Take a day trip from Athens to Nafplio and discover one of the most picturesque towns in Greece. Here's how to plan your Athens to Nafplio day trip.
Nafplio in the Peloponnese
People visiting Greece often ask about day trips from Athens. Some of the popular choices include the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, Delphi, and the Saronic islands cruise. One of our favourite suggestions, that often gets overlooked, is the Athens to Nafplio day trip.
Why go to Nafplio?
If you’ve never heard of Nafplio, you will probably wonder what’s so special about it and why you should go there. The short answer is that Nafplio is a charming, picturesque coastal town in the Peloponnese. It has interesting sightseeing, excellent choices for restaurants and accommodation, and lovely beaches all around the area.
The long answer has to do with Nafplio’s rich history and important role throughout the centuries.
A brief history of Nafplio
Nafplio has been a significant Greek port city since ancient times.
The first fortifications of the Akronafplia Castle date from pre-classical times, and all subsequent conquerors, i.e. the Byzantines, the Franks, the Venetians and the Ottoman Empire, fortified and expanded the walls further.
The Venetians also built the castles of Bourtzi, on a little island just off the coast, and Palamidi, up on the hill.
In 1829, after the end of the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire, Nafplio became the first official capital of the newly founded Greece. In 1834, King Otto decided to move the capital to Athens.
Athens to Nafplio day trip
The easiest way to get from Athens to Nafplio is to take a day trip. This way, your transport is organised for you, and you get to see the most important places in the company of a guide.
Athens to Nafplio by car
As the distance from Athens to Nafplio is only 137 km / 85 miles, most of it being on a modern highway, you can easily drive the Athens to Nafplio route in less than two hours.
You will then get the chance to explore some of the Nafplio attractions, and even to go to one of Nafplio best beaches if you feel like it. If you have plenty of time, you could then continue a road trip in the Peloponnese.
Athens to Nafplio by bus
If you don't want to drive, you can always get a KTEL bus from Athens to Nafplio. Buses depart from Kifissos bus station, and take just around 2 hours 10 minutes to get to Nafplio. Timetables can be found here.
To get to Kifissos bus station, you can either take the metro to Eleonas station and then a quick taxi ride, or just take a taxi directly from your hotel in Athens.
On the way back from Nafplio to Athens, the bus stops at Eleonas metro, so you can hop off there.
What is there to see in Nafplio?
The first thing that will strike you about Nafplio is the imposing castles and walls. You will immediately see the Akronafplia castle, the Palamidi Castle, up on the hill, and the little island close to the coast, which is home to Bourtzi Castle.
Walking around the town, you can’t fail to notice the number of well-preserved neoclassical buildings, souvenir shops and tasteful restaurants.
As the town is built on a hill, there are several levels of it to explore, so put your walking shoes on and get ready to discover Nafplio!
Nafplio Greece things to do
These are some of the specific highlights of Nafplio you should look for.
Akronafplia in Nafplio
Akronafplia is a massive rock that has been inhabited for thousands of years. It is the oldest castle in Nafplio, with the first fortifications dating from the 7th century BC.
During the millennia, all conquerors that passed by Nafplio expanded the walls, with the Venetian constructions of the 14th-15th century being the most important and best preserved ones.
In the years after the Greek Revolution, Akronafplia served as barracks, a military hospital, and eventually a prison, which was demolished in 1970-71 in order for the hotel “Xenia Palace” to be constructed. At that time, parts of the castle were destroyed.
From the top of Akronafplia, there are excellent views of Nafplio town, Argolida Bay and the nearby beaches. To reach the fortress, you can either go through the Catholic Church, or through Arvanitias Square, close to Staikopoulos Park.
Palamidi Castle in Nafplio
Palamidi Castle is the imposing fortress which is located on the hill right above Nafplio. It was built by the Venetians between 1711 and 1714, and was immediately conquered by the Ottomans just after it was completed.
Under the Ottoman rule, Christians were not allowed into Palamidi, until 1822, when a group of Greek rebels took control of the Castle. In the years after the Greek Revolution, Palamidi served as a prison.
One of the unique features of the Palamidi Castle is that it contains eight bastions, connected to each other through a wall.
Each bastion was built to support and defend the remaining seven, while at the same time being self-contained. The bastions were all named, and subsequently renamed by each conqueror.
Apart from the bastions, visitors can see the chapel of Agios Andreas and a set of water tanks, used until today to collect rainwater. According to legend, there was a secret passage connecting Akronafplia with Palamidi Castle in Nafplio.
Palamidi Castle offers amazing views over the Bay of Argolida, the town of Nafplio and Akronafplia Castle.
It is possible to hike up Palamidi through a staircase of over 900 steps – the exact number is debated, with locals claiming that they are 999. If you don’t feel super keen on climbing those steps, there is also an asphalt road.
Opening hours vary between summer and winter, so check the official website before you visit.
Bourtzi Castle in Nafplio
The Venetian “Castle of the throne”, renamed to “Bourtzi” by the Ottomans, is perhaps the best known landmark of Nafplio. It was built in 1473 on the tiny island of Agii Theodori in the Argolida Bay, as an additional fortification to the Akronafplia Castle, to which it was connected through a heavy chain.
In recent years it served successively as a prison, a residence for executioners, the head offices of the Greek National Tourism Organization, a luxury hotel / restaurant and a café.
It was abandoned around the mid-80s, and has been closed to the public ever since. Ongoing restoration works of the historic castle started in 2013, and at the moment there is no information as to when Bourtzi will open to the public.
