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145km (90 miles) SW of Athens

If not the most beautiful city in Greece, Nafplion (pop. 10,000) is certainly a top contender—and this storied port on the Gulf of Argos is more than just pretty. For centuries, Byzantines, Franks, Venetians, and Turks fought over the city; their once-mighty forts and castles are now spectacular viewpoints.

It's the most charming town in the Peloponnese, with stepped streets overhung with balconies dripping with bougainvillea, handsome neoclassical mansions, enticing shops, restaurants, cafes, and two fine museums. Elegant Venetian houses, churches, and mosques line the streets that surround the marble expanses of Plateia Syntagma (Constitution Square), where Nafpliots sit at cafe tables to sip coffee, chat, and watch the parades of passers-by. You could spend several enjoyable days simply exploring the port town, but you'll probably want to use Nafplion as your base for day trips to the ancient sites at Argos, Nemea, Mycenae, Tiryns, Epidaurus, and—if you didn't see it already—Corinth. Keep in mind that lots of Athenians come here year-round on weekends. It's important to reserve your hotel in advance.

Nafplion brings you face to face with the beginnings of modern Greece. For several years after the Greek War of Independence (1821–28), this was Greece's first capital. Although the palace of Greece's young King Otto—a mail-order monarch from Bavaria—burned down in the 19th century, you can see the former mosque off Plateia Syntagma (Constitution Sq.) where Greece's first Parliament met. Another legacy of those years is the impressive number of commemorative statues of revolutionary heroes in Nafplion's squares and parks.

All this would be reason enough to visit this port on the east coast of the Gulf of Argos, but Nafplion also has two hilltop Venetian fortresses, a miniature castle on an island in the harbor, shady parks, some boutique hotels and shops, and the best ice cream in the entire Peloponnese!