Want to know Greece’s history – Visit these 15 places

by Michael Gimm Holdensen

The Peloponnese plays a key role in Greece’s history and it is a region separate from mainland Greece. It lies south of Attica and the Corinth Canal, where we spent November 2021, and branches out into something resembling a four-fingered hand to the south. There are three main cities in the Peloponnese called Kalamata, Nafplio and Patras.

The whole area has been subject to various empires over time. In “recent times”, these are the Byzantine Empire (following the Roman Empire), the Venetian Republic (Venice) and the Ottoman Empire (the Turks).

Peloponnese has it all. Great beaches with crystal clear water, small villages and endless archaeological sites where you can discover the greek history.

Methoni Castle in Peloponnese

Methoni Castle – the picture was taken from the beach.

Back to the Peloponnese – Greece History part II

Coming back to Peloponnese and once again diving into Greece history after touring around Crete all of March. We drove from east to south and then west and north – all the way around the Peloponnese. 

We knew that the Peloponnese was famous for its beautiful beaches and exciting history of everything from gods and the Olympic Games. To mountains, caves, ancient ruins and love of olive oil, wine and seafood. Plenty to see and do. Luckily we had enough time to experience more than most.

This post will review our favourite experiences and the best sights in the Peloponnese, in terms of Greece’s history and in general. Read along and find inspiration for your next trip.

view from Monemvasia in Peloponnese

Walking up the stairs in Monemvasia and a marvelous view to the venetian style houses.

The 15 most significant experiences in Peloponnese

On our trip around the Peloponnese, our top experiences, in geographical order, are listed below. At the bottom of this post, you will find a map with the locations.

  1. Corinth Canal
  2. Mycenae
  3. Epidaurus
  4. Nafplio
  5. Monemvasia
  6. Elafonisos
  7. Tenaro Lighthouse
  8. Caves of Diros
  9. Mystras and Sparta, as well as an Olive Museum
  10. Kalamata
  11. The Olive Routes – Olive tour
  12. Polylimnio Waterfalls (alternatively Neda Waterfalls)
  13. Koroni’s Castle and Methoni Castle
  14. Voidokilia Beach
  15. Olympia

Corinth Canal, Mycenae and Epidaurus

We toured the upper half of the Peloponnese in November 2021, staying at the Corinth Canal. Including the Corinth area, Mycenae and Epidaurus. They are a must-see when experiencing the ancient Peloponnese and Greece history. You can read more about why in my post about winter sun holidays in ancient Greece.

Nafplio harbour in Peloponnese Greece

Nafplio harbour. You can spot the Palamidi fortress on the hill in the back of this photo. One of the most romantic towns in Peloponnese.

Nafplio

On our first visit to the Peloponnese, we stopped in Nafplio. It was raining a bit that day, so we didn’t really get to go into town and didn’t experience it. We did next time, and thankfully for that. 

Nafplio is a beautiful and authentic city in the northeastern Peloponnese that was once the capital of Greece. You’ll find everything from charming little streets to a beautiful harbour area and a Venetian fortress.

The city was voted one of the most romantic cities in Greece several times, which is easy to see. It is also said that Nafplio was founded by the son and daughter of the sea god Poseidon.

Old town square in Nafplio

The old town square in Nafplio.

What to see in Nafplio?

The Old Town

Take a walk around the old town and experience the atmosphere of its many fine and charming streets.

Palamidi Fortress

If you have strong legs, you can take the long walk from the city up 999 steps to the top of the Venetian build, Palamidi Fortress. An impressive building from the early 19th century.

We weren’t able to walk up there ourselves with a three-year-old daughter. But if you are up for it, the reward should be the most beautiful view in the whole area.

As an alternative to the walk, you can drive to the Parking area, which is not too far from the entrance. 

The Arvanitia path in Nafplio

Coming from the harbour on the north side, this is the first part of the Arvantia path. A beautiful walk.

The Arvanitia path and the beautiful harbour area

Once at the port, take a walk along the path called Arvanitia. You can start from the Parking area on the southeast side and end at the restaurants. Or do it like us and park on the north side and finish by a lovely little beach at the Parking area.

It’s an easy walk along an old paved path, which is just next to the water, with a nice view over the sea.

