One Perfect Day in Nafplio: Top Attractions & Hidden Gems

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Tucked away on Greece’s mainland but close enough to Athens to be worth a road trip, beautiful Nafplio is a historic Greek city in the northeast Peloponnese. The modern Greek state’s first capital, Nafplio, has been an important port town throughout Greek history. 

What really draws people to Nafplio is the array of interesting things to do. We’ve put together some of the best things to do in Nafplio, along with some amazing day trips. Use it as your base for exploring the Greek mainland, or pop here for a day. Whichever you decide just make sure you visit!

things to do in Nafplio

Is Nafplio Greece Worth Visiting?

Although Nafplio isn’t a typical tourist destination, and certainly not as popular as some of the Greek island hopping routes, it’s definitely worth a visit. If you have the time then the perfect holiday would be combining a mainland roadtrip with a stop in Nafplio with some time on one of Greece’s beautiful islands. That way you get to see the very best of Greece.

You can cover a lot of the historical sites in Nafplio (sometimes called Nafplion) in a couple of days, but the relaxed vibe here means it’s a really pleasant place to just spend time wandering, dining out, and exploring off the main tourist streets.

You can get a taste of local life here too, as it really is somewhere tourists and locals mix. If you visit on Wednesdays or Saturdays then check out the market close to the start of the steps up to Palamidi Castle. They sell some delicious local produce, and it’s always bustling and busy.

We stumbled across Nafplio accidentally but ended up spending a week here because we loved it so much. It’s the kind of place you can imagine yourself living, with a mix of local life and tourist buzz.

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mountainous bay with a small castle on an island at night

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Nafplio One Day Itinerary

Nafplio is close enough to Athens to visit on an organized day trip. It would also be the perfect place to stop off on a Greek roadtrip.

Because so many people visit Greece for their honeymoon or for a romantic couples holiday, places like Nafplio are often overlooked in favor of Greece’s famous island honeymoon destinations, even though it is considered one of mainland Greece’s most romantic destinations.

This means Nafplio tends to be less full of tourists and has a more authentic feel. You can always combine a visit to Nafplio with a little island hopping if you want a taste of both!

If you only have a day to spend in Nafplio then not to worry, you can still see most of the highlights. We’ve narrowed down our absolute must-do activities so that you can fit them into a day of exploring.

Early Morning

Climb to Palamidi Castle

The locals in Greece get up at the crack of dawn to make the most of the cooler mornings before the heat of the sun hits. Do the same and head straight for Palamidi Castle.

You’re going to want to be here early because you have quite a climb ahead of you. The 999 stairs up to the fortress are no joke – if you count them you’ll find there are actually over 1000, but 999 is a little more catchy!

Take water and sun protection as there are quite a few exposed parts. You’ll be rewarded with the most incredible views at various different points, so take your time and pause often to enjoy the sights.

The Palamidi Fortress was built by the Venetians in the 1700s and it’s a beautiful place to wander around, especially as there are views around every corner. It’s worth the modest entry price, but if you’re only interested in the views and the exercise you can climb the stairs before reaching the ticket office.

The castle opens at 8am in the summer months, so if you’re an early bird you can make the ascent and be one of the first inside. Double-check that the castle is open on the day you want to visit as it does close on certain national holidays.

If early morning exercise isn’t for you (and who could blame you?) then check out the the Archaeological Museum instead. The museum houses a huge collection of artifacts dating all the way back to the Bronze Age.

You’ll find ancient pottery that dates as far back as 2700 BC, 13th-century sculptures and so many more fascinating relics from the region. It’s a really interesting museum and the perfect way to spend a morning in Nafplio if you’re keen to know more about the area.

large stone castle on a rocky green hillside

Late Morning

Stroll the Old Town

Hopefully, you’re feeling pretty wholesome after all that exercise, so it’s time to treat yourself! Head to the old town and grab an ice cream to cool you down.

The old town is a beautiful place to get lost in. There are lots of little alleyways to explore, each with something pretty to catch your eye. You’ll also find this is the perfect place to pick up a souvenir or two. The little stalls here sell some beautiful goods, from Greek ceramics to hand-carved olive wood pieces.

The lower part of the old town has recently been paved and made into a pedestrian-only zone so you’ll find it’s a really nice place to escape the noise and chaos of the traffic.

Find St Spyridor Church, where Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first Governor of independent Greece, was shot and killed in 1831. The bullt holw is still visable by the church entrance today. There are also many statues and plaques commemmorating his legacy, which is deeply intertwined with Nafplio’s history.

Make sure you also venture higher and explore areas like Psaromachalas, just below Nafplia Palace Hotel. This area was built by fishermen (the name means fishmonger) when there was no more room within the city walls. The houses are ancient and beautiful, and you’ll get a little feel for what life may have been like back then. 

