Relatively unheard of by foreign visitors, Nafplio is a picturesque seaside town and port in the Peloponnese enclosed within ancient city walls. It was the first official capital of Greece for 5 years after the Greek War of Independence and has plenty to see and do with its castles, winding backstreets full of Venetian, Frankish, and Ottoman architecture, and interesting museums not to mention the sea and mountain views which are best admired from a seafront taverna with a frappe, fresh orange juice, or glass of wine in hand as you relax and watch the world go by! Nafplio makes the perfect day trip from Athens.
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How to get to Nafplio from Athens
Nafplio is situated in Argolida County in East Peloponnese. It is considered one of the most beautiful towns in Greece. It is a very popular destination for a day or weekend excursion from Athens.
The local bus company, KTEL, has a regular service departing Athens’s main bus station to Nafplio with buses running every 1.5-2.5 hours Monday-Friday and approximately every hour Saturday-Sunday. The journey time is just over 2 hours on a comfortable air-conditioned coach.
Hire a car and have the freedom of stopping wherever you want enroute from Athens to Nafplio (I recommend a stop at the Corinth Canal for sure!) The distance from Athens to Nafplio 140km along a well-maintained and modern highway with signposts in Greek and English. The journey takes approximately 2 hours without stops.
Remove the stress of navigating the roads or finding the right bus and book a guided tour to Nafplio which will include stops at Mycenae and Epidaurus archeological sites or the Corinth Canal and Epidaurus allowing you to see the top highlights of the Peloponnese all in just 1 day.
Things to do in Nafplio
Nafplio is a town with great history and many cultural sites. It used to be the first capital of the newly born Greek state between 1823 and 1834.
The imposing castle of Palamidi dates from the 1700’s when the Venetians ruled. Conquered by the Ottomans and then the Greek Rebels, it has been used as a fortress and prison but today is one of the town’s main tourist attractions with its iconic interlinking bastions which you can walk along. Built on a hill above the town, visitors can access Palamidi Castle by climbing the 900 steps that lead up from the town or hopping in a taxi and making their way up by road.
The Land Gate
Originally the only entrance to Nafplio by land, the gate seen today dates back to 1708. Back in Venetian times, the gate was closed at sunset and guarded by the military so that anyone who was late returning to the city had to spend the night outside of the city walls until the gate was reopened in the morning.
The town’s oldest castle, built by the Venetians in 1473, is located on an island in the bay and is certainly a sight to behold. The castle itself is not accessible to the public but during the Summer months there are boat rides across that allow visitors to walk around the exterior enjoying the views.
Vouleftikon – First Parliament & Syntagma Square
You’ll know about Athens’ Syntagma Square, home of the Greek Parliament but did you know Nafplio has a square of the same name home to Greece’s first parliament building?! The Vouleftikon (parliament) was originally an Ottoman mosque but became a parliament building used by the Greek rebels from 1825-1826. Today it’s home to the archaeological museum with Nafplio’s Syntagma Square, just like Athens’, being a great place to sit and people watch.
Containing artifacts from the Neolithic period right through to Roman times and later, the Archaeological Museum shows you finds from every civilization that has set foot in Nafplio and the wider Argolida Prefecture. Highlights include a 6th century BC amphora that was a prize from the Panathenaic Games and the only existing bronze armour (with boar-tusk helmet) to have been found near Mycenae so far.
National Gallery of Nafplio
Housed in a beautiful neoclassical building, the National Gallery of Nafplio contains historical paintings relating to the Greek War of Independence (1821-1829). The artworks contain many moving scenes that depict the conflicts and the passion between the two nations, glorifying the Greek struggle and taking the viewer on a journey through this important time in Greek history.
Located in what was originally the first war academy of Greece, the museum covers the war against the Ottoman Empire in the Greek Revolution through to the more recent Macedonian, Balkan and World Wars with displays of uniforms, weapons, photos, paintings, and uniforms.
Focusing on the 19th century and early 20th century the award-winning Folklore Museum showcases traditional clothes, jewelry, household goods, toys, and tools and has a great gift shop selling locally made crafts.
Discover the history of worry beads aka Komboloi (Greece’s most popular souvenir!) at this niche museum which has collections of worry beads from across Europe and Asia. Learn why they’re different from prayer beads and then visit the workshop downstairs to see how they’re made.
The Lion of Bavaria
Carved into a rock in the 1800’s, the Lion of Bavaria was commissioned by Ludwig of Bavaria, the father of the first King of Greece, King Otto. It commemorates the people of Bavaria who died during Nafplio’s typhoid epidemic.
Walk around the rocky peninsula known as the Akronafplia admiring the architecture and views. Rising out of the Old Town, Nafplio’s oldest castle structure with its fortified walls dates back to the 7th century BC with the Castello di Toro and Traversa Gambello the best preserved sections today.
The Church of Panaghia
Step inside one of the Nafplio’s oldest churches dating back to the 15th century and admire its intricate murals and wooden chancel as you take in the smell of incense. Step outside and admire the bell tower – Listen out for the bells as you wander around the town!
Things to do near Nafplio
Nafplio is close to two important archaeological sites; Mycenae and Epidaurus. Mycenae was the fortified citadel that became the centre of the Mycenaean civilization that dominated Greece and the shores of Asia Minor for 4 centuries whilst the Sanctuary of Epidaurus was the holistic healing centre during ancient Greek and Roman times. Both sites are well worth a visit if you’re interested in ancient Greek history.
You can visit Nafplio and the above archaeological sites with a guided tour from Athens.
What to buy from Nafplio
Nafplio is famous for the production of komboloyia (a circular chain with beads usually made of amber). It even has a museum for komboloyia. So if you want to buy a souvenir from Nafplio you should consider buying a komboloi. Other things worth buying are Greek wine, honey, herbs, olive oil and olive products, leather goods, and magnets.
Have you ever been to Nafplio? Did you like it?