Driving in Greece
Driving in Greece is really not as bad as people make out. Whilst I don’t think we would be brave enough to tackle Athens we have happily rented a car on every visit to Greece on both the mainland and the islands.
There is a fair bit you need to know about driving in Greece, however, and once you get your head around that you will have the world, or at least the country, at your feet. You will have the ability to explore places without coming across a single person. You can visit authentic villages and mountain towns where time has stood still. You can have pristine beaches all to yourself and dine on some of the cheapest and most delicious homemade food, simply by getting off the beaten path and being a little more flexible.
Further reading : Driving in Greece and A Road Trip in Crete
When to do a road trip in Greece
There are so many things to see and do in Greece that actually makes it a year-round destination.
Whilst Summer is obviously the ideal time to spend at the beaches and waterfalls, Spring and Autumn are excellent for hiking and exploring Ancient Ruins, Caves and Archeological sites. Spring will also bring a plethora of beautiful wildflowers and autumn, of course, the autumn leaves, which will make your drive even more scenic.
Even winter is enticing as many of the towns and villages receive some snow, particularly in the mountains, and the stone architecture and wineries lend themselves to cosy moments by an open fire. The casseroles and traditional winter food is hearty and delicious but there are a surprising number of warm days in winter as well, a phenomenon known as ‘Alkyonides’.
If you are planning on driving in and around the Northern Skifields it pays to learn about winter driving and snow.
For most of the destinations mentioned here you will not need to pre-book accommodation ( unless you want to) unless there is a religious event or national holiday in some places like Nafplion and Meteora, and in summer (august) in the beach places like Lefkada and Parga.
Regardless of what time of year you choose you will find the crowds very manageable in most places and in many spots, non-existent.
Athens to Nafplion
Most visitors to Greece will arrive to the country’s lively and historic capital, Athens. It’s an old travel writing cliche, but Athens really is a fascinating blend of old and new – with modern cafes and shops in the shadow of the stunning Acropolis, which has stood perched over the city for some 3,000 years.
While some visitors use Athens simply as a passing-through point and to check off the Acropolis, it’s well worth taking a closer look. There are so many things to do in Athens you won’t regret leaving some time to explore this city.
Athens to Corinth and the Corinth Canal
About an hour’s drive from Athens you will arrive at the Corinth Canal, a fascinating first stop. The drive is almost completely on a modern multi-lane highway with numerous toll booths and there is little of interest along the way.
For thousands of years, rulers and traders throughout the Mediterranean had been frustrated by the difficulty of travel between the Adriatic and Aegean seas. Although on a clear day, each was visible just across the mainland, ships needed to take a long journey around the Peloponnese peninsula.
Although it is believed that a canal was first dreamed up some 2,500 years ago (by Corinth ruler, Periander), it wouldn’t be until the late 19th century that it was actually constructed.
Ancient Corinth is also well worth a visit and is located just 3 kilometers south of the modern city you see today. It was an important city in ancient times due to its strategic location on the sea and was a center of trade and home to much of the naval fleet. At one time it was occupied by the Romans for several centuries and was thought to be one of the first Christian cities after a visit from St. Paul ( Saul).
The site today is dominated by a Doric Temple of Apollo and the remnants of other buildings dating back to the 1st & 2nd century. There is also a magnificent mosaic, the Dionysos mosaic and excellent examples of Greek pottery.
Corinth to Nafplion
Continuing on from Corinth you will take the A7/E65 highway and head into the Peloponnese. At Nemea, you will follow the A7 and turn near Nemea before heading down to Nafplion, which will take around 1 hour.
Nemea is a famed wine region in Greece and is definitely worth a stop. There are several excellent wineries you can visit including Palivou Estate and Domaine Bairaktaris, but it does pay to call ahead first as they don’t encourage drop in’s like in some countries.
After Nemea you will veer left onto Epar.Od.Nafpliou-Korinthou road and your last stop on this road trip – Nafplion! This charming seaport city is located in the Peloponnese and is a popular tourist destination for both domestic and international visitors, but particularly Athenians.
Over recent decades, urban sprawl has seen Nafplion grow up into the nearby hills, however, it is the city’s charming Medieval center that is totally unmissable. Flanked by the sea, it was chosen as the first capital of Independent Greece, largely due to the port.
