Monemvasia Castle is on what is often called the ‘Fortress Island’ in the western Peloponnese. It is the result of an earthquake in 375AD and its unique geography has made it a popular place to reside over the years from initial Byzantine occupation, through the Franks, Venetians and Ottomans as well as the local Spartans.
During the 14th century, the citadel was an important trading port and gateway between the east and the west and it enabled occupants to remain concealed from invading forces.
This extraordinary landmark is today a popular tourist attraction but is also still home to proud locals who love to share their remarkable history as well as their modern-day food and wine which, for which they are renowned.
Make sure Monemvasia Castle is on your Peloponnese itinerary!
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When to visit Monemvasia
Monemvasia is really a year-round destination. This island never gets too overcrowded – no matter what time of year – but the height of the tourist season is July and August.
The average temperatures this time of year are around 29 degrees Celsius with mild nights and warm seas.
Outside of spring and summer, Monemvasia is very quiet. Autumn and winter can be cold and some things may shut but accommodation will be cheap and parking a breeze.
Where is Monemvasia?
Monemvasia Castle is a town located on a small island off the east coast of the Peloponnese region in southern Greece. It is 322kms from Athens so it takes almost 4 hours by car.
It belongs to the prefecture of Laconia, whose capital is Sparta. The unique thing about Monemvasia is how it was built: the town sits within the fortified walls of the island and is unqiue in many way, carved into a huge rock that cannot be seen from the mainland.
Surrounded by the Myrtoan Sea, Monemvasia is connected to the mainland by a 200-meter-long causeway that you can drive over today. Centuries ago this was a pile of rubble that was only traversed by hoof or foot.
What makes Monemvasia so unique?
Monemvasia is one of the most surprising destinations on the Peloponnese and one of Greece’s best hidden gems.
Besides its incredible location immersed in the sea and the pristine natural environment, Monemvasia also has picturesque alleys, Byzantine churches, and Venetian mansions.
Compared to more traditional tourist destinations like Crete, Mykonos, or Santorini, Monemvasia is still left undisturbed by flocks of tourists. There is no modern development and likely never will be due to the narrow alleys and rough terrain.
The name of this Greek town tells a lot about it: Monemvasia means ‘only entrance’, and in fact, the only access to the town is a small causeway that connects the castle/town with the Mainland. This makes it one of the few Greek islands you can drive on to, although cars cannot go beyond the Main Gate.
Also known as the ‘Gibraltar of the East’, as it was called by the great Greek poet Yannis Ristos, Monemvasia is a fascinating island with locally produced wine, crystal-clear waters, and unforgettable views.
How to get to Monemvasia
There is no airport in Monemvasia or anywhere on the Peloponnese except Kalamata, which only recieves limited seasonal flights from some European destinations and Thessaloniki.
If you are arriving from overseas, the most convenient airport is Athens International Airport. Once you have landed in Athens, you can reach Monemvasia by rental car or public bus.
Monemvasia is not quick nor easy to get to but deeply rewarding. It is best combined in an iterary exploring other parts of the Pelopponese. We especially recommend spending a few days in Nafplio first, a beautiful town on the half way point from Athens that will allow you to explore the Argolis region, on of the most incredible in Greece.
Many people who visit Monemvasia then go on to explore the Mani peninsula in the Peloponnese and over to Kalamata and the Messinia region including Olympus. This is one of the great road trips of Greece too.
Getting to Monemvasia by car
Having a car is really vital in the Peloponnese as it allows you to cover a lot of ground and be spontaneous as you do it. This part of Greece is, to many people, the most incredible area of them all and there is a huge number of ancient sites, important landmarks and beautiful villages and beaches to explore.
To arrive in Monemvasia from Athens by rental car, you need to drive through the Greek National Road to Tripolis. This highway is big and modern and rarely has much traffic. Tolls apply several times which are best paid in cash.
Once you reach Tripolis, the next step would be to take the route to Sparta, which is the capital of the Prefecture of Laconia and 2 hours from Monemvasia. The road from Sparta to Monemvasia is not a highway but a rural one, meaning a single lane in each direction.
Further reading: Explore the Peloponnese
Getting to Monemvasia by public bus
Daily buses connect Athens with Sparta, from which you will need to take another bus to Monemvasia. The buses in Athens depart from Kifissos Bus Station and arrive in Sparta in about 4 hours.
You can find more specific information about timetables and itineraries on the KTEL Lakonias website.
Getting around Monemvasia
You might wonder how to get around once you’ve arrived in Monemvasia. The town is not only small but also pedestrian-only. So the only option you’ve got is to go around on foot!
