With its claim as one of the birthplaces of modern civilization, its glorious and historic past, delicious cuisine, balmy climate and perfect beaches, Greece beckons travelers looking for a vacation out of the ordinary. Natural beauty vies with man-made wonders in the sun-gilded province of the Peloponnese, with its olive groves, mountain peaks, vineyards and pristine sandy beaches. Visitors can choose to relax at the seaside, explore mysterious ruins or partake in some of Greece’s vivacious and compelling culture here. An overview of the best places to visit in the Peloponnese:
10. Ancient Corinth[SEE MAP]
Silhouetted against the wide expanse of the sky, crumbling, ornate columns of carved stone stand in testament to the ancient Greeks’ architectural skill. The stark remains of ancient Corinth are perfect if you enjoy photography. In particular, the Temple of Apollo presents a beautiful tableau with its fluted columns and plinths surrounded by wildflowers and the craggy mountain peaks in the background. Another favorite sight in the ancient city is the Acrocorinth, a brooding hilltop fortress considered one of the finest in Greece, first built thousands of years ago. Artifacts from various excavations, such as mosaics, statues, sarcophagi and tools are housed in the Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth, located nearby.
9. Kardamyli[SEE MAP]
This quaint sea-side town features whitewashed homes, stately cypress trees, historic buildings like the atmospheric church of Saint Spyridon and pretty, pebble-strew beaches. Homer wrote of this city in the Iliad, bearing witness to the city’s millennia-old past. Frescoes in the Byzantine Church of Eisodia and the ruins of Mourtzinos Castle are a draw for visitors, though simply strolling through town, sampling the area’s delicious cuisine and enjoying the spectacular sea views offer visitors a feel for what drew people to this delightful place so long ago.
8. Corinth Canal[SEE MAP]
Severing Peloponnese from the rest of the Greek mainland, this canal creates a visual spectacle with its sheer rock walls plunging into a chasm of blue water that you can best enjoy from a sturdy footbridge that spans the canal. While ancient Greeks first attempted to create a canal more than two thousand years ago, it was not completed until 1893. The canal stretches across the length of the isthmus, and you can book a ticket on a tour boat to marvel at the engineering feat from water level, or if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, try bungee jumping for an entirely different perspective of the canal.
7. Ancient Olympia[SEE MAP]
Nearly three thousand years have passed since this area held the first Olympic games in the shadow of the stately Mount Kronos, a tribute to the god, Zeus. The remains of temples honoring both Zeus and Hera can be found here, their graceful columns offering a picturesque ruin where you can wander freely. The flame for the modern Olympic Games is still lit in front of the Temple of Hera. The centerpiece of the site is the 200-meter (650 feet) track of the stadium itself, entered by way of a long arched tunnel. The vast sanctuary complex built to house competitors thousands of years ago has yielded a wealth of artifacts, exhibited in the on-site Olympia Archaeological Museum.
6. Monemvasia[SEE MAP]
Dramatic cliffs plunge straight down into the Aegean, highlighting the beauty of this ancient stone village connected to mainland Peloponnese by a causeway. People have lived here for at least a thousand years, with many of the medieval buildings drawing visitors with their picturesque simplicity. The rocky outcrop provided protection for the village during invasion and today offers dramatic photo opportunities. The ocean takes center stage on this tiny island, and you can enjoy a range of water sports including scuba diving, sea kayaking and snorkeling.
5. Nafplio[SEE MAP]
Poised on the coast and long famous as a port city, this historic town commands sweeping ocean views as well as offering a wonderful glimpse into modern Greek village life with its quaint town squares, sidewalk cafes, charming wrought-iron embellished homes and atmospheric, 400-year-old Palamidi Fortress. If you’re a history buff, the historic Venetian Headquarters building off Syntagma Square houses the city’s archaeological museum, with a range of exhibits recalling the city’s Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman influences. Visitors in need of relaxation can head down to Karathona Beach, a sheltered, sandy beach with delightful views.
4. Simos Beach[SEE MAP]
The small island of Elafoniso, hosts Simos Beach, often hailed by locals as the best beach in the Peloponnese. The clear water reflecting an aquamarine sky frames the fine, sandy beach offering quaint wicker sun parasols and lounging chairs at Simos. Depending on the time of year you visit Greece, a trip to the seaside, with its cool breezes and refreshing water temperatures, provides the perfect antidote to the warm inland sunshine. The protected bay is popular with kayak enthusiasts, and the gentle, clear waves prove enticing for swimmers and snorkelers alike. There are also toilets and showers for public use, and both a market and a pizza parlor provide snacks for hungry beach-goers.
3. Mycenae[SEE MAP]
This fascinating ruin of a flourishing civilization four thousand years ago features enormous, meticulously shaped stone block foundations in an excellent state of preservation. You can still walk through the famous Lion’s Gate, climb into the site’s secret cistern and explore the royal tholos tombs. The ruins of the Acropolis that was once the home of the fabled Agamemnon and his wife Clytemnestra sprawl across a broad lookout over the valley and olive orchards. From here you can enjoy a breathtaking display from every angle of the city’s ancient layout, a patchwork of modern fertile fields and layers of the lofty mountain peaks beyond. Greater insight into the lives of people who lived here can be found at the Mycenae Archaeology Museum, located just over a mile from the ruins.
2. Mystras[SEE MAP]
Located inland from the coast in the southern Peloponnese region and framed by the tall peaks of Mount Taygetos, Mystras has an almost magical air with its hilltop palace, orange tile-roofed Byzantine churches and sweeping views of mountain tops and lushly green valleys. The city served as the capital of the Peloponnesus in the 14th and 15th centuries, ruled by relatives of the Byzantine emperor. Some of the buildings, such as Agios Demitrios and the Pantanassa, still feature rich murals dating from several hundred years ago. To best enjoy the breathtaking natural scenery, you can hike any of the various trails at the Lagadas Climbing Park, some of which feature waterfalls. The area is also famous for its olives grown in the fertile soil, and you can enjoy delicious food incorporating local produce in the city’s cafes.
1. Epidaurus[SEE MAP]
The spectacular ruins of this enormous theater are almost perfectly intact, belying the millennia since its construction in the 4th century BCE. Still in use today, you might be lucky enough to catch a performance here and enjoy its almost perfect acoustics. This marvel of ancient engineering still holds up to 14,000 people, and it’s rumored the crowd can hear the sound of a match being struck on stage due to the theater’s superior design. There’s a nearby museum that features information about the construction of the theater, as well as history of Epidaurus and its renown as a center for the healing arts in ancient times.