Nafplio is a city in the Peloponnese that brims with life, preserving its legends and enticing you into its mystical ambience. It was the Venetians’ ‘Naples of the East’ and the first capital of Greece.
Viewed from above, Nafplio oozes romance: tile roofs, grand homes and a blue-green sea. The famous Bourtzi, Akronafplia and Palamidi castles add a sense of drama to this stunning seaport town, consisting of fortresses, neoclassical buildings, old neighbourhoods, wide sidewalks and large squares.
Are there 999 or 857 steps that lead to the top of Palamidi Castle? Discover for yourself. Once you climb up the steep hill, you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view of Nafplio and the sea. The fortress was built in record time, between 1711 and 1714.
The Acropolis of Nafplio, which the Turks named Its Kale, was erected by the Venetians and later passed on to the Byzantines and Ottomans. It has three levels, each with a different castle and walls from different time periods. From the rock of Akronafplia, you’ll take in the view from the Bourtzi Castle to Arvanitias beach.
From afar, Bourtzi Castle looks like an elegant stone sculpture. As you approach the islet of Agio Theodoro by boat, travelling the few metres that separate it from the coast and finally see the Venetian castle up close, you’ll immediately feel its rich and tumultuous history.
The castle (shaped like an irregular hexagon) was built in 1473 and the executioners of Palamidi prisoners once lived here. It was also the residence of two governments (of 1824 and 1827) and a luxury hotel. Today it is one of the most significant attractions in Nafplio, and hosts various cultural events and festivals.
The walk along Arvanitia promenade, with its view of the Argolic Gulf, is Nafplio at its most romantic. You’ll begin at the waterfront and end up, after about 1km, at Arvanitias Square. The whole time, you’ll be walking beneath the rock of Akronafplio and you’ll also come across the pretty little chapel of Panagia tis Spilia (Virgin Mary of the Cave), the Santa Maria Grotta of the Venetians.
At the epicentre of the old town is Syntagma Square, surrounded by historic buildings – Trianon, the Archaeological Museum and the National Bank of Greece, built in the 1930s. On the nearby streets, you’ll witness the modern history of Greece starting with the Hellenic Parliament (Vouli ton Ellinon).
Further along, witness the church of Agios Spyridonas (outside of which Ioannis Capodistrias, Greece’s first prime minister, was murdered in 1831) and across from that, the only Turkish bath in town. Two other squares, Agios Georgios and Trion Navarhon, also have several interesting monuments and grand mansions worth seeing.
A walking tour of Nafplio’s romantic Old Town
As one of the most popular Athenian weekend escapes, accommodation is plentiful: boutique hotels in modern buildings, traditional guesthouses and grand mansions from another era. You’ll find both traditional and creative Greek cuisine at the tavernas and restaurants around town, as well as dozens of coffee shops and bars.
The owner of this museum committed more than 40 years to his project (the first and only museum of its kind in the world), collecting and learning everything there is to know about worry beads. About 700 different types of ‘rosaries’ – Muslim, Christian, Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, Greek and Turkish are all represented in the collection.
The metropolitan church of Agios Georgios is one of the oldest churches in the city. The funerals of Palaiaon Patron Germanon, Dimitrios Ipsiliantis and Capodistrias all took place here. This is also where Otto, the first king of Greece, was crowned in the city of Nafplio. In the church’s interior, you’ll see an incredible replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper, painted by one of his pupils.
The Pyli of Xiras constituted the only entrance to the lower town from land. Indeed, if you were on the outside when it closed, that’s where you remained. Today, the outside of the gate has been restored to its original form.
If you are planning on visiting Nafplio from abroad, flying into Athens first is the easiest way. You can then take a bus or hire a car for the 138km drive, which will take you about 1hr 50mins.
Nafplio is well known for its charming centre with neoclassical buildings. It was modern Greece's first capital and is considered one of the most romantic cities in the country.
With beautiful castles and quaint restaurants, Nafplio in Greece is a must-visit, especially if you are looking for a daytrip during an Athens city break. It is famous for its historic centre, seafront promenade and Venetian-era monuments.