Before walking through the tunnel that will lead you to the other side of Monemvasia’s city walls, you will need to park the car if you have rented one. You can leave the car outside along the narrow street to the city gate, or, if that is full which sometimes happens in summer you can park on the Mainland itself, where shuttle busses run to the castle gate every 30 minutes in July and August.
Staying in Momenvasia for a night or two is highly recommended.
There are three options in terms of location:
1. Stay within the castle walls.
This is a very unique and romantic place to stay and something that most guests describe as ‘magical’. There are a handful of small boutique hotels and pensions, that are all reasonably priced and very good.
At the very back of the village Malvasia Traditional Hotel was one of the first to open and is consistently fantastic.
Lower down the hill is Likinia Hotel which is slightly more expensive and a little more luxurious with views out over the ocean.
Ritsos Guesthouse is a great budget option that also has a spacious family apartment too.
2. Stay on the island but outside the castle walls.
This is a great choice if you are looking for the charm of the village but a little more space. Lazareto Hotel is at the end of the causeway and also has a swimming pool and spa.
3. Stay on the Mainland.
While this may not sound as much fun the advantage here lies in the ability to look back over the island, a very unique view and particularly special as day breaks over it in the mornings.
Our favourite Mainland hotel is undoubtedly Kinsterna, a former mansion and estate that has been converted into a luxury hotel with every conceivable amenity including an award-winning restaurant, an animal and olive oil farm and even a stunning boutique.
Somewhat closer and less expensive is Alkinoi Resort and Spa which is newly renovated and has a huge pool that rents out suns beds as well.
Food in Monemvasia
Taking a journey through the gastronomy of Monemvasia is a must while visiting! The municipality of Monemvasia stretches along hundreds of kilometers of coastline, and the region of Laconia produces excellent products that influence the island’s cuisine.
The region’s main product is olives, specifically Athinolia and Koreneiki, which you’ll find plenty of in Monemvasia’s tables.
Being surrounded by the Myrtoan Sea, food in Monemvasia is characterized by fish. Sea bream, grouper, crayfish, and shrimps are among the most common products caught by fishermen. And if you love lobster, you’ll find a special specie here: the famous Monemvasia rock lobster!
Monemvasia’s land is perfect for growing a white grape variety used to make the Monemvasia-Malvasia wine.
There are plenty of traditional dishes that you will enjoy while on the island. Monemvasia is particularly popular for sweets, like samousades (syrup desserts with walnut, almond, sesame, cinnamon, and nutmeg) and xeritogana (an olive-oil-based dough that is fried and topped with a syrup made from sugar, honey, water, and lemon juice).
Other typical dishes of Monemvasia are gogges and saitia. Gogges (also called goggizes or goglies) is a type of local fresh pasta, similar to dumplings, made from wheat flour and without eggs.
Gogges are usually served in a cheese-based sauce, but they are also enjoyed with spentzofai, a stew made with peppers, tomatoes, and meat. Saitia are small grilled pies filled with greens and cheese.
Monemvasia restaurants, cafes and bars
Monemvasia is not big, so you won’t have many choices when finding places to dine. However, some typical restaurants and tavernas serve traditional Peloponnesian food and are exceptionally good.
Oinomelo is one of the first tavernas you come across as you pass through the castle gate. Their menu is very traditional, showcasing the food of the region such as truffles and goat.
The prices are very reasonable too given the generous portions and the charming outdoor patio.
Voltes is a family-owned restaurant that offers traditional Greek dishes with a twist. The restaurant has its own wine production and craft beers and has gluten-free and vegan options.
The locals love Voltes for its friendly and relaxed atmosphere. The restaurant is located by the Monemvasia castle gate, and it stays open throughout the year.
Matoula, a traditional taverna that serves delicious home-cooked Greek dishes, is a great place for lunch or dinner. You should try the saitia pie and the lahanodolmades, cabbage leaves stuffed with rice, meat and lemon sauce from their extensive menu. At Matoula, you will also find freshly-caught fish and a wide variety of seafood.
Matoula Restaurant is located on the main alleyway of the Castle of Monemvasia, the oldest and most renowned restaurant in the area, opened in 1950. The location is incredible: a beautiful garden with a breathtaking sea view.
Chrisovoulo is a modern bar and restaurant where you can taste the famous local Malvasia wine accompanied by exquisite traditional Greek and international delicacies. The fine cuisine and the gorgeous location overlooking Monemvasia and the Myrtoan Sea make Chrisovoulo a perfect place for a special occasion or a romantic dinner. They also have luxury suites for rent.
