Explore Athens and around
Central Attica has been blighted by the new airport and its associated motorways, and though there are still villages with Byzantine churches and countryside where wine is made, there’s little incentive, when heading east, to stop anywhere before you reach the coast. This is popular with weekending Athenians and the site of many of their second homes. Almost due east of Athens lies the port of Rafína, and to the north of here are Marathon and the isolated site of ancient Ramnous, as well as some relatively uncrowded beaches. South of Rafína the coast is less attractive, with continuous development all the way down through Loútsa (aka Artemis) towards Pórto Ráfti; it is also directly beneath the airport flight path.
The port of RAFÍNA has fast ferries and catamarans to the Cyclades, as well as to nearby Évvia. Many Athenians have summer homes overlooking the attractive, rocky coast, but the beaches are tricky to reach even with a car, so for visitors the chief attraction, ferries aside, is gastronomic. Overlooking the harbour is a line of excellent seafood restaurants, many with roof terraces and a ringside view of the comings and goings at the harbour. They’re interspersed with cafés and fishmongers. The pedestrianized square above the harbour is also a lively place, ringed with cafés and rather cheaper eating options. A lunchtime outing is an easy operation, given the frequency of the bus service. Evenings, when it’s livelier, you’ll need to get a taxi back, or stay.
The site of the battle of Marathon, the most famous and arguably most important military victory in Athenian history, is not far from the village of MARATHÓNAS, 42km from Athens. Here, in 490 BC, a force of 9000 Athenians and 1000 of their Plataian allies defeated a 25,000-strong Persian army. After the victory a runner was sent to Athens to declare the news: having run the first marathon, he delivered his message and dropped dead. Just 192 Athenians died in the battle (compared to some 6,000 Persians), and the burial mound where they were laid, the Týmfos Marathóna (Tues–Sun 8.30am–3pm; €3), can still be seen, off the main road between Rafína and Marathónas. It is a quietly impressive monument, though surrounded now by one-way roads installed for the Olympic marathon race. The Mound of the Plataians (Tues–Sun 8.30am–3pm; €3), where the eleven Plataians (including a 10-year-old boy) who died were laid to rest, is about 5km away, near the edge of the mountain; there’s also a small, modern archeological museum here.
ÁYIOS PANDELÍMONAS, also known as Paralía Marathónas, lies straight on past the Týmfos Marathóna. The beach isn’t the greatest – though there’s plenty of room to spread out – but a string of waterfront fish tavernas and an open-air movie theatre ensure plenty of local visitors in summer.
The best beach in the region – some would say the best in the Athens area – lies north of Marathon at SKHINIÁS, a long, pine-backed strand with shallow water, big enough to allow some chance of escaping the crowds. Buses run along the road behind the beach, where there are a number of stops. At the southern end there’s a certain amount of development and several cordoned-off pay-beach sections offering cafés, showers, loungers and watersports; perhaps the best of these is Karavi (karavi.gr), with free entry, a decent bar and restaurant, volleyball courts, and windsurf hire and lessons. The central section of Skhiniás beach, beyond the Olympic rowing and kayaking centre, is the least developed, with numerous tracks leading through the pines from the road to the sand. At the northern end there’s more low-key development, mainly in the form of cafés and scattered tavernas on the sand.
The little-visited ruins of Ramnous occupy an isolated, atmospheric site above the sea, with magnificent views across the strait to Évvia. The site was an Athenian lookout point from the earliest times, and remains can be clearly seen continuing way below the fenced site, all the way down to the rocky shore. Within the site, the principal ruin is a Doric Temple of Nemesis, goddess of divine retribution. Pausanias records that the invading Persians incurred her wrath by their presumption in bringing with them a giant marble block upon which they intended to commemorate their victory. They met their nemesis, however, at the battle of Marathon, and the Athenians used the marble to create a statue instead. There are also the remains of a smaller temple dedicated to Themis, goddess of justice, and a section of ancient road.