NAFPLIO – A Class of its Own

Nafplio is one of the most beautiful old towns in Greece. Travel to Nafplio to enjoy the old town itself, and use it as a hub when you visit the plethora of important archaeological sites in its vicinity: Mycenae, Epidaurus, Tyrins, Argos, Nemea, and many more.

Intorduction

You can travel to Nafplio in about two hours from Athens. Plan on a two or three day visit to stroll the cobblestone streets and squares of the old town, to shop, or to relax in the promenade. From Nafplio you can easily travel to some of the most important archaeological sites and museums in its vicinity.

Archaeological Sites and Museums in Nafplio

Nafplio would make an excellent base if you want to explore the extensive archaeological sites of the Argolis, but the town itself has some very interesting sites: Tyrins, Palamidi Fortress, Bourtzi Fort, Acronafplia, and of course the Archaeological Museum of Nafplio.

Palamidi Fortress (Kastro)

View of Palamidi fortress from Nafplio old town
Palamidi towers above Nafplio town.

Palamidi fortress dominates the landscape above Nafplio with its imposing, and very good-looking walls. It provides a visual, as well as a historical reference point as it crowns the rugged hill above the town.

Palamidi was built between 1711-1714 by the Venecians to protect their Aegean trade interests, but in 1715 it was captured by the Ottomans who held it for about 100 years thereafter. The Greeks captured it during their war of independence from the Turks in 1822.

It’s a fun place to visit, even if you are not interested in military architecture, because the views of the surrounding landscape are exceptional.

The baroque fortress is beautiful as a structure in itself, and most history buffs will marvel at the design by engineers Giaxich and Lasalle. It hugs the bare rock faithfully, providing protection and cross-fire from multiple bastions.

The walls are sloped inward as a defense against the canon balls of the time, and its concentric perimeters allowed defenders to attack from a position of strength even if part of the structure was breached.

But most tourists visit the Palamidi for the exciting panoramic views of Nafplio and the surrounding area. The views are spectacular from several different spots of the fortress, and they are guaranteed to make all your selfies “pop”.

For Greeks, Palamidi has special historical interest because it was the place where the  biggest hero of the revolution against the Turks, Theodoros Kolokotronis, was imprisoned after the liberation of Greece. His imprisonment  is seen as an example of the traditional strife and in-fighting that has plagued the Greeks in the most inopportune times since the Trojan war.

You may visit and enter the bleak, windowless, prison in the Miltiades bastion. It is well signposted.

The fortress is open daily, and you may access it either by car or via a long vertical ascent on a zig-zag staircase from Polizoidi street. It’s rumored to have about 1000 steps. By car, the Nafplio-Palamidi road will take you right to the parking lot in front of its gate. Click here for Ticket and hours information

Once in Palamidi, be prepared for a difficult hike for the most part. With the exception of a few well preserved parts, the majority of your hike will be over very rough mountainous terrain. Even in the flatter parts and the staircases the stones have been polished smooth by visitors over the last couple of years, so they are slippery.

Therefore, persons with mobility issues, or those with inadequate shoes will have a very hard time negotiating the terrain.

When you visit Palamidi, wear athletic shoes, and a hat. While there are several shady parts, for the majority of your hike you will be exposed to the sun.

You will find restrooms in Miltiades bastion, a water fountain near the main entrance, and a few garden spigots here and there, so you might want to bring your own water.

We recommend you start your visit as soon as the fortress opens at 8:00 am. If you want to avoid the crowds plan to be out of there before the tour busses arrive around 10:30 am.

The hike through the entire fortress would take about 2 hours. If you don’t have that much time, you can see the best views from the bastions of Leonidas, Epameinondas, and Fokion.

Bourtzi Fort

Bourtzi and fishing boats in Nafplio port
Fishing boats in front of Bourtzi fort

Bourtzi is a picturesque fort at the entrance of Nafplio port. It was built by the Venetians in 1471 on the islet originally named “Agioi Theodoroi” after the small church that was built there.

The fort was part of the elaborate defenses that controlled the entrance to the port of Nafplio. The site underwent several phases of construction since both the Venetians and the Ottomans were keen to fortify the strategically placed islet.

Its final shape was formed during the second rein of the Venetians (1689-1715), a period known as The Kingdom of Morea.

During this time, the Venetians expanded the fortifications on the islet. At that time, they added a chain that closed access to its port when threatened, and made the central tower taller.

The fort was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1715 and remained in their control until the Greek war of independence in 1821.

In more recent times, in 1935 Boutzi was used briefly as a hotel, but today it’s an archaeological site.