To Kanoni is a restaurant with a fantastic view of the sea and the mountain that you can enjoy from the outdoor terrace. At To Kanoni, you can enjoy local cuisine with freshly cooked dishes, like the restaurant’s famous shrimp spaghetti. The dishes are accompanied by local wines from the region’s vineyards. The restaurant’s main supplier is the Monemvasia winery Tsimbidis.
Cafes and Bars
In Monemvasia, there are also several cafes and cocktail bars.
A great cafe is Biscotto Café, located on the ground floor of Pietra suites. Biscotto Cafe serves breakfast and light meals in the indoor room and on the veranda.
Enetiko Cafe & Cocktail Bar is located right by the entrance of Monemvasia, and it’s perfect for enjoying your coffee or cocktail in the roof garden with a view of the sea and Gefyra.
Emvasis serves nice breakfasts and brunches during the day and excellent cocktails at night.
Malvasia Cafe & Bar is inside the Bastione Malvasia Hotel. The gorgeous sea view, the relaxed and laidback atmosphere, the sophisticated cocktails, and the hand-picked, quality music (especially jazz) make Malvasia Cafe & Bar a special place to visit.
Things to do in Monemvasia
Monemvasia might be a small island, but it’s packed with things to see and activities to do both in the castle and around it.
The small Church of Elkomenos Christos is located in the quarter of Kato Poli, in Monemvasia’s old town. Elkomenos Christos is the most famous church of Monemvasia, where the Easter celebrations take place.
The church was constructed in 1697, as the carved inscription at the entrance of the church indicates. There are many rare artworks inside the church, both of the Byzantine period and post-Byzantine ones.
The Church of Agia Sofia is another beautiful church in Monemvasia. It’s one of the oldest and most important Byzantine churches in all of Greece, located in Monemvasia’s upper town.
The church was originally established in the 12th century, and it was dedicated to Panagia Hodegetria (‘the Virgin who leads the way’). In Venetian times, the Church of Agia Sofia was converted into a Catholic convent.
The Church of Agia Sofia sits on the highest point of Monemvasia, from which you can
admire a spectacular view of the Aegean Sea.
In Monemvasia there is also the Church of Panagia Chrysafitissa, which is located near the edge of Monemvasia. The beautiful 17th-century church has a dome-shaped roof, and the only open space is the churchyard.
There’s only one museum in town, the Archaeological Collection of Monemvasia.
The museum’s location is quite special: it’s housed in a former Muslim Mosque, one of the town’s best-preserved buildings. The Muslim Mosque was built in the 16th century, but during the Venetian times, it was converted into several other buildings: a Frankish church, a prison, and a kafeneion (a traditional Greek café).
The Archaeological Museum opened to the public in 1999, and it displays a rich collection of findings excavated all around Monemvasia, from remains of temples and houses to ceramic objects and sculptures.
The Museum is open 08:30-18:00 in summer and 08:30-15:30 (except Tuesdays) with free entry on March 6 & 25, April 18, May 18, the last weekend in September, October 28, and the first sunday of the month between November 1 and March 31.
Hiking in Monemvasia
There are several trails you can hike while in Monemvasia. The Monemvasia lighthouse trail will lead you to one of the most fantastic spots to visit.
You just need to take the walkway that ends at the East Gate and continue walking for about 30 minutes until you reach the lighthouse. Once arrived, you can enjoy a quiet moment looking out at the Myrtoan Sea.
If you are looking for a longer hike, you can take the 5.5 kilometres long trail that goes from Monemvasia to Gefyra.
You can also walk to Ano Poli, up the footpath known as “Voltes.” Settled before Kato Poli (Lower Town), Ano Poli’s best attraction is the Church of Hagia Sophia.
Enjoy a Wine Tasting
One of the best things to do in Monemvasia is to go wine tasting. Right beside the Church of Panaghia Chrysafitissa, there is the Kellia guesthouse, once the family home of the poet Yiannis Ritsos. Today the building hosts a tasting of Peloponnesian wines produced by the different wineries of the region.
Another great place to do a wine taste experience is Monemvasia Winery Tsimbidis.
The main wine offered here is the Malvasia, a historic wine produced in Monemvasia since the Middle Ages. The production of Malvasia was restarted in recent times by the owner of this winery, Giorgos Tsimbidis, whose wine was granted the PDO (protected designation of origin) status for the Monemvasia-Malvasia.