On the walk along the harbour, you can also see the lighthouse and Bourtzi Castle. The latter is located on a small island you can sail to. It was built around 1471 as a defence against pirates but later used as a prison, among other things. In recent times, a music festival was held on the island. How cool is that!

Monemvasia in eastern Greece

Amazing Monemvasia! Imagine a town on top of this rock.

Monemvasia

You arrive in Monemvasia, crossing the artificial bridge from the town of Gefira. The view of Monemvasia from the Gefira side is stunning. It looks like a huge mountain that cannot be climbed, with a building on top.

Monemvasia is another acropolis (a city located on high ground) in the Peloponnese. But unlike most others, it is a city where people still live. It has been renovated, and you will find cafes, restaurants, small shops and accommodation.

At the top of the rock is the ancient Acropolis, which consists of a mixture of ruins and well-preserved buildings. You need strong legs to walk to the top, but we all managed. The view from there is magnificent.

Elafonisos island in Peloponnese

Unknown to many, but a little piece of paradise. A tiny island in the southern Peloponnese.

Elafonisos Island in Southern Peloponnese

Located in some of the southernmost parts of Peloponnese Greece, is Elafonisos. It’s a small island you have to sail to, and I would venture to say that very few people outside Greece have heard of it. It’s a little piece of paradise.

There is a campsite on the island where we wanted to stay but it was not open yet. Instead, we found a place by the beach to spend the night outdoors.

The next day we went for a walk on the beach. If you visit this part of Peloponnese, you must visit Simos Beach. Lovely soft sand and water as blue and clear as in a pool. I don’t think it gets much better than this.

You can bring your car with the ferry, and the trip is no more than 15 minutes. The price for the ferry was 18 euros for our VW California and five people (2022 prices).

Tenaro area is vital to Greece History

Tenaro Lighthouse. An important part of Spartan and Greece History.

Lighthouse Tenaro

On another southern tip of the Greek Peloponnese, you will find the Tenaro Lighthouse. It’s not just any lighthouse, and you’ll have to put in some effort to get there. It’s a very important place in Greece’s history.

The lighthouse itself is of more recent date, but the whole area has been essential to the Spartans for thousands of years. The reason for this is that the Spartans believed that their souls travelled to Hades (the underworld) when they died.

The way to Hades was through Cape Tenaro, “the end of the world”, where the lighthouse is today. The Spartans believed that at the end of the cliff was an entrance to Hades.

The walk to Tenaro is about 2 km on reasonably flat but uneven terrain. It’s a great walk, and you feel you’re at the end of the world when you get there. Nothing but an endless blue sea.

Caves of Diros

The Caves of Diros. Some of the biggest stalactite caves in the world, and at least in Greece.

Caves of Diros

The dripstone caves are located on the same “finger” as Tenaro in Peloponnese Greece. They are the largest caves in Greece, and you can sail inside them with a tour guide or walk around a small part of the area on foot.

The caves were naturally created hundreds of thousands of years ago when the sea level was much lower. Today, there is 80 meters of deep water in some places where the guided tour sails, even though it is right on the coast. Quite wild.

Unfortunately, we only got the small walking tour on our own as the caves were being restored. But it should be pretty cool with the boat tour.

King Leonidas of Sparta

King Leonidas of Sparta. Remember Leonidas and the 300? This is the guy!

Sparta, Mystras and an Olive Museum

I’m a big fan of the movie 300, with the story of Sparta, as well as King Leonidas and his 300 Spartan warriors. The movie and the history tell that the Spartans were different from other Greeks.

Before Sparta collapsed, their culture was centred around discipline and loyalty to the state. Boys started their military training at the age of seven.

Women were not part of the military, but unlike elsewhere in Greece, they could educate themselves and were much more liberated.

The Spartans, however, were no better than their fellow Greeks in the matter of slavery. For all Spartans to serve in the military, the Helots (slaves of Sparta) had to do all the manual work.

What to see in Sparta?

You must visit the statue of Leonidas in Sparta, and you can see ancient Sparta on the outskirts of the city.

However, the most significant experience in Sparta itself was their olive museum. It’s one of several in Greece. It gives you a good understanding of how vital the Greek olive tree is and always has been to the Peloponnese.

Otherwise, Sparta is a rather dull city and not very charming, in my opinion.

Mystras near Sparta

Mystras. The most exciting part of Sparta.

Mystras

About 6 km from Sparta is Mystras, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a lot more exciting – a city built at an altitude of 620 metres around 1249.