You can visit the fort with a boat-for-hire from Nafplio, but unless you are a military history aficionado, you will not find much of interest on Bourtzi fort.

Vouleftikon

Vouleftikon is a historical building, located at the southwest corner of Syntagma square.

It is the building that housed the first parliament of Greece after it was liberated in 1821 from the Turks who had used it as a mosque until then. In fact it was built by Aga-Pasa, during the Ottoman occupation.

The first parliament of liberated Greece was housed there in 1825-1826. After that, it changed it’s use several times.

From 1828-1834 it hosted public dances and briefly functioned as a school. Most notably, in 1834 it was the building where the trial of the ware of independence hero, Kolokotronis, took place.

It is promoted as a feature in many travel guides, but beside the Municipal Gallery of Nafplio paintings that are hang on the ground floor, the building is used as a conference center.

The War Museum

At the corner of Aggelou Terzaki  and Amalias Othonos you will find a small building that houses the War Museum. It is owned and operated by the Hellenic Armed forces who don’t allow photography in the museum.

The War Museum showcases the multitude of battles fought in Greece’s recent history. In thematic units it covers:

  • The War of Independence from the Turks (1821-1897)
  • The Macedonian War (1904-1908)
  • The Balkan Wars (1912-1913)
  • World War One
  • The War in Asia Minor (1919-1922)
  • The Greek-Italian War (1940-1941)
  • The German invasion and occupation in WWII

Click here for the War Museum’s hours and ticket information

Archaeological Sites and Museums for Day-Trips

Besides the above sites in the immediate vicinity of  Nafplio, we recommend renting a car for excursions to some of the most important archaeological sites Greece has to offer–Mycenae, and Epidaurus being among them.

  • Mycenae and the Mycenae Museum
    You can reach the Mycenae archaeological site in about 25 minutes by car from Nafplio. It’s one of the most important archaeological sites of Greece.
  • Epidaurus
    Epidaurus is about 35 minutes from Nafplio. There you can visit the famous ancient theater of Epidaurus and the rest of the healing sanctuary of Asclepius. There is as small museum on the site as well.
  • Ancient Asine (Kastraki) Archeological site
    The archaeological site of ancient Asine is nested on a headband between two beaches so you may combine it with a trip to the beach. The more popular Tolo beach is also nearby. Ancient Asine was occupied from 3000 BCE to Byzantine times, and you may hike the ruins in about 15-20 minutes. Entrance is free.
  • Nemea Archeological site, Stadium, and Museum
  • Franchthi Cave
    If you are looking for a site that’s off the beaten path, the stone-age archaeological site at Frankthi cave is a good choice. You need wheels to get there from Nafplio, and it’s a long drive, so it would be a day-trip. There is a little beach where you can park, and a 20-minute easy hike to the cave from there.

Things to Do and See

Stroll and Shop in Nafplio Old Town

street view of Nafplio old town
Nafplio old town street view

One of the most enjoyable experiences you can have in Nafplio is to stroll leisurely around the cobblestone streets of the Old Town.

Most of the shops are on Sidiras Merarchias street, which spills into the Syntagma (Constitution) square.

While you can find similar tourist shops with inexpensive knickknacks, similar to other tourist towns, Nafplio seems to have many more upscale shops that sell quality souvenirs, original art, folk artifacts, and clothes.

The atmosphere is laid-back and the vast majority of the shop owners allow patrons to peruse through the items at their leisure. Overall, you will find prices to be a bit higher than similar shops around Greece, but so is the quality of wares.

Another popular walk is to circumnavigate the fort of Acronafplia via the Arvanitia promenade.

Walk west on Boumboulinas street, past the bars and cafeterias that line up the promenade, and soon you will find yourself on a narrow pedestrian road that leads all the way to Arvanitia beach. It’s a romantic walk to take at sunset.

If you are there during the day, you will find several rocky swim-spots, but if you like easier access to the sea, continue until you reach Arvanitia beach. There you can swim or have a drink at the bar before walking back to town on Polizoidi street.

Have a Drink at Syntagma Square after 11pm

A favorite pastime in Greece is to relax in a cafeteria at any time of the day, and in Nafplio it can be your main activity every day!

So, when in Greece, do as the Greeks do: Walk around town a bit, but mostly sink into a comfortable chair outdoors and enjoy a drink while people-watching.

Syntagma square comes to life after 11:00 pm when the heat of the day has dissipated a bit, and every single chair of every single shop is occupied.

A multitude of cafeterias and pizzarias frame the square all around, but they still leave a large open space in the middle where the theatre of joyous life takes place at night.

People stroll leisurely around, street vendors strut their wares, and children of all ages play and run around.