If you are looking to both shop and taste then head to To-Kelari a small shop on the main walkway bursting with local goods and wines, where the staff are only too happy to let you try before you buy. They have a big range of cheese, honey, oil, herbs, tea and even local delicacies like candied olives which are very unusual. Tell Yannis we sent you!
Beaches in Monemvasia
Swimming in the calm waters of the Myrtoan Sea is one of the best activities to do while in Monemvasia. There are several beaches around Monemvasia where you can enjoy a relaxing and fun day under the Greek sun.
Being a giant rock there are no actual beaches on the island itself although there are swimming areas where you can still jump in the water on a hot day,
Pori beach is located a couple of kilometres away from Monemvasia town. Pori beach is fully-equipped with sun beds, deck chairs and umbrellas. Pori beach is one of the most touristy beaches in the area, and it’s perfect for families with children.
Xifias beach is located 7 km southwest of Monemvasia Town. This beach has all the typical attractive features of most Greek beaches, and British and German people mainly visit the area of Xifias.
Mandraki beach is one of the closest beaches to Monemvasia town. Within walking distance of Monemvasia, it’s perfect if you want to spend a relaxing day on a beach with all the necessary facilities. Mandraki beach is an excellent choice if you love swimming or water sports and other activities such as beach volleyball.
Pera Kakavos beach is only 100 meters from the port. This beach is especially beautiful thanks to its views of the surrounding landscape. It’s an excellent place to swim for its turquoise waters, and one of the most popular sporty activities you can do here is windsurfing.
Shopping in Μonemvasia
There are several local stores in Μonemvasia where you can go shopping.
At Anastasia Livieratou Handcrafted jewellery, you can purchase handmade jewellery made by the store’s owner.
Another interesting shop to check out is the Edodimopolio Honey Shop, created by a group of olive oil producers famous for their honey wine. At the Edodimopolio, you can enjoy a free tasting of all the amazing products sold.
You will also find several excellent and very fashion forward bouqtiques as well as a couple of Art Galleries. There’s no shortage of places to buy some quality souveniers either with Chrisolithos near the main gate.
Kourkoula Swiming platform
Events in Monemvasia
Depending on when you visit Monemvasia, you might find special events that you can join to make your holiday extra special.
Apokries and Tyrini
Apokries, or the Greek Carnival, is the period that traditionally begins ten weeks before the Greek Orthodox Easter.
Apokries is one of the most popular festivities in Greece, and as such, it’s celebrated in Monemvasia.
The Greek name Apokries means ‘abstention’, and locals usually don’t consume meat during this period. The Apokries culminates on the weekend before Ash Monday, which is also the beginning of the fasting period, the tyrini (“the week of cheese”).
In Monemvasia, you can enjoy the traditional foods eaten during tyrini in every restaurant, and you can participate in the various parties taking place for Apokries.
Easter is one of the most important religious holidays in Greece, and Easter celebrations are very impressive in Monemvasia.
The day of Holy Thursday (called “Maundy” in Greek) is the celebration of the church of Christ Elkomenos (which means ‘Christ in Pain’).
The next day, Holy Friday, the tomb of Christ inside the church is taken on a parade around the cobbled alleys of the medieval fortress town of Monemvasia, with the municipal band escorting the procession. The locals join in the parade holding white candles while singing.
Easter celebrations end on Sunday with the traditional ceremony of burning an effigy of Judas outside the church of Elkomenos Christos. Fireworks are put inside the bonfire, exploding as the fire is lit, creating a wonderful spectacle.
The town of Vatika, nearby Monemvasia, hosts a festivity with ancient roots, Kildonas. It’s an event that takes place on June 24, the day dedicated to Agios Ioannis (Saint John). This festivity is related to fortune-telling and the unlocking of prophecies.
At night, bonfires are lit in the town’s centre, and people jump over the burning logs as an act of purification. An effigy is thrown into the fire at the night’s end to turn away evil spirits.
The celebration of Kildonas is full of music, dance, and food, and everyone in Vatika participates.
Celebrated throughout the Peloponnese region in Greece is the feast for the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, on August 15. Also known as ‘panigiri’, it’s a centuries-old traditional and cultural festival during which religion and paganism mix.
The festivity begins at the local church in the morning, and after the ceremony, people sit together at communal tables, eating local delicacies and dancing and singing traditional music.
At the end of August, the municipality of Monemvasia organizes a series of events to say goodbye to the summer. The biggest cultural festival is the Ritseia, a series of events dedicated to the poet Yannis Ritsos, born on Monemvasia.