We ventured into Nafplio’s new town because we were travling in a camper and needed a laundrette, but we wouldn’t recommend you visit – it’s functional and just like any other Greek town.

stone buildings covered in bougainvillea lining a narrow street with cobbles and red check tablecloth covered tables in the distance

Lunch

The old town is the perfect place to find a little cafe or bakery for lunch. It’s mostly shaded here so you’ll be out of the worst of the heat, and you can enjoy a light lunch among the buzz of the pretty little streets.

Look out for cafés selling Gyros, a traditional Greek takeaway-style dish of kebab meat, salad, and chips wrapped in a Greek pita.

green and pink tree shading a few tables and chairs outside a yellow building with brown doors and a chalkboard

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Afternoon

If you don’t want to spend time lounging on the beach, you’ll be able to visit Nafplio’s musuems and take a promenade stoll, but we don’t think you’ll have time to do all three of our suggested activities, unless you have superpowers!

Hit the Beach

If you’re not too tired from the morning climb, consider taking a hike to Karathona Beach where you can spend the afternoon relaxing and taking cooling dips in the sea. Head along the coastal path from town past dramatic cliffs and shaded shrubbery until you reach the sandy horseshoe bay.

The walk should take about 40 minutes and has sea views almost the whole time. The beach itself is popular with the locals and campers due to its tree-lined edges that provide shade, and the clear waters of the sea. Take a snorkel and you might even spot an octopus or two, as this is a popular place for local fishermen.

Visit the Museums

Nafplio is home to some fascinating museums that capture its eclectic heritage. The Archaeological Museum, housed in a Venetian-era building in Syntagma Square, showcases artifacts from the Mycenaean to the Roman period, including the famous Dendra panoply, bronze full body armour.

The Komboloi Museum, a really unique attraction, delves into the history and cultural significance of worry beads, displaying an extensive collection from around the world.

The War Museum, situated in an elegant neoclassical structure, tells Greece’s military history, with a particular focus on the revolutionary struggles of 1821.

The Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation offers a. glimpse into traditional Greek life through its extensive collection of costumes, textiles, and everyday objects.

Walk the Arvanitia Promenade

The Arvanitia Promenade is one of Nafplio’s most popular places to stroll. The path starts at the cafés lining the port and winds around the rocky base of Akronafplia hill, offering stunning views of sparkling blue waters framed by lush green foliage at every turn until you reach the beach.

Arvanitia Beach is a gorgeous little cove does tend to be quite crowded as it’s so close to the city itself, but it’s also really pretty and has a vibrant feel to it. You can watch the locals cliff jump, or have a go yourself if you’re feeling brave.

Nafplio’s beaches are not the iconic Greek beaches you see plastered all over adverts for the Greek islands. The beaches here are very Mediterranean, with tree-lined edges and pebbles instead of sand.

Nafplio lies in a large inlet in the Argolic Gulf so although it can get choppy here it is somewhat protected, and you’ll usually find calm seas and clear waters. We swam every day, even when there was a thunderstorm approaching.

We did love the beaches around Nafplio but if you will only settle for bright white rocks and sand, and turquoise waters then you’re better off heading for the quiet Greek islands where you’ll probably find a sandy cove all to yourself.

large rocky arch over a paved path by the sea
Stone path along the sea coast on sunset with rocky cliff on the side and blue sky near Nafplio

Late Afternoon

Visit the Bourtzi Fortress

In the late afternoon, grab a boat trip out to the Bourtzi Fortress, the historical monument located on the small island in the bay, the subject of many photos! If you time it right, you might even catch the sunset when you’re on the water!

Built in the 15th century this Venetian fortress served as a defensive stronghold against pirate attacks and invaders. Its strategic position at the entrance of Nafplio’s harbor made it a crucial component in the town’s maritime defenses.

The fortress’s distinctive architectural style, characterized by robust stone walls and battlements, reflects its military purpose. Over the centuries, Bourtzi has seen various uses, including as a residence for executioners, a hotel, and now, a tourist attraction.

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blue and white speed boat with a small castle islet in the distance

Dinner

For dinner, try I Folia. This cute seafood restaurant has views over the water and serves delicious Greek and seafood dishes. Opt for the catch of the day if you want to try the freshest fish you’ve ever tasted. We also really enjoyed the grilled octopus, which is a traditional dish here in Greece.

If you’re keen to make the most of the evening then explore the old town by night. The little cafés become perfect places for an evening drink as you reminisce on your day.

Other Greek Travel Ideas

Day Trips from Nafplio

If you plan on spending a little time in Nafplio then it’s also worth taking a day trip or two to see some of the surrounding area. 

