Ioannina Greece is widely overlooked from an international tourism perspective. Mention the name to most people and they probably have not only never heard of Ioannina, but they also couldn’t tell you where it is!
Ioannina Greece is a beautiful Greek city that sits in the North-western corner of the mainland. It is 400km away from Athens, and 259km away from Thessaloniki, respectively.
Quite, unlike most Greek cities, Ioannina Greece is far from a bustling, overcrowded megalopolis. The old streets run parallel to the beautiful waters of Lake Pamvotida and are set against a backdrop of the snowcapped Pindus mountains.
From here, you are relatively close to the Greek-Albanian border. If you are looking for an offbeat Greek travel destination or a wonderful place to visit in Greece during the winter, Ioannina may be it.
Falling in Love with Ioannina Greece
Leafy Ioannina Greece is also affectionately nicknamed “Yanenna” by locals. It is one of the most underrated travel destinations in all of Greece.
It is best known for being a university town and its large, diverse student population means that there are a plethora of cheap accommodation choices, excellent coffee shops, and nightlife options. All of this makes Ioannina a great choice if you are exploring Greece on a budget.
Ioannina is the capital of the Epirus region of Greece. However, it certainly has more of a small-town vibe than a city ambiance.
The historic centre of Ioannina boasts quaint stone houses, traditional kafenions, and quirky stores that sell all manner of eccentric artisanal products. This guide covers the best things to do in Ioannina. If your schedule permits, it’s a nice place to visit as part of a wider Northern Greece adventure.
A Brief History of Ioannina Greece
Historical records first mention the existence of Ioannina Greece in the 9th and 10th centuries. At this time, it was considered an important Byzantine settlement.
Over the centuries, Ioannina has been conquered, occupied, and attacked by various civilisations. Each has left its mark on the city, its architecture, and its cuisine.
In 1349, the city fell to the Serbs. Italians, Albanians, and Turks all subsequently made their attempts to invade and conquer. Eventually, the Turks succeeded in 1430.
Perhaps the most renowned figure in Ioannina’s history is the Albanian-born despot Ali Paşa Tepelenë. He ruled over Ioannina from 1788 and started a revolt against the then Ottoman Sultan.
This abruptly ended when he was assassinated in a macabre way. He was decapitated and his head has never been found to this day.
Although Ali Paşa Tepelenë instilled fear into the hearts of locals and did some terrifying and questionable things during his rule, his revolt helped trigger the Greek war for independence. Ioannina was finally reincorporated into Greece in 1913.
Things to do in Ioannina Greece
A trip to Ioannina Greece is very much about immersing yourself in the local culture and enjoying a more relaxed pace of life amidst the stunning nature. There are plenty of things to do in Ioannina to keep you occupied for a day or two.
If you have more time to spare, you could very much stretch out a trip to Ioannina to a week at a more relaxed pace. Better yet, you can use it as a base for exploring the wider Epirus region.
Roadtrip through the villages of Tzoumerka and Zagorohoria for a journey back in time. Greece may be known for its islands but it is actually also a great place to go hiking.
Ioannina Greece Highlights
In the Ioannina area, you can go trekking along the majestic Vikos Gorge, or hike through the lush forests that encircle the city. Temperatures become cooler in October in Greece. The Autumn and Spring months are perfect for hiking vacations.
At a glance, the best things to do in Ioannina with limited time are:
- Stroll around Pamvotida Lake
- Sample the local cuisine of Epirus
- Sail out to the nameless island in the centre of the lake
- Admire the crumbling remnants of Ioannina’s Ottoman past
- Pay a visit to the Ioannina silversmithing museum
- Explore the abandoned, eerie monasteries on Pamvotida island
Enjoy a Scenic Stroll Along the Lake
Pamvotida Lake is a highlight of any visit to Ioannina Greece. A cobbled pathway leads you around the circumference of the lake.
The path runs all the way from the city’s Parko Katsari to Perama and other nearby villages. Come for a mid-morning stroll as local fishermen set up their nets and a mysterious haze of fog hovers over the water.
Lake Ioannina is a favourite place for locals to jog, cycle, and walk their dogs. Beautiful contemporary art pieces by local artists act as waypoints along the route.
