Megalo Kavouri, Kavouri
Kavouri is another pleasant resort on the Athenian Riviera which, as it’s set back off the main coastal highway, can feel more tranquil than others on this stretch.
Set against a backdrop of pine trees on one side of a peninsula, there are two main beaches here: Mikro (small) and Megalo (large) Kavouri. Both have umbrellas and sun loungers for hire, while the pines offer welcome extra shade in the height of summer.
Of the two, Mikro is the more family-friendly, having fine sands, shallow waters and a selection of cafés and restaurants. Megalo Kavouri is a little wilder, with some rocky areas that jut into the water that make for great snorkeling.
Vouliagmeni Beach, Vouliagmeni
Across the other side of the same peninsula of Kavouri lies the high-end resort of Vouliagmeni, the long-standing choice of the capital’s glitterati and one of the finest Athens beaches.
Set on its own peninsula known as Laimos (neck), this resort town is home to some of the best beaches in Greece, with plush apartment blocks and upscale villas. The main beach sits on an almost perfect crescent of sand, and is split between private and public operations, both lined with row upon row of beach umbrellas and loungers.
The public beach also offers sports facilities and dining options, while a short walk away are the ruins of the Temple of Apollo Zoster which dates from the Archaic Greek period (800-480BC).
Almost at sea level, the Greek ruins can flood in winter but are easily viewable in the summer months.
As the coastal highway continues to wind its way to Cape Sounion and built-up Vouliagmeni fades into the distance, it curves around a series of coves known as the Limanakia (small ports), favorite swimming spots of locals and in-the-know international visitors in Greece.
None of these have a beach as such, but rather a series of rocky natural platforms from which to dive into deep, emerald-green waters. Access is via pathways located next to two bus stops a few hundred yards apart.
At Limanakia A, the path leads to Lefteris, a cool beach hang-out that’s been here since the 1960s and offers wooden platforms over the rocks for those looking for somewhere comfier to lay down their towels.
Limanakia B leads to another cove with a more liberal feel thanks to it being clothing-optional and also a favorite of Athens’ LGBTQIA+ community.
Varkiza Beach, Varkiza
Varkiza is the last of the real Athenian coastal suburbs, around 15 miles from the city center and before the coast road really opens up.
Its beach is another pleasant arc of pale white sand that is split into two main sections: a public beach with a small beachside taverna, and a private area with umbrellas, sun loungers, a kids’ playground, and sports courts, as well as some high-end shopping opportunities.
If time allows post-swim, Varkiza is a lovely little town to explore, offering great shopping and charming cafés, some with ocean views.
Althea Beach, Agia Marina
There’s a real back-to-basics feel about this beautiful, small beach just off the Athens to Sounion coastal highway, inconspicuously set behind a car park. Mediterranean pines line the soft sand for some welcome shade, but other than that there are no other facilities, so make sure to take anything you might need on your excursion.
A series of partially submerged rocks at the northern end of the beach and a sandbar leading out from the adjacent peninsula both make for more good snorkeling.
Galazia Akti Beach, Agios Dimitrios
The beach at the small settlement of Agios Dimitrios breaks somewhat with convention with locals calling it Galazia Akti (light blue beach), rather than taking the conventional route of naming it after the town.
Turning off the coastal highway, a palm-lined road leads to this beach, a long stretch of fine sand with a couple of beach bars offering loungers and umbrellas at either end of the beach. At its more northern point, the sand first turns to shingle, followed by some small rocky outcrops that are worth exploring both on land or in the water.
Lagonisi Beach, Lagonisi
Once a quiet coastal fishing village, the resort of Lagonisi is one of the jewels of the Athenian River. It takes its name “Jack Rabbit Island” from the large rocky peninsula that juts out into the sea here and is occupied by a luxury hotel.
The southern side of the peninsula is home to the town’s beach, a long stretch of pale sand lined with several beach bars, and the chic Lagonisi Sailing Club.
