Visiting Athens is the perfect excuse to take a trip to Ioannina, the capital of Epirus in Greece. Until recently, this destination would never have qualified for a weekend trip, as it took far to long to get there.

However, thanks to new highways connecting Ioannina to Athens, it’s about a four hour drive, and is the perfect place for a romantic weekend getaway!

There are so many magical places to visit in the region surrounding Ioannina, and since it is built on the shores of the stunning Pamvotida Lake, it’s an extremely romantic city.

Ioannina was ruled for the 34 years before Greece’s independence (1740-1822) by the Ottoman ruler Ali Pasha, and there is a great deal of evidence of his presence throughout the modern-day city.

The city was also home to a vibrant Romaniote Jewish community, which was nearly destroyed by the Nazis.

Places to visit in Ioannina

You absolutely must tour Ioannina Castle, which is built on rocks which jut out onto the lake. The southeastern citadel is a fantastic sight. Better known by its Ottoman name “Its Kale”, the citadel was completely rebuilt under Ali Pasha, and it essentially forms a separate fortress within the old town.

Inside the fortress you’ll find the Silversmithing Museum, where historical weapons and authentic artwork by silversmiths from Epirus are on display.

You will be transported back in time as you see displays of the traditional costumes from the Epirus region, a representation of an authentic winter room, paintings, lithographs and other objects with ethnological interest.

The city has winding streets you can easily explore on foot. In fact, the historical center has pedestrian-only streets, and here you will find an abundance of shops, museums, and various historical ruins.

There are also quite a few restaurants where you can try the local dishes or relax with a cup of coffee.

Once you visit the castle and the historical city, be sure to check out the small island of Ioannina, just a 15-minute boat ride from the shore.

There are tavernas which serve local favorites such as frog legs and eel. And afterward you can stroll the narrow streets and check out the Saint Panteleimon monastery.

Also on the island of Ioannina is another not-to-be-missed attraction where you can experience the history of the region. The Museum of Ali Pasha and the Revolutionary Era is situated on the actual location where Ali Pasha hid from his enemies before he was found and beheaded.

The museum has many of Ali Pasha’s belongings such as his personal rifle and even one of his pipes, and they are displayed just as he would have had used them in the early 1800s.

Back on the mainland, you can opt to see the terrain by renting a bicycle at Zosimea Library, Alsos, Mavili Square, and Pyrrou Square. Or just relax and take a nice, long walk along scenic Pamvotida Lake.

The ancient ruins of Dodoni

A bonus to visiting Ioannina is its proximity to the impressive ancient ruins of Dodoni, dating back to the third century BC, which are located just a few kilometers west of the city.

The Dodoni Sanctuary and Theater are among the priceless ruins and antiquities which visitors can see at the archaeological site.

Ancient Ruins of Dodoni, Ioannina
Ancient Ruins of Dodoni. Credit: TijsB/CC BY-SA 2.0

The Theater of Dodoni was part of the Panhellenic sanctuary of Dodoni, constructed in the third century BC.

This is considered to be one of the best preserved of all the ancient Greek theaters. One of the oldest of the Greek oracle sites, the area was dedicated to Zeus, and ancient people traveled great distances to visit this theater.