The path is especially beautiful in the fall when the trees are decorated with shades of orange and burgundy. One of the best things to do in Ioannina is to simply sit by the lake with a warm cup of takeout coffee and enjoy the view.
Sail Out to Lake Ioannina Island
There is a little island in the centre of Lake Pamvotida. This island has played an important role in Greek history and is occupied by a quaint stone village.
The island was never given a name and is known by locals as quite simply “the island”. Boats run hourly between the port at Plateia Mavili and Ioannina island. The journey takes approximately 10 minutes and tickets cost €2 each way.
Spend some time exploring the port area. Then, visit the Ali Pasha house and learning the history of the island’s former Ottoman ruler.
You will find several caves dotted around the island. Locals used these for shelter when the Italians bombed Northern Greece during World War II.
Uncover Abandoned Monasteries
Outside of the port area, the majority of Ioannina island consists of woodland and is fairly remote. There are several crumbling ancient monasteries dotted among the trees. The majority of these are now eerily abandoned.
The origins of a lot of Ioannina island’s monasteries are unknown. Many of those that have fallen into abandonment were owned by local noble families.
Inside their empty courtyards and church halls are impressive Orthodox frescoes, and overgrown courtyards and gardens which maintain an air of eerie beauty. These are a photographer’s dream.
Learn the History of Ali Pasha
Ioannina island was once home to Ali Pasha. He was an Ottoman Albanian ruler who ruled the city during the days of the Turkish occupation.
Ali Pasha is recognised for transforming Ioannina into a cultural and intellectual hub. However, he was also known for being a cruel leader.
The Ali Pasha House
The Ali Pasha house on Ioannina island tells the story of the Ottoman leader’s life and rule. The museum is €3.50 to enter and contains artifacts from the Ottoman era.
One haunting exhibit tells the story of “the drowning”. Ali Pasha would tie rocks to the feet of women who committed adultery and throw them into Lake Ioannina.
This is a haunting past to what is today a beautiful lake. It adds just another layer of mystery and spookiness to a body of water that is almost perpetually covered with fog.
Marvel at the Remnants of the Ottoman Empire
The sun-bleached ruins of several old Islamic sites point to Ioannina’s Ottoman Empire past. The former Aslan Pasha Mosque has now been converted into the Ioannina Municipal Museum.
This is well worth visiting if you have time. Browsing the various exhibits here takes less than an hour. They provide an interesting glimpse into the various cultures and religions that cohabited in Ioannina.
People of Jewish, Islamic, and Christian faith once all lived alongside each other in Ioannina. If you are brave enough, the highlight of the Aslan Pasha mosque is the view that can be obtained by ascending to the top of its minaret.
Other notable Ioannina ruins include the Fethiye Mosque, the fortifications of Ioannina castle, and the old Byzantine bathhouses (early hammam). All of these buildings can be admired for free on a self-guided walking tour of the city’s historic sites.
Stroll the Narrow Streets of Ioannina Greece
Getting lost among Ioannina’s intricate network of labyrinth-like streets is one of the best things to do in Ioannina. It is just as enjoyable as sightseeing in the city itself.
The city is comprised of narrow cobbled passageways filled with picturesque, pastel-coloured houses. Ioannina has always been a multicultural city.
The architecture here displays a mixture of Jewish, Islamic, and Christian cultural influences. Among the narrow streets and crowded piazzas, you will find a plethora of interesting stores.
You will stumble across quaint meze restaurants (eateries that specialise in small plates), artisanal stores, and homely coffee shops. For a local dining experience, consider stopping by Stoa Louli, or Mistagoyia (Μυσταγωγία) for dinner.
Many of the artisanal stores here sell local handicrafts. Carved furnishings, handmade weavings, and traditional folkloric art are interesting local exports.
Visit the Museums of Ioannina
Ioannina is home to several interesting museums. The Byzantine Museum contains a number of artifacts recovered from the region that dates back to the Byzantine era.
Meanwhile, the Silversmithing museum provides insight into the dwindling silversmithing trade. For centuries, Ioannina Greece has been known for the craft of processing silver by hand.