The city was also well protected throughout the ages, with various defensive structures around it. Perhaps the most famous is the hilltop Fortress of Palamidi, which also enjoys gorgeous views of the sea. If you love the ocean, then you’d best also leave aside plenty of time to enjoy the famed beaches nearby.
There are a number of excellent museums in Nafplion but one that is quite unique is the Komboloi Museum, which houses a mind boggling number of Greek worry beads, albiet in a very small space. The manager is always happy to explain the history and craftsmanship of the very many beads which can be found made in marble, glass, stone and at one point, bone.
There are many places to stay in and around Nafplio to suit all budgets. You will find everything from luxury boutique hotel 3Sixty Hotel to cheap and cheerful guesthouses like Filyra Pension, both of which are in the Old Town.
Families may prefer to stay at Anemos Rooms which are located in the new part of town but have self contained apartments.
We really wanted to stay in the old town and were delighted with our time at Gambello Rooms. Situated in a gorgeous converted Neo-classical mansion the rooms are very comfortable, spacious and ours had a balcony with views out over the bay. Breakfast was good and the location was perfect. Great price too! In fact if we could find an equivalent to Gambello Rooms in every town we would be set for life!
Its a delightful town with a charming historic old town full of excellent tavernas, bars and shops and surrounded by a multitude of things to see and do – the Heli peninsula, the Nemea wine region, numerous historical sights, Forts, Castles and even some excellent beaches.
It truly is one of the nicest towns in all of Europe.”
Nafplion to Kalamata
We adored our time exploring the Peloponnese on our last trip and look forward to seeing even more next time. It really does offer everything the islands do, without the crowds or the prices ( of Santorini and Mykonos)!
Further reading : Peloponnese Holidays
Nafplion to Sparta
The mega-success of the movie 300 has helped put Sparta back on the map, in a big way. Today, it’s a popular stop for movie and/or history buffs wanting to see legendary Sparta for themselves.
To get to Sparta from Nafplion you can either rejoin the A7/E65 at Sterna which will take around 90 minutes or you can drive around the bay of Nafplion and over the mountains, joining the E961 south of Tripoli, which take an extra 10 minutes. The later is more picturesque but the roads are more narrow and windy.
At first glance, Sparta may not live up to its dramatic reputation. Once known as the most powerful and feared warriors in Greece, the Spartans’ victories in battle are well-known. Such was their reputation that they never fortified the town, instead of relying on their might to protect their capital.
This worked for some time, until the city fell – slowly, after a decisive defeat in around 370 BCE. The fact that the Spartans had never fortified their city meant it was soon largely overlooked, before the movie renewed interest in the town.
Today, Sparta is a humble but pleasant place to stop and learn more about the legendary past of the Spartans, but it is mostly visited in order to see the incredible site of Mystras some 20 minutes west of town. Mystras is one of the best preserved medieval Byzantine cities in the world and is perched on a hilltop with commanding views of the valley below.
Sparta to Monemvasia
From Sparta, you will join the EO Monemvasias Krokeon road, which is a dual carriageway and easy driving. The journey should take around 90 minutes.
If you do want to deviate for some sightseeing, the Castle of Geraki in the village of Geraki is a stunning example of Byzantine architecture and well worth the detour.
The rich history of Monemvasia dates back to the time of the Byzantine emperor Maurice, who founded the city in the year 582 AD.
The island was created when part of the mainland was cut during an earthquake, which adds to the charm. It was deliberately designed to blend into the mountain it clings to and therefore not be seen by enemies at sea. Monemvasia was once a thriving seaport during the time of the emperor Andronicus XII and after the occupation by the Ottomans, which lasted up until the early 19th century.It became a fortress, inhabited by groups including the Franks, Byzantines, Venetians, and Ottomans.
The name Monemvasia means “one entrance”, and once you pass it you are sure to be amazed by the beauty and charm of this walled mini-city. A maze of cobbled streets invites you to get lost exploring the hodgepodge of alleyways and historic buildings. A small number of tavernas serve deliciously authentic food while visiting the Medieval Castle is a must.
If you would like to splurge for a night or two the amazing Kinsterna Hotel is located on a hill on the mainland overlooking Monemvasia, and is considered one of the best hotels in Europe. Situated on a sprawling estate, the Byzantine Era mansion houses a luxury spa, two swimming pools and an award-winning restaurant. The gardens are quite magnificent and include a vineyard, herb and vegetable garden and animal farm. The hotel produces its own wine, cheese, olive oil, bread, soap and more.
