Kavala is a lovely city on the coast in northern Greece. Located on the Bay of Kavala, it’s an important seaport. The town centre by the marina is characterised by lovely open boulevards, parks, and elegant buildings.
This beautiful, hilly city is arranged like an amphitheatre around the harbour. There are many fantastic vistas of the marina and port, full of fishing boats and ferry boats coming and going. Beyond is the shimmering bay and – in the near distance – the lush, green island of Thassos.
Bordering the harbour to the east is a peninsula, crowned with a magnificent Byzantine fortress. This is Kavala’s Old Town – called “Panagia” (Holy Virgin). It’s utterly charming, with examples of traditional architecture along narrow cobblestone streets.
The people of Kavala are proud of their town lovely town, sometimes calling it “The Monaco of Greece” because of its dramatic geography and coastline. Somehow, despite its charms, Kavala is not at all overrun with tourism. This city has plenty of authentic local character and unspoiled beauty – making it an even more wonderful discovery for the visitor.
We had a lovely walking tour around the city of Kavala with Kavala Tours where we learned about the city’s history and also visited its points of interest.
History of Kavala
Kavala has a rich and fascinating history. The city’s modern name is an adaption of Cavalla – the name of the city for many years. This name is likely taken from the Italian word for horse. But Kavala has also had other names throughout its history.
The city was originally founded as “Neapolis” (New City) in the 7th century as a colony of Thassos, the island directly across from it. The Thassians were drawn here by the rich mines for gold and silver in the nearby mountains, and Neapolis was one of several Thassian colonies along the coast. The city later gained its independence. During the Peloponnesian wars, the Spartans and the Thassians laid siege to Neapolis, but the city remained faithfully allied to Athens.
This was an important city during to Roman era, too. It became a civitas of the Roman Republic in 168 BC, and the via Egnatia passed through, opening the city to more trade.
Kavala – which was still Neopolis then – became an extremely significant city for the Christian faith. It was right here in Kavala, in the year 49 AD, that St. Paul first set foot on European soil to spread the message of Christianity.
Of course, such a gem as this – with its mines and its natural harbour – was sought after by many conquerors. Kavala became part of the Byzantine Empire. During this period, the city acquired a new name – Christoulpolis – to reflect its Christian identity. Emperor Justinian, I built the fortress to protect the city. In the 8th and 9th centuries, the city was further fortified to protect against attacks from Bulgaria.
Ultimately, later in the 9th century, the Bulgarians managed to capture the city anyway, until the Lombards came in the late 12th century. The Catalans also tried to take the city a few years later but were unsuccessful. Kavala was back in Byzantine hands until the Ottomans came, in 1387.
The Ottomans destroyed the city – except for the fortress – and built it in their own manner, which accounts for the strong Ottoman character of the Old Town. Under the Ottoman Emperor Suleiman the Magnificent, the Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha improved the town’s fortunes, building the aqueduct still standing today. Mehmet Ali, who eventually ruled Egypt, was born in Kavala in the late 18th century. He built the Imaret, one of Kavala’s most impressive monuments, prominent on the slope of the old city overlooking to the harbour.
Towards the end of the Ottoman Empire, Kavala became prosperous through the excellent quality of tobacco grown in the region. Grand warehouses and Belle Epoque mansions still stand from this period. After the city became a part of Modern Greece, it welcomed many refugees from Asia Minor, adding to its labour force and the further growth of the tobacco industry. You can learn more about this interesting phase of Kavalla’s recent history at the Tobacco Museum.
Things to Do in Kavala
1. Climb to the Top of the Castle for the Breathtaking Views of the City
The castle of Kavala is at the crest of the hill of the Old Town. It’s a beautiful place to visit, and it also affords some amazing views of the city. If you’re a walker, you can reach it on foot. Alternatively, you may wish to take a taxi as close to the castle as you can get (the streets are very narrow up here). There’s a small admission to the Castle of Kavalla, and it is well worth it. There are splendid views from the walls. But for the best views of all, you can ascend the narrow and winding stairs inside the tower itself to the viewing platform on the top for the breathtaking 360-degree vistas.
