Aegina – The painting canvas
At first glance, Aegina looks like a painting: a facade of variegated color with brightly-painted neoclassical buildings, balconies with elaborately designed marble corbels and ornate railings, multi-colored traditional wooden fishing boats, the little white chapel of Saint Nicholas.
This is Aegina. One of Greece’s most picturesque towns, which, over time, has become a favorite suburb of Athenians and foreigners alike who choose to make it their home for a greater part of the year.
This elegant and romantic island town boasts a glorious past. It was the first capital of the newly founded Greek state in 1829 and was prosperous due to the farming of pistachios. Cultivated since 1850, the local variety is internationally recognised as one of the best and is the protagonist of the Aegina Fistiki Fest, an annual gastronomic and cultural festival. And that’s not all.
Aegina’s history goes way back. Remnants of its vast ancient history include the world-renowned, and well-preserved, temple of Aphaia in the eastern part of the island, and the ruins of the temple of Apollo in the area known as Kolona, on the western coast.
For a taste of the Middle Ages, visit the Byzantine settlement of Paleochora and its chapels perched atop the hill despite being destroyed in 1537 by the pirate named Barbarossa. The Monastery of St. Nektarios welcomes thousands of visitors each year who make the pilgrimage to worship the relics of the Saint.
Also of significance is the convent of Chrysoleontissa, the oldest active monastery on the island.
Located in the heart of the Argo-Saronic Gulf, the island of Aegina is a favourite destination for Athenians and the perfect choice for tourists who visit Greece. Just 17 miles from the port of Piraeus, Aegina’s rich history was born in the fourth millennium BC, when the first settlers arrived.
Flourishing from the eighth to the fifth centuries BC, Aegina was the first city to mint coins (in the seventh century BC) and with its large maritime fleet developed and mastered commercial control of the entire eastern Mediterranean. In 480 BC the island’s naval fleet played a major role in the defeat of the Persians at the battle of Salamis.
Despite seeing a significant decline in commercial and strategic importance during the rule of Athens, Aegina once again took centre stage during the Revolution of 1821 against the Ottomans and was subsequently designated the first capital of modern Greece in 1827, under governor Ioannis Kapodistrias.
Although the capital was officially transferred to Nafplion in 1829, Aegina island remained a focal point of Greece’s vibrant social, political, financial and commercial life.
Attractions: What not to miss
In Aegina island, history is ever-present, as evidenced by a number of impressive sites, including the Archaeological museum and Kolona, both very close to the port and definitely worth a visit.
Then there is the temple of the Aphaia, an architectural masterpiece that towers over the majestic landscape – truly an attraction you cannot afford to miss. Whether seen by buggy ride or on foot, the neoclassical architecture of the City of Aegina is sure to transport you.
The major religious attraction on the island is the temple of miraculous St. Nektarios. And for those interested in ecology, a visit to Paliochora and Messagros for the Hellenic Wildlife Hospital (EKPAZ) is a must.
Visitors can also bond with nature on the island of Agistri: with its stunning waters and green landscapes, it’s the perfect place for relaxation, camping and returning to nature
Gastronomy and local products
Gastronomically, Aegina boasts a small yet commanding representative: the pistachio nut. Although the island’s other foods are first class, especially when it comes to meat and fish, the pistachio nut is the undisputed king of Aegean food.
A protected name-of-origin product, it can be found everywhere here: plain, salted, roasted, natural, in sweets, with chocolate, in sweet sauce, as a liqueur, in jams and in any other form imaginable. The pistachio nut even has its own festival held annually in mid-September! Also, don’t miss Aegina’s exquisite pottery, highly valued by locals and visitors alike.
The best beaches on the island
Aegina has many free beaches, all easily accessible. The most popular here is the Agia Marina, a trendy, family-favourite with a multitude of beach bars.
The northern beaches of the island, particularly Loutra Souvalas and Vagia, are also worth a visit. To the south, Marathonas and Perdika beaches are perfect for a relaxing swim to the nearby islet of Moni. The fact is, all of Agistri’s beaches are nothing short of stunning, especially Aponissos, Dragonera, and Mareza. Don’t miss out on any of them!
Aegina is surrounded by incredible beaches to suit every taste – take your pick
Hotels and accommodation
Although Aegina has undergone a great deal of development over the years, it may not be the ideal choice for those with more cosmopolitan tastes.
While the island’s many hotels offer bargain prices, their features are somewhat basic, with no noticeable extras, and a number of them are in need of renovation. However, there are also many rooms and apartments for rent, especially in the towns of Aegina Souvala and Agia Marina.
If your requirements are simple and you have a little patience, you are sure to find solid, reasonably priced accommodation. Of course, if you prefer a more natural environment, free camping is available in Dragonera and at a few other locations on the island.
The heart of this Greek island beats in the city of Aegina, with its restaurants, taverns, cafés and bars offering visitors a variety of culinary and entertainment choices. Though the island’s nightlife is not considered extravagant by metropolitan standards, the locals are friendly and hospitable. A leisurely drink accompanied by a romantic view of Athens at one of the famous beach bars in Agia Marina is guaranteed to help you relax and enjoy the summer scene.
While many of the beaches in Aegina host activities, the largest is Agia Marina, where visitors can scuba-dive, snorkel, do some underwater fishing or participate in a multitude of other water and beach sports.
Paddle boats and canoes are also available for rental and visitors are encouraged to take an organised boat tour of the island.