Nafplio was the highlight of our road trip in the Peloponnese. An incredibly picturesque seaside town with beautiful beaches, buzzing squares, a vibrant port, two hilltop castles and even an offshore island fort! But despite being one of Greece’s most picturesque coastal towns, Nafplio is often overlooked by visitors in favor of the more glitzy Greek islands.
How to Get to Nafplio from Athens?
Nafplio is located on the Argolic Gulf on the eastern side of the Peloponnese. The city is less than a couple a hours away from the capital, which is why most people choose to visit it on a day trip from Athens. However, once they discover the charm of this laid back oasis, they regret not planning more time here.
The easiest and most comfortable way to get from Athens to Nafplio is by car, via EO8. You can also travel here by bus or by ferry, as this route does not have any train connections. Another option is to book a guided tour from Athens, if you only want to spend a day in Nafplio.
A Brief History of Nafplio, Greece
According to Greek mythology Nafplio was founded by Nafplios, the son of Poseidon (god of the sea) and Anymone, one of the daughters of King Danaos.
The city’s history goes back to prehistoric times, when soldiers from this area participated in the Argonautic Expedition and the Trojan War. Over its long history, Nafplio was repeatedly attached and conquered by Franks, Venetians and Ottomans. The city rose to prominence under the Venetians, when it became an important port in the Peloponnese.
The Venetians built the impressive Palamidi Castle, upgraded the fortress of Acronafplia and expanded the city beyond the old fortress walls. They also reinforced the port by erecting a fortification at its entrance, which is known today as Bourtzi Castle.
In the 18th century the Ottomans attacked Nafplio again, destroying it almost completely in the process. As most of the survivors left the city, the Turks began building mosques, baths and the houses which you can still see today.
Finally, in April of 1821 the Greeks under the leadership of general Kolokotronis, surrounded the city and liberated it from the Turks. In 1823 Nafplio became the first capital of independent Greece until they moved to to Athens, in 1834.
Nafplion or Nafplio?
Nafplio has a lot going for it, but before we go any further let’s get the spelling of its name out of the way. People get confused because Nafplio is also referred to as Nafplion, Nafplia, or even Nauplia. So which one is correct?
The city’s name has changed several times over the centuries. Under the Venetians it was known as Napoli di Romania, or Anapli. The name of “Romania” was referring to the lands of the Byzantine Empire outside of Italy, not to be confused with the city of Napoli (Naples) in Italy.
In the late 19th century the town’s name became Náfplion (or Nafplio in modern Greek). And that is the name that it still bears today. Since both forms are correct, they are interchangeably used in official documents and travel guides. This explains why you’ll still hear the old form Nafplion to this day.
5 Most Important Things to Do in Nafplio
There are plenty of entertaining things to do in Nafplio. Like trying the local foods, shopping, or visiting the beaches. But for the purpose of this post, I am going to give you a short list of the most significant places to visit in Nafplio. Make sure you don’t miss any of these and I promise you’ll have fun! So here they are:
Visit the Palamidi Fortress
If you were to visit just one place in Nafplio, it should be the grandiose Palamidi Fortress. Just its location alone is worth your trip. Standing 216 meters above sea level, the fortress overlooks the Argolic Gulf, offering spectacular views of Nafplio’s Old Town and Akronafplia.
Palamidi Fortress dates back to 1711 and it took only 3 years to build. And even though it’s more than 300 years old, it is in excellent condition. So apart from enjoying breathtaking views and walking around the walls, there are also a couple of monuments to look for in the fortress.
One is the Castle, an impressive complex with eight bastions and many beautiful buildings. In one of the bastions you’ll see the Prison of Kolokotronis, the hero of the Greek Revolution. Kolokotronis was detained here because of accusations of conspiracy against the regency.
The other monument is the Church of St. Andrew, which also occupies one of the bastions.
The easiest way to reach the castle is to drive via 25 Martiou Street that starts from Nafplion downtown. Another option is to climb the 900 steps leading up to the castle. Although it’s not an easy hike, people say it’s beautiful and really rewarding.
Palamidi Fortress is open from 8 am to 5 pm in winter, and from 8 am to 7 pm in summer. Tickets cost €8/person and you can buy them the Castle’s entrance.
Climb to Akronafplia
Located in the ancient part of town, on an 85-meter high rock, is the old fortification of Akronafplia. This is the oldest of Nafplio’s three castles and it was once a town in itself. Although it’s not as interesting as the other two forts, Akronafplia is really impressive. Especially when you consider that the lower part of these walls dates back to the Bronze Age!
The fortress has three different levels, each of which has its own separate wall. The walls measure 900 meters in length, 400 meters in width and 45 meters in height.
Over the centuries the fortress underwent several reinforcements by its various conquerors and rulers. But until the Venetians conquered it, the town was contained only within its walls. It was the Venetians who extended it beyond the castle walls, all the way to the sea.
After Greece gained its independence (1830) Akronafplia became Nafplio’s prison for about 80 years. In more recent years (1960s) the beautiful Nafplia Palace Hotel was built on this site.