If you would prefer to stay on Monemvasia itself the quaint and affordable Goulas Guesthouse has great views and few stairs, whilst Likinia Hotel is brand new and has all the modern conveniences with many historic elements.It’s also wonderful to dine on the mainland with views back over the island all lit up at night, at places like Melitzanakia and Skorpios.
It’s a very special and unique place to stay!
Monemvasia to Gythio
The drive from Monemvasia should take just over an hour and is quite pleasant. You will travel inland initially before hitting the coastline at Trinisa and following a windy coastal road to Gythio. At this point, you will pass the famous shipwreck Dimitrios, at lovely Valktaki Beach. you can either stop and see it on the beach or stop for a panoramic photo at the clifftop just past it.
Although Gythio is the largest town in the Mani region, it still has a relaxed and sleepy atmosphere – it’s hard to be stressed lazing about in such a beautiful place.
The town itself is colourful and charming, but the real showstopper is the beach of Mavrovouni. Boasting soft, golden sand and brilliant cerulean water, it’s popular with holidaymakers from around Greece and afar. Perhaps best of all, holidaymakers share the beach with endangered sea turtles who lay their eggs on the sand.
Exploring the amazing Mani Peninsular
The quaint town of Areopoli and it’s stunning small neighbour Limeni are only a 30-minute drive west from Gythio and are absolutely gorgeous.
The peninsula offers both natural beauty and historic charm, with amazing beaches, rolling hills, and tiny villages. Some are today just ghost towns, while others are humble and authentic. Profitis Ilias Church just before Areopoli is at the peak of Mount Profitis and has spectacular views over the entire area.
Limeni is one of the most beautiful villages in all of Greece, if not Europe. Whilst much loved by the Instagram crew it is really a very small village with little parking and surprisingly still fairly quiet although there are a number of outdoor activities and boat rides on offer as well as a dive center.
Whilst there are only a handful of tavernas and cafes the quality is exceptional. One of the best meals we have ever had anywhere was at Telonio and the views at sunset make it even more special!
It is also quite common to see Sea Turtles fighting over kitchen scraps in front of the Tavernas.
If you have time it is worth a drive down to Gerolimenas Beach which is not only a lovely spot to swim but you will pass numerous examples of the ‘tower’ houses unique to the area and said to be built for maximum protection from pirates and invaders.
As stated there are a couple of very charming boutique hotels in Limeni and they are all just meters from the water. Mavromichalai is a gorgeous, small, luxury hotel on the waterfront in a restored 18th century tower house and is hard to beat, although Vasilios Apartment Hotel has commanding views on the hill above and is somewhat less expensive. They are both truly fantastic places to spend some time.
We decided to stay a short drive up the road at Aria Suites and Spa, a newly opened hotel at the time ( we missed the completion of the indoor swimming pool by one day) which offers beautifully designed rooms and apartments in a village concept, with spectacular views over the sea. Bassa Maina hotel is right next door and quite stunning as well, albeit at a higher price point.
The Caves of Drios
The Caves of Diros are actually two massive caves and the largest, Vlichada, is open to the public. The tour is 1,500 meters, of which the first 1,200 is on water in small boats and takes about 25 minutes. They believe the caves may, in fact, go for many kilometers right up through the Mani peninsula.
Inside the cave, they have discovered the fossilized bones of panther, hyena, lion, deer, and the largest hippopotamus bone deposit in Europe. Near the entrance, pottery has been found to indicate the human presence. In fact, they have discovered evidence that this may have been where the first humans arrived in Europe from Africa.
Arrive early and avoid the tour buses and you may have the whole place to yourselves as we did. Make sure to check the official website for prices and opening times which are subject to change.
The Old Town of Kardamyli was once a fortified settlement that features a restored tower and a stunning 18th-century church – to a variety of lively bars and eating venues. Kardamyli offers a laid back and relaxing experience of visiting Greece in its true natural state.
Combined with a delightful rural setting and natural landmarks like the Ritsa Beach and Vyros Gorge, you’ll find the town has plenty of exploring on offer as well.
There are no fancy resorts in this part of Greece ( yet) and accommodation tends to be in small family run hotels or Airbnb rooms and apartments.
Kardamyli to Kalamata
Unlike some of the smaller towns and villages you might stroll through on this road trip Kalamata is busier and more complex. It also has a domestic airport.