Mavro Lithari Beach, Saronida
The town of Saronida is fringed by a cluster of small beaches, all mainly sand, with the usual gradually shelving seas seen along most of the Athenian Riviera.
Saronida Beach 1 and Saronida 2 are both pleasant enough but have little in the way of shade or facilities, so keep heading south for the best of the beaches here.
Set far enough off the main highway, Mavro Lithari is quiet, with a couple of good beach bars, as well as an ouzeri serving seafood and the famed Greek spirit, ouzo. (Be careful not to confuse the public beach here with a private one a little further south owned by a hotel and also called Mavro Lithari.)
Agios Nikolaos, Anavyssos
The beach at Agios Nikolaos is one of the most unusual on the Athenian Riviera. Set off the main coast road in the resort of Anavyssos, the beach lies on a sandbar that leads to a small rocky island covered in shrubs and Mediterranean pine.
Visitors can take a dip on either side of the sandbar, although the western side has the best sands, as well as a beach bar called Nuevo Loca with all the usual facilities.
It’s worth taking a short hike onto the island to see the stone-built church from which the island takes its name, as well as some of the boats of the local sailing club that is also based here.
Anavyssos & Palaia Fokaia beaches, Anavyssos
East of Agios Nikolaos island lies a wide, natural bay that is home to two of the Riviera’s best summer resorts: Anavyssos and Palaia Fokaia. The fine sands that line the bay form a vast arc, punctuated only by a sailing club and a small fishing harbor at the Palaia Fokaia end of the beach.
Along the way, there are several organized beach bars from which to hire loungers and umbrellas, plus a number of cafés and a family-run fish restaurant, Vasilis, located right on the beach.
Thymari Beach, Thymari
The beaches of Anavyssos and Palaia Fokaia can be busy at the height of summer. Luckily if there are no spots left to place a towel, the next resort of Thymari is less than two miles away and has three beaches of its own.
Named after the wild thyme that once grew abundantly here, this small town retains a more traditional feel compared to its northerly neighbors—and that’s true of its beaches, too.
Backed by a mixture of typical Mediterranean scrub including bushes, olive, and pine trees, the sands are fine, the sea warm and shallow, and the views out over the Saronic Gulf quite magnificent.
The northernmost of the three beaches is home to a small beach bar called The Island, named after Arsida, a small islet that can be seen across the bay.
Cape Sounion Beach, Sounion
As the coastal road approaches the most southern tip of the Athenian Riviera, the beaches get smaller and rockier as the Sounion peninsula unfolds. There are many to choose from, especially if you have at least three days in Athens to explore, all with their own merits and all with different and often confusingly overlapping names.
The best of them is the officially recognized Paralia Souniou (Beach of Sounion). Backed by more shrub-filled land, it has a good stretch of sand and is home to a laid-back beach bar.
Best of all, though, are the views up the hill to the Temple of Poseidon, one of the most beautiful and elegant temples that Greece is known for.
It’s from this headland that Athenian King Aegeus is said to have leaped to his death when he thought his son Theseus had died at the hands of the Cretan Minotaur, a mythical and dangerous creature, half-man and half bull.
The death of Aegeus is said to be what gave the Aegean Sea its name, and the sunsets over the temple are some of the most renowned in Greece.
Schinias Beach, Marathon
From Sounion, a succession of beaches head north on the eastern side of the Athenian Peninsula with those around Porto Rafti and Nea Makri all noteworthy, although most of them are quite a long way for a day trip from Athens.
One definitely worth the effort is the beautiful beach at Schinia in the national park of the same name, around 50 minutes’ drive from the city center. A long stretch of fine pale-yellow sand backed by Mediterranean pines, the beach seems to stretch on for mile upon mile, making it feel incredibly remote outside of high summer.
The pristine surroundings (there’s nothing at all commercial here) are little changed from the days of 490BC when Persian ships gathered here ahead of the Battle of Marathon.
For those with an interest in Greek history, as well as the famed 26.2-mile race which originated from the tales of that battle, the Marathon Run Museum is a short drive (or run) away.
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