Road Trip Peloponnese Peninsula – What to visit in the Peloponnese in Greece
Route Road Trip Peloponnese:
Isthmus of Corinth – Megalopolis – Ancient Megalopolis – Karytaina – Elliniko – Vasta (Agia Theodora Church) – Beach Kalo Nero – Elea Beach – Stemnitsa – Lousios Gorge – Mycenae – Ancient Nemea – Nafplio
Our Peloponnese Tour
During the summer holidays, we headed for the Greek peninsula called the Peloponnese in southern Greece. We were invited by close friends to join the engagement party of their daughter in Megalopoli, a small town in the Peloponnesian district of Arcadia with a history that goes back to antiquity (ancient Megalopolis).
It’s a long drive from northern Greece to Megalopoli (we were staying close to Thessaloniki) and it took us almost eight hours by car, but the roads were very good and we had some exciting views and enjoyable stops along the way.
Not only did we visit our friends though, we also made a road trip in the Peloponnese and we encountered a region of unrivaled beauty with dense forests, high mountains, fertile valleys, wild flowers, pristine beaches, coves and mythical caves, crystal clear blue waters, fortresses and castles, countless remote traditional Greek villages and exquisite Greek food.
We did some planning ahead for our Peloponnese road trip, mainly because we had to book some accommodations upfront otherwise it would be very difficult to stay there during high season Greece.
Before we turn to a more detailed account of the places we visited during our road trip in the Peloponnese, you will read some general information about the Peloponnese Peninsula in southern Greece.
Historical monuments in the Peloponnese Peninsula – Greece
If you are planning a road trip in Greece, making a road trip in the Peloponnese, the southernmost part of mainland Greece, will awaken all your senses.
This area of Greece of almost 22,000 square kilometers (8,320 sq mi), has the highest concentration of archaeological sites and some of the most ancient historical sites of Greece. Some are world renowned places like Mycenae (because of King Agamemnon), Olympia (the birthplace of the Olympic Games) and Epidaurus (the most important healing center in classical Greece).
By “ancient” we mean “real ancient”, places where about 3000 years BC, kings and queens lived in palaces and societies existed. In the Peloponnese, you can visit Mycenae and Tiryns, the remains of such an ancient Greek civilization, much older than the Greek monuments in Athens. If you are looking for even older archaeological sites, you are also being served in the Peloponnese. There are some sites, like Lerna, where you can admire remains that date back to prehistoric times!
While the Peloponnese has become world famous because of Mycenae, Agamemnon, the legends about the Trojan War and the archaeological site of Olympia, there are countless other Greek monuments scattered throughout the Peloponnese Peninsula, each of it with its own place and time in Greek history.
For example, close to the town of Pylos in the district of Messinia are the remains of the best preserved Mycenaean palace, Nestor’s palace, named after the legendary ruler of Pylos.
Another treasure, hidden in the district of Argolis, not far from Nafplio, is Lerna. This is one of the oldest settlements in Greece which was inhabited from the new stone age until the Mycenaean era. Though the road that leads to the archaeological site of Lerna is hard to spot and makes it hard to believe this is one of the most important prehistoric places in Greece, it is an impressive settlement with houses and narrow roads.
For families with kids visiting Athens we created the blog post 50 Things to do in Athens with Kids with many inspiring and relaxing activities.
To visit all these archaeological sites you will need to spend a lifetime in the Peloponnese. That’s why it’s wise, when planning your road trip in the Peloponnese, to read up on the history and mythology of a particular place and decide thereafter which place you definitely want to visit.
Map Peloponnese – Road Trip Peloponnese
The Liberation of the Turks
The Peloponnese was the center of revolution against the Turks who had conquered the region in 1460. The Greek War of Independence started in the Peloponnese when Greek insurgents took control over Kalamata, an important city in the Peloponnese, on March 23. 1821. Soon the Peloponnese was under Greek control and the Turkish population either fled or was killed.
Unfortunately, in 1824 a civil war started among rivaling Greek insurgents, and this opened the way for the invasion of Turkish-Egyptian troops in 1825. The fighting and devastation was so intense that the UK, France and Russians intervened to help the Greeks.
In 1827, off the coast at Pylos, the Battle of Navarino was fought and the Turkish-Egyptian fleet was defeated.
The Peloponnesian city of Nafplio became the first capital of independent Greece and Kapodistrias its first president. When he was murdered in Nafplio in 1831, Greece was turned into a monarchy and the assigned King Otto moved Greece’s capital to Athens.
