The Argo-Saronic Islands, or the Saronic Islands, are named because they mostly lie in the Saronic Gulf off of Athens and Piraeus. For this reason they are extremely popular with day trippers, who can get up in the morning in downtown Athens, catch a hydrofoil in Piraeus, and visit, say, Hydra for a late-morning snack, Poros for lunch, Aegina for a mid-afternoon constitutional, and be back in Athens for an evening meal at 8 PM.
Here, then, is a quick overview of these 5 islands, starting with the closest to Athens, which is historic Salamis. In the narrow channel between Salamis and the mainland one of the most decisive naval battles in history took place, in 480 BC, when the fast, maneuverable Athenian fleet decimated the larger, slower Persians, saving Western Civilization from being strangled in its cradle. As a tourist destination, Salamis is mostly for locals, but it has some nice beaches and hotels along its south coast.
Aegina, an hour from Piraeus with a regular ferry, is one of the most popular island destinations in Greece, especially for those using Athens as a base. A very pleasant outing on Aegina involves landing at Aegina Town, exploring it for awhile, and buying a bag of the pistachios that the island is famous for (the Greek word for pistachios is “Aegina nuts.”). A bus can then be taken to the other side of the island, to Agia Marina, which has an excellent, shallow-water beach. From Agia Marina another boat takes you back to Piraeus.
Agkistri is a small island close to Aegina. It has pine forests and plenty of vegetation. It’s also a bird sanctuary of sorts because of the abundant plant life. Agkistri has a lively night life, and very nice beaches.
Poros, at its closest pointjust 250 meters off the coast of Argolida, the easternmost peninsula of the Peloponnese, has nice beaches, pine trees, neoclassical mansions and stone-paved streets. It’s a peaceful, yet cosmopolitan island, offering ample nightlife in addition to the pine trees of its countryside.
Hydra, a car-less artist’s paradise, has an exceptionally beautiful amphitheatric main town and a tight, circular harbor. Canadian music artist Leonard Cohen bought a house here in the 1960’s. There are no beaches to speak of, but some nice swimming off the rocks at can be had. Donkeys are used for public transport. Hydra supplied many ships for the Greek War of Independence, and is the birthplace of no less than 5 prime ministers.
Spetses is another island with a long naval tradition, and if anything contributed even more to the War of Independence than Hydra, transforming many of its commercial vessels into warships. Its main town has many captains’ mansions from its glory days as a commercial naval power in the Middle Ages. Spetses re-creates a naval battle every September.