Info: Isidorou Street 28. Open May – September, 8:00 – 21:00, October 8:00 – 18:00. November – March 8:00 – 16:00, and April 8:00 – 20:00. To confirm these hours, please call (+30) 2510 838 602
2. See the Home and the Statue of Mehmet Ali
Also high on the hill is an impressive equestrian statue of Mehmet Ali. It’s in a square next to his home, which is now a museum. Mehmet Ali later ruled Egypt, and this statue is a gift from the Greek community of Alexandria, Egypt to Mehmed Ali’s home city.
3. Head to the Old Lighthouse on the Tip of the Peninsula for Another Great View of the Bay
From the stature of Mehmed Ali, it is a very short walk to the end of the peninsula. Here, you’ll find the lighthouse and more stunning views of the city and the bay. The sea directly below is a wonderful colour, and in fine weather, you’ll see locals enjoying a swim off the rocks.
4. Wander through the Alleyways of Kavala’s Old Town – “Panagia”
Even if you took a taxi up, you will still have plenty of strolling. The tranquil alleys of the old town are full of secrets and surprises, like the Halil Bey Mosque. This 15th-century mosque is built over the ruins of an early Christian Basilica, which you can see through the glass in the floor. As you continue to wander down the hill, you’ll pass charming houses with gardens of fruit trees and flowers in this quaint and quiet part of the city
5. Have a Tour – or a Tea – at the Imaret of Mehmed Ali
The Imaret that Mehmet Ali built has now been splendidly restored and functions as a luxury hotel. There are guided tours of the Imaret. Alternatively, you can experience the beauty of this unique hotel by coming for a drink or even an elegant full afternoon tea.
6. Visit Kavala’s Archaeological Museum
In the Archaeological Museum of Kavala, you can experience the history of the city through beautiful artefacts, beginning with finds from the Neolithic period. Here you will also see intact two impressive Ionic columns from the 5th century BC temple to the goddess Parthenos, who was the Patron Goddess of Neapolis.
Info: 17 Erythrou Stavrou Street (near the centre). Tuesdays through Sundays, 8:00 – 15:00 (Mondays Closed). Admission €4 (€2 reduced) in April through October, and €2 (€1 reduced) November through March. (+30) 2510 222 335
7. Visit the Tobacco Museum
Tobacco was the heart of the economy of Kavala for decades, an integral part of the history and culture of the city. At this extremely atmospheric museum – the scent of tobacco leaves greets you as you enter – you will learn about the cultivation and the processing of tobacco through exhibits of tools, machinery, tobacco bales, and commercial tobacco samples. Photographs show the lives of the workers, while maps show the tobacco-growing regions in the area. Fans of the graphic arts will enjoy the displays of cigarette packages and matchboxes, which conjure a bygone era.
Info: 4 K. Palaiologou Street (near the centre). Monday – Friday, 8:00 – 16:00, Saturday 10:00 – 14:00 (June – September, the museum is also open on Thursdays from 17:00 – 21:00). Admission €2, €1 reduced. (+30) 2510 223 344
8. Check Out the Old Tobacco Warehouses and Belle Epoque Mansions of the Tobacco Merchants along Venizelos Street
Near the Tobacco Museum and concentrated around Venizelos Street in particular, many of the warehouses and some of the mansions of the tobacco merchants are still standing. Particularly good examples of mansions- one restored and one in picturesque ruins, are at numbers 83 and 85 Venizelos Street. Our guide Marianna from Kavala Tours told us that in the past, the whole street was filled with the scent of tobacco leaves.
At Tobacco Worker’s Square, you will see the early 20th-century Municipal Tobacco warehouse with its elegant facade. The building was originally built by the Ottoman tobacco merchant Kizi Mimin.