The town was inhabited until the 19th century, and it is quite well preserved as the buildings are continuously restored.

Depending on how far (and high) you want to walk, there are various parking options. We were pressed for time, so we drove up to the highest point at the entrance and parked. There is a pretty nice view of the city from here.

Kalamata-1821-poster

Kalamata

Kalamata is located in a bay facing the sea in the south. It is the second-largest city in the Peloponnese after Patras in the north and the largest municipality in the Peloponnese. The quickest way to get here is by plane to Kalamata Airport.

Although it passes for the largest municipality in the Peloponnese, with its 60,000 inhabitants, it is not a very large city. Maybe that’s also why it feels like such a lovely town.

Much of what you can experience is centred around the old town. There are good places to shop, eat and relax.

Most people have probably heard of Kalamata olives, which is perhaps what the town is best known for. 

Kalamata market place

Some chickens from the food market. We almost ended up with some in our car.

What to see in Kalamata?

  1. Kalamata Open Market – a huge food market.
  2. Kalamata Railway Park – a pleasant park built around an exhibition of old trains.
  3. The old town of Kalamata – pretty streets, shops and little cafes and tavernas.

You must experience their food market, with fresh fruits and vegetables, lots of olive products and small chickens (alive). The latter almost resulted in us driving around with chickens in the car. They were pretty adorable. 

Kalamata Railway Park

One of the many trains in the Railway Park in Kalamata.

If you’re travelling with kids our age, take a walk past their Railway Park. It’s an open and free exhibition of trains from 1885-to 1947. The park is centred around the trains but with several playgrounds, walking trails and cafes – an excellent area for families.

The old town is another area you must visit. There are small streets, lovely local shops with delicacies, and lots of other good stuff.

The above is quite close to each other and you can easily walk between them. We did it with Carla, aged three, without trouble.

The Olive Routes Kids Experience

A wonderful day with Dimitra and her Olive Routes Tour.

The Olive Routes – A story of olives and Greek food for children

Rie and I love olives and both Emma and Carla eat some of the varieties too. Liva doesn’t like them yet, but we’re trying to teach her as olives are a great delicacy!

After visiting the Olive Museum and learning a lot about its history and the importance of the olive fruit, we decided to visit The Olive Routes – but at a child’s level. We booked the Kids Olive – Love Experience tour, one of several experiences they offer. Our host and guide was Dimitra, who was just amazing!

Stimulating your senses with food and drinks from southern Peloponnese

We cooked dishes from the Greek kitchen with the kids in focus and tasted Greek specialities and olive oil. We even went to a museum in the building and also did some creative things.

For the adults, there was Greek coffee and some wine and Uzo, besides the food. It was a great experience!

The only thing I personally missed was a little more talk about olives and olive production, but you get that on one of the other tours they offer. On the other hand, we could ask Dimitria about anything. She has a vast knowledge of olives and olive oil, among other things, from her job as a tasting judge.

If you visit the area, I would definitely recommend you to visit her place.

Polylimnio Waterfall in Peloponnese

Family photo from the Polylimnio Waterfall. After walking all the way from the parking lot it was time for a cold swim.

Polylimnio Waterfalls (alternatively Neda Waterfalls)

There are several waterfalls in the area, and we decided to spend a day visiting Polylimnio Waterfalls. However, we also heard that Neda Waterfalls is supposed to be a great experience.

As is often the case in Greece, the local signs and Google maps don’t quite agree on the best route, so we ended up at the “wrong” end of the waterfall first.

It was pretty nice also, but not what we had in mind. So we drove back and followed the Greek signs to the right place.

The route from the parking lot to the waterfall is about 2 km. There are several small waterfalls and smaller pools on the way to the big waterfall. It’s all beautiful but overshadowed by the grand finale, at the great waterfall at the end of your walk.

Emma in the cold water at Polylimnio Waterfalls

Emma in one of the ponds.

To get to the end, you’ll need to wear proper footwear. Also, make sure you have your swimsuit and a good dose of courage to jump into the cold water – because it IS cold! 

Emma and I did take a few swims, but it was only for a few quick laps before we crawled back ashore. The day was an excellent experience for all of us.

Koroni's Castle in Peloponnese

Koroni’s Castle as it looks from the parking lot at the harbour.