As you’d expect, Kalamata offers plenty for the foodie – but there’s much more to enjoy. Some highlights include excellent museums such as the Archeological Museum of Messenia, as well as a few beautiful and relaxing beaches to laze about on. The Victoria G Karelias collection of Greek Costumes is particularly worth a visit and considered one of the best costume collections in the world.
Ancient Messini is around 20kms from Kalamata and is one of the most important ancient sites in Greece. It is very well preserved and includes an incredible amphitheater and impressive stadium as well as a small but very good museum.
Like most parts of the Peloponnese there are also some great beaches and Kalamata beach itself is popular for good reason. And no visit to Kalamata is complete without a tour and tasting of Olives and Olive Oil!
In terms of dining you are spoilt for choice in Kalamata which has a thriving food and bar scene. In fact, there are over 10,000 cafes, bars, restaurants, and tavernas in this small city! The food precincts are found along the waterfront where perennial favourites such as Fish and Pasta Kannas.
Athens to Delphi
Athens to Patras
From Athens, it’s about two and a half hours across to Patras, the country’s third-largest city. The route is via a modern multi-carriage freeway with numerous toll booths.
Although it’s bustling like the capital, it has a very distinctive feel – thanks largely to the abundance of university students studying at the well-regarded university.
With students comes a natural liveliness, with festive squares, restaurants, and bars. While Patras is very much a modern city, there’s also evidence of the past, with a fascinating archaeological museum and castle nearby.
Crossing the Rio Antirrio Bridge
Greece might be known for its ancient archaeological wonders, but it’s got a few modern delights as well. Just beyond Patras, you’ll have the opportunity to observe (and cross over!) the Rio Antirrio Bridge.
The elegant bridge is one of the world’s longest cable-stay bridges and a very impressive site over the Gulf of Corinth. A stark white against the blue of the ocean, the bridge opened just in time for the Olympic Flame to be carried over it on its way to the 2004 Athens Olympics opening ceremony.
On the Eastern side of the Messinian peninsula is the stunning Colonides Beach hotel with amazing views over the sea and well priced rooms near a beautiful protected beach.
On the Western side Pylos is a great town to spend several days. The lovely Hotel Anezina has affordable, well appointed rooms with stunning views as does Hotel Philip just a few doors up. The gorgeous Romanos Resort – A luxury Collection Hotel is the main luxury option and is part of the Westin Group.
Further north is the town of Marathopolis – a beautiful spot where you can do day trips to nearby Proti Island. Near new Pefkides offer lovely self-contained apartments right on the beach amongst lovely gardens. Right in town is another excellent small hotel, Artina Nuovo which boasts a particularly impressive breakfast spread and great sunset views.
Patras to Nafpaktos
Once you’ve crossed the Rio Antirrio Bridge you will drive on the E65 to Nafpaktos. The whole journey will take less than 30 minutes but there is a 12euro toll to cross the bridge.
A picturesque seaside town, Nafpaktos is a popular holiday spot with locals but has managed to (mostly) avoid the tourist crowds. This is somewhat of a surprise, as it offers all of my favourite things about Greece – the hints of long and illustrious history, beautiful beaches and lively streets lined with restaurants and bars.
In particular, the old Venetian Harbour is well worth exploring as is Nafpaktos Castle, while the Old Town is the ideal place to get lost for an hour or two. We will be staying a week in Nafpaktos ourselves this year!
Nafpaktos to Delphi
This itinerary ends in the famed town of Delphi, which is so named after the nearby ruins. The ancient city, was once arguably the most important place in Ancient Greece; home to the civilisation’s most powerful and respected oracle of Apollo.
The drive from Nafpaktos will take around 90 minutes and there is quite a lot to see and do in the area. The drive is very scenic and most of it is along the coast where there are numerous beaches and villages to explore. The town of Galaxidi is a great spot to stop for lunch, particularly at Zygos on the waterfront.
Although hundreds of years have taken their toll on the site, it is still spectacularly well preserved which adds to the immense sense of wonder you get walking around. It’s incredible how expansive and detailed the site is, considering it was built some 2500 years ago.
Adding to the intrigue of this impressive sight is the many legends and myths that the temples were cloaked in. A visit to the adjacent Archaeological Museum of Delphi is a must to see the many artifacts and learn more about this ancient wonder.
If you can, I highly recommend taking a guided tour of the ruins of Delphi, as the historical context will add plenty to your visit.
