Ioannina – a beginner’s guide to Greece’s best mountain city

Ioannina's lakes during the fall

Close your eyes. Now, imagine a big lake, surrounded by mountains, and a city next to it. A city full of history, a city that knows how to combine the old and the new in harmony. Yet, a city with one of the country’s top universities, with lots of culture and learning opportunities. If I had to give a brief description of Ioannina, it would be this.

Ioannina is the capital of the Epirus region, located in northwest Greece, build around 480 meters above the sea level. It is a great city to visit during all seasons. In my opinion, the best season to come is during the fall; The city has beautiful colors, especially around the lake area, and it is neither very cold nor hot, so you can explore it without worrying about the weather. It rains often, so don’t forget your umbrella!

How to get to Ioannina

To begin with, Ioannina is 411 km far from Athens and 262 km far from Thessaloniki. The city can be reached in various ways, but the fastest is by car (3 hours from Thessaloniki via Egnatia Road and 4.30 hours from Athens via Olympia and Ionia Road) and by air. You can also travel by bus (7 buses/ day from Athens, one-way ticket price 42.00€ and 6 buses/ day from Thessaloniki, one- way ticket price 30.60€)

The best things to do in Ioannina

Visit the city’s castle

Let’s say everything has gone well and you have reached the city. Now, it’ s time to explore it, right? To begin with, the city’s castle is one of the city’s most characteristic attractions, a magic place. Once you cross the central gate, be prepared to be transferred into another era! The castle was built around the 9th A.C. century. Today, there are still people living here – I also did during my first year as a university student. It is also a perfect place for photos.

The castle has two citadels and the view from them is gorgeous! The citadels host some museums as well. However, the one that stands out, the Silversmithing museum, is located in the western bastion of the north-eastern acropolis. The region of Epirus has a tradition in silversmithing and visiting the museum would give you a strong taste about that. You can learn about the history and technology of silversmithing and see a collection of various works from the 18th century to today. The standard entrance fee is 4€.

And if you got tired wandering around the castle, don’ t worry; there are some hotels, shops, and cafes to rest.

Visit Pamvotis Lake and its island

A visit to the castle can be perfectly combined with a visit to the lake. Pamvotis Lake is one of the oldest lakes in the world and the second oldest in Europe, following Lake Ohrid, aged approximately about 7 million years. The best way to explore the lake is by going on a long walk; Begin from Mavili square and walk around the castle, around Dionisiou Filosofou to the Garivaldi street. It is also relaxing and you can do it at your own pace. The lake’s island and the island of Agios Achilleios in Prespa are the only lake islands in Greece which are inhabited. You can take the ferry to the island. There are routes from morning to evening every 30′ minutes during summer and every 1 hour during winter, travel time is around 15′, and the ticket price is 3€.

There is only one village on the island, where you can take a walk. Moreover, a visit to Ali Pasha’s museum will allow you to learn about the ruler of Ioannina, Ali Pasha, about Greece during the revolution time (1821- 30) and life in Greece during the early 19th century. General admission is 3. However, the island is a tourist area, so I wouldn’t recommend buying souvenirs, sweets or staying for lunch there. You can find anything in the city, at a better price and quality.

Check also “Parga: a colorful piece of Epirus

Walk around the city’s center

Ioannina is also a good destination for shopping. You can find a good variety of shops in the city center, including famous brands like Bershka or Zara. While you are walking to the center from the lake, I would suggest you stop by the Litharitsia park, just behind the 8th Brigade, where you can enjoy a beautiful view of the city and the lake. It is also next to the city’s archaeological museum. Next to the 8th Brigade, there is the Clock of Ioannina– build in 1905, it is one of the most characteristic symbols of the city… and a popular meeting place!

Ioannina's clock
© Emily Manta ,

Enjoy the marvelous view

If you want to enjoy the best view of the city, you have two options; If you have a car, you should visit the village of Lingiades. It is a picturesque village, at the Mitsikeli mountain, just 13 km outside of Ioannina. I am going to let the pictures speak themselves. Imagine that I went there on a rainy day! At the village, you can also see a monument; It is dedicated to the massacre of the village during the 2nd World War in 1943 by the Nazis.

© Emily Manta ,
© Emily Manta ,

However, If you don’t have a car, I would suggest you go to the Frontzou Politeia; Located at the Agia Triada hill, it has a great view of the city as well. This complex has a café, a restaurant and a first-class hotel too.

Check also “Zagori: The place beyond the mountains”

Learn more about the local culture and history

In addition, the city has a rich history. During the old times, and to our days in a point, there were people of 3 religions in the city; Christians, Jews, and Muslims and there are plenty of monuments dedicated to each of the communities. To discover things about these 3 communities, I would suggest you going to Ioannina’s historical museum Ch. Nikolaou. It is probably the newest museum in the city, opened in 2018, but has a great collection and really travels you back in time. I was lucky enough to get toured by the owners when I visited it and I have to say that they really love what they do and they care about the museum! General admission is 4€.

Actually, one of the reasons that I love Ioannina is that I can see history in almost every corner; From the street’s names to a simple walk into the city. It is one of the few cities that look forward to the future, but still, combine the past and the present in a unique way.

Eat and drink like a local

To begin with, you cannot leave the city without trying its famous sticky pastries (siropiasta). My personal favorite is Nousias (K. Karamanli 1), but Diethnes (Ioannina central square) or Mantzios (Dodonis 10) are also great choices. Another store that worths a visit is Select (Averof 2). It’s not one of the stores that you’d notice easily but it has the best bougatsa (a kind of traditional Greek custard pie) in the city.

Moving on to choices for lunch, you can find a variety of restaurants for all budgets in the city. For homemade Greek food, try Panda Mama (Vas. Ariva 1) or Balsamico (Plateia Neomartyros Georgiou). For something more gourmet, go to Kyra Frosini (Dion. Filosofou 6).

And if you get thirsty, there are lots of cafes in the city. For example, Yellow Bus (Vlachlidi 5) has a great, modern atmosphere and unique drinks. Chevalier (Paleologou 1) is a cozy café inside the castle. In Juice4you (Michael Aggelou 5), you can find the freshest juices in the city, in a great price.

Where to stay in Ioannina

  • Filyra -An affordable apartment-style hotel inside the city’s castle. The owner is very kind and helpful too.
  • Its Kale Boutique Hotel – A boutique hotel also inside the castle. It has a great breakfast with local products
  • Domus Inn – A very clean, budget-friendly hotel located in Perama. Just a bit outside of Ioannina, but easily accessible with bus or car and close to another famous attraction – the Perama cave
  • Hotel Du Lac Congress Spa – 5-star luxury hotel by the lake, offering also a conference center, a spa, and a pool

I would be happy if I managed to give you a taste of what Ioannina is like and why I love this city so much. If you need more suggestions, I will surely write again in the future and you can always reach me on social media!

I hope you visit Ioannina soon and find this guide useful!

By Emily Mada

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