Koroni’s Castle and Methoni Castle

There are several castles and castle ruins in the area. Of these, the two most impressive are Koroni’s Castle and Methoni Castle. Each is situated on its own point on the “finger” of the Peloponnese that is located furthest to the southwest. Methoni Castle dates from the 4th century and Koroni’s Castle from the 7th century.

As is characteristic of most Peloponnese, both castles bear the mark of the changing rulers who have conquered them over time. First, the Byzantines and later the Venetians and the Ottoman Empire. They all added something extra to the castles while they had them.

Both castles came back into Greek hands in 1828-1829 during the Greek War of Independence, after the Battle of Navarino. An important period of Greece’s history.

Methoni Castle in Peloponnese

Our favourite castle in Peloponnese. Methoni castle seen from Bourtzi island.

Which castle to see in the Peloponnese?

We visited both castles on two different days, and I highly recommend it. They are both exceptionally well maintained and it’s great to wander around and imagine what it was once like.

If I had to choose one of the two, it would be Methoni Castle. At this place, you walk on the great grounds inside the castle. You can also walk along the sides and look down into the abyss. At the end of the court, you walk across a stone bridge and out to a small island called Bourtzi. It is an addition to the castle from around 1500 that served as a prison, among other things.

Carla running at Voidokilia Beach

Carla up for a run on paradise-like Voidokilia Beach.

Voidokilia Beach

There are beautiful beaches all over the Peloponnese in Greece, and I could have written a post just about them. However, Voidokilia Beach had to be included.

We went there because it was geographically convenient to the things we wanted to drive to in the area. That is, we went to the Erodios Beach campground near Pylos. From there, we could take the car or walk to Voidokilia Beach.

The beach itself is in a lagoon and looks like the most beautiful picture you could find in a travel magazine. It has the finest and softest sand and completely turquoise and clear water – paradise!

If it’s not too windy, it should be perfect for Paddleboards. But otherwise, it should be great for snorkelling too.

wadden sea area walk to Voidokilia Beach

This area is so beautiful. You can cross it on your way to Voidokilia Beach on foot. It’s a 7 km easy walk.

One day, we went out there, Emma and I walking, and the rest drove. We then swapped on the way back home (except Carla). From the campsite, it’s about 7 km of flat terrain, through a Wadden sea area, with lots of birds and fish jumping across the water. A lovely walk.

Be aware that it’s a bit difficult to drive there if you drive a big car. The last part of the road is relatively narrow.

Olympia in Peloponnese

The Philippieion was dedicated to Zeus by Philip II of Macedon and completed by his son, Alexander the Great.

Olympia – Valley of the Gods

The last place on this list is Olympia. Essential to Greece’s history and not to be confused with Olympus, Greece’s highest mountain at 2,918 metres – where the Greek gods lived. 

Mount Olympus, by the way, is in northern Greece – not in Peloponnese.

Olympia was the place where the Greek gods, especially Zeus, were celebrated. They did so every four years with the Olympic Games. The first time was in 776 B.C. and until 393 A.D. In 1896, the Olympics were revived in Athens.

The Greeks have always fought each other, but up to and during the Olympic Games, there was supposed to be a truce. Otherwise, they would be punished by the gods

Olympia consists of a large archaeological site with various temples, a few museums and more or less preserved ruins from ancient Greece. In addition, there is the original Olympic stadium – or at least the entrance to it – and a track on which all us tourists run.

The Gimms running at the Olympics

One of the first three games at the Olympics was running at THIS field. Naturally, we had to try it ourselves.

The site has great historical significance and also great symbolic importance for the Olympic Games of today. It is the place where the Olympic torch is lit by the sun’s rays and transported all the way to where the Games are held.

Despite its rather unfortunate origins in Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics, this tradition has been maintained.

Dimitrios Shipwreck

The “Dimitrios Shipwreck” known as a Ghost Ship is actually a Danish ship by the name of Klintholm. Worth a visit if you are visiting the Southern Peloponnese.

Considering exploring some Greece history on your own?

You should! But prioritise, as there is so much to experience. We were in the Peloponnese for a total of 70 days and saw a lot, but far from everything. It was awesome, beautiful, inspiring and very educational.

I hope you’ve learned a bit too by reading along here? Please leave a comment and don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter if you haven’t already.

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Thanks for taking your time to read this post 😀

Peloponnes April – Maj 2022

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