Planning Your Trip to the Peloponnese
Most visitors to Greece stop off in Athens and then head straight for the islands, but the Peloponnese region is arguably the most fascinating part of the Greek mainland. In fact, it looks and acts like a very large island itself, separated from the rest of the Greek landmass by the Corinth Canal. As such, it has developed largely alone, with its own culture, personality, cuisine, and a set of ancient sites you won’t want to miss.
In one week you’ll be able to cover all of the standouts, including Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, Epidaurus, the first holistic health sanctuary, and Mycenae, home to the palace of King Agamemnon. You can intersperse these visits with a survey of the region’s amazing castles and towns, including Mystras, Monemvasia, Methoni, and Pylos, each representing a different era and architectural style.
With the use of a rental car, you’ll be able to wend your way through pristine pockets of nature, replete with waterfalls, alpine lakes, and some beautiful beaches, arriving at picturesque towns like Nafplio or stone-built villages like those in the Mani and Arcadia areas. To top it all off, Peloponnese is one of Greece’s largest wine-producing areas, so you’ll want to take some time out to sample a few varietals and buy some to bring home.
For more, see our guide on the Top Highlights of the Peloponnese Region.
Peloponnese in 24 Hours
You can pack a lot into a day here, as long as you accept that you won’t be able to see everything—you won't want to rush through the sights.
The drive from Athens to Nafplio is only a couple of hours, but it's best to stop at Mycenae on the way. Its hilltop ruins, a 4,000-year-old citadel once home to King Agamemnon, have many secrets to reveal, such as the dramatic Lion’s Gate, guarded by two stone lionesses, royal apartments, and a series of tombs, including that of the king himself. Make sure to stop by the Mycenae Archaeological Museum, and hire a guide to help you make the most of your time at this sprawling site.
Spend the night in Napflio and head to Epidaurus the next morning for a guided tour. One of Greece’s most visited sites, Epidaurus is a 4th-century amphitheater still in pristine condition, made of limestone and known for its perfect acoustics. Constructed as a way to honor Asclepius, son of Apollo and the god of medicine, Epidaurus was long famed as a center of ancient medicine. While in the area, you'll also want to pay a visit to the Corinth Canal, the tiny waterway that cuts through the isthmus separating the Peloponnese from the rest of the Greek mainland.
If you're only spending a day here, you're likely coming from another part of Greece as part of a broader tour—read How to Get to the Peloponnese Peninsula for some practical tips.
Peloponnese in 2-3 days
In up to three days, you can see more world-famous ancient sites, including Ancient Corinth, with its haunting stone columns that stand alone, holding up nothing but air, a memorial to a once-great city. Take in the Temple of Apollo, with its fluted ionic columns, the Peribolos of Apollo, a courtyard also lined with columns, a marketplace and amphitheater, and even ancient stone toilets!
The museum here is chock full of statues, mosaics, and other artifacts, and will give you a solid background into the importance of this place more than 2,000 years ago. You can also climb the nearby mountain to visit Acrocorinth, a medieval fortress built on the foundations of a Macedonian one, demonstrating how every great civilization has managed to adapt, adopt, and build upon its predecessors' greatest accomplishments.
Make sure to take at least a half day to explore Mystras, a fortified town on Mount Taygetos. Originally built as an amphitheater around a 13th-century fortress, it was conquered by the Byzantines, Turks, and Venetians before its abandonment in 1832. Today, its steep ruins are split into three zones symbolizing different historical eras in its development: the Upper City and Despot's Palaces, Lower City and Metropolis, and Outer City.
Of course, you’ll also want to take advantage of the Peloponnese’s sprawling natural regions, speckled with traditional farms and vineyards. You can stop at a traditional farm for a gourmet meal, or even stay in one for a few nights, trying out the type of travel known as "agrotourism" that has become more and more popular over the years.
Peloponnese in 4-5 days
With 4-5 days in the Peloponnese, you’ll be able to add on even more historic sites, like Olympia, the site of the first Olympic games in 776 BCE. Every four years, the Olympics takes place at a very special location somewhere in the world, but it always starts at the same place: the Temple of Hera, where the torch is first lit. But this is just one part of a huge, sprawling complex that includes ancient versions of sports facilities we still recognize today, like a stadium, a hippodrome for chariot races, and a gymnasium.
You can also reserve a day to go out in nature, either on two wheels or on your own two feet, with a guided hiking or biking tour. The most famous foot trail in southern Greece is the Peloponnese Way, a path that connects villages and takes the better part of two weeks. There’s no reason you can’t take in just a snippet of it, however, spending a day crossing remote mountain ranges or exploring monasteries and caves.
For a great local hiking experience, you can also check out the Mani, a rugged peninsula dotted with tiny fishing villages. Once you’re done traversing its tiny stone hamlets, enjoy a meal in Limeni, a charming village right by the sea, known for restaurants terraces with incredible views.
If you want to do a deep-dive into the region’s culinary heritage, yet another option is a winery tour. One of the best places to do this is in the Nemea wine region, where a varietal known as Agiorgitiko is said to be grown from a vine gifted by the god Dionysus.
Experts at several wineries will take you through the vineyards, show you the wine-making process and then serve you a meal fit for the gods, paired with their own local wines. Of course, you’ll also be able to shop for some choice bottles to bring home, right on the land that has been cultivating grapes for millennia.
This 14-day culinary and culture tour combines time in the Cyclades islands with four days in the Peloponnese. You'll press oil at an olive grove, tour Nemea's wineries, and shadow a shepherd in Napflio.
Peloponnese in a Week
With up to a week in the Peloponnese, you can spend full days at each of the sights discussed above, and add on some memorable experiences you can’t find anywhere else.
Thanks to its unique geography, which offers high mountain passes just a quick drive from ocean beaches, the Peloponnese is a great place to go swimming amidst some very different scenery. You can start your day with a swim in the sea and a hearty breakfast, then drive up into the mountains for a swim in the River Styx, thought to be the place where Achilles was given immortality. The river forms several watering holes, and even a picturesque waterfall. Then, drive over the Tsivlos Lake, its otherworldly blue color standing out among the alpine vegetation.
Lastly, if you can fit in one more ancient ruin, make it to the ancient city of Pylos, where the well-preserved Palace of Nestor, which was important enough to be mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, is tucked into a larger Mycenaean settlement within standing fortification walls. Nearby Messene is an impressive but oft-overlooked archaeological site that’s also worth a visit: you’ll be able to explore a stadium, a theater, and plenty of other stone remnants, and have them almost entirely to yourself.
In this week-long Peloponnese itinerary, you'll hike the tallest mountains in the region, paddle the Mani Peninsula, and scale Sparta's Mount Taygetus.