Many people who visit Delphi either do day trips from Athens and other destinations or stay in local coastal towns like Nafpaktos or Galaxidi.
There are a number of hotels right near Delphi as well. Our pick is Kastalia Boutique Hotel which is only a 5-minute walk from the site and has spectacular views of the Valley.
Pitho Rooms is an inexpensive family-run hotel in a very central location.
Delphi to Parga
Delphi to Missolonghi
From Delphi, it’s about two hours west to the city of Missolonghi (or Messolongi) – however, the time flies by as you follow the coastal road. At the end of it, you’ll find yourself in the lively city of Missolonghi.You’ll drive through the beautiful towns of Galaxidi and Nafpaktos ( see above), both worth visiting on their own merit. You will then head to the Gulf of Patras and the town of Missolonghi.
While many Greek attractions are ancient, Missolonghi could be considered an adolescent. It’s of historical importance – but that’s modern history, for a change! Famously, it was the site of one of the most important battles during the Greek War of Independence.
Sombre history aside, it’s also incredibly beautiful. Even if you’ve got no interest in military history, you’re sure to be besotted by the gorgeous coast.The lagoon is a very tranquil place to spend some time and quite different to most parts of Greece and the Greek Islands.
Missolonghi to Lefkada
Just because your Greek road trip has started on the mainland doesn’t mean you won’t get a taste of that famous Island life. From Missolonghi, you can find yourself on a charming Greek island in under three hours… and you won’t even need to board a ferry!
It will take you just under 2 hours to reach Lefkada from Missolonghi although it will probably take longer as there are a number of things to see and do along the way. You will pass several big lakes, Limni Amvrakia and Limni Ozeros as well as wineries, orchards and the charming port town of Amfilochia.
The stunning island of Lefkada is connected to the mainland by a causeway, meaning you can drive right over. You’ll quickly feel the difference as you arrive on the island, and will be dazzled by the spectacularly beautiful scenery on the island.
If you’ve only got a day or two on the island, you’ll probably want to prioritise enjoying the beautiful beaches – but with a little more time, the charming traditional villages in the east are pretty special. There is a good range of accommodation, especially with Airbnb’s on Lefkada.
The Ionian islands are worth spending several weeks all on their own. Kefalonia is a wonderful island with so much to see and do and you will need a car to cover most of it. You can do a shorter road trip around Zakynthos ( also known as Zante) too!
Lefkada to Nicopolis
Not far from Lefkada lies Nicopolis, an expansive archaeological site that – somewhat mystifyingly – seems to be relatively unknown outside of Greece. While I can’t quite explain why, I must admit that it’s a hidden bonus that the crowds tend to stay away.
The city was founded by the first emperor of Rome, Augustus, to honour a military victory over Marc Antony and Cleopatra. For over 1,000 years, the city flourished and remained strong through a number of invasions – however, it was eventually abandoned and fell to ruin.
Today, it’s an expansive and relatively well preserved site, closely linked to some of history’s most famous characters. So, if you have any interest in Roman history, you’d best add this stop to your road trip in Greece!
Nicopolis to Parga
Finally, the last stop is at the stunningly beautiful Parga – a fitting way to finish an itinerary that’s been filled with natural beauty and man-made wonders. You will reach Parga in less than an hour’s drive from Nicopolis taking the coastal EO Prevezas Igoumistas highway or an hour and 10 minutes if you would like to take the inland road to visit ancient sites such as Ancient Kassopi and the nearby Monument of Zalongo.
Although technically part of the mainland, Parga has a distinct island feel. After all, it’s hard not to feel rather relaxed and happy when you’re surrounded by such a beautiful setting. A cluster of colourful houses flank the stunning sea, while behind them loom several mountains. Atop one of them is an old Venetian fortification, adding even more intrigue to this beautiful town.
Parga overlooks the Ionian Sea, and on a clear day you may just see islands like Paxos off in the distance. Make sure you do a boat tour to Paxi island and the Blue Caves -it’s so beautiful, though, you may never want to leave!
For my money, Irida Boutique Hotel has one of the best locations in town, situated on the high with magnificent ocean views, yet close enough to be able to walk to everything. Beautiful rooms and great service make this place a winner.
A little cheaper and more traditional is Leda Suites, located in a quiet backstreet just 2 minutes walk from the town centre.
