Have you heard of Ioannina? You probably don’t know this city in northern Greece. Ioannina often goes unnoticed by most tourists, but something tells me that’s about to change. While people are looking for alternatives to the crowds and tour groups when traveling to Greece, Ioannina makes a great base or base from which to explore the beautiful Epirus region. (Stay tuned for our full guide to Epirus)
Things to do in Ioánnina
Before embarking on adventures in the mountains and beaches of the Ionian Sea, check out all the things to do in Ioannina and spend a day or two exploring this beautiful town on the shores of Lake Pamvotida.
1. Visit the island of the lake
The Nameless Island in Pamvotida Lake is one of the top attractions in Ioannina and the first place we visited in town. Take a short 10 minute boat ride to The Island to see the monasteries of this island. The monastic settlement of Ioannina is one of three major monasteries, including the monasteries of Meteora and Mount Athos.
It’s an easy walk around the island to follow the cobblestone streets and paths to see the seven Byzantine monasteries and enjoy the views of the city from across the water. Be sure to visit the museum to learn about its history and have lunch at one of the waterfront cafes by the marina before heading back to the city centre.
2. Monastery of Philanthropists
The most impressive of the seven monasteries on the island of the lake is the Monastery of the Philanthropists, which dates back to 1204. Inside the church there are beautiful paintings and mosaics. Photos are not allowed inside, but you can go inside to see them and then continue to see the outsides of the other monasteries on the island.
3. Ali Pasha Museum
Another top attraction in Ioannina is located on the island with no name. The Ali Pasha Museum houses relics from the time of the Greek Revolution in the 19th century and a collection of objects from the reign of the Ottoman leader Ali Pasha from 1788 to 1822. A strange exhibition features a recreation of a story in which women were thrown into the lake were drowned after being mistaken for spies. The black and white film is a little bizarre to watch but interesting to learn about.
4. Perama Cave
One of the most impressive things to do in Ioannina is a tour of the huge Perama Cave. It really is one of the most impressive caves we have visited, with huge caverns filled with beautiful stalagmites and stalactites. Follow your guide as you explore the formations. At the end of the tour you will come to one of the best views of Ioannina overlooking Pamvotida Lake and the city. Admission costs only 7 euros.
5. Ioannina Castle
Ioannina Castle is unique as it is still inhabited. Its walls run through the city’s historic district and it’s easy to explore. Dating from 528 AD, it is the oldest Byzantine fortress in Greece. Within the castle walls are several attractions including the Fethiye Mosque, the Byzantine Museum, the Kale Acropolis and the Ancient Synagogue of Ioannina.
There is fascinating Jewish history in Ioannina, with the Jewish community of Ioannina being the center of the Romaniote Jewish population, dating back to the 9th century.
6. His Kale (Inner Castle)
One of the best sunset spots in Ioannina is Its Kale. Its kale means inner castle and is located on top of a hill overlooking the lake. Once you enter the main gate, you’ll delve into the archeological site, home to a guardhouse, a warehouse where Ali Pasha’s army stored ammunition, and a Byzantine fortress. After enjoying the view and the restored ruins, head to the cafe for Greek coffee and a delicious dessert.
7. Where to eat in Ioannina
When it comes to things to do in Ioannina, food is one of the main draws and meals can go on for hours. Here are a few restaurants we ate at in Ioannina that were outstanding and that we highly recommend. Read more: Delicious Greek Food – 29 Traditional Greek Dishes to Try
This was certainly one of the standout restaurants we ate at in Ioannina, with a gastronomic extravaganza of modern Greek and Mediterranean dishes paired with wine. The chef and staff take great pride in creating the best dining experience in Ioannina.
Housed in the Hotel Frontzuou Politia, this protected historical site is a beautiful destination for dinner with stunning views of the city. Located just a kilometer from the city, this complex feels like you’ve stepped back in time. Make sure you sit in the atrium and get the best view of Ioannina from above.
No Ties is a great old town Italian restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere in a lively part of the old town. We sat outside on the street and enjoyed family style dinner.
Seirios has a nice outdoor terrace in the lake area. Established in 1997, it prides itself on combining traditional Greek food with a modern twist. It has a fun and chilled vibe.
Overnight in Ioánnina
Hotel du Lac Convention Center and Spa
Hotel du Lac is one of the best places to stay in Ioannina, within walking distance (20 minutes) from the old town. The breakfast buffet was a highlight for us with the dining area right by the quiet pool. Check prices and availability on TripAdvisor / Booking.com
The lake hotel
Located close to the airport, this is a great place to stay for your first or last day in Ioannina. The Lake Hotel is also a popular conference center with a beautiful pool overlooking Pamvotida Lake. We sat on our patio watching rowers go by on the calm water as the sun rose over the lake and felt like we could stay forever. Check prices and availability on TripAdvisor / Booking.com
Ioannina was a surprising Greek city, filled with Byzantine history, beautiful monasteries and museums, and a lively nightlife. This city is a university town with a large student population, making it one of the liveliest cities in the country. Once the sun has set, we hardly saw a bar or restaurant without a packed terrace full of students sipping aperitifs and tapas while enjoying the warm summer sun.
If you are looking for an alternative to the Greek islands, be sure to add Ioannina to your list.