Nafplio is a destination that often gets overlooked by international travellers coming to Greece, but it is, in fact, packed with history as well as being extremely picturesque and not far from Athens. The coastal town of Nafplio in the Peloponnese is a significant place in Greece, has been an important port and fortification town since ancient times as well as being the first official capital of the country after the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire.
The town only remained the main capital of Greece for around five years before King Otto decided to move the ruling powers to Athens, but this still makes Nafplio an important and interesting place for a visit.
Whether you’re visiting Nafplio as your first stop on a Peloponnese road trip or are simply taking a day out from Athens to explore somewhere new, you’re sure to fall in love with the city’s charm and beauty.
Read on to discover the top things to do in Nafplio as well as how to get there and some of the best places to eat and drink while you’re there.
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11 Things to Do in Nafplio Town
1. Explore Palamidi Castle
One of the main sights in Nafplio is the imposing Palamidi Castle that stands proud on the hilltop above the town. This impressive fortress was built by the Venetians in the early 1700s and was subsequently conquered by the Ottomans and later the Greek Rebels. Later still it was used as a prison and today allows visitors to explore the interesting architecture of the site and to learn about the castle’s history. Palamidi features eight bastions, all connected by linking walls and there is a chapel (Agios Andreas) on site.
Visitors can walk up to Palamidi from the town (but be aware there are over 900 steps to get there!) or can drive up via the asphalt road to the top.
2. Take the boat to Bourtzi
Another of Nafplio’s famous sites is the Bourtzi Castle which lies out on an island in the bay. This castle is even older than Palamidi, having been built in 1473 by the Venetians. Unfortunately, the castle itself is not actually open to the public, but in summer months visitors can take a boat out to the island and walk around the outside of the site (for a €4.50 round trip).
3. Check out the first parliament of Greece (Vouleftikon)
As I mentioned earlier, Nafplio was the first official capital of Greece, and as such, it’s also home to the first parliament building which is located in Nafplio’s Syntagma Square. The building was originally built as a mosque by the Ottomans back in 1730, with a large domed roof and a square chamber below but was used by the Greek rebels as a parliament building from 1825-26. Despite the building having had many used since then such as a Greek school, a prison, a courthouse and a gallery, it is still refered to as Vouleftikon (Parliament) by everyone in the area.
4. People watch at Syntagma Square
After exploring the Parliament building you may want to take a pit stop in Syntagma Square – the heart of Nafplio – for some refreshments and a spot of people-watching. The main ‘Platanos’ square has long been a place of importance in the city, with many of the original Greek rebels living here after the War of Independence and many politicians having made speeches from under the plane tree that once stood in the centre of the square.
Today, Syntagma Square is home to a number of cafés and restaurants with outside seating which are ideal for enjoying a drink under the warm midday heat.
5. Check out the Museums
National Gallery of Nafplio
The National Gallery of Nafplio is housed in a pristine neoclassical building in the centre of the city and plays host to a collection of works concerning the ‘liberating cause of the Greeks against the Turks’. This is obviously of great importance to Nafplio given the town’s involvement in the War of Independence and many of the moving scenes depicted in the artworks reflecting the clash in culture between the two nations.
Located in a grand Venetian building in the central Syntagma Square, the Archaeological Museum not only houses large permanent exhibitions of artefacts from pre-history until today, but the building itself is one of the best-preserved Venetian buildings in the whole of Greece.
The War Museum of Nafplio was set up to commemorate the recent history of the Greek State, from the Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Empire to the later involvement in the Macedonian, Balkan and World Wars.
Many towns and cities in Greece have a Folklore Museum and Nafplio is no different. This museum highlights Hellenic cultural history and activities and features traditional clothing, toys, tools and goods.
Nafplio’s Komboloi Museum is a site dedicated to the traditional Greek ‘worry beads’ that are owned and used by many Greek men even to this day. The museum houses a great collection of beads from all over Europe and Asia, made from a variety of materials, and there is a shop on the ground floor where you can buy some for yourself.
6. Check out the Land Gate
The Land Gate was the main entrance to the city of Nafplio by land and while the original Venetian version no longer stands, the newer gate built by French engineer, Lasal, in 1708, is still well worth a visit. Each night the Land Gate was close forcing those who were late to spend the night outside the city walls, and the gate was guarded by military personnel, controlling who came in and out of the city.
7. The Lion of Bavaria
Dating from the 1800s, The Lion of Bavaria is an exquisite sculpture carved into the rock near the church of Aghii Pandes that was commissioned by Ludwig of Bavaria, father of Otto first King of Greece to commemorate the lives of those Bavarians lost to Nafplio’s typhoid epidemic. Today there is a small park around the monument which ensure it remains well preserved and secure.
8. Walk around The Akronafplia
The rocky peninsula known as The Akronafplia is considered the oldest castle structure in Nafplio and is thought to date back as far as the 7th century BC. Since then, this rocky outcrop has been used by all conquerors that passed through the city, from the Byzantine era to the Venetians and the Franks. The Castello di Toro and the Traversa Gambello are some of the most well-preserved sections of Akronafplia and from here you can see why this spot would have been such a good location for a fortification and lookout point!