Learn About Ioannina’s Silversmithing Trade
Most silversmiths moved their production out of the centre but some still operate from shops and workspaces within the old castle walls. Historic references specify Ioannina as being an important silversmithing city during the Byzantine era.
Meanwhile, Turkish historic sources state that the creation and export of silver items were at their peak in 1430. Silver jewelry, handmade silver utensils, cast utensils, and hand-engraved ecclesiastical objects were popular creations.
Items created with love in Ioannina were exported far and wide. Bucharest, Belgrade, Prague, Venice, Vienna, and Skopje were major recipients.
If you are interested to buy silver or see craftsmen at work, head to Centre of Traditional Handcrafts at Arhiepiskopou Makariou 11. Here, you can see artisans at work and ask them about their craft, as well as browse through a vast array of silver products.
Explore Perama Cave
A trip to Perama Cave is a popular excursion from Ioannina. The pretty town sits just across the water from the Epirus capital.
You can see Perama from afar when strolling along the lake. For 7 euros, you can have a guided tour of the cave with a local Archaeologist.
Perama Cave is regarded as being one of the most important caves in the world. It dates back over 1.5 million years and is home to 19 different types of stalactites.
Stop by the Castle of Ioannina
The Castle of Ioannina dates back to 528 B.C. This is the oldest Byzantine castle in Greece.
Remnants of the castle’s walls and fortifications can be found throughout the centre of Ioannina. Some houses, stores, and plazas sit within the walls of the old fortifications.
It’s interesting to see how locals potter about their day-to-day life, living within the walls of the oldest castle in Greece. They almost forget all of the centuries, battles, and historical events these walls have seen.
Sample the Local Delicacies
Greek classic dishes like gyros and pastitsio can be found across the country. However, Ioannina also boasts several local delicacies that are specific to the region. Most Greek regions are home to regional delicacies.
Greek Deli Products Make Wonderful Souvenirs
The crisp fresh mountain air and fertile soil of the Epirus region mean that treats such as apples, walnuts, and chestnuts are available here in abundance. A local tradition is to pick fresh veggies and preserve them in a pickle.
Pickled delicacies are an Epirus delicacy known as “toursia”. You can find jars of toursia on shelves at local delicatessens. The item makes a nice edible souvenir from your time in Yannena.
Sink Your Teeth into Homemade Epirus Pies
The Ioannina region is also well known for its specialty Greek pastries. Stop by a local bakery and order yourself a warm, flaky karidopita (walnut pie), a sweet galatopita (milk pie), or a flavourful savoury hortopita (pie filled with wild greens).
Hang Out in Quaint Coffee Shops
Few pastimes are more quintessentially Greek than immersing yourself in Greek coffee culture. Pull up a seat in a crowded piazza, and order yourself a freddo cappuccino.
A popular thing to do in Greece is to play a game of backgammon while you hang out at a coffee shop or a kafenion. Most stores have their own backgammon boards that they will lend you if you ask.
Opt to play a game or alternative, people watch as local pappous (Greek grandfathers) play. Many of Ioannina’s coffee stores are set inside historic stone houses. LUDOST café bar, old post café, and Kofi Micro roastery are particularly favoruites.
Take a Day Trip to Metsovo
Metsovo is a stunning mountain village that sits within the Pindus Mountains, just 50km north of Ioannina. Buses to Metsovo from Ioannina depart at 6 am daily and return in the evenings.
The culture of Metsovo is different from that in the majority of Greece. This is because Metsovo is a Vlach settlement.
Sample the village’s namesake “Metsovone” cheese, follow the woodland hiking trails or enjoy indulging in local delicacies in the village’s homely tavernas. Greece’s highest altitude vineyard can be found here: Katogi Averoff.
If you are interested, you can reach out to them and organise a tasting of their produce. There are many charming guesthouses in Metsovo if you prefer to stay overnight and return the next day.
Visit the Archaeological Site of Dodoni
Dodoni is a small archaeological site that sits 21km just outside of Ioannina. It is one of the oldest oracles in all of Greece and was built in dedication to the God Zeus.
