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When I told people that I was going to Greece, their first question was usually “Oh cool, where?” I’m sure they were expecting to hear Santorini or Mykonos because you could hear a sense of disappointment when I’d reply Nafplio. For some reason, Nafplio isn’t too popular among US travelers to Greece. It’s hard to see why because Nafplio really has it all: a quaint downtown, beautiful water, and several fortresses and nearby ancient sites. Athens is the perfect starting point for a trip to Nafplio since the drive is less than two hours. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Nafplio, Greece.
Athens to Nafplio
Nafplio, located on the coast of the Peloponnese, was actually the first capital of the modern Greek state. If you are coming from Athens, I highly recommend renting a car for the approximately 2 hour drive. You can stop to see the Corinth Canal which separates the Peloponnese from mainland Greece. There are several other stops you can make along the way but more on that later.
If you want to cut down on the driving, you could take a train from Athens to Corinth and either take a taxi or rent a car from there. It’s still about 45 minutes from Corinth to Nafplio so I think it’s easier to drive the full distance.
There are tons of hotels around Old Town Nafplio, but if you want great views and easy access to downtown, I recommend Nafplia Palace. It’s located in Akronafplia (aka the acropolis of Nafplio) and all rooms overlook the water and town below. While the drive up to the hotel is winding and narrow, you can easily access downtown on foot by taking the hotel’s elevator all the way down to street level.
The location of the hotel is great because you have easy access to downtown, the ruins of Akronafplia, the Palamidi Fortress, and Arvanitia Beach.
Nafplio is on the coast but there is really only one main beach in town. Arvanitia, Nafplio’s public beach, is a small pebble beach so I recommend water shoes. The water itself is so gorgeous that you won’t miss having a sandy beach once you’re in it. There’s a beautiful path along the water that leads from the port of Nafplio (near the town) to the beach. I recommend this walk even if you don’t plan on spending the day at the beach! From Arvanitia, you can easily climb the steps to see Akronafplia and, if you’re up for it, you can climb the almost 1,000 steps to the Palamidi Fortress.
Karathona Beach is about a 10 minute drive from Nafplio. You can also walk about 3km from Arvanitia Beach in the opposite direction of the port and you will reach Karathona. If you’re looking for a sandy beach, Karathona is your best bet.
Things to Do in Nafplio
In addition to checking out one of the beaches, walking around the port, Syntagma Square, and the rest of Old Town Nafplio should be on the top of any Nafplio itinerary. There are also three fortresses that Nafplio is famous for.
Palamidi is a fortress located 216 meters above Nafplio. It was built from 1711-1714 by the Venetians and was defeated by the Turks in 1715. You can access Palamidi on foot or by car. The climb up is about 900 steps but offers amazing views of the coast and Nafplio below. If you’re hiking in the middle of the day, be sure to bring water!
The entrance fee is 8 euros. I was surprised by the size of the fortress so plan to spend at least an hour…more if you want to see everything.
Bourtzi is a small fortress built by the Venetians in 1471 off the coast of Nafplio in the Argolic Gulf. It was initially used to prevent ships from docking, but its purpose has changed over the years. From 1865-1935, it was used as the executioner’s residence. Later it became a hotel and a restaurant. The Bourtzi is now a tourist attraction and is currently under restoration. You can still take a boat over to the island, but for now, you can’t access the inside of the fortress.
As with any acropolis, Akronafplia sits high above Nafplio. Akronafplia is the oldest of the fortresses and once housed the entire city within its walls. Over time, Akronafplia was extended by the Romans, Franks, Venetians, and Turks.
It’s free to walk around Akronafplia and it covers quite a bit of land. You can also easily access Arvanitia Beach and the steps for Palamidi from here.
Nearby Ancient Sites
There’s quite a bit to do in Nafplio proper, but if you have more time, Nafplio makes a great base for day trips, some of which you may choose to stop at on your drive from Athens.
Corinth Canal, Ancient Corinth, and Acrocorinth
You could spend a whole day checking out these three sites. The Corinth Canal is a quick stop on your way from Athens but Ancient Corinth, well-known from St. Paul’s visit, and Acrocorinth, a fortress for those interested in a bit of a hike, take longer to explore.
Mycenae is an archaeological site about 30 minutes from Nafplio. The remains of this Bronze Age city very well may be one of the oldest sites you see in Greece as it dates back to 1350 BC. For perspective, Aristotle wasn’t born until 384 BC.
About 30 minutes from Nafplio, Epidaurus is best known for the 12,000 seat theater with near-perfect acoustics built in the 4th century BC. It was also known as a healing center where many came to be treated by doctor-priests from the Cult of Asklepios (the Greek God of Medicine).
Nemea is about 45 minutes from Nafplio and offers ruins from the Nemean Games which were played from the 6th to 2nd century BC. Nemea is also a wine-producing region so be sure to stop at a vineyard or two (or three).
Nafplio is one of the most picturesque cities in Greece and offers easy access to beaches and the most popular ancient sites of the Peloponnese. If it’s your first time visiting Greece, Nafplio can make a great home base for traveling around while still offering the seaside vibe and quaintness of the islands. Whether you visit on a day trip from Athens or as part of your Peloponnesian itinerary, Nafplio is sure to be a highlight of your time in Greece.