Enthusiasts of Greek history, mythology and archaeology will enjoy holidays in the Peloponnese, and nature lovers will embrace this Greek region with all their heart. Mountain ranges with lush green vegetation cover most of the Peloponnese. Beautiful hiking trails run through the mountains, valleys, and traditional Greek mountain villages, like one of Europe’s best hiking trails, the Menalon Trail in Arcadia.
If that isn’t enough, the Peloponnese Peninsula is surrounded by a 1,200 kilometers coastline with the clearest waters, pristine beaches, secluded coves, and romantic fishing villages you can imagine. Many of the Peloponnesian beaches are turtle breeding places where, if you are lucky, can spot the famous Greek turtle, the Caretta caretta, or at least their protected nests.
Greek Monuments in the Peloponnese
You will find hundreds of castles, fortresses, medieval towers, monasteries, and Byzantine churches in the Peloponnese. Actually, there are so many, that it is impossible to visit them all.
An overview of historic Greek buildings (castles, fortresses, monasteries, and towers) for the Peloponnesian regions of Laconia, Arcadia, Corinthia, Argolis, and Messinia you can find here. A list of the Greek monuments in the Peloponnesian regions of Eleia (or Elis) and Achaea you will find at this page. Notice that this list doesn’t include the ancient Greek monuments!
Technically the Peloponnese Peninsula is an island since the Corinth Canal was constructed in 1893. This 6,4 km (4 mi) canal separates the Peloponnese region from mainland Greece and connects the Gulf of Corinth in the Ionian Sea with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. At the Isthmus of Corinth, it’s very small with 300 ft high steep limestone walls, making the passing of ships through it a true spectacle.
Road Trip Peloponnese – Athens to Peloponnese
There are two ways to get from mainland Greece to the Peloponnese by car. Closest to Athens is the passage across the Corinth Canal, nearby the city of Corinth. The distance from Athens to the Isthmus of Corinth is about 76 km. To the southwest of mainland Greece, nearby the city of Nafpaktos, the modern Rio-Antirrio Bridge takes you across the Corinth Canal to the capital of the Peloponnese, Patra. The Rio-Antirrio Bridge is one of the world’s longest multi-span cable-stayed bridges with a total length of almost three kilometers (1.8 mi).
Road Trip Peloponnese – Our Peloponnese Tour
Day 1 & Day 2
We arrived from northern Greece in Megalopoli after an eight-hour drive. After Tripoli, Megalopoli is the largest city of the Peloponnese region of Arcadia and it has an impressive history.
It was founded in 371 BC and was one of the most important and influential cities of that time. Nowadays, it’s a small town which economy is mainly driven by a power plant and the mining of lignite.
The town has plenty of little shops, some supermarkets, and two or three small hotels. It has a big square in the center of town surrounded by cafes, kafeneios, and taverns.
We had lunch at the main square of the town, and it was very comfortable in the shade of the trees and umbrellas. We passed our time by looking at older Greek men playing tafli and Greek women going in and outside the shops doing their groceries.
In summer, every night, when the temperature drops, the terraces fill with people, drinking a coffee, and children playing at the square.
The first night of our stay, a well-known Greek singer was performing on a stage at the square. Hundreds of people were dancing and having a great time. Megalopolis might not be a beautiful town and it might not be one of the best places to visit in Greece, but it certainly is a lively Greek town with a lot of positive vibes.
The Greek engagement ceremony we attended revolved mainly around food and dance, and it was not until dawn that we arrived at our hotel.
The Ancient Greek Ruins of Megalopolis
Being in Megalopoli, we had to visit the archaeological site of the ancient city of Megalopoli, which is only three kilometers away from the modern town.
We saw the remains of what once was the largest theater of ancient Greece of that time (the end of the 4th century BC). At least that is what they told us.
We went there during the hottest time of the day, with a temperature of at least 37 degrees, which we regretted. The place doesn’t have much shade, so if you go visit this ancient site, try to go early in the morning. It’s open daily from 08.00 a.m. to 03.00 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays closed.
The historical site of Megalopolis is named Megalis Poleos and is located along the road that leads from Megalopolis to Karytaina. You can read more on ancient Megalopolis, which once was such an enormous and influential city >> Ancient Megalopolis
Fairytale Karytaina on Road Trip Peloponnese
After two days we decided we had seen enough of Megalopoli, and we were longing for Greek mountains, nature, and traditional settlements. We headed for Karytaina only twenty minutes away.
