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.
Vikos – Aoos National Park
Located in northwestern Greece, the Vikos – Aoos National Park is one of the ten national parks in mainland Europe. The park was established in 1973 and is home to the Vikos Gorge. The gorge is 12 kilometers long, with a depth of up to 1,000 meters (3,300 ft). Aoos gorge and Mount Tymfi are also part of the park’s peripheral zone.
The Vikos Gorge, 900 meters deep, is a natural wonder. It is one of the most biodiverse areas in Europe, but remains relatively unknown to tourists. If you are visiting in the fall, you can take advantage of the cooler temperatures and avoid the crowds. Vikos gorge has been in the Guinness Book of Records since 1997 as the deepest canyon in the world.
The Vikos – Aoos Geopark consists of three main habitat zones: sub-mediterranean woodland (deciduous broadleaf forests), sub-alpine grasslands (forests at higher elevations), and mountain areas. The park is home to a large variety of animals and plants. The park is also a popular destination for hiking, mountain biking, and rafting.
The Epirus Silversmithing Museum in Ioannina, Greece, celebrates the art of silversmithing through its collections and educational programs. It showcases the works of local artists, tied with silver threads and displayed on steel supports. The displays are enhanced by spotlights and audiovisual materials in English. The Museum also features an educational area for schoolchildren, with interactive games and digital programs. A permanent exhibition of silversmithing in Epirus is the main focus of the museum, but there are also special exhibitions, seminars, and temporary shows on a regular basis.
The Epirote Silversmithing Museum includes a large representative collection of traditional silver works from the area. Visitors can admire ornate jewelry, candlesticks, weapons, fountain pens, cigarette cases, and watches. The pieces are all dated between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. It also displays a variety of contemporary silversmithing. While touring the museum, visitors can also participate in educational programs.
Ali Pasha Museum
The Ali Pasha Museum in Ioannina, Greece, is a fascinating place to visit. The museum is located in the Monastery of St. Panteleimon, where Ali Pasha sought refuge from the sultan and was eventually murdered. The museum contains a collection of weapons, costumes, jewelry, and other personal items that show the life and times of the famous Ottoman ruler. It is worth a visit even if you are not a history buff!
The museum has a unique collection of historical relics, including a gold-plated kariofili and a silver sword. In an adjacent room, etchings of Ali Pasha’s last days are on display. Visitors can also find monuments commemorating the early nineteenth century Greek battle for independence. The museum is located in the first square of Ioannina, just off the port.
While visiting the museum, you should also visit the historic Ali Pasha Palace. It was built in 1816 and was originally a mosque. The museum also has a mosaic floor in the central court. The museum contains some of the most important works of art from the Sultan’s time. A large portion of the collection is in Turkish and Greek art, as well as other ancient Greek monuments. The museum has a great collection of Ottoman-era relics, including an important Ottoman-era throne.
If you’ve never visited Ioannina, you should check out Lake Pamvotis. Known as Pamvotis in ancient times, the lake is one of the most beautiful and scenic spots in the Ioannina Basin region. It is filled with spring water that is supplied by Mount Mitsikeli. The lake is calm and peaceful most of the time, but on occasion it freezes over. However, its eerie, mystical atmosphere is sure to entice you to visit it during warm summer days or cool winter evenings.
Lake Pamvotis is a picturesque body of water located in the centre of Ioannina, Greece. It is the second largest lake in Europe, measuring over twenty square kilometers. The lake is home to many plants and animals, including eels, fish, and birds. The water is warm and inviting, making it an excellent spot for swimming, sailing, and other water sports. In fact, the lake is popular amongst locals, Greeks and visitors alike.
Dodoni Sanctuary and Theatre
The Dodoni Sanctuary and Theatre in Ioanna Greece are located about 22 km northwest of the city. During the ancient period, the sanctum served as a temple and was the site of games held in honor of Zeus. The Roman period transformed the site into a gladiator’s arena. The theater was built during the reign of Pyrrhus, the ruler of Epirus. In 1875, restoration work began. It now holds up to 17,000 spectators.
The Dodoni sanctuary and theatre, as well as the citadel and settlement, are two of the archeological sites. The sanctuary of Zeus is located at the foot of the hill, and its precinct and enclosure define its boundaries. Both are considered significant historical sites. Founded about 2000 BC, Dodoni was a center of worship for the northern tribes. Ancient legend has it that the Earth Goddess was worshipped here first. In 2000 BC, Zeus took control and brought the goddess to the area. In the same year, two doves flew from Thebes and landed in Dodoni.
Excavations at the site began in 1875. The theater had been used for duels and beast fights. Its architecture has changed throughout the centuries. Today, specialists studying the theatre can tell if there were alterations during the Roman period. The largest alteration occurred in the Roman period, during Emperor Augustus’ time. During that time, the orchestra of the theater was used as a fighting arena, and spectators were kept in the lower tiers.
Archaeological Museum of Ioannina
The Archaeological Museum of Ioannini is located in the city’s central park, Litharitsa. There are many exhibits of international fame in this museum. You can find numerous artifacts unearthed in the surrounding region, including a large collection of coins and inscriptions. Multimedia facilities are also available to help you learn more about the area’s history.
The Archaeological Museum of Ioannini is located near the town’s historic Clock. There are several exhibits on display from the Lower Paleolithic period, which dates back 250,000 years and marked the first appearance of man in Epirus. The museum also displays relics of the ancient city of Dodona, which was a major cult centre of Zeus and Dione.
The Municipal Ethnographic Museum of Ioannina is a fascinating museum. It is housed in a 1618 mosque known as Aslan Pasha. This museum contains many personal items from important historical figures. It also features displays on various historical subjects and art collections. It is a must-see while you are in the city. You can see art and craftwork from the area and learn about its colorful history.
The Fethiye Mosque is an Ottoman mosque located in Ioannina, Greece. It was built in the inner fort Its Kale following the Ottoman conquest in 1430. It was originally built in timber and replaced with a stone structure in 1611. In 1795, Ali Pasha undertook a massive renovation of the building and named it the primary mosque for his palace.
Despite the numerous infrastructure problems in Ioannina, the town is a great place to visit. There are many things to do in the area, including the historic Fethiye Mosque, the Byzantine Museum, and the Turkish Orthodox Church. The mosque is in the Kale section of Ioannina Castle, which was once inhabited by Jews and Christians. Until 1913, the city was known as the “Jerusalem of the Balkans” and was home to Sephardic Jews, who were forced out of Spain in the 15th century.
Before the mosque, you’ll find the graves of Ali’s family and friends. Ali first appeared on ancient bills as a chief of brigands, and he was involved in numerous confrontations with Ottoman kingdom officers in Albania and Epirus. Eventually, he merged with the Ottoman Empire’s executive-army apparatus and held a variety of posts. Finally, he became the sanjak of Ioannina, and died at the age of forty-five.
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!