Climbing Fortresses: Exploring the History of Nafplio

This post was last updated on September 5th, 2019

nafplio greece travel palamidi fortress

So I have been absent for a while, but that’s because a lot of stuff has been going on in my life, and I needed to focus my energy elsewhere. But I’m back now, ready to tell you about a few trips that I’ve been on since the winter. I might not get to travel that much until the end of the year so I’m glad I still have a few stories to tell. Like that time we went to Nafplio for my birthday. So without further ado, he’s my account of our weekend trip to Nafplio, Greece. Read on for tips and info on this Peloponnese town and why you should consider exploring Nafplio.

Nafplio was the capital of Greece between 1821 and 1834, and so I expected to find a lot of history in this quaint little town. We rented a car for the trip from Athens which took around two hours. We arrived after dark and, because it was a bit cold, we decided not to do anything the first night. That meant we’d only really have one day to explore Nafplio, but this is perfectly enough if you think about the fact that other people see Nafplio on a day trip and combine it with other towns in the Peloponnese.
However, from our Airbnb, we already had a view over the Palamidi Fortress overlooking Nafplio.

nafplio palamidi fortress travel greece

Climbing Fortresses and Exploring Nafplio

I hope you like walking because even if you take a car up to Palamidi fortress as we did you will spend hours walking around the area.

I have to say that I’m not very familiar with Greek history as it’s not something that is taught in German schools, but I found out that the fortress of Palamidi is where you can see the prison cell of Kolokotronis. He spent about a year there after he was sentenced to death for treason. However, he was later pardoned. Since he was a leading figure of the Greek War of Independence, this cell holds a lot of meaning for Greeks.

Despite the fact that I don’t really like narrow spaces, I figured that if I had already arrived at the cell I might as well go inside, and wow, was it tiny and dark. Who knows what exactly it looked like in 1834/35 when Kolokotronis was imprisoned there, but it sure wasn’t cozy.

Back to the Palamidi fortress though. You can absolutely climb up the several hundred steps (legend says they are 999, but even locals will tell you that they are less), but it was unexpectedly warm the day we were there, and we were wearing our winter clothes. Even after you reach the fortress, you still have many stairs to conquer inside, so you should be somewhat in shape to go to Palamidi and enjoy the views.

The fortress was built by the Venetians who ruled this part of Greece, but the Ottomans soon took over. Climbing up here is definitely a rewarding experience when you get to take in the gorgeous views over Nafplio and the Peloponnese.

Why should you consider exploring Nafplio?

You probably haven’t even heard of Nafplio so let me explain briefly why it’s historically relevant. Nafplio had an important strategic position in the Greek War of Independence. The Ottomans had actually taken the town from the Venetians twice and made lots of improvements to the fortress of Palamidi. Nafplio became one of the major strongholds of the Ottoman Empire but had to surrender eventually due to forced starvation.

Because of the impressive fortifications, it was chosen as the seat of the provisional Greek government. Finally, the first head of state of the new country of Greece, Kapodistrias, made Nafplio its capital in 1821. He himself was later assassinated by his political opponents, the Mavromichalis family. One of the bizarre things in Greek politics is that nobody seems to be quite sure who the good guys are and who the bad ones because you can see streets named after both Kapodistrias and the Mavromichalis family alike. But I digress, you can see the spot of the assassination in Nafplio, the St. Spyridon Church.

When a Bavarian prince named Otto was made King of Greece (yea, what’s that about?) he soon moved the capital to Athens. And this king was also the one who imprisoned our friend Kolokotronis. So Nafplio has everything you would need for a political soap opera: treason, murder, backstabbing.

Should you go to Nafplio on a day trip from Athens or spend more time here?

Honestly, one day seems quite enough so it really depends on what you want to do and see. Aside from Palamidi, there’s another fortress called Bourtzi on a tiny islet. From what I’ve read it’s not possible to go there in the winter so we were out of luck, but in the summer there are small boats to this second Venetian fortress which served as a prison and is now Nafplio’s landmark.