Akronafplia Castle is free to visit. Many visitors walk to it through the stairs of the Catholic church, which lead to the main gate of the castle. However, not many people know that at the western edge of town at Plateia Politiko Nosokomiou, there’s a lift that leads up to the the castle. The lift belongs to the hotel complex, which is right next to the fortress. Just look for the flags at the entrance of the tunnel leading to it. It will save you a lot of time and energy!
Sail to Bourtzi Castle
The imposing robust bastion that entirely occupies the small Bourtzi island became emblematic for the city of Nafplio. The castle was erected by the Venetians in 1473 in order to protect the city from pirates and invaders from the sea.
In 1865, Bourtzi became a residence for the executioners of the convicts at the Palamidi prison. Between 1930 and 1970, Bourtzi Castle served as a hotel. Today the island is only a tourist attraction hosting occasionally parts of the Summer Music Festival.
Visitors may reach the castle through small boats that depart from the port. The ride, which takes only 10-12 minutes, is really pleasant. Unfortunately, at the time of our trip the Bourtzi Castle was closed for visitation due to some repairs, but the boat took us very close to it so we can take pictures.
Visiting the castle is free, but the boat ride costs around 4-5 Euros (round trip).
Stroll Along the Arvanitia Promenade
Walking along the Arvanitia promenade is a must-do for any visitor to Nafplio. This idilic coastal trail that winds below the steep cliffs of Akronafplia is very reminiscent of the Lungomare promenade, one of the most beautiful places in Croatia.
The 1-kilometer long promenade begins near Nafplio’s lighthouse and ends at Arvanitia Beach. Along the way you’ll encounter lots of stray cats, prickly pear cacti, beautiful coves and even a small church perched on the rocks, locally known as Panaghia tis Spilias.
Wander Around in the Old Town
Old Town Nafplio is a pedestrian zone and therefore it’s pleasant and easy to explore. In some parts of town there are steps that lead to the upper, residential areas where you’ll find many neoclassic mansions. From the upper town you’ll also be able to enjoy great views of the the bay.
Most streets in the Old Town are narrow cobblestone alleys, lined with tiny cafés, fancy boutiques and tavernas. The atmosphere is very romantic and relaxed, especially towards the evening when the sun goes down.
At the center of the Old Town is Syntagma Square, Nafplio’s most important plaza. In the 19th century, this was known as the Platanos Square, due to the platane tree that occupied the central area.
Things to Do Around Nafplio, Greece
If you have more time in Nafplio you should visit the area around which is home to some major archaeological sights in Greece. All the sites suggested below are only a short drive away from the Nafplio’s city center.
Visit the Ruins of Mycenae
Just north of Nafplio are the ruins of Mycenae, one of the major centers of Greek civilization which dominated much of southern Greece in the second millennium B.C. According to legend Mycenae was the capital of Agamemnon, the ancient Greek king who conquered the city of Troy.
Not much has survived from the Mycenaean civilization though. The two structures still standing today are the Lions’ Gate, at the entrance of Mycenae’s citadel, and the nearby Tomb of Agamemnon.
This burial chamber built of overhanging blocks of masonry looks more like a giant stone igloo. But despite the name, we know very little about the people buried here.
Discover the Ancient Epidaurus
Another interesting archeological site worth exploring from Nafplio is the ancient theater of Epidaurus. A UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, the perfect-acoustics theater is is part of the Sanctuary of Asclepius, the Ancient Greek god of medicine.
And just a little beyond the renowned theater you can visit the ruins of an ancient sunken city. Although not a huge site, the underwater city of Epidaurus is fun and easy to explore as the ruins are very close to the shore.
Take a Day Trip to Argos
Another interesting place to visit is Argos, a small town located just 12km from Nafplio’s city center. Argos claims to be the oldest city of Greece and there is indeed evidence of a settlement in this area that dates back to the Neolithic (around 5000 BC).
The town is home to an old fortification – Larissa Castle – that dates back to the Byzantine era. The word Larissa is of pre-Greek origin and it means fortress. Although not very well preserved, the fort is well worth a visit. You can still see traces of the old citadel at the top of the acropolis, as well as a curtain wall re-enforced by towers. Admission is free.
Roughly midway down the slope of Mount Larissa is Panagia Katakekrymeni-Portokalousa Monastery and opposite the castle is the Monastery of Agia Marina.
Downtown Argos is also nice to stroll if you want to see the Statue of Hercules, near the old town hall. This is exact copy of the statue created by the ancient Greek sculptor Lysippos.
Very close to downtown Argos you can visit the ruins of an ancient theater as well as a Roman bathhouse.
Where to Stay in Nafplio
The Old Town is the most romantic part of town and one of the best places to stay in Nafplio. We also recommend the hotels in the port area, which are just a few steps away from the Old Town.
Our recommendation: Amphitryon Hotel (boutique hotel with stunning water views, excellent location, convenient parking and within a few steps from the port, the beach and the Old Town).