The Ancient Greek theatre that sits at Dodoni is remarkably well-preserved. The pleasant thing about travelling here is that Dodoni is not very well-known.
You seldom have to share the space with many other tourists. Not to mention, the views of the mountains and lush greenery that surrounds Ioannina are wonderful from this point. This is, without hesitation, one of the best things to do in Ioannina.
Where to Stay in Ioannina
There are several cute and homely hotels in Ioannina and the surrounding area. Many hotels are nestled inside old stone guesthouses with in-room fireplaces.
Ioannina is a charming winter travel destination. A selection of the best hotels to consider in Ioannina is detailed below.
Ali Pasha Hotel
Where: Chatzikosta 9, Ioannina 454 44
Ioannina’s Ali Pasha Hotel offers comfort and luxury without the luxury price tag. The property really captures the personality of this region. The hotel’s rooms blend exposed stone walls and cozy fireplaces, with contemporary modern furnishings.
Rooms start at €60 per night. You can browse the latest rates and availability here.
Where: 57 Andr. Palaiologou, Ioannina, 45221, Ioannina 452 21
The charming Kastro Guesthouse sits in a restored mansion within the walls of the historic Ioannina castle. The rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated.
Guests can enjoy a sumptuous homecooked Greek breakfast each morning – either from the hotel’s restaurant, or alfresco style in the private courtyard. The rooms start at €50 per night. You can browse the latest rates and availability here.
Getting to Ioannina
Getting to Ioannina can be a little awkward unless you are already in Greece. The city is situated close to the Albanian border, some 411 km north of Athens.
Fly to Ioannina
Ioannina International Airport is situated just 10 minutes outside of the city centre and offers a limited number of flight routes.
The airport offers routes to and from the following destinations:
- Sweden (Stockholm and Gothenburg)
- Denmark (Copenhagen)
- Cyprus (Larnaca)
- Greece (Athens)
Several Greek domestic airlines offer flights between Athens and Ioannina starting from €40. The journey from Athens to Ioannina takes just one hour.
Reach Ioannina by Train
There is no train station in Ioannina. If you want to reach the city via public transport, at least part of the journey needs to be made by bus.
To get from Athens to Ioannina (and vice versa), you need to first take a bus from Ioannina to Kalabaka. Then, you need to take a train from Kalabaka to Athens’ Larissa station.
The total journey takes approximately 9 hours. Fortunately, Greek trains are very modern, clean, and convenient. Most offer complimentary wifi onboard.
Reach Ioannina by Bus
The easiest way to reach Ioannina by Greek public transport is to take the bus. Buses connect Ioannina to Thessaloniki, Athens, and other major Greek towns and cities.
The bus from Athens to Ioannina takes approximately 5.5 hours. It takes approximately 3.5 hours to reach Thessaloniki from Ioannina.
KTEL is the name of the national bus network in Greece. You should note, however, that there is not one centralised website for reserving bus tickets here.
Instead, there are different KTEL websites for different regions of Greece. KTEL Ioannina is the website for the Ioannina Greece region.
Meanwhile, KTEL Attikis is the KTEL branch for Athens, and KTEL Macedonia is the branch for Thessaloniki. Bus tickets can be purchased online in advance or in person at bus station ticket offices.
Rent a Car
Choosing to rent a car in Greece is a good way to get around. It offers you a lot more freedom and flexibility and is not as intimidating as it may sound.
If you plan on staying in Ioannina Greece as a stepping stone to getting to Tzoumerka or Zagorohoria, you absolutely need to rent a vehicle. Public transport here is simply non existent.
It takes approximately 4.5 hours to drive from Athens to Ioannina, and 2 hours 50 minutes from Thessaloniki, to Ioannina, respectively. Several well known car rental companies operate within Greece.
Avis, Budget, and Hertz all have branches in Ioannina. You will pass through several tolls on the roads from Athens/Thessaloniki. Be sure to carry plenty of change as these are all cash only.
Do you have any further questions about planning a trip to Ioannina Greece? I’ve been living in Athens since 2017 and I have visited Ioannina on numerous occasions.
Feel free to reach out to me via the comments if there’s any way I can be of assistance. Safe travels!
Geia Sou! Melissa xo