The road that crosses the valley of Megalopoli is in perfect condition. The flat landscape is pretty boring until suddenly an enormous rock appears in the distance. As we came nearer we saw the Greek flag waving at the top of the rock and a Medieval castle gazed over the valley. Dozens of traditional houses and churches are scattered below the castle.
The sudden beauty of this place is almost unreal. I understood we had discovered another hidden gem in the Peloponnese and I couldn’t wait to drive up the rock to explore the village.
It turned out to be a medieval town and not much is known about its history before the rule of the Franks. The Frenchman and baron Geoffroy de Briel had the castle built here on top of the village in 1245, at an altitude of 600 m. I wrote a post on this place >> Karytaina
After strolling around for a couple of hours, admiring the beautiful buildings and views and having a coffee, we drive to the nearby village of Elliniko. We would have loved to stay the night in Karytaina, but as we hadn’t booked accommodation in advance, the few ones available were all taken.
Visit to Agia Theodora Church in Vasta Greece on our Road Trip Peloponnese
The next morning we leave the beautiful mountain village of Elliniko behind and head for Vastas, because we were eager to see the miraculous church of Theodora.
To get from Elliniko to Vastas it’s only 35 km, but it takes around one hour to get there. Vastas, also in the Peloponnese region of Arcadia, lies on a mountainside at a height of 850 m.
The little church outside the village is called miraculous because 17 oak trees with a height of 30 m grow through the roof of the tiny stone chapel, while there are no traces of tree roots. The trees appear to be growing right out of the tiled roof.
You can read more about this miraculous church and its legend in the blogpost >> Agia Theodora Church.
Beach of Kalo Nero – Messinia – Turtle Beach Greece
Because there is not much of interest besides this little chapel, we head for our next destination, the beach of Kalo Nero at the west coast of the Peloponnese. It’s time for the beach. We have been sweating enough the last couple of days, and we can’t wait to plunge into the Ionian Sea.
It takes us a little over an hour to get there from Vastas. We have left the region Arcadia behind us and are in the Peloponnese region of Messinia.
The beach of Kalo Nero has a length of 14 km and is after the island of Zakynthos the most important breeding area of the Caretta-Caretta sea-turtle in the Mediterranean. At the beach we see many places being shielded and marked with signs that say “Attention! Monitored Nest! Please do not disturb!”
Even though it’s a protected area, there are lots of things to do because it’s such a huge beach. People are surfing, snorkeling, and playing beach volley. There are taverns and beach bars along the beach. We stay for about an hour on the beach, mostly swimming in the crystal clear waters, and after a short walk to the small village of Kalo Nero, we drive to our hotel 6 km north of Kalo Nero.
Staying at the Natura Club Hotel & Spa, which we had booked upfront, turned out to be a perfect choice. It’s not at the beach, actually it’s pretty remote, but from our balcony we had the best view over the Ionian Sea and the surrounding olive groves and mountains, and breathtaking sunsets.
To get to the infinite local beaches you will have to take the car, but it’s very nearby, they are really quiet, the sea is turquoise blue, and if you are lucky you will see a Caretta-Caretta.
Elea Beach – Best Beaches Peloponnese
The next day, before leaving the west coast of the Peloponnese, we decide to visit the nearby beach of Elea, of which we had heard that it is one of the best beaches of the Peloponnese. It turns out to be only 5 km to the north of our hotel, so we have to check it out.
Indeed, it is a magnificent beach with golden sand and backdropped by pine tree forests. It’s the most northern beach of the Messinia region and borders with the Eleia region. Just like the other beaches we visited on the west coast of the Peloponnese, this is a protected breeding area for Caretta-Caretta turtles as well.
Travel Tip Peloponnese: Neda Waterfalls The waterfalls of Neda are located within the 32 kilometers long Neda Canyon. To cross the canyon you need a guide and good physical and mental condition, but you can pretty easily get to the Neda Waterfalls. Here you can swim in the lake created by the big waterfall, which is surrounded by little beaches, rocks and plane trees. Just know you should wear good footwear, the path to the Neda Waterfalls is narrow and you can slip easily on the stones. It’s not a maintained touristic place, so you will not find any protective fences. I wouldn’t take small kids along the path, even though it’s only a hike of about 600 meters. Villages close to the waterfalls of Neda are Platania (region Messinia) and Figaleia (region Elea, Ilia of Elis)
Stemnitsa in Arcadia Greece
After a delicious lunch at one of the tavernas near Elea Beach, we return to the heart of Arcadia. To get to Stemnitsa, a mountain village at the edge of the imposing Lousios Canyon, at a height of 1050 m, it takes about two hours.