The sights and sounds create an exhilarating atmosphere, and we consider it one of the top experiences in Nafplio.

If you prefer a more “cozy” or “trendy” venue to have a drink, you will find plenty in the streets around Syntagma square as well.

Wine Tasting in Nemea

If you have a car, and you like wine, a drive to Nemea (40min) would make an excellent day-trip.

Nemea is filled with vineyards and wine-tasting venues. While there, you may also visit the small archaeological site of Nemea and its museum.

Click here to see wine-tasting venues on Google maps

Swimming in Nafplio Beaches

Arvanitia beach and bar
Arvanitia beach is a nice place to cool off during the summer.

Nafplio is not known as a swimming destination, but it has its share of nice beaches in the immediate vicinity. With the exception of Arvanitia beach, you need wheels to get to the other nearby beaches.

Click here to see our review of the major Nafplio beaches, including Arvanitia, Tolo, Asine, and Karathonas beaches.

A Brief History of Nafplio

Nafplio is strategically located to influence sea commerce and communications between the Aegean and the mainland.

The area has been inhabited since neolithic times, and it took the name Nafplia  in the bronze age from the hero Nafplios, son of Poseidon and Anymone.

A large settlement in the area flourished during Mycenaean times, but the emergence of nearby Argos coincides with Nafplia’s decline after the 7th century BCE.

Eventually the Argives destroyed the city and relegated it to function as the port of Argos.

The city was abandoned soon after 300 BCE.

It took a few centuries, but the area was repopulated again in Byzantine times around the 9th c. CE. By the 12th century, Nafplio flourished as a semi-autonomous state.

It’s important location was coveted by all the powers of the time, so in the centuries that followed, Nafplio changed hands several times.

In 1210 Nafplio was conquered by the Fanks, and in 1389 became the possession of Venice who fortified Bourtzi islet at the port’s entrance.

In 1540 it was conquered by the Turks, but the Venetians re-captured the city in 1686 and renamed it Napoli of Romania. They built Palamidi fort at that time.

In 1715, the Turks re-captured the city once again, but eventually in 1822 it was liberated by the Greeks during the war of independence.

From 1828 to 1834 Nafplio was the capital of the liberated Greek state.

Practicalities

If you drive, you will find that even the new town streets are prone to traffic jams during peek times. It goes without saying that you should avoid driving in the old town where you can find yourself in narrow streets with not much room to maneuver around.

There is a very large, municipal parking lot at the port. It’s within walking distance from town and an excellent place to leave your car. Parking is free, and it’s a popular overnight spot for RVs.

Where to Stay

Nafplio has plenty of accommodations, ranging from inexpensive rooms-for-rent, to more luxurious 4-star hotels, but in high season you need to have reservations well in advance.

In Nafplion town, we have stayed at Athena Hotel right on the corner of Constitution square and we were very happy with the accommodations. The rooms are clean and you cannot beat the location for convenience and atmosphere.

We also like Amalia Hotel a bit farther out of town. It’s a classy and quiet place if you have a car. It’s conveniently located at the edge of town, so it is a good hub to visit the surrounding archaeological sites or the town itself.

What, Where to Eat

Outdoor restaurant tables at Nafplio old town
Staikopoulou street is lined with restaurant tables

From the port, as you walk toward the Syntagma main square of Nafplio, you will find the restaurant-filled streets of Boumpoulinas, Othonos, and Vasilisis Olgas a good place to shop for dinner.

Boumpoulinas has the more pricey eateries, and the streets one block over (Othonos and Vasilisis Olgas streets) have more traditional tavernas with tables lining the cobblestone streets. They come to life after 8:00pm, and by 10:00pm it would be hard to find a free table. Most serve seafood, and greek dishes.

The restaurants on these streets are of good to excellent quality, and the prices are not prohibitive. Best, the atmosphere is joyous in the cozy streets, and the wine flows with the music effortlessly.

We haven’t tried them all, but from the places we dined in, we found Aeolos Restaurant to have good food at really good prices. Half-a-kilo of house wine, a greek salad, zucchini  croquettes, bread, two seafood dishes, and bottled water for €36 is a good deal. When we were there, every table was treated to a complementary carafe of tsipouro and a plate of fresh fruit.

For grilled food and souvlaki, Staikopoulou street is the place to go. The street is lined with souvlaki, gyros, and other grilled meat restaurants, most of excellent quality on a budget.

For breakfast, pizza, and light lunch, a sandwich, a beverage, or a coffee, the cafeterias that line the promenade and the Syntagma square are all an excellent choice.

For ice cream, Dodoni Cafe at Constitution square is a good choice.

Map

Click here to see it on the map and to get directions in a new window.

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