9. See the Roman Aqueduct
During the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha built an aqueduct that greatly increased the city’s prosperity. The glorious aqueduct – constructed of two stories of stone arches – was built from 1520 – 1530.
At 270 meters long and 25 meters in height at its tallest, this impressive structure – still in excellent condition – is one of Kavala’s main monuments.
10. Visit the Church of St. Nicholas and the Mosaic of St. Paul
The Church of St. Nicholas was once the Mosque of Ibrahim Pasha, built-in 1530. The mosque was modified to become a Christian church in 1926 and was officially dedicated to St Nicholas – patron Saint of sailors – in 1945. In a cafe near the church, you can still see the remains of the hammam which was used by the Ottomans to prepare for worship in the mosque.
Around the side of the church is an impressive mosaic depicting Saint Paul’s voyage by sea from Troy to set foot on European soil for the first time, which happened here in Kavala.
11. Stroll Along the Waterfront with the Locals
Kavala’s waterfront has a delightful, old-fashioned charm. It’s lined with cafes and tavernas and has some amusements for children, including a colourful small Ferris wheel. The locals enjoy their leisurely evening promenade here, snacking on cotton candy or corn on the cob roasted over the coals from the sidewalk vendors.
12. Enjoy a Fabulous Seafood Meal in the Marina
Kavala has excellent seafood. Enjoying a meal in the marina with a splendid view of the castle is a must during your stay. We sat right in front of the sailboats at the beautiful restaurant Psaraki, enjoying a meal of classic and modern dishes – grilled sardines that the area is famous for, fried calamari, white taramosalata, couscous with shrimp and a Cretan salad.
13. Try Kourambiedes
These rich and crumbling butter cookies rolled in fluffy icing sugar are a popular Christmas treat all over Greece. But in Kavala, they are a year-round speciality. You will find them at many pastry shops throughout the city and some stores that specialise only in Kourambiedes. They are a very popular souvenir from the city.
14. Have a Swim at One of the Gorgeous Local Beaches
The bay of Kavala has excellent seas and lovely beaches. In the summer, you can enjoy a swim at the public beach in town, or head to one of the popular nearby beaches like the blue flag beach Amolofi – an organised beach with sun loungers and umbrellas. If you would like a more wild beach experience, head to the nearby Akrotiri Vrasida, located on a small bay surrounded by rich vegetation and dramatic rocks.
Things to Do near Kavala
The Archaeological Site of Philippi
Philippi – a UNESCO World Heritage site – is a major site that offers a great deal to the visitor. Inhabited from the 4th century BC to the 14th century AD, Philippi has ruins of several different phases. Philippi comprises several fascinating elements as well as an on-site museum. The site covers a large area – you’ll need comfortable shoes for navigating the stones of the ruins, and water to drink, as you’ll find a little respite from the sun. But the ruins are glorious, and the site is nearly completely open for you to wander through unhindered, past centuries of monuments side by side.
Originally – like Kavala – this site was settled as a colony by the people of Thassos in 359 BC and named “Krinides” (springs). Just three years later, it was taken over by Phillip II of Macedon, who renamed it after himself. In addition to the nearby gold mines, Philippi was strategically important, controlling the route that connected Neapolis (today’s Kavala) with Amphipolis, a road later incorporated into the Roman Via Egnatia. Philippi was an important city for early Christianity. Philippi was inhabited until the 14th century.
When you enter the site, you’ll come to the theatre built by Phillip of Macedon. It’s still in fine condition, and even hosts the Philippi Festival held in July and August each year.
As you exit the theatre through an arch, a path brings you to the largest of the early Christian Basilicas. Some columns still stand, and you will easily be able to make out the floorplan of the church, a moving experience. The many remnants of beautiful architectural details will easily conjure the grandeur of the building.