The oldest fortress in Nafplio, however, is Akronafplia which you can see from Palamidi. Now if you’re really into forts you will need a whole day just to climb all three of Nafplio’s fortresses. You should definitely spend the night here in that case and spend the second day walking around the picturesque old town.

There are also archaeological sites close to Nafplio you may want to visit, so at the end of the day it really depends on how much of Nafplio and its surroundings you plan to see. One full day didn’t seem quite enough to me honestly, but on the other hand, I also don’t think I missed anything worth going back for.

My time exploring the history of Nafplio

So, as I said, we arrived late and didn’t get to see anything the first evening. We were going to spend the next one and a half days exploring the town, but due to the weather we really only had one full day. I’d definitely suggest more than one day, especially if you’re planning on climbing the fortresses while exploring Nafplio. If you only plan to walk through the town, a few hours will certainly be sufficient.

Because Nafplio’s town center is quite compact, it’s really easy to explore on foot. However, I’ve seen bike rentals as well which could be a lovely alternative in the warmer season.

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How to prepare for your trip to Nafplio

You have the option to either visit Nafplio on a day trip or spend one or more nights in the former Greek capital. Since Nafplio is a fairly popular tourist destination for Greeks, it has plenty of accommodation, but we decided to opt for an Airbnb again. Depending on how much time you will have in Nafplio, you may want to stay closer to the old town to be able to take in more of the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, public transport in Greece is not very efficient, so the only way to get to Nafplio from Athens is either by bus or by car, as there is no train connection. I would definitely suggest renting a car if you drive because the advantages are significant: If you are going for a longer trip you will want to explore the vicinity of Nafplio which will be so much easier with a car. At the same time, if you only come for a day you don’t want to be dependent on the bus schedule since you are already short on time. While taking a bus requires less effort on your part I truly believe that the best thing you can do is rent a car when you plan on exploring Nafplio.

nafplio old town greece evening travel

If you don’t drive you will need to take the bus, but in that case, it would be difficult to explore the surrounding villages. That’s not a problem though, Nafplio is interesting enough on its own.

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What else you should know about exploring Nafplio

Bring vegan food and snacks

As I’ve said over and over again, Greece is not a vegan-friendly country. As soon as you leave Athens, it becomes extremely difficult to find vegan food or even people who understand what vegan means. We accidentally stumbled upon a cute little falafel place in the Old Town that actually advertised vegan options. The two sisters working there were incredibly sweet, but to be honest, the falafel was mediocre at best so try to prepare yourself by bringing vegan snacks. Book accommodation that includes a kitchen so you can cook your own meals. These don’t need to be elaborate, it’s fine to just eat pasta for a day or two.

Wear comfortable shoes

You’re going to walk a lot and probably climb fortresses while exploring Nafplio so opt for comfortable, flat shoes. I went in the winter so I wore my winter boots. Now, I know you look fabulous in your heels but leave them at home, they will only make the trip more strenuous.

Check the hours

Make your sure to check the opening hours of the sites you’re interested in. Nothing would suck more than to make the trip to Nafplio from Athens only to find out that you can’t see half of the things you came for because they are already closed.

mediterranean sea greece bourtzi fortress nafplio

Buy bottled water

We were told by our Airbnb host to better not drink the tap water in Nafplio so you’re better off buying bottled water. Bottled water is very cheap in Greece so you can always buy more as you explore the town.

Bring a camera

There are so many wonderful views from Palamidi fortress alone! I took tons of pictures from the same spot because the sky and sea were so perfect that day that I felt like I was looking at a scene from a fantasy film. Furthermore, the architecture in the Old Town is really cute so you will definitely take lots of photos while exploring Nafplio.

To sum things up

sunset mediterranean sea greece nafplio

I’ve been living in Greece for a few years now and somehow never considered exploring Nafplio. I’m glad I finally did even though the town didn’t live up to my expectations. I had heard so many wonderful things about Greece’s former capital, and while it certainly is quaint and very interesting for its history I’m not sure I’d go back for another day trip. I do think that it’s essential to see it because of all the history, however, and I’m sure if you go in the warmer season it could be absolutely glorious.

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