(Editor’s note: This post about Nafplio was written prior to the fires in Greece. Nafplio is not in the affected area as of mid-August.)
Nafplio, the tremendously charming first capital of modern Greece, is located in the northeast Peloponnese, about a two-hour drive from Athens.
Two fortresses and a miniature castle, candy-colored neoclassical mansions, a waterfront promenade lined with towering palms and a collection of delightful squares, boutiques and restaurants make Nafplio a top-notch destination for any discerning traveler.
History buffs will love to read about how this city was fought over by Byzantines, Franks, Venetians and Ottomans. Nafplio just held its 30th music festival — a yearly event which draws both Greek and international musicians. Be sure to check it out if you are in the area in early summer. Venues are all around town.
Day 1 – Old Town, Nafplio
Syntagma Square (Constitution Square) is the main plaza in the Old Town and where you can have a meal, enjoy a coffee and let your children burn off some energy by running around with the local kids. Paved in marble and framed by some fine examples of neoclassical architecture, Syntagma Square does not fail to impress. What better place to sit under the shade of a magnificent old plane tree and watch the Nafpliots go by?
The Archaeological Museum is housed right there in the square so it makes sense to head over there next. The small (read: not big enough to bore even the most impatient visitor) but eclectic exhibition is housed in a very well-preserved and imposing stone-built Venetian building. I was taken with the ancient jewelry and figurines while my young son was super-impressed by the early refrigerator-type artifact as well as the perfectly-preserved bronze armor.
A super-fun way to get a sense of the old town is to go out for a ride in a covered 4-wheeled bicycle (which can sit 2-6 people). You can rent these bikes near the waterfront cafes near the port parking lot.
Day 2 – Two fortresses and a castle
Walk up to this old fortress for some magical views of the city. Don’t forget your camera! Sadly, the area is littered and overgrown in some parts, but it is still worth having a look. Many locals hope Acronauplia will be cleaned up and opened as a proper landmark in the near future.
• Palamidi Fortress
This Venetian site is very well preserved and offers a lot to see, including 8 separate bastions and amazing views of the uniquely rugged beauty of the Nafplio coastline. In order to enter the site, you can either drive up to the main entrance or climb the hundreds of steps leading up a steep hill on the other side. If you decide to do the steps, please make sure it’s not too hot and carry sun protection and lots of water.
This unique landmark sits on a rocky island just off the harbor of Nafplio. It offers excellent views of town, including its hilltop strongholds. However, Bourtzi is also a beautiful Venetian landmark in and of itself. Boats bound for Bourtzi depart from the harbor on a pretty regular basis.
When you get back into town and have eaten dinner, be sure to wander around to have a drink in one of the many lively bars of Nafplio. From classic jazz tunes to contemporary Greek pop, there is surely a bar playing just the music to suit your mood.
Day 3 – Shopping
I always think it’s nice to leave some time to wander and wonder in Nafplio (or any place I visit), take some photos and enjoy the little surprises along the way (random breathtaking vistas or friendly street cats, for instance). A number of the Old Town’s cobbled streets are only accessible on foot so be sure to leave some time to explore.
• Shopping and window shopping:
Nafplion has a number of artists and artisans who have set up nice little galleries and shops and sell their hand-woven textiles, ceramics, worry beads, sandals, paintings and so on all year long. If you prefer more practical souvenirs for yourself or to give as gifts, you can purchase a wide selection of tasty local cheeses, wines, honey, olive oil and so on. Shop assistants are always happy to wrap things for long travel if need be.
For those of you who are into Greek cuisine, you can sometimes find cooking courses on offer in town and if you are looking for some action in the clear blue waters of the area, take a look at scuba diving, sea kayaking or one of the other water sports available within a short drive of Nafplio.
If you feel the urge to explore further afield, Nafplio makes a great base for day trips to Nemea and Argos as well as the World Heritage sites of Mycenae, Tiryns and Epidaurus. Mystras (another World Heritage site) is a bit further (65 kilometers) but well worth a visit.
You might want to book a hotel in Sparta for a night in order to have a more leisurely day at Mystras.
Need a beach break while you are staying in Nafplio? Here are just a few of the many options for some sunny fun in the area:
• Arvanitia (the ‘town beach’)
Looking to stay within the city limits? Located just behind the center of Nafplio, Arvanitia Beach has some basic facilities as well as some nice views of the Palamidi Fortress walls.
This is a nice long beach with busy as well quiet bits to suit any mood. You can get a fresh fish meal right on the water which is always a treat.
• Drepano- (Plaka Beach)
Just about 10 kilometers from Nafplion is Drepano and its pebbled beach (Plaka Beach). For a nice fish meal drive to Vivari, a sweet nearby fishing village located on a lovely lagoon.
This beach is also a short drive from Nafplio and offers water sports, so it can get very busy. But it is nonetheless a stunning place for a dip and a bite.
• Rigas Pension is a very sweet bed & breakfast located right in historic Nafplio and a very short walk from Syntagma Square (Constitution Square). It is a beautifully-restored 200-year-old mansion with gorgeous dark original hardwood floors and a lovely breakfast garden.
It is small, clean, friendly, quiet and perfect for those who like a place with some local color and history and who wish to avoid the crowding that can occur in the bigger hotels.
• Just a stone’s throw from Rigas Pension is Kastro Karima, a low-key Greek restaurant with a warm and friendly atmosphere, wonderful service and good value for money. It is perfect for anyone looking for freshly-prepared and interesting salads and entrees with a twist from the typical taverna fare. My family and I liked this place so much that we ate there three times in four days! They have an impressive wine selection as well.
• We also enjoyed our meals at Alaloum (the breezy seafront location—there is one in the center as well) and Tavern Vasilis, in the medieval quarter. Both these places served more standard taverna fare, but stood out for their quality and service.
Oh and please be sure to treat yourself to an ice cream when you are in town, will you? Nafplio is known to have the best in the region! Ask a local which shop they recommend—everyone has their favorite.
About the author:
A Pittsburgher by birth, Christina T. Hudson is also half Greek and has – so far – spent most of her life in Athens, the chaotic but captivating capital city of Greece. She studied Language and Literature at Moravian College and has worked as a teacher, an editor, a writer and a photographer.
You can see more of her work here at A Pixel for Your Thoughts.
You can see more of her posts here.
See more about Greece in Dispatches’ archive here.
A Pittsburgher by birth, Christina T. Hudson is also half Greek and has – so far – spent most of her life in Athens, the chaotic but captivating capital city of Greece.