I must sadly admit that until my trip I didn’t even know that there is a city called Ioannina in Greece. I found out about it only when doing researches how to get from Greece to Albania in the best way.
In past I just took the adventurous night bus from Thessaloniki to Berat but since this time I was going to Gjirokastra this wasn’t really an option as the bus was arriving there at 2am, in the middle of the night. But then I found that there are pretty good connections from Ioannina to Gjirokastra and it takes only 2 hours. That’s how I’ve decided to visit Ioannina, Greece.
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Where is Ioannina, Greece?
Ioannina is located in the north-west part of Greece at the shore of the Lake Pamvotis, close to the border with Albania, some 70kms away from the seaside and 400kms away from Athens, the capital of the country. It is the capital and the biggest city of the Epirus province.
In Greek standards Ioannina isn’t a very old city. The name was first mentioned at the end of the 9th century and since then it had a troublesome history and changed the rulers couple of times. Eventually, in 1913, Ioannina was incorporated to Greece.
Things to do in Ioannina, Greece
To be honest there are not terribly many things to do in Ioannina but the city is pleasant enough to spend some time there. I had a bit less than 24 hours in Ioannina and I felt I could have stayed there longer, just to enjoy the place.
I went to visit Ioannina in late summer, at the very end of September. The weather was still warm and sunny yet the city wasn’t very busy and no one seemed to hurry. That’s definitely what I needed at the very beginning of my yet another Balkans trip.
The first place I visited was the lakeside. On the way there I passed by numerous cafes and charming lanes as well as ruins of the castle but I promised myself to come back there later.
Lake Pamvotis was amazing! So picturesque, so calm, with clear waters and surrounded by rocky mountains. This was definitely not the holiday image we get from Greece but I admit I liked this version of this popular country a lot. Spending time at the lakeside, sitting on the bench and looking at the landscape in front of me or just wandering around was one of my favorite things to do in Ioannina. It was already there that I felt I really am on the holidays.
I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed the lakeside. There were people of all ages, doing the same as me – walking around or just hanging out along the promenade lined with trees. It seemed like the lakeside is the place to be in Ioannina.
I spent most of my afternoon near the lake and only at the time of the sunset I went to the castle area. The Ioannina castle was built in the 6th century and is the oldest byzantine fortress in Greece. What’s unique about the place is that the castle is still an inhabited area.
Besides the old houses you can also find there Its Kale Acropolis with Fetiche Mosque or the Byzantine museum among many others. While the rest of the city was vibrant the castle area was tranquil and the best place to witness the beautiful sunset.
You can also visit Ioannina with a guide – click here for more details about the affordable private tour!
Vibrant cafe scene in Ioannina
Ioanina is also the city of students. The center is full of numerous bars and cafes, I was actually surprised how many of them they are for the city of around 65k inhabitants. Even if it was Thursday evening there were so many people hanging around, making the city alive until late evening hours.
Even on the next day, before noon, the cafes still seemed like a popular place among locals. What I liked even more was that, besides charming corners perfect for Instagram pictures, there was some really decent street art around. That definitely added up to the atmosphere of the city.
Among the bars and cafes you can find small craftsmen shops where men still use their skills. It reminded me a bit of Bascarsija in Sarajevo where you can hear the sound of tiny hammers hitting the metal when a real masterpieces are done. And it was the same in Ioannina.
What to see around Ioannina
Ioannina can be also a perfect base to explore the interesting area around, something I didn’t do due to the lack of time. The easiest trip is a ferry to Nisi island with couple of monasteries dating back to the 13th century – the boat departs often from the promenade.
Near Ioannina you can also find Cave of Perama, byzantine town of Arta or Pindus National Park with stunning views. Ioannina is really worth more than just a short visit!
There are organized tours you can join in Pindus National Park, click below for more details:
Is it worth to visit Ioannina?
For years I was a victim of the Greek stereotype that most of the interesting places (besides Athens and Meteora) are at the islands. I associated Greece with the typical landscape with white houses and blue doors as that’s how we always see the country. Inland Greece seems not to exist in the tourism space really.
Now I’m actually amused when I see how stupid I was. North Greece is very similar to the Balkans when it comes to architecture, landscape and even culture and now I know very well this is my kind of place.
I’m really glad I’ve decided to visit Ioannina as it kind of opened my eyes and now I know I really want to discover more of inland and especially northern Greece. Don’t make my mistake and, especially if you enjoy Balkans, plan your own trip there too!
Ioannina, Greece – practical information
How to get to Ioannina
I took the bus from Thessaloniki, there are six direct departures through the day and the journey takes 3 hours and 30 minutes. I paid for the ticket around €35. You can also take the bus from Athens but it’s a long journey and will probably take most of your day. There’s also an option to fly from Athens to Ioannina.
Due to the proximity to Albania Ioannina is also connected with this neighbouring country. There are two buses per day, departing from Ioannina to Gjirokastra at 13:15 and 18:00 and the ticket is €8. It takes around 2 hours to get to the final destination, that includes the border crossing.
Where to stay in Ioannina
I stayed at Kentrikon and I can definitely recommend this place. It was within a walking distance to the center and the lakeside, my room was spacious, clean and comfy. With ratings of 8.8/10 on Booking I can see I’m not the only one who enjoyed the place. Click here to check more details and see the current rates.
Other recommended Ioannina hotels:
- Politia (9.0/10 on Booking)
- Hotel Metropolis (9.6/10 on Booking)
- Villa Vilielmini (9.5/10 on Booking)
- Saz City Life Hotel (9.6/10 on Booking)
Where to eat in Ioannina
Most of the best cafes and restaurants are located in the center and close to the lake. You can find some of the best restaurants at TripAdvisor.
Don’t travel without a travel insurance! I’ve learnt my lesson that you never know what might happen and I don’t leave the house without being insured. Click here for more info and best rates on travel insurance at World Nomads!
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