A great budget option is San Nectarios which has great views and feels like home away from home.
Athens to Meteora
This spectacular road trip in Greece will see you depart the bustling capital of Athens and wind your way in-land north eventually arriving at jaw-dropping rock formations of Meteora. Along the way, you will also be able to explore the incredible Pelion peninsula, one of the most beautiful yet largely undiscovered regions of Greece.
Athens to Volos
Nestled down at the foot of Mount Pelion, Volos’ modern and cosmopolitan feel is interwoven with its long history, steeped in myth and legend. These two elements combined make it a popular place to visit in Greece and an ideal stop as you make your way north to Meteora.
The drive to Volos is north out of Athens on the E75 and takes about 3.5 hours. A short detour at Eleon on the 44 road will take you to the fascinating Archaelogical Museum of Thebes, an ancient city that plays a big role in Greek Mythology.
You could also stop off the charming town of Chalcis on the 2nd largest island in Greece, Evia, or the coastal town of Kamena Vourla,which has a number of excellent waterfront tavernas such as Kavos Psarotaverna.
Most famously, Volos is considered the mythical home of Jason and the Argonauts, a well-known story of sailors heading off in pursuit of the Golden Fleece. Mount Pelion, just behind the city, was also the legendary birthplace of the Centaur – part human, part horse.
As well as its rich and varied myths, Volos has also benefited from being one of the busiest ports in Greece. This allowed money to flow into the city, and there are many ritzy apartments and homes – as well as great restaurants and shops as well. In particular, the seafood restaurants are dazzling – so be sure to schedule in a long lunch.
Volos to the Pelion Peninsula
Surrounding Volos is the Pelion Peninsula, which occupies a large swathe of the Magnesia region. Although it may not be one of the most well-known destinations in Greece, those who do visit are usually swiftly converted – in fact, many return saying it is one of the most beautiful places in the country.
With one look, it’s not hard to see why. It offers some of the best beaches of either the mainland or the islands, and there’s plenty of delicious and authentic cuisine to boot. This region offers everything you could want from a dazzling Greek escape… yet it’s retained its authenticity and quiet approach to life.
You won’t want to miss this, especially the gorgeous small beach of Damouchari, where most of the film, Mama Mia was shot ( only the Church is on the island of Skopelos). In fact you can stay in the very guest house on the beach that the cast and crew used, Victoria’s Guest House!
The Pelion to Meteora
The final stop on this road trip itinerary is Meteora – and this will be pretty breath-taking!
Returning to Volos you will join the E92 highway and head inland for 2 hours before reaching the towns of Kalambaka and Kastraki at the foot of Meteora.
Stop along the way, perhaps for a night or two at the towns of Larissa and Trikala both with a number of history sites and some truly beautiful surrounds. The stone bridges of Trikala are really worth seeking out and are explained in detail in this article.
One of the most amazing things about Greece is the incredible diversity found within the country. Of course, there’s the magical islands with their sandy beaches, and the stunning archaeological sites – but then there’s a plethora of lesser-known places. Take Meteora, for example.
This spectacular place offers the perfect fusion of natural beauty and human engineering. Here six large and ornate Orthodox Monasteries are perched precariously on top of enormous rock formations, creating a sight that has to be seen to be believed.
The spectacular natural surroundings paired with the way that the monasteries seem both precarious yet perfectly positioned creates an utterly magical atmosphere. For many, this is a place of deep spiritual significance – and everyone is sure to be enamored by the beauty. What a way to end a wonderful road trip!
Further reading : Visit Meteora!
There are two towns to stay in Meteora, Kalambaka and the smaller village of Kastraki. We chose the latter and stayed at the lovely Hotel Doupiani which has rooms with incredible views of Meteora. In fact, it is so close you can walk easily to the first two monasteries from there.
In Kalambaka, Monastiri Guesthouse is excellent as is Tsikeli Hotel which is adults only.
Athens to Thessaloniki
Larissa is the fourth largest city in Greece and is helpfully positioned between its bigger siblings of Athens and Thessaloniki. While the city has a number of historic attractions (more on that soon!), it is also a modern and youthful city, largely thanks to its strong student population.
While Larissa has a modern feel today, it’s actually one of the oldest settlements in Greece, with evidence suggesting it’s been occupied for an impressive 6000 years. Some evidence of its past are the two impressive historic theatres, and an impressive museum.
