The Peloponnese is one of the most visited regions in Greece, for good reason. It embodies everything one might imagine when one thinks about Greece, ruins of evocative ancient sites, beautiful turquoise waters and picturesque historic towns. Among these towns, Nafplio stands out for its rich history and strategic location.
The history of Nafplio goes back a long way. The town was already an important seaport in the Middle Ages and it was then successively ruled by many a major civilization. Under Byzantine and Frankish rules in the Middle ages, Nafplio was then under the domination of the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire before it became the capital of the First Hellenic Republic in the 19th century.
Such long-rooted and troubled history might be surprising for such a small city, one city which has become a sleepy tourist town since then. It is true that Nafplio could have become just another tourist town lacking a soul. Of course, tourists come en masse to visit its charming old town and its incredible array of historic buildings, from the remnants of an Ottoman mosque to Venetian fortifications and even a fortress that looms over the city and the sea. Of course, its streets are lined up with souvenir shops selling make-belief ancient amphora and plenty of tacky beach towels. Despite all that, it is surprisingly easy to fall in love with the city.
Wandering aimlessly down Nafplio makes it easy to understand why. On top of its diverse historical heritage, the city’s colorful streets and pleasant seaside walks where cats take a lazy nap convey a laid-back atmosphere that’s hard to resist.
Plus, the town enjoys a prime location between the waters of the Argolic Gulf and the hills of the Peloponnese land. It is also within small distance to many major historic landmarks, from the theater of Epidaurus to the gates of the ancient town of Mycenae, making it the perfect place to plan cultural day trips in the morning, beach time in the afternoon and a tasty dinner made of feta cheese and fresh fish in the afternoon.
Here’s our top picks to discover the city and the beauty surrounding it.
Just like Greece itself, Nafplio is a city with a rich and complicated history, one that is intertwined with the various peoples that managed to conquer and rule it over the centuries. The city’s historic centre as it stands today is mostly a legacy of the Venetians and the Ottomans but Nafplio was a city on its own right long before they arrived. The acronafplia is what’s left of its past.
Located on a hilltop, the area is the oldest part of Nafplio and was its own city before the 13th century. It was later integrated into the town’s fortifications and it became, even later, the site of a hotel complex, which stood the test of time in a worse shape than many ruins scattered all around.
Nowadays, the acronafplia is a quiet, evocative part of the city that’s best explored on foot. It holds a few surprises for the visitor who dare wander there, from the remnants of an unknown amphitheater to a quaint bell tower or even the unexpected sight of a dilapidated old hotel. It also allows enjoys striking views on the Palamidi fortress on one side and the sea on the other.
There’s no missing this massive fortress when arriving in Nafplio. The fortress overlooking the city is located to the east of the acronafplia and stands 216-meter above ground, on a hill that allows enjoying a swiping view over the whole are. This key position was of course chosen on purpose and it benefited the numerous conquerors who took a hold on it, from the Frankish to the Ottomans and the Venetians.
The very structure of the fortress is testimony of that as it was rebuilt and expanded upon over the years. The eight bastions that the fortress comprises were originally given Venetian then Turkish names before they were renamed again after Greek heroes, some real like Leonidas, some mythical like Achilles. Despite being partly in ruins, Palamidi is one of the most well-preserved buildings in the whole city and it is a definite must-see.
It is easily accessible by car but a true feat lies in climbing the 999 stairs that lead to the fortress’ lower part. The climb is tough, real exhausting and even more so on a hot sunny day, but the views all along redeem this demanding ascension. Too bad there is no discount for those brave enough to achieve it !
Greek beaches are famous the world over and lots of them often rank among the world’s very best. It would be a gross over-statement to say that Arvanitia Beach is one of those idyllic seaside heavens though. First of all, it is a gravel beach. However, its location at the feet of the acronafplia and the Palamidi fortress makes it the ideal stop on a sunny day, especially after climbing said fortress. Part of it are reserved for tourists staying at the hotels facing the sea but the rest of beach can be accessed freely, besides being at walking distance from the old town. Current can be strong, which doesn’t undermine the beauty of its deep blue waters.
Other beaches can be accessed by car or even on foot, including cute Kastraki, a smaller gravel beach with sun beds and parasols. If you’re craving sandy beaches, Karathona might be your best pick, although it is located 3 km away from Nafplio and therefore requires a car.
Epidaurus used to be a small city in ancient Greece . It is now an essential day trip located 25 minutes from Nafplio by car. The site was also a healing centre whose asclepeion, its healing temple, was celebrated throughout Greece, bringing in pilgrims as much as wealth. It was this prosperity which led to the expansion of the city and the construction of the Epidaurus theater, a monument of such flawless symmetry and magnitude that it came to symbolize the ultimate ancient Greek theater.
What’s more, it even overshadowed the ruins of the city, comprising its former healing temples. Many tourists indeed seem to slightly disregard said ruins to focus their visit on the theater. Truth be told, the theater is definitely a masterpiece. The original 34 rows and subsequent 21 rows added by the Romans still stand untouched, looking almost like they didn’t change an inch for centuries. The acoustics are also one of a kind.
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It is said that anyone speaking on a specific spot on stage, known as the proscenium, will be heard from all parts of the theater. Although that might sound like a tourist trick, we actually witnessed it on-site. Spending time admiring the perfect shape of the theater is a prerequisite, especially in the early morning, but it would be a waste to miss out on the ruins as well.
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Of all the ancient sites of Greece, Mycenae remains one of the most mysterious. Located 25 minutes away from Nafplio by car, up north, this archaeological site is not the most well-preserved but what’s left of it ignites the imagination. The city was mostly a military stronghold but it was also a major cultural centre in the second millennium BC, to such an extent that an entire period of Greek history was named Mycenaean.
Yet, myth and reality collide when it comes to this site. Indeed, Greek myths assert that the city was founded by Perseus and that it was later ruled by Agamemnon, who had come back from the Trojan War victorious. Although the history of Agamemnon is steeped in legend and holds no undeniable historical accuracy, his tomb can be found near the site. Mycenae is also known for its impressive Lion Gate, the main entrance to the citadel and the largest structure to survive the prehistoric Aegean. To top it all off, the ancient city is located atop a rocky hill and surrounded by dramatic mountains.
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