It’s definitely feasible to see the highlights of Nafplio in a day, and with two days in Nafplio you’ll probably have taken in most of the sights, so if you’re spending a week here then try to book onto one of these great day trips.

Mycenae & Epidaurus

These two historical sites are really quite impressive, even if you’re not interested in ancient Greece.

Mycenae is a famous Greek city that was once a major stronghold. It was a grand, rich place and you can see the remnants of a thriving city with its carved lion gates and enormous fortifications. Make sure you visit the ancient burial sites that house Mycanaes once great rulers.

At Epidaurus, you’ll find an ancient theatre that once held crowds of ancient Greeks gathering to watch a Greek tragedy or comedy. The Greek theatres are always amazing to see and this one’s scale is particularly impressive.

The easiest way to see these ancient sites is by day trip from Nafplio with our recommended half day private tour of Mycenae and Epidauros. Whatever you book, make sure you have an air-conditioned van or car if you’re traveling in the summer. It gets hot here! Very, very hot.

ancient columns and stone backed by green shrubby hillsides

Ancient Corinth & Corinth Canal

Everyone has heard of the Corinth Canal but the ancient ruins of Corinth are equally as impressive.

Ancient Corinth used to be one of the most powerful centers in ancient Greece. Sites like the Agora and the Temple of Apollo are still in great condition and it’s crazy to think they built structures like this with no modern technology.

Be sure you check out the Peirene Fountain too, which was one of the most important water sources in Ancient Corinth.

The Corinth Canal is pretty famous with sailors all over the world. The canal connects the Gulf of Corinth in the west to the Saronic Gulf in the east and is still used today to shorten the passage between Greece’s two distinct areas. The passage has been carved out of the land on either side, resulting in a dramatic thin canal with towering cliffs on either side. 

The canal was finally completed in the late 19th century and is 78ft wide at the surface, 70ft wide at the bottom, and 3.9 miles long. The sheer walls stand over 300ft above the canal bed. Watching the boats pass through the narrow gap in the cliffs is quite a sight, especially if you happen to catch one of the huge freight boats making their way through.

The popular private tour from Nafplio will take you to both attractions in style. Be sure to take your camera for this trip, and make sure your batteries are fully charged!

bright turquoise canal lined with steep cliffs and the open sea in the distance

Nafplio Practicalities

How to Get to Nafplio

Getting to Nafplio from Athens is pretty straightforward, and you have a few options depending on your preference. Here’s a breakdown of the main ways to make the trip:

By Car

Renting a car is a great option and gives you the flexibility to explore other cities and towns in mainland Greece. The drive from Athens to Nafplio is about 140 km and typically takes around 1.5 to 2 hours. The route is scenic, passing through the Peloponnesian countryside and along the coast. 

Driving in Greece is relatively simple. Traffic can be a little hectic around the major cities as you’d expect, but on the whole, the roads in Greece are adequate, parking is relaxed and signs and markings are clear.

By Bus

Taking the bus is a convenient and affordable way to get to Nafplio. KTEL buses operate regularly between Athens and Nafplio. Here’s how to go about it:

  • Starting Point: Buses to Nafplio depart from the Kifissos Bus Station in Athens.
  • Buying Tickets: Tickets can be purchased at the station or online in advance. It’s a good idea to buy them ahead of time, especially during peak travel periods.
  • Bus Ride: The bus ride to Nafplio takes about 2 to 2.5 hours. The buses are comfortable, and the journey is pleasant, with some scenic views along the way. Look out for the Corinth Canal which you should go past.
  • Arrival: The bus will drop you off at the Nafplio bus station, which is centrally located and within walking distance to many attractions and hotels.

By Taxi or Private Transfer

If you prefer a more comfortable and direct option, hiring a taxi or booking a private transfer might be the way to go. This is more expensive than the bus but offers door-to-door service and can be quicker. Many services can be booked in advance online, and the journey time is similar to driving yourself, around 1.5 to 2 hours.

Where to Stay in Nafplio

Upmarket: The Amymone and Adiandi is a beautifully styled hotel right in the heart of Nafplio’s old town.

Mid-Range: Castellano Hotel & Suites is an elegant hotel on the edge of Syntagma Square.

Budget: Marianna is a traditional Greek guest house in the old town, where you’ll get a wonderful home cooked breakfast!

Conclusion

Nafplio has the perfect mix of history, views, pretty beaches, and a local feel.  It’s a great holiday destination for anyone who detests lying by the hotel pool all day as there is so much to see and do here, but it’s also small enough to be worth visiting for just one day.

I hope we’ve convinced you to take a trip here and given you some ideas of the best things to see and do on your visit. In our opinion, Nafplio is one of the best places to visit on the Greek mainland. Just make sure you bring some decent trainers and perhaps book yourself in for a massage the day after you climb those 999 steps!

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