Small boats departing hourly from the dock on weekends can take you to the island. The round trip costs 4,50 euro and lasts for around a half hour, during which you can go for a brief walk around the castle. Not sure if it’s worth it really!
If you were looking for a more active way to visit Bourtzi, you might want to consider a kayak tour of Nafplio.
The nearby archaeological site of Tiryns, just a few kilometres down the road, is also highly recommended. Tiryns has achieved joint UNESCO site status in Greece along with Mycenae (a nice day trip from Nafplio!).
This fortified area would have played an important role in the Mycenaean world. Its imposing walls are worth walking around, and you should allow an hour or two to see the site in full.
Other important sites in Nafplio – Nafplio things to do
After the Greek Revolution, the city of Nafplio was redesigned and rebuilt. Parts of the old Akronafplia Castle and certain Ottoman buildings were destroyed, and new buildings, squares and the train station were constructed in their place.
In the centre of Nafplio, you will see Syntagma (= Constitution) Square, where the Ottoman pasha’s Palace used to stand in the 16th century.
Close to Syntagma Square you will see the Archaeological Museum of Nafplio, a couple of mosques, a building that served as prison in the past and is now an annex of the Archaeological Museum, and several other important buildings and churches.
The Trion Navarhon Square, which is close by, is also surrounded by excellent buildings, such as the City Hall, several important churches and a few mansions. Nafplio is dotted with statues of several people who were important in the city’s long history.
Walking tour of Nafplio
There are several other notable buildings, not only in the immediate centre of Nafplio, but also in the outskirts and suburbs.
If you have a special interest in Greece’s recent history and architecture, consider taking a walking tour of the town, which will offer some more insight.
Nafplio what to do – Beaches in Nafplio
As Nafplio is a coastal town, once you’re done with climbing stairs and walking around the town, you can go for a refreshing swim. The temperatures in Nafplio are relatively mild all year round, so you might be able to swim even if you visit Nafplio in autumn or winter.
Arvanitia Beach is just underneath Palamidi Castle, a 10-15 minute walk from central Nafplio. Even if you are on a quick Nafplio day trip from Athens, you have plenty of time for a splash. There is a beach bar, umbrellas, loungers and showers, so it’s the ideal place to have a relaxing break from sightseeing.
Further down from Arvanitia, you can find Karathona beach. You can reach it by a lovely hike from central Nafplio or a quick ride by bicycle or car. It is a long, sandy beach, especially popular with families due its shallow, crystal clear water. It gets quite busy during summer and particularly during weekends, but if you are visiting Nafplio on a spring weekday you might almost have the beach to yourself.
There are several more beaches around Nafplio, especially close to Tolo town, which is further down on the coast. If you decide to stay longer around Nafplio and have your own transportation, Tolo can actually be a good base. You can then explore the nearby beaches of Tolo / Psili Ammos, Kastraki, Plaka and Agios Nikolaos / Kondili.
Hotels in Nafplio
While Nafplio day trips from Athens are extremely popular, Nafplio is also a great base if you want to visit further away areas in the Peloponnese. You can either only spend one night in Nafplio, or base yourself there for a few days and take day trips to other places.
There are plenty of accommodation options in the old town of Nafplio as well as the suburbs. If you want to stay right in the middle of everything, take a look at the map of hotels in Nafplio below.
Stay at Tolo
At the same time, if you think that a Nafplio day trip from Athens is too short (it is!), you can stay in the area longer and drive around. In this case, you can also base yourself in nearby Tolo.
We have stayed at Hotel Solon, which was quite basic, but it’s right on the beach, plus there is an interesting story behind it. As it was one of the first hotels in the area, many Greek actors who worked at Epidaurus Festival (more on this below) have stayed here in the past.
Travel Tip: As the Athens to Nafplio distance is small, Nafplio is a popular weekend trip for Athenians. If you want to extend your Nafplio day trip to a couple of days and are going on a weekend, make sure you book your accommodation in advance.
Nafplio day trips
If you decide to base yourself in Nafplio for a few days, you have many options for day trips from Nafplio. The obvious ones are Nafplio to Epidaurus, and Nafplio to Mycenae.
It is a half hour’s drive from Nafplio to Epidaurus, known in Greek as Epidavros. Epidaurus is famous for its massive ancient theatre,. It was built in the 4th century BC and has some of the best acoustics in the world.
The Epidaurus theatre can seat up to 14,000 people, and hosts the Epidaurus Festival showing ancient Greek plays on summer weekends.
In modern days, Epidaurus theatre has been hosting plays since 1954. Most of the plays are in Greek, and the actors who have played are well known around Greece. Occasionally, foreign artists are invited to the Epidaurus theatre. An example is Kevin Spacey who performed as Richard the 3rd in 2011.
If you are not interested in a show at the theatre, you can still visit the theatre and the Sanctuary of Asklepios during the day. The experience of a show in the Epidaurus theatre will stay with you for years though!
Mycenae UNESCO Site
On your way back to Athens, you can stop at the archaeological site of Mycenae. This is one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece.
As the Nafplio – Athens distance is not long, and normally takes just under two hours by car, you have plenty of time to explore the ancient site. Get ready for some uphill and hiking, and allow enough time in the museum.
If you are interested in wine, consider taking a day trip from Nafplio around the Nemea area, where Hercules killed the Nemea Lion, and indulge in some wine-tasting.
Final thoughts on Nafplio day trip
Conclusion – while Nafplio is a great day trip from Athens, try to spend a night or more in the town. The area has plenty to do and see, and you will definitely enjoy your time spent in the first Greek capital.