Ioannina is an all-season destination that offers a diversity of facilities and services that can cater to a number of tourism forms… The municipality’s priority is to promote this to a wider audience, says the city’s mayor, Moisis Elisaf.
The capital of the Region of Epirus, northwestern Greece, Ioannina is one of the largest cities in Greece, rich in multicultural features.
History is everywhere
Ioannina’s identity has been shaped by three communities – the Christian, the Islamic and the Jewish – that coexisted and left their mark throughout the city.
History just seems to lurk everywhere in Ioannina. The city is home to museums, churches, monuments and Byzantine monasteries.
One of Ioannina’s most important sights is the Castle, the fortified old town of the city. During the years of Ali Pasha, the symbol of the Ottoman Empire, the castle was his headquarters and the biggest administrative center of Greece during the Turkish rule.
Part of the castle, which is actually a city within the city of Ioannina, is still inhabited, while several homes have become boutique hotels.
Another characteristic feature of Ioannina is the island in Lake Pamvotida, the only inhabited one in the world without a name!
History aside, Ioannina is a vibrant city with around 45 hotels, a lively nightlife and an up-and-coming culinary scene. The city is also home to a university with 17 departments and about 20,000 students.
A destination ideal for getaways in the fall, winter, spring… and the summer!
A visionary mayor, Elisaf is determined on developing Ioannina’s brand and positioning its tourism industry in more international markets.
Ioannina already attracts visitors from Albania, Israel, Germany, Italy, Cyprus and France. Before Covid-19 the destination was also recording high arrival numbers from other Balkan countries including Romania and Bulgaria.
“We are a city for all ‘tastes’, for all types of travelers… We have mountains, access to beaches (in nearby destinations), history and multiculturalism,” Mayor Elisaf told GTP Headlines, highlighting that the ultimate goal is for Ioannina to welcome visitors all year round as it can cater to different types of tourism during all four seasons.
“We may not be a seaside town but we offer the unique opportunity to visitors to combine a mountain and sea holiday in one trip since there are destinations very close to Ioannina that have beaches… So visitors can use Ioannina as a ‘base’ and in 50 km reach the coast of Epirus,” he said.
Mainly considered a winter destination, Ioannina since last year began attracting visitors in May and continued welcoming travelers in the summer months all the way to November.
According to Spyros Sourelis, vice president of the Ioannina Hoteliers Association, bookings to Ioannina were very unusually high last August.
“We had a good post-Covid year in 2021 despite that it was a year with restrictions… Bookings were up in August and the momentum ran until December. Occupancy during the holiday season reached almost 80 percent,” Sourelis told GTP Headlines.
Following a pause in arrivals in January-February 2022, which generally are Ioannina’s “sluggish months” for tourism, bookings began to rise again for the carnival season and peaked in March.
“During March and April our occupancy levels were satisfactory with numbers rising in May… People that come to Ioannina during these months are usually individual travelers but also school students,” he said reminding that Ioannina is one of the top destinations for school trips in Greece.
Sourelis added that early bookings figures for the season are on a satisfactory level at the moment.
The city of Ioannina counts around 45 hotels which include three 5-star resorts. The number of hotel beds are around 2,500.
Ioannina Mayor: What’s next for tourism
Since taking office in 2019, Elisaf is presiding over an ambitious tourism development plan that aims to transform Ioannina into a destination ideal for tourism all 365 days of the year.
“Our plan includes attracting more visitors from our traditional markets, introducing ourselves to new ones and developing forms of tourism such as conferences and sports events that can keep tourism going during the shoulder months,” he told GTP Headlines.
City diplomacy initiative
Aiming to develop closer ties with neighboring countries, Mayor Elisaf is engaging in diplomacy with foreign municipalities as part of an initiative to promote the city and boost the number of international visitors.
Within the framework of the city diplomacy initiative, a delegation from Ioannina has already held talks with officials in Tirana, Albania; Nicosia, Cyprus; and Schwerte, Germany. The mayor’s agenda includes trips to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, North Macedonia and Bulgaria.
International flights are essential
Mayor Elisaf stressed that an obstacle to further developing tourism and welcoming more visitors is the fact that the city’s airport at the moment only welcomes domestic and charter flights.
“Following the pandemic we have resumed talks to welcome direct flights from our source markets such as Cyprus, Israel and Germany,” he said, adding that charter flights that land at the airport usually carry travelers that are headed to the nearby beach destinations.
“What we need are direct, scheduled flights… This would give our international clientele a strong boost,” he said.
Ioannina Convention Bureau: Coming soon
Although Ioannina is among the destinations frequently selected as host cities for local conferences (mainly medical) in Greece, Mayor Elisaf wants to go the extra mile and establish Ioannina as a world-class events and meetings destination.
“Ioannina right now is the third conference location in Greece, mostly for domestic events and meetings, but our goal is to become a center of international conferences as well,” the mayor said, adding that the municipality is focusing on opening a convention bureau to bid for international medium-sized conferences.
“We have hotels that have the infrastructure and can provide the demanded services at affordable prices,” he said.
