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I’m still so surprised by how many different types of destinations Greece has to offer. You can explore islands, ancient ruins, remnants of the Byzantine empire, and monasteries suspended on cliffs. Monemvasia is not well known to people outside of Greece, but if you tell a Greek you’re headed there, they’ll likely say something along the lines of “how romantic!”. Perfect place to visit with my mom, right? Monemvasia is unique because it was carved into the backside of rock providing natural fortification. It was previously only accessible by boat. Nowadays you can drive across a narrow causeway to the gated entrance of this pedestrian only village. Here’s what to see and do in Monemvasia, Greece.
Monemvasia is located on southeastern tip of the Peloponnese, about 4 hours from Athens by car. It’s located across a causeway from the town of Gefyra. We made our way from Athens to Nafplio to Monemvasia and made a pit stop at Mystras on our way back to Athens. While Monemvasia itself does not allow cars, you definitely need to rent one to get there.
As for parking, you can leave your car outside of the city walls along the narrow street leading to the city gate. There will likely be hundreds of cars parked here so you’ll know exactly where you can and cannot park. If you get lucky, you won’t have to walk far. We were able to find a space about a quarter mile from the entrance. Alternatively, you can park in the lot in Gefyra and either walk (it’s kind of far) or take the shuttle that runs every 30 minutes.
A Brief History
Monemvasia was founded in the late 6th century as a medieval fortress with strategic maritime placement. It remained under Byzantine control until the mid 1400s when it fell under Venetian rule. Control switched back and forth between the Venetians and Ottomans until it was liberated during the Greek War of Independence in 1821.
Where to Stay
You can always stay in Gefyra and head into Monemvasia for the day, but I think part of the magic is staying in the kastro itself. It’s nice to be able to head to one of the restaurants for dinner, stroll around for a bit, and then settle into your room for the night.
We stayed at a guest house that was built into the rock. It almost felt like a hobbit house. This is the traditional style in Monemvasia, and I recommend staying somewhere like this if you want a more authentic experience. There aren’t a ton of hotels and rooms available in the kastro of Monemvasia, so I recommend booking early.
What to Do
Monemvasia is not huge and one of the best things to do is get lost in the winding streets. We went on a walk and ended up at the water’s edge. It wasn’t really a beach but more like a platform of rock that you could climb down into the water for a swim. The water was choppy and only a few brave soles were swimming.
In the main square, you’ll see the Church of Elkomenos Christos, constructed in the late 1600s. At the back of the church is an icon that was once stolen by thieves who cut it into pieces to sneak it out.
The Upper Town or acropolis of Monemvasia is worth the hike from the main square. The Upper Town was the home of the rich. Back in the 17th century, more than 500 mansions dotted the hillside. At the top, you’ll see the only remaining building, the Church of Agia Sophia which was originally established in the 12th century.
If you have time, make the 1.5 hour drive south along winding cliffside roads to Kastania Cave, a massive underground cave with unique formations that took over 3 million years to form. Tours are offered daily every hour from 10:30am-5:30pm in Greek and English.
Where to Eat
There aren’t a ton of options in Monemvasia. I recommend eating at one of the restaurants on the main street that overlooks the cliffside and water. We had a nice dinner at Matoula Restaurant. After dinner, we grabbed some ice cream and walked around.
Monemvasia is unlike any other place I’ve visited. The quaint town, dramatic cliffside scenery, and glistening blue waters make it a romantic place to visit and also an ideal place to unwind. While it’s farther south than many of the stops on a typical Peloponnese itinerary, I highly recommend adding a night in Monemvasia to your plans.