This is where we will stay at Guesthouse Stemnitsa at walking distance from the restaurants, cafes, and shops. Even the hiking trails are nearby. A famous hiking trail that starts from Stemnitsa is the Menalon Trail. From the balcony of our room, we have a gorgeous view of the Lousios Gorge.
Day 6 & Day 7
Lousios Gorge – Peloponnese Road Trip
The next two days we go on short hikes in the Lousios Gorge and visit some awesome Greek monasteries that literally hang off the towering cliffs, an open-air water power museum, and the ancient site of Gortyna.
During the Turkish occupation of Greece, a secret school was operating in the old Byzantine Philosophos monastery. This is where young Greek school boys from surrounding areas went in secret to be educated by priests and monks.
The path to the ruins of this place is rocky and demands some physical endurance. I think it took us about 20 to 30 minutes to get to this monastery and it was really impressive to see the little space that once functioned as a “classroom”.
The old monastery can only be distinguished from the cliffs as you get nearer to it. The color of the building blends perfectly into the colors of the rocks, which made the monastery hardly visible for enemies.
There is also a small Byzantine chapel and we had the most amazing view from this spot over the Lousios Gorge and at the Prodromos Monastery that hangs opposite off the cliff.
Although the building urgently needs restoration, visiting it was one of the highlights of our Peloponnese road trip. If you are able to take the short hike, it is one of the best places to visit in the Peloponnese, at least in Arcadia.
Being one of the lesser known old Greek buildings, you will not find many visitors here. At the time of our visit, we were the only ones. I wrote a post about this special place with more pictures >> Monastery Philosophos.
Prodromos Monastery in the Lousios Gorge
The Prodromos Monastery was built in the 16th century and was an important shelter for Greek fighters during the Turkish occupation.
We went there by taking an 8 km long winding road from Stemnitsa and taking a hike of about 20 minutes along a donkey path. The monastery with its monk cells is hanging off a steep cliff, and you may wonder how they were able to build it like that.
The charnel house of the monastery was quite impressive. It is full of skulls from all the monks that lived here.
The hike along the donkey path and the sight of the monastery was an unforgettable experience.
Nearby Stemnitsa are two more very charming mountain villages, Dimitsana and Elliniko. Both are absolutely worth visiting. Elliniko is very quiet, while Dimitsana is a more popular, and hence busier town.
Visit to Mycenae on our Road Trip Peloponnese
In less than two hours we drive from Stemnitsa via Tripoli to ancient Mycenae, which is located in the northeast Peloponnese.
Mycenae is the most ancient sight in Greece and the city flourished long before the city of Athens began to flourish! Because the site is extremely old, most of the buildings you will find on the Citadel of Mycenae are just ruins. Nevertheless, there are some very well preserved monuments like the tholos tombs, the Lion’s Gate, parts of the Cyclopean Wall, and the Underground Cistern.
For 400 years the Mycenaean empire ruled over Greece. During this period, from 1600 to 1200 BC, many palaces, tombs, and other structures were built in the different kingdoms of the Mycenaean empire. Unfortunately, most of them have been destroyed a long time ago.
One of the most impressive sights is the one we first visit: the Treasury of Atreus. This is a many meters high bee-hive shaped tomb in perfect condition. Consider that the building is even older than the buildings on the Acropolis in Athens! It is assumed that King Atreus, the father of Agamemnon, was buried in this tomb.
Strangely, we are the only visitors of this magnificent Greek monument. The reason might be that it’s still pretty early in the day. But even in the morning, the temperature is very high and when entering the tomb you just feel relieved by the coolness.
Before you enter the tomb you walk a passageway that leads to the meters high entrance. It’s said that the lintel stone above the doorway of the tomb is the largest in the world. The building is indeed enormous and standing inside the huge round room with its domed roof and gigantic stones, makes you feel small.
At the parking lot, which is a small distance away from the Treasury of Atreus, a snack bar on wheels provides us with the necessary Greek ice coffee. We are ready to walk up the Citadel of Mycenae which is located a few hundred meters away.
Because Mycenae is really, but really old, most of the ancient Greek buildings on the Citadel of Mycenae can be considered just heaps of stones, which might disappoint some people. The best advice I can give is to read about Mycenae before you get there, so you realize how unique this place is and how special the heaps of stones are.
Personally, I found the Lions Gate, which is the main entrance to the Citadel of Mycenae, an unforgettable sight. It’s built of gigantic blocks of stones, just as the Cyclopean Wall which you can see next to the entrance.
The stones are so big that the ancient Greeks couldn’t believe human beings had built these structures. They believed the Cyclopes, giants known in Greek mythology, had built them.
