Greece is a destination that satisfies both mountain and sea lovers. It has hundreds of islands, each with its unique beauty, but it’s also a country of many highland cities and villages, that will definetely amaze their visitor.
One of the mountainous cities, that usually doesn’t make it into the international travel guides, is the city of Ioannina, in north western Greece.
Ioannina, known as “Yanena” among Greeks, is the capital of Epirus, and as with many other places in Greece, the city is quite rich in history. A glance upon the city makes evident that it was once part of the Byzantine empire, before it’s surrender to the Ottomans somewhere in the early 15th century.
Ioannina’s history blends beautifully with the surrounding landscape, with lake Pamvotida and Pindos sierra acting as the city’s most notable natural landmarks.
The city is a quite “compact” place, making its exploration easy simply by walking.
Visit the Castle-Town of Ioannina
Located at the city’s modern centre, the impressive castle of Ioannina was built in the 6th century by the Byzantine emperor Justinian. It marks as an ambitious expression of the power the Byzantine Empire hold at that time.
Over the years, the presence of the castle, worked as a factor of influence to the town’s history, and served as a thriving center with a highly developed intellectual life. The famous Ali-Pasha lived here, during the city’s occupation by the Ottomans, and this is something that gives the place a more mystic and enigmatic aura.
The fortress is split into four parts. These are the outer wall. The northwestern acropolis. The southeast acropolis and the actual castle-town. On the acropolis of the northwest one can find the Aslan Mosque. While on the southeast is the gunpowder warehouse or Itch- Kale. The houses on the inside, are part of what it was once the town of Ioannina, and are now considered as the old-town.
Note that the entrance to the castle is free.
Tip: If you find yourself wandering around the castle for a long time, and you want to drink something, or have a small snack, try going to “Chevallier Cafe” which is inside the castle. It is a small place, with amazing atmosphere and good prices. It is mainly frequented by local intellectuals.
What Do You Like Best About Ioannina?
Perhaps, the most remarkable aspect of the city, is how it harmonizes nature with man-made structures, old and modern. From one side, you have lake Pamvotida, extending far into the horizon, while from the other you have the old, castle-town and the modern city. I think, its this “strange” balance that makes Ioannina so different and special.
Best Walk in Ioannina
Walk by the Lake Pamvotida
Starting from the castle-town’s south wall and walking straight you’ll meet a beautiful pedestrian road. With lake Pamvotida lying under the Pindos sierra, just right next to you. The road, which has also a bike path, goes on for a fairly long distance (about 2km or 1.2mi). It is usually full of people, walking or sitting on the benches chatting.
Continue walking straight and on your left hand, just across the street you’ll meet one of the entrances that leads inside the castle-town, as well as some cafes and restaurants, mostly chosen by tourists. After a while, you may notice that inside the lake, lies a small island.
You can visit the island using small boats that you can find in a lake-harbor,during your walk (normal price). The island has some quite old christian churches, houses and restaurants that serve frog legs, as a “special” dish.
If you decide to skip the island-trip, just continue straight and enjoy the natural changes of the scenery, as you’re now approaching a small mole. The mole is usually full of teenagers, that sit in small groups conversing.
If you visit Ioannina during winter, make sure to dress well before taking this walk, as it might be quite cold. It is probable that Pindos sierra will be full of snow, thus adding more beauty to the scenery!
Best Restaurants in Ioannina
You should know that food from north Greece is heavily “meat-depended”. If you want to try traditional dishes with fairly low prices in a nice environment, try going to “Raki and Roll”. If you’re looking for something more elegant, try “Frontzou Politeia”. It serves good food, and has an amazing panoramic view of the whole city and the lake (quite pricey though). In the case you’re most of a fast-food eater, the city is full of fast-foods that serve greek souvlaki and gyros, pizza, crepes and burgers. Now, if you’re vegan, I suggest “Kanela kai Garyfallo” that offers a lot of vegan options, as Ioannina has not a vegan-only restaurant.
Ioannina is not very into festivals and big-time events. However, there’s one kind of celebration that is quite unique and it’s surely worth experiencing. During the greek Haloween (that hasn’t a standard date, and happens usually on late February or early March) the city celebrates for two continuous days. The streets are filled with people in all kind of costumes. This is especially true during night time, and music flows abundantly in the air. The highlight of the celebration is the big (controlled) fires. These are called “Tzamales” ,that are spawned in different places of the city. Around every fire, there’s people having fun, of course with the presence of a lot of food and wine.
Ioannina is host to one of Greece’s biggest universities, which means that the city is rich in nightlife. If you like clubs and mainstream music, try going to “Reserved Night Club”. But you should keep in mind that the place is usually packed. If you like cocktails, wine and a more chilling atmosphere, I suggest going to “Spitaki Cocktail Bar”. In the case you’re more into beer, whiskey and a more vintage environment, “Route 66” is definetely your place.
Best Day Trip Out Of Ioannina
The location of Ioannina is ideal for small, daily excursions. The village of Metsovo, is definetely a place that if you have the chance, you should, surely, visit. It’s 45 minutes outside Ioannina by car, and driving there is super easy and relaxing. In the case that driving is not an option, there are buses going and returning from the village daily (low price).
If you want something closer to the city, one good suggestion is going to Perama, which is only 3km (1,9mi) away from the city of Ioannina. There, you’ll find one of the most beautiful caves in Europe, the Perama cave. The cave is truly unique, and it seems like it was once the house of fairies. Again, if driving is out of the game, local transport goes there daily (very low price).
Something That Not Many Travellers Would Know About Ioannina
One of the less known place among travellers, that is certainly worth visiting is the ancient theater of “Dodoni”. Its is just outside the city of Ioannina, and for some reason. most travellers don’t know anything about its existence. The theater isn’t just a historical landmark, but also an architectural masterpiece. During the summer months, it is used for several theatrical acts that revive ancient greek tragedies and comedies. Watching a performance of this kind in such a place , is undoubtly a thrilling experience!