Across from this is the large Roman Forum of the 2nd century AD. Beyond is the Octagon complex, built in the 4th century and dedicated to Saint Paul. This octagonal church – you can discern its shape from the ruins – is nearly unique in Greece. Geometric decorative mosaics of different colours of marble survive under the sun, and the more intricate interior floor mosaics are protected under a rooftop.
Beyond the Octagon Complex are ruins of residential areas with workshops, stores, and baths. Next to the Roman Forum are the ruins of another basilica, near the 2nd century AD Roman market. The tall arched entrance and a wall of the nave of the 6th-century basilica survive, with beautiful architectural details intact.
A small museum – beyond the ruins of another basilica – holds magnificent findings from the site, including figures from the pediment of a temple in the Roman forum, attesting to the former splendour of the city.
Info: The Philippi Archaeological Site is 18 km north of Kavala, approximately a half an hour by car along a lovely country road. The site is open 7 days a week. Summer 8:00 – 20:00, Winter 8:00 – 15:00. Admission is €6, €3 reduced. The site closes on some holidays. Call (+30) 2510 516251 for more detailed information.
Another significant site for learning about the early Christian heritage of the region of Kavala is the Baptistery of Lydia. When Saint Paul came to Kavala, he spoke to the Jews who gathered by the banks of the river Zygaktis. Among these was Lydia, a merchant of fabric dyes, who became Europe’s first Christian when Saint Paul baptised her in the river’s waters. The current church was built in 1974. The church is octagonal, with steps descending to a central baptismal font. This is a popular place for devout Christian visitors.
Info: The Baptistry is located directly next to the Philippi Archaeological Site.
Krinides Mud baths
After a day of sight-seeing, there is nothing like a mud bath to relax and cool off. The Krinides mud baths – just 5 minutes from Philippi – are actually deep pools of therapeutic clay.
Men and women enjoy the clay baths separately, divided by a tall wall. After a massaging shower of therapeutic water, you immerse yourself in the bath of clay. It’s very sociable, and people will love to share their stories of success with the clay, which has impressive healing properties. After 20 minutes or so, you scrape off most of the clay, leaving a thin layer to dry in the sun, like a mask for the skin all over the body. Then, you wash off the clay with another shower of therapeutic water. Your skin will feel wonderful.
Afterwards, you can visit one of the two physical therapists who give excellent massages or reflexology treatments or soak in the 15th-century therapeutic bath. Then you can follow this with a meal- the on-site restaurant, run with pride by Ms. Mboumbou, specialises in excellent home-style meals with fresh local ingredients.
Info: Krinides Mud Baths are 17 km from Kavala and 3 kilometres from the village of Krinides. They are very close to the Archaeological Site of Philippi. The baths operate from June 1 through October 15th, from 8:00 – 17:00 daily. (+30) 2510 831 388
Where to Stay in Kavala
We enjoyed a comfortable stay at the Egnatia Hotel in a lovely room with sweeping views of the city and the sea. The hotel’s elegant rooftop bar and restaurant have excellent food and more spectacular views. We really appreciated the convenience of having free parking right by the hotel. The city centre is just 5 minutes away by car. This is the most convenient location for both exploring the city on foot and driving to the region’s many sights.
How to get to Kavala
From the UK
Aegean Airlines offers flights to Athens from Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, and Edinborough. In Athens, you can connect to a 50-minute flight to Kavala.
Aegean Airlines offers flights to Athens from Paris, Strasbourg, Lille, Nantes, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Marseilles, Nice, and Lyon. In Athens, you can connect to a 50-minute flight to Kavala.
Alternatively, you can fly to Thessaloniki and rent a car and drive to Kavala. The 150 km drive is a lovely one and takes less than two hours. There is also al KTEL bus connecting Thessaloniki with Kavala, with several departures daily. The express buses will have you in the centre of Kavala in 2 hours.
I flew from Athens with Aegean and rented a car from Hertz at the airport. Kavala Airport is approximately half an hour’s drive from the city centre.
I was a guest of Discover Greece but as always opinions are my own.