Ioannina or Yannena is a beautiful town in the region of Epirus in northwestern Greece. Built at the banks of lake Pamvotida, one of the oldest lakes worldwide is a place full of history and art. Ioannina is also known as the city of silversmiths and as a gastronomical paradise.
I have visited Ioannina twice so far and I cannot wait to go back.
Things to do in Ioannina
Explore the castle town of Ioannina
The castle town of Ioannina is the oldest Byzantine fortress in Greece and is one of the few castles that is still inhabited. I was lucky enough to stay at a lovely boutique hotel inside its walls during my visit. It was built in 528 AD by the Emperor Justinian and it played an important role in the history of the town over the years.
Some important monuments inside its walls are the Its Kale Acropolis there you will see the Fetiche Mosque where you will learn about the story of Ali Pasa and the role that played in the history of the city.
In front of the Mosque, there are the graves of Ali Pasa and his first wife. Other sites that worth a visit are the Byzantine museum with an extensive collection of Byzantine icons, the ammunition depot, a Byzantine silversmithing collection and a nice cafe with impressive views of the lake and the surrounding mountains.
Other interesting sites inside the castle walls are the remains of a Turkish library, the Municipal Ethnographic Museum housed in the impressive Aslan Passa Mosque that has a great collection of traditional uniforms of the area, silverware, and guns.
Located inside Ioannina’s historic castle is also the Silversmithing Museum that teaches visitors the history of Epirote silversmithing and how it was carried out in the region during the pre-industrial period with silver and gold items including jewelry silverware, and arms on display with texts, films, and interactive digital games ensuring the whole family can walk away having learned something.
Opening Times: Wednesday-Monday (closed Tuesday’s) 1st March – 15th October 10 am -6 pm and 16th October – 28th February 10 am – 5 pm
Lastly don’t forget to wander around the alleyways of the old town and see the traditional houses and shops.
Have a walk around lake Pamvotida
One of my favorite spots in Ioannina is the beautiful lake. You can have a walk around it or just sit on one of the benches and admire the view, watching the seagulls and the ducks. There are some nice cafes and restaurants around the lake. Cafe Ludost at the banks of the lake is a favorite of mine as it is dod friendly. Our dog Charlie enjoyed his visit there and especially his treats and water bowl.
Take the boat to the island
The beautiful small island of Ioannina aka ‘the anonymous island’ is located on Lake Pamvotida and is one of the few inhabited lake islands in Europe. Once a monastic center, visitors who make the 10-minute ferry journey across to the car-free island can explore the quaint backstreets of the only village, enjoy time in nature with a walk through the woods, lap up the lakeside views, or understand the island’s past by visiting the museum and monasteries.
Ferry Price: €2 each way
Ferry Schedule: Daily 8 am-midnight during the Summer and until 10 pm in Winter.
Visit Ali Pasha Museum
Located on Ioannina Island is the place where Ali Pasha made his last stand in 1822. The museum provides a place for visitors to understand more about the revolutionary period and the legacy of the Ottoman Albanian ruler, Ali Pasha of Ioannina who ruled between 1788-1822.
The museum contains personal effects of Ali Pasha and those closest to him along with historic relics such as etchings, weapons, jewelry, costumes, paintings, and silver items from the Epirus region in the 19th century.
Opening Times: Tuesday to Sunday 8 am-5 pm
Have Dinner with a Fantastic View
The Frontzu Politeia is a wonderful destination in any season. High on a hill, it has spectacular views of Ioannina and Lake Pamvotis. Besides the wonderful view, the restaurant has a very impressive interior and true atmosphere. The carved wooden ceilings, for instance, are taken from traditional mansions that were in a state of disrepair.
There is also plenty of tradition on the menu – this is the right place to come for expertly prepared traditional dishes like hilopites with rooster. In the summer, you may wish to come for cocktails on the beautiful terrace, under the stars.
Explore Perama Cave
Located just 5 km away from the city center, it’s one of the rarest and most beautiful caves in the world. It was created 1.500.000 years ago in the heart of Goritsa hill. It has a steady temperature of 17 Celcius throughout the year.
As soon as you arrive you will be greeted by your guide that will show you around the cave. The tour takes around 45 minutes, during that time you will learn about the history of the cave and you will enjoy a great display of stalactites and stalagmites. Beware that there are a lot of steep steps inside the cave.
Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the cave.
Opening hours: daily 09:00 – 17:00
Tickets cost: Full 7 € Reduced 3.50 €.
Visit Dodoni Sanctuary and Theatre
The archaeological site of Dodoni is located 21 km away from Ioannina and it’s home to one of the oldest Oracles of the Hellenic world. The sanctuary was dedicated to Zeus and it had an Oracle area and a theatre that are still visible today along with a Prytaneum and a Parliament. You can climb at the theatre and enjoy a magnificent view of nature and the mountains.
Opening hours: daily 08:00 – 15:00
Tickets cost: Full 4 € Reduced 2 €.
Try the local delicacies
The area of Ioannina is famous for its tasty cuisine. Things you should definitely try are different kinds of pies and fish from the lake like trout, eels, and frog’s legs. Another special delicacy of the area is a dessert called baklavas.
Buy traditional products
Apart from the famous baklava other things you can take home with you from Ioannina include herbs from the surrounding mountains, an alcohol-free liqueur made from fruits only available there, and of course any kind of silver items like jewelry.
Other interesting sites inside the area include the Archaeological Museum of Ioannina located in the central square of the city with findings from the Paleolithic era until the post-Roman years and the Pavlos Vrellis museum of Wax Effigies at the outskirts of the city. At the museum, you will learn the history of the area which is reproduced by the wax effigies.
Where to stay in Ioannina
This stunning boutique hotel and spa is located inside one of the most prestigious traditional mansions in Ioannina’s historic Shiarava district. The building dates from the 18th century and is one of a few that survived the great fire of 1820. Today, the building has been lovingly restored and converted into an intimate 5-star hotel allowing visitors to step back in time whilst still enjoying modern conveniences.
This cozy boutique hotel is a unique jewel located in the heart of the historic city. Decorated in the style of a luxurious monastery yet still benefiting from all the modern amenities that a traveler needs, a stay at this 4-star hotel ensures you remember you’re in Greece once you close your hotel room door. With only 6 rooms you can rest assured you’ll be treated like family so book early to avoid missing out on a unique stay in Ioannina!
How to get to Ioannina
You can get to Ioannina from Athens through Patra by car or public bus (Ktel). The distance is 445 km and you will need approximately 4 hours. From Thessaloniki, it’s 261 km and through the new Egnatia Highway, you will need 2 hours and 40 minutes. You can also take the public bus ktel from Thessaloniki. Lastly, there is an airport in Ioannina called King Pyrros with regular flights from major cities.
Have you ever been to Ioannina?