Larissa is almost 4 hours drive from Athens on the E75 highway heading north. Again, this is a modern multi-lane carriageway and there are numerous toll booths.
It is worth a detour to either the huge island of Evia or the Pelion peninsula for a few days, if not more. More details above in Athens to Meteora.
Larissa to Trikala
Less than an hour due west from Larissa charming Trikala has somehow managed to stay out of the pages of most “must-see” lists, but I can’t see why! This delightful little city has a distinctly liveable feel about it, with lots of local people out and about. If you’re interested in seeing the “real” Greek city life, far from the tourist crowds, it’s definitely worth a stop.
It’s considered the gateway to the mountains, and yet it’s actually very flat! As a result, I recommend taking advantage of the free bike hire and exploring the city on two wheels. You’ll be able to enjoy sights like the 6th century Byzantine palace Kastro, or drop in to enjoy a meal at the tavernas along Manavika.
Trikala to Meteora
Just half an hour away from Trikala you’ll find Meteora, one of the most jaw-dropping sights in all of Greece. For more information, scroll up to find out more, or read my comprehensive guide to visiting Meteora, including where to stay and eat and how to explore the Stone Bridges of Trikala, including one with a waterfall!
Meteora to Mt Olympus
Of all the fascinating Greek legends, there are few more enduring than that of the powerful God Zeus. Homer, who wrote Iliad and The Odyssey wrote that Mt Olympus was his Zeus’s home, cementing this place in mythology and history.
Looking at Mount Olympus, it’s no surprise that it has inspired authors and legends. It has an enchanting atmosphere, with plunging valleys and foliage-covered peaks. The most difficult peak, Mytikas, is reached by only a few intrepid adventurers – but everyone can enjoy some less strenuous trails.
To reach Mt Olympus from Meteora you can either backtrack through Larissa and stay on the modern E76 highway, which takes about 2.5 hours or head into the mountains on the older, single carriage roads that will take over 3 hours. Both routes have incredible views and vistas although the latter will, of course, let you experience a lot more authenticity.
This region, unsurprisingly, is a mecca for hikers, mountain climbers, and nature lovers. There are waterfalls, hiking trails, monasteries and parks and the town of Litochoro, in particular, is well worth some time.
Mount Olympus to Vergina
A relatively small Central Macedonian town that packs a big punch, Vergina is a must-visit for anyone with an interest in history. Situated 90 minutes north of Mount Olympus National Park, the drive will take you through the town of Katerinis and perhaps a pleasant detour from there to the small coastal town of Paralia Katerinis.
Most famously, Vergina is the closest town to Aigai, the first capital of Macedon. Historians believe that it was in this ancient capital that the ruler Philip II was assassinated and the legendary Alexander the Great was appointed as King.
It’s no surprise, then, that this area is one of the most archaeologically significant in Greece (and there are a lot of significant archaeological sites in the nation). Be sure to look out for the incredibly-preserved painted frescoes, as well as the tombs of many historic figures.
Vergina to Thessaloniki
Greece’s second-largest city is just as vibrant and historic as you’d expect. With Athens, these two cities book-end the country – and while they have many differences, there are also common threads weaving them together. Thessaloniki is equally fond of nightlife, with more than its fair share of restaurants and tavernas.
At first glance, the waterside city can seem quite modern – and it certainly has everything you’d expect from a 21st-century metropolis. However, this is Greece, so of course, there is a deeply historic underlayer. Be sure to leave some time to explore the historic sites, such as the ancient forum and the city’s Byzantine walls.
The drive from Vergina to Thessaloniki is just under an hour on the A2/E90 before it turns back onto the E75. A large section of the drive is past the Axios-Loudias-Aliakmonas National Park and wetlands which is a good spot for birding and photography but the Kalochori Lagoon just as you approach Thessaloniki, is much better.
If you would like someone else to drive whilst exploring this area there are a couple of good day trips available including a visit to the wonderful Thermal Baths and Edessa and a boat trip out to see mystical Mt Athos and it’s mysterious monasteries.
Whichever route you choose for your Greece road trip you are sure to be amazed and impressed by your journey. Obviously the longer you take the more you will see and do and thats the beauty of road trips and they offer so much flexibility.
Whilst this article has been mostly focused on the Mainland it is certainly possible to do road trips on the island as well. A Road trip in Crete is the only way to see Greece’s biggest island!
Enjoy yourselves and safe travels!
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