Have you heard of Ioannina? Chances are you are not aware of this city in northern Greece. Ioannina often goes unnoticed by most tourists but something tells me this is about to change. As people search for alternatives from the crowds and tour groups while traveling Greece, Ioannina makes for a great base or starting point to explore the gorgeous region of Epirus. (Stay tuned for our complete guide to Epirus)
Things to do in Ioannina
Before you take off for adventures in the mountains and on the beaches of the Ionian Sea, check out all the things to do in Ioannina and spend a day or two exploring this lovely town on the shores of Lake Pamvotida.
1. Visit the Island of the Lake
Located in Lake Pamvotida, the Island with no name is one of the top attractions in Ioannina and it was the first place we visited in the city. Take a short 10-minute boat ride to The Island to view the monasteries of this island. The monastery settlement of Ioannina is one of three important monasteries including the monasteries of Meteora and Mount Athos.
It’s an easy stroll around the island to follow the cobblestone streets and path to see the seven Byzantine monasteries and enjoy views of the city from across the water. Make sure to visit the museum to learn a bit about its history and you can have lunch at one of the waterfront cafes at the marina before heading back to the town center.
2. Monastery of Philanthropist
The most impressive monastery of the seven monasteries on the Island of the Lake is the Monastery of Philanthropist which dates back to 1204. Inside the church, there are beautiful paintings and mosaics. Photos are not allowed inside, but you can go in to see them and then continue on to see the exteriors of the other monasteries on the island.
3. Ali Pasha Museum
Another of the top things to do in Ioannina also happens to be located on the Island With No Name. The Ali Pasha Museum houses relics from the Greek revolutionary period in the 19th century and a collection of objects from the reign of Ottoman leader Ali Pasha from 1788 to 1822. One strange exhibit showcases a recreation of a story where women were thrown into the lake to drown after they were believed to be spies. The black and white movie is a little bizarre to see but interesting to learn about.
4. Cave of Perama
One of the most impressive things to do in Ioannina is to take a tour of the massive Cave of Perama. It is truly 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 come out to one of the best views of Ioannina overlooking lake Pamvotida and the city. It is just 7 Euro to enter.
5. Ioannina Castle
Ioannina Castle is unique in the fact that it is still inhabited. Its walls run through the historic district of the city and it is easy to explore. Dating back to 528 AD, it is the oldest Byzantine fortress in Greece. There are several attractions within the castle walls including Fethiye Mosque, The Byzantine Museum, The Kale Acropolis, and the Ancient Synagogue Of Ioannina.
There is a 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. Its Kale (Inner Castle)
One of the best places for sunset in Ioannina is Its Kale. Its Kale means inner castle and is located at the top of a hill overlooking the lake. Once you enter the main gate, you’ll be immersed in its archeological site housing a guardhouse, a warehouse that was used to store ammunition by Ali Pasha’s army, and a Byzantine fortification. After taking in the views and the restored ruins, head to the cafe for some Greek coffee and delicious dessert.
7. Where to Eat in Ioannina
When it comes to things to do in Ioannina, eating is one of the main attractions and meals can last for hours. Here are a few restaurants where we ate in Ioannina that were stands outs and we highly recommend.
This was certainly one of the stand-out restaurants that we ate at in Ioannina with a gastronomical extravaganza of modern Greek and Mediterranean dishes paired with wine. The chef and staff take great pride in preparing the best food experience in Ioannina.
Located in the Frontzuou Politia hotel, this protected historical site is a beautiful destination for dinner with stunning views of the city. Located just one km from the city, this complex feels as if you have stepped back in time. Make sure to sit out in the atrium with the best view of Ioannina from above.
No Ties is a great Italian restaurant in the old city with a relaxed atmosphere in a lively part of the old center. We sat outside on the street and enjoyed family style dining.
Seirios has a lovely outdoor patio located in the lakeside area. It has been running since 1997 and prides itself on combining traditional Greek food with a modern twist. It has a fun and relaxed atmosphere.
Where to Stay in Ioannina
Hotel du Lac Congress Center and Spa
Hotel du Lac is one of the best places to stay in Ioannina located walking distance (20 minutes) to Old Town. Its buffet breakfast was a highlight for us with the dining area directly by the tranquil pool. Check rates and availability on TripAdvisor / Booking.com
The Lake Hotel
Located near the airport, this is a great place to stay on your first or final day in Ioannina. The Lake Hotel is also a popular conference center with a beautiful pool overlooking Lake Pamvotida. We sat on our terrace watching rowers pass on the tranquil waters as the sun came up over the lake and felt as if we could stay forever. Check rates and availability on TripAdvisor / Booking.com
Ioannina was a surprising Greek City that is filled with Byzantine history, beautiful monasteries and museums, and lively nightlife. This town is a university town with a large student population making it one of the liveliest towns in the country. Once the sun goes down, we barely saw a bar or restaurant without a packed patio filled with students drinking apero sprirtz 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.