Greece is a land of history, mystery and a whole lot of stunning scenery! When you think of Greece you automatically think of the Acropolis. And if you are not a history buff, maybe you think about the beautiful Cyclades islands of Mykonos and Santorini. But there is so much more to Greece than the islands and the capital city Athens. From archaeological sites to mountainous regions, from ancient churches and castles to stunningly beautiful blue waters – Greece has something for everyone.
If you plan to visit this historically rich country and want to avoid the usual Greece tourist destinations, read on. Here I share my tried and tested travel itinerary for a Greece road trip of a lifetime to the lesser-known Greek cities you must visit at least once in your lifetime.
Nafplion is located 137km west of Athens across the Corinth Canal and tops the list for less touristy Greek cities you must visit. With a population of only 33000, it is a small but very pretty sea-side town. It was once an important port for Greece, but not anymore. Typical of Greece, it has narrow, pedestrian-only roads lined with shopping and dining and is open till late in the evening. I had the best time just walking around and exploring its nooks and corners.
The Palamidi fort is a great place to visit while at Nafplion. It sits on top of a hill in the city and offers stunning views of the city and the Argolic Gulf. And I mean, STUNNING! When you enter the fort, make sure you keep going straight, all the way to the other end of the fort – where you will get a magnificent view of the gulf with mountains on the other side of the water.
Olympia is 300km away from Athens and its where the Olympic Games originated. You can visit the Archaeological site at Olympia and visit where the Olympic Games were first held in 8th century BC. Even today, the Olympic Torch is lit up here.
The town itself is small with a population of just about 14000 people. You can walk around most of it. Many tourists visit here for its archaeological site, and so you will find a few streets lined with shops with lots of Greek souvenirs.
We spent about 3 to 4 hours walking around the Archaeological site, so make sure you have time on your hands while visiting the place. It’s really quite large with so many things to see, including a museum. If you visit during the peak hours of the afternoon – make sure you carry plenty of water and are prepared for the heat with sunglasses, hat and breathable clothes.
Ioaninna is a magical place and another one of the Greek cities you must visit. It took a couple of tries just to pronounce it right, but we had a great guide to help us out with that! Ioaninna is located around 450km north of Athens. It has some stunning landscapes just at the outskirts of the city like the Vikos Gorge.
The city has a beautiful lake and within the lake a small island you can visit via a quick 10 minute boat ride. I was on the first boat out to the island and I got to see a lot of the shop owners travel with me and then run quickly to set up their shops! This was sometime between 9:30 and 10am. There are so many monasteries on this island, and if you want to see them all (I think a total of 7) you will need a few hours at least. I did not have that kind of time, so I just visited 2 monasteries and stopped at the Ali Pasha museum and then I got the boat back to Ioannina.
The Ioaninna Castle is another popular tourist attraction. The castle itself no longer stands, but the walls still stand strong. Within the walls, there are tons of buildings and hotels that you can live in and just walk around. There are also a few museums and mosques built at the edge of the castle complex. Do visit the silver museum… the silver jewelry and artwork is quite exquisite!
The city of Kalamata is not too popular with tourists, but is a city worth exploring if you like good food and an urban lifestyle. The city has a population of a little over 50,000 and is located 240km from Athens, in the Peloponnese region of Greece. It has a busy and important port in the Mediterranean sea and its famous for its Olives and Raisins.
An important tourist attraction near the city is the Temple of Apollo Epicurius which is a 2 hour drive from Kalamata. When I visited the temple, we went through a patch of very rough roads, which was very unusual as the roads overall had been quite smooth. Our guide later told us that the route from Kalamata is good – we had taken the back route coming in from Nafplio.
Delphi is a tiny little town with a population of less than 3000 people. But its filled with tourists all year around. It sits on top of a hill and has some spectacular views of the sea and landscapes around the area. It also has an important Archaeological site and was once upon a time believed to be the centre of the Earth by the ancient Greeks.
The archaeological site at Delphi is a climb – so make sure you are mentally prepared for it. I was quite exhausted by the end of it, because the entire city was made on a slope and you need to keep going up-hill to see various remains. At the top of the hill is a stadium, which is well restored. There are only 2-3 streets in the town and you can walk around easily and enjoy some good local cuisine and shopping.
The 2nd most populated city in Greece is Thessaloniki which is located 500km north of Athens near Macedonia. It was once the capital of Macedonia and later became a free city. The city is filled with monuments from the Byzantine era and is filled with interesting history. It is also a sea-side city and is one of the largest seaports in Greece. You will need to use public transport or rent a vehicle to explore this city, as it is quite big. Check out the Ladadika area for some traditional taverns and to enjoy the full Greek experience of food and music.
Just about 200km to the east of Athens is Patras, the third largest city in Greece with a population of 160,000. The city overlooks the Gulf of Patras on one side and has the towering Mount Panachaikon on another. The city’s Rio-Antirio Bridge connects the Peloponnese region with the Greece mainland.
Patras is a popular University town and so has a large student population. Some tourist attractions you will find here include the Roman Odeon, Patras Castle and the Lighthouse. There’s also some very picturesque towns nearby like Nafpaktos and Achaea that are definitely worth visiting.
Greek cities you must visit road trip itinerary
I did a 18-day trip to Greece and it was one of my most memorable holidays! My itinerary included a few other stops as well, but if you are looking to cover the cities mentioned above, the best way to do it would be to start the road trip from Athens and move west into the Peloponnese region – first stop being Nafplio. After Nafplio, stop at Kalamata and move upwards covering Olympia and Patras. From Patras you cross over to the northern side of the Greece mainland and you can stop at Ioannina. Then move north-east to Thessaloniki and finally come downwards to Delphi and finally back to Athens.
With this, you would have covered quite a bit of Greek land. I hope you enjoyed my picks of the lesser-known Greek cities you must visit and you’re inspired to explore Greece beyond Athens and Mykonos.
More cool things to do in Greece
Enjoy this? Pin & Share!
You might also like: Top 25 Europe Travel Adventures
Traveling to Greece? Check out these Greece Travel Tips
Disclosure: Support Jetset Bunny by using the links in our articles. When you click on a link we may receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you).