When it comes to spending your summer holidays in Greece, it’s the cosmopolitan islands that first spring to mind. Yet the coastal towns of mainland Greece can be just as pretty and less crowded, from Kavala in the north all the way to the Epirus Riviera.
Who needs the whitewashed landscape of Santorini when you can find its stunning counterpart in Pylos? Why seek out the emerald waters of Corfu when you’ve got the dazzling Epirus Riviera? The following destinations in Greece may not be as popular as the islands, but they are definitely marvellous. Find out which ones are worth visiting.
With its amazing architecture and sandy beaches, Kavala is, no doubt, the coastal jewel of Northern Greece. In the quaint Old Town, you will come across colourful mansions, Ottoman buildings and relics of Byzantine churches that give away the city’s centuries-old history. Among the highlights are Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali’s 19th-century Imaret, which now houses a plush hotel, and the Unesco-protected Archaeological Site of Philippi. Don’t miss a chance to swim in the green-blue waters of Ammolofoi Beach, or learn all about Kavala’s longstanding tobacco history at the fascinating Tobacco Museum.
Greece’s very first capital, Nafplio experienced great prosperity in the early 1800s. Today, the town retains its former glory, mainly through the beautiful Neoclassical architecture that blends with chic Venetian touches. Visit the grandiose Palamidi fortress – it’s worth climbing the 999 steps to the top – and the romantic Bourtzi Castle sitting on an islet in the middle of the harbour; Bourtzi once protected Nafplio from invaders and pirates. Stroll past sophisticated mansions and little shops before grabbing a mouthwatering gelato from Antica Gelateria di Roma, the best gelateria in town.
If you’re looking for a modern city with a relaxed, resort-town vibe, then Kalamata should be your go-to destination. Walk along the expansive waterfront and sit at one of the numerous cafés and taverns for delicious local meze. The food here is so tasty that you might come up with a whole new definition for the word “fresh”. Kalamata is also within an hour of some of the region’s finest beaches, including Foneas and Kalogria. The best views in town await at Kastraki-Meteoro, a fairytale-like bar-restaurant resembling a medieval fortress, complete with little towers and shining armour.
Once home to the country’s most important shipping families, Galaxidi, found on the shores of the Corinthian Gulf, has kept its nautical character. This comes alive through the Nautical and Historical Museum, as well as the picturesque port dotted with lovely boats and fancy yachts. Busy cafés and Neoclassical houses with pebbled courtyards line the waterfront, while some of the old captains’ mansions now serve as fully equipped guest houses. The town is especially popular with Athenians who visit at the end of the carnival season for the famous rainbow-coloured flour fight.
One of the most ancient towns in Greece, Nafpaktos has a rich history that goes all the way back to 1,104 BCE. Lying in the foothills of the Pindus Mountains, it is known for its picturesque surrounding villages, lush forests and crystalline waters. Walk along cobbled alleyways and you’ll soon find your way to the imposing castle; the view from the hill over the Rio-Antirrio Bridge and the Corinthian Gulf is spectacular. You are bound to fall in love with the charming Venetian port and with the abundance of trees and dreamy springs in Northern Nafpaktia, just a short drive away from Nafpaktos town.
Often favoured by the rich and famous, Parga echoes the beauty of an Ionian island. Marvel at traditional stone churches – one is built into a rock – and at the immense Ali Pasha Castle overlooking the verdant village of Anthousa and the sparkling bay. Apart from the multicoloured houses, Parga stands out for its pristine beaches with emerald waters. It’s also worth driving a bit further to find Sivota, Parga’s sister seaside village along the Epirus Riviera. This tropical paradise boasts pink-sand beaches and mirror-like waters, such as those of Pisina Beach; its name fittingly means “pool”.
Also known as Navarino, Pylos was a kingdom-town in Mycenaean Greece, with the astonishing palace of King Nestor still largely preserved on the hill of Epano Eglianos. The town’s regal past is present in the elegant, whitewashed houses and in the stylish, sprawling Costa Navarino resort, which is super-popular with Hollywood actors. Enjoy a glass of strong ouzo in the shade of sycamore trees at the Three Admirals’ Square and take in the infinite coastal views from Palaiokastro Castle. Make sure to swim in the milky waters of Polylimnio, a waterfall paradise framed by rocks, just outside Pylos.
Dramatic mountain ranges, dense forests and winding hiking trails are some of the reasons why Karpenisi is frequently called the “Little Switzerland of Greece”. Here, you can rest your eyes on flowing rivers, shimmering lakes and waterfalls gushing out of steep cliffs. Some of Karpenisi’s most spectacular beaches are formed by the waters of the vast Acheloos River, where you can enjoy swimming, rafting or dancing during a wild river party in August. Don’t leave without trying the staple sausage with leek or a traditional cheese pie from the sweet-smelling bakeries.