There are few more, well-kept beehive tombs you can visit, as well as the tunnels of the Underground Cistern that secured the water supply of the Citadel of Mycenae. You can easily spend a couple of hours exploring the historical site of Mycenae, and that’s exactly what we did.
A blog post with more information and images >> Mycenae
Not far from Mycenae is another World Heritage Site, Tiryns, which was also an important center in the Mycenaean world. We had planned to go to Tiryns, as it is only twenty minutes from Mycenae, but instead, we went to ancient Nemea, which is also nearby Mycenae.
Nemea is not even a 25-minute drive from Mycenae and hidden between the mountains. The area is called the Tuscany of Greece because of the large concentration of wine yards. Since antiquity, Nemea is famous for its wine for which the Agiorgitiko grape is used.
Except for dozens of wineries in the region of Nemea, you can visit the historical site of ancient Nemea. Here, every two years, the Nemean Games were held from around 600 to 270 BC and the stadium where the athletes competed as well as the entrance tunnel to it, are all still there. At the archaeological site lies also the Temple of Zeus, built in 330 BC, in which you can walk freely between the nine columns and even touch them!
Ancient Nemea is a magnificent archaeological park. It’s very well kept, very peaceful and surrounded by beautiful nature. The little museum with maquettes is very informative.
The best of this park is maybe the quietness and peacefulness that you find here, in contrast to Mycenae where it gets very busy.
Day 9 & Day 10 Nafplio
Nafplio Things to Do
It’s time to get some rest, and we planned to stay two days in Nafplio, a big seaside town at the Argolic Gulf and forty minutes away from Mycenae. Nafplio is a bustling and beautiful town with a tropical atmosphere and many historical sights. The colorful Venetian houses, the many palm trees, the castles, and the squares with restaurants and cafes make it one of the best Greek cities to spend some days.
Nafplio Castle – The Castle of Palamidi
The first thing you see when entering the city is the castle of Palamidi which towers above the city on a 216 meters high rock. Palamidi Castle was built by the Venetians in the 18th century. You can get to the castle, that has also operated as a prison, by taking the 999 steps or just take the car and drive up.
The Bourtzi Castle on an island in the harbor is another jewel of Nafplio. We had lunch at a restaurant at a square with a view on the Bourtzi Castle which was amazing. There are boat trips to get to the island in about ten minutes.
The rocky peninsula Acronauplia houses three castles and is another historical monument in Nafplio. From Pelamidi Castle, you have the best view on the Acronauplia.
Important to know is that Nafplio was the first capital of Greece, from 1821 to 1834, after Greece had been liberated from the Turkish rule. After Greece had become a kingdom, its capital was moved to Athens.
At the Syntagma Square in the center of Nafplio, you can see the old parliament building of Greece. Ironically the building was built by the Turks during the occupation and was originally a mosque.
We also visited the Komboloi Museum in Nafplio, which is centered in the old town. The komboloi is the Greek version of the worry bead but without any religious meaning. The museum has a collection of almost a thousand worry beads from many countries and religions.
The Mani – Road Trip Peloponnese
The south of the Peloponnese consists of three peninsulas or “legs“, of which the middle leg is called the Mani. It’s an extraordinary part of the Peloponnese and of Greece in general, and it’s worth to consider visiting this part of Greece while planning your Peloponnese road trip.
To get you inspired for traveling the Mani you can read about the route we took: Githio – Selenitsa Beach – Areopoli – Limeni – Neo Itilo – Karavostasi – Caves of Diros – Gerolimenas – Vathia – Areopoli – Stoupa – Kalogria Beach – Kardamyli – Foneas Beach
The Mani is an area of Greece where you easily can feel like you are at the end of the world, especially in the most southern part known as the Deep Mani. Located at the second leg of the three legs of the Peloponnese, it was Greece’s most isolated region for many centuries.
Still, access and moving around is harder in the Mani than in other parts of Greece, especially because of the lack of good roads. Until the 1960s many villages were only accessible by sea, and a network of cobblestoned roads connected some villages with each other.
The Taygetos mountain that stretches across the peninsula, becomes inaccessible and bare in the Deep Mani, which is generally considered as the “real” Mani. It used to have a reputation of being rough and wild, just as its people, who were known for piracy and blood feuds. Probably it was easier to survive in this rough barren land as a pirate than as a farmer, and for long the people of Deep Mani were called “Evil Mountaineers” by the outside world.
I wrote a full blog post about our Peloponnese road trip through the Mani >> Mani Road Trip