9. The Church of Panaghia
The 15th Century Church of Panaghia is one of the oldest and most charming churches in the city of Nafplio, with intricate murals, a beautiful wooden chancel and a lovely bell tower which famously rings out during the Good Friday procession through the streets of Psaromachalas.
10. Three Admirals’ Square
Another of Nafplio’s famous squares is the Platia Trion Navachon (The Three Admirals’ Square) an elegant meeting point in the centre of the city built to recognise the three admirals who fought and won on the Greek side during the battle of Navarino in 1827. The square is home to a number of gorgeous neoclassical buildings including the Town Hall and is a wonderful place to explore during the golden hour when the buildings are glowing to perfection.
11. Check out the Beaches in Nafplio
The main town beach of Nafplio is Arvanitia, a small pebble beach located between the Palamidi and Acronafplia castles. This is a popular spot in summer for locals and families who come to enjoy the clear, azure waters and it’s a lively locale for evening drinks too.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for a sandy beach, you’ll want to head to Karathona which lies around 3km from Arvanitia (45 min walk or a local bus ride). This is a long stretch of golden sand and features tavernas, sun loungers and water sports offerings which make for a great day out.
6 Things to See near Nafplio
If you’re visiting Nafplio for a longer period than just a day trip or weekend jaunt you may want to head out of the city to explore some nearby sights. Thankfully, there are loads of really fascinating sites to discover just a short drive away.
The archaeological site of Mycenae is one of the most famous and important in Greece as it was the location of the centre of Greek civilisation from 1600-1100 BC. Today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site features tombs, chambers and citadel ruins and there is an on-site museum which houses many of the treasures and tools found here over the years.
2. Asklepion and the ancient site of Epidaurus
Another UNESCO site is the Asklepion and ancient site of Epidaurus, a temple, tholos and amphitheatre that were built as a shrine to Asklepios the God of Medicine. The theatre is arguably the most impressive sight here with stunning architectural proportions and excellent acoustics.
3. Ancient Assini
The Citadel of Ancient Assini is thought to date all the way back to the 300 BC with fortifications having been built on the Acropolis by all who resided here. Unfortunately, many of the excavations are on display in Sweden (after artefacts were found during a Swedish Archaeological Expedition) but visitors can still see some ruins of Roman Baths and Venetian fortifications that would have been used for centuries.
4. Ouzo tasting at Karoni’s distillery
Just two minutes from the centre of Nafplio you will find the Karonis Distilleries, a family-run ouzo, tsipouro and mastic distillery that has been producing fine aperitifs for over 140 years. Visitors can explore the site and museum and can, of course, taste some of the local spirits with an expert guide telling you all you need to know.
5. Olive oil tasting at Melas olive oil factory
If spirits aren’t for you, you may prefer to try some local olive oil at the Melas factory, a domain that prides itself on producing fine olive oil that is considered an ‘elixir of health and longevity’. This is the perfect place to pick up a few bottles as a souvenir too!
6. Wine tasting at nearby wineries
The region around Nafplio is famous for its wine production so a visit to a Peloponnese vineyard is a must if you’re in the area. Learn about the process of winemaking in Greece and try some delightful tipples while taking in the beautiful views of the vineyards.
Where to eat in Nafplio
Kipos is a restaurant that centres on traditional Greek cuisine made with produce from around the local countryside and each dish is packed full of flavour and character. In addition to Greek dishes they also offer a range of other Mediterranean plates such as pasta, fresh fish and a selection of salads, so there really is something for everyone.
If you’re looking for a traditional Greek Taverna, you must check out Tavern Vasilis in the heart of Old Town Nafplio. This charming restaurant offers classic dishes such as moussaka, pastitsio, dolmades and tzatziki and with plenty of space for outdoor dining, it’s the perfect place for dinner on a warm summer’s day or a long, lazy, weekend lunch.
How to get from Athens to Nafplio
There are a number of ways to get from Athens to Nafplio and which option you choose depends on your budget, travel preferences and length of time you will be exploring the area.
Travellers can easily choose to take a KTEL bus from Athens to Nafplio which will take 1.5-2.5 hours depending on traffic. Buses depart from the Kifissos bus station in Athens and leave every 2-3 hours on weekdays and almost every hour over the weekend. – Click here for more information.
Alternatively, travellers can opt to hire a car for their trip to Nafplio. The route is around 140km from Athens to Nafplio and generally takes around 2 hours. But having the freedom of a car also means you’re able to stop off along the way en route to Nafplio, and also explore more beaches and attractions while visiting the area.
As a day trip with a guided tour:
Another option for travelling to Nafplio is to visit as part of a guided tour. This is a great choice for those who are short on time or who don’t feel confident travelling on public transport or by car in a destination they don’t know very well.
This guided tour from Athens visits the archaeological site of Mycenae and the ancient theatre at Epidaurus, stopping off for a short time to explore Nafplio too. You’ll also drive past the Corinth Canal, marvelling at this feat of engineering and will have time to enjoy a drink or snack on the Nafplio waterfront.
By now you should be able to see that Nafplio and the surrounding region is the perfect place for a day, weekend or summer trip from Athens with so much to see, do and discover. Whether you simply visit the city itself or use Nafplio as the jumping off point for a road trip around the Peloponnese, you’re sure to be impressed by the beauty and importance of the area.
What do you find most interesting about Nafplio? Let me know in the comments below.