The Peloponnese peninsula offers everything you come to Greece for: stunning beaches and sea views, charming cobblestone streets, ancient ruins, and delicious food—but it’s less crowded and less costly than more popular Greek destinations.
When you think of Greece, you likely picture the white-washed dwellings on the dramatic cliffs of Santorini, the ancient Parthenon overlooking bustling Athens, or the glamorous party island of Mykonos. But there’s so much more to experience—we spent three weeks drifting and driving around this Mediterranean paradise, and our time on the Peloponnese peninsula was one of the top highlights. Why?
1. Nafplio/Nafplion: One of the Most Romantic Cities in Greece
You only need to drive a couple of hours away from Athens to reach the magical coastal city of Nafplio. We’d never heard of it until Greek friends told us about it, and indeed, most of the tourists there seemed to be Greek or Italian.
If you’re not afraid of stairs, you’ll enjoy staying at one of the many charming and well-appointed pensions stacked on the hillside in the quaint old city. (We stayed at the splendid Aethra Boutique Rooms for around €100 a night and loved our breakfasts in its courtyard full of lemon and orange trees.)
Head down to the eateries in lively Syntagma Square or one of the restaurants right by the water, with their catch of the day on display over ice. We had incredible meals with the freshest, most flavourful fish, mussels, squid, and pasta, alongside inventive salads with figs, oranges and capers.
TLW Tips: if possible, share your meals with your dining companions as the portions tend to be generous, and then you’ll have room for delightful appetizers like dill-saturated zucchini balls. Oh, and don’t forget dessert, like the complimentary melt-in-your-mouth panna cotta with sour cherry sauce we inhaled after our delectable shrimp saganaki at Bounos. Did we also have gelato that night at one of the many superb gelaterias in town? Of course!
On your way out of town, don’t miss the Thyme Restaurant and Bar for a gourmet dining experience brought to you by a gracious Greek-British father & son duo in an unassuming neighbourhood. We shared the pork fillet, mushroom risotto, thyme salad and lemon tart with a couple of glasses of wine for less than €40—we’re still talking about this delicious meal weeks later.
Don’t worry, you can walk off those calories the next day by heading up the 999 steps to Palamidi, the ancient Venetian castle that overlooks the old city—the view is worth it (and you can also drive up there). The host at our pension helped us hire a private tour guide for €80 to show us around and tell us about the “murder holes” where guards would pour hot oil or water onto intruders below, among other more important historical facts. There’s also photogenic Bourtzi, the Venetian fortress only accessible by boat, visible from the harbour.
Take a stroll on the 1km Arvanitia Promenade an hour or two before sunset to enjoy the golden-hour light on the cactus-covered rocky cliff on one side of the path and pristine turquoise waters on the other side. You’ll likely walk by a few locals fishing for sardines and other small fish they throw to the sweet stray cats huddled around them.
Are there good beaches nearby? Absolutely! This is Greece, after all. Head to Arvanitia, Karathanos, Nea Kios, Miloi or Kiveri to rest after all that walking.
2. Koroni and Methoni - Small Coastal Towns with Big Castles
In southwestern Peloponnese, you’ll find the “Eyes of Venice” also known as the castles of Koroni and Methoni, about 30 minutes apart by car.
Explore Ancient Castles
The 13th-century Venetian castles in these two towns were strategically located to keep watch over the surrounding waters. For a fee, you can go inside Methoni’s castle, which is considered by many to be one of the best Venetian castles to visit in Greece. Entering Koroni’s castle walls is free, and it has the unique distinction of containing a monastery and homes that are currently inhabited.
The vibe in these towns is decidedly low-key, but you’ll find a good variety of seafood restaurants, patisseries, cafes and souvenir shops along the waterfront streets. We stayed in Koroni for two days and were charmed by its cobblestone streets and stairways winding through bougainvillea-adorned homes and shops. We had a spectacular but rocky beach to ourselves one afternoon, right below the castle. (Though we could have gone further down the shore to a sandier beach with loungers, umbrellas and cocktails on demand.) We stayed at the budget-friendly Diana Hotel right by the water, for €50 a night—our room was small but clean, and run by a friendly father & son team.
How’s the food? In 2010, the Mediterranean diet was listed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list, and Greece, Croatia, Cyprus, Italy, Morocco, Portugal and Spain each chose a flagship city to represent their country on this list. Greece chose Koroni for its traditional food cultivation and cuisine (including lots of fresh seafood, rooster served with tomato sauce and hilopites noodles, and Messinian kayiana: eggs with tomato and cured meat). The city has a lively food festival every summer to celebrate the Mediterranean diet. There’s also a thriving cultural scene, with festivals to celebrate the arts as well.
Festivals aside, if you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle, this region will win you over with its special, quiet magic and stunning sea views.
3. Mycenae, Mystras and Olympia: Impressive Ancient Ruins
If you’re a history buff, you’ll relish the opportunity to explore the Peloponnese’s ancient sites of god and goddess worship and ornate medieval Byzantine castles and churches.
See where the Olympic games began back in 776 BCE, and marvel at the history of this ancient pagan religious site, built to honour Zeus. While walking around the site, we listened to this audio guide which provided entertaining and enlightening commentary about the rituals, sacrifices, debauchery and squalor that spectators once enjoyed and endured here while watching athletes race and wrestle their way to glory. Fun fact: Athletes who were caught bribing judges or otherwise cheating, often paid hefty fines to pay for bronze statues of Zeus at Olympia that served as warnings to future competitors.
Amid lush green hills, you’ll find the famed fortified city of Mycenae, dating back to the 7th century BC. It played an important role in classical Greek culture. According to myth, Zeus’s son Perseus instructed the Cyclops to build this bronze-age city with massive stones that no human could lift. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, it features the ruins of an acropolis, a palace and a series of tombs as well as the impressive Lion Gate guarding the entrance.
Some ruins are more, well, ruined than others. Partly due to age, of course, but also from the collateral damages of wars or intentional destruction by conquerors. Mystras, however, is largely, breathtakingly intact. Built in 1249, this medieval Byzantine city sprawls down a verdant hill from a fortress at the top. Once the centre of Byzantine power, the architecture, churches and art here were highly influential. You can wander freely into abandoned buildings here and marvel at the fading frescoes on church walls. There are two ticketed entrances to the site: one at the bottom and one further up the hill that you can drive to if you want to save some steps, though if you’re up for a hike, there are spectacular views the whole way up.
Honourable Mentions: We also visited the Theatre of Epidaurus—one of the most well-preserved ancient theatres—as well as ancient Sparta, Corinth, and Tiryns. We missed Argo, Messene and many others. If you’re a serious ruin enthusiast, they all have something to offer.
TLW Tips: arrive as early in the morning as possible and bring a fan if you’re visiting ruins in the heat of summer or early fall. Oh, and don’t miss the museums at these ancient sites, particularly at Olympia and Mycenae. Not only will you enjoy the air-conditioned comfort after exploring shadeless ruins, you’ll also appreciate seeing the priceless artifacts and statues that have been unearthed at these sites.
Jasmine DeMarcos is a writer and life coach who is always keen to travel and connect with locals, experience unfamiliar cuisine and sights, and learn about life in countries that prioritize relationships, culture and sensory delights.