An up-and-coming sports tourism destination
Another form of tourism the mayor has his sights set on developing is sports tourism, which centers around Lake Pamvotida.
Ioannina already offers a special lakeside running experience with the annual Lake Run, the 30km route running event around Lake Pamvotida. In its 16th year and having certified its position as one of the leading road races in Greece, the Lake Run takes place in late September and attracts thousands of Greek and international participants.
“This race attracts an international audience and has the potential to lead to further sports tourism development,” the mayor said, adding that the city’s water ski platform has been selected by international organizations for hosting championships for the sport while international rowing competitions are also organized.
“We have the infrastructure to regularly host sports events and we have hotels to accommodate their audiences. This form of tourism guarantees visitors during the off season and we intend to attract more such events,” the mayor said.
“This is something that we have to make known to the world. The island is home to amazing monasteries which are not very well known,” he said.
“Cyprus is a market that is highly interested in religious tourism and include it as a destination with this offering. We want to develop this to other markets and are in discussions with the church on the matter,” he said.
As mentioned on Ioannina’s tourism website, Pamvotida Lake is “the perfect backdrop for romance, family holidays and city breaks” and we couldn’t agree more.
When in Ioannina, the best way to start off a day of sightseeing is to take a stroll (or a bicycle ride on the bike paths) on the banks of the lake, one of the few urban lakes in Greece with a history going back 28,000 years. Part of the Natura 2000 network of protected ecological sites, Lake Pamvotida is in fact one of the oldest lakes worldwide and the second oldest at European level after Lake Ohrid (on the North Macedonia–Albania border).
“This is a lake that has a rich habitat with rare flora and fauna. It hosts some 170 species of birds in the lake and 20 species of fish,” informs Aimilios Neos from the municipality’s tourism department.
Ioannina has many attractions to see and thanks to the help of Aimilios Neos and the Wise Ram consulting agency, we have rounded up a list of places to visit in the city to ensure your visit will be just full of countless experiences.
The Clock Tower
The iconic clock, which stands in the heart of the city, would be a good starting point for a walk in the historic center.
Located on Dimokratias square, the monumental Clock was built in 1905 on the initiative of Osman Pasha the Kurd, who was the Wali and general commander of Epirus and Southern Albania.
The design and supervision of the construction work of the clock tower was done by the architect Periklis Melirrytos, from Ioannina.
Castle of Ioannina
This is one of Ioannina’s most important sights. The Castle of Ioannina is a vibrant castle city divided into four parts, the east citadel with the Aslan Mosque, the citadel with Its-Kale (meaning inner castle), the outer area and the old town.
Its-Kale includes the Byzantine Museum, the Fethiye Mosque, the Bohemund Tower and the tomb of Ali Pasha.
Inside the castle you will find the Municipal Ethnographic Museum in the Aslan Pasha Mosque; the Soufari Sarai, which was used by the Ottomans as a cavalry school; and the Fotis Rapakousis Museum, which exhibits the rich private collection of Fotis Rapakousis’ family.
It should be noted that the Greek Culture Ministry has announced plans to restore and promote the landmark Ioannina castle.
The “Ancient Synagogue of Ioannina” is located inside the castle and is one of the largest and oldest preserved buildings throughout Greece.
In its courtyard, which is surrounded by a high wall and includes a well and a fountain, an arched gate opens onto with the inscription 5657= 1897. On the front there are two more inscriptions with date 5586 = 1826. Apart from the built-in inscriptions, which reveal building renovations, the time of reconstruction of the synagogue is unknown.
For information on the Mass, the Israeli community can be reached on the telephone number: +30 2651025195.
Ioannina’s archaeological museum has findings from four prefectures of Epirus. It is definitely worth a visit in order to become better acquainted with the region.
The museum is located in the heart of the city, at Litharitsia Park and showcases a multitude of important cultural artifacts from prehistoric times up to the fall of the Roman rule (4th century AD). Through a variety of finds- such as tools, equipment, weapons, jewelry, coins, architectural fragments, inscriptions – are unfolded aspects of daily life the economy and social organization in camps, villages and towns/citadels.
The Cave of Perama is located just five kilometers from the city center of Ioannina in the homonymous suburb of Perama, on Goritsa hill.
Formed through complex natural processes about two million years ago, the labyrinthine cave was accidentally found by locals in the 1940s. The visitable and accessible route, accompanied by a guide, has a length of 1,100 m. Inside visitors will come across a variety of stalactites and stalagmites, many chambers, fossilized bones and teeth, colors and formations.
The island (without a name) in Lake Pamvotida
Fun fact: Ioannina’s un-named island was the filming location for episodes of the Greek hit TV series Sasmos earlier in 2022!
Throughout the year boats constantly leave Molos in Ioannina to take people to the island located on Lake Pamvotida. It takes a mere 10 minutes to cross the lake to the island from the city. The green landscape, picturesque settlement, traditional homes, cobblestone alleys, nine monasteries (two are in operation) makes this unique un-named island an attraction for all visitors.
Another reason is the fact that the island is home to the Monastery of Saint Pantaleon, now the Ali Pasha Museum, the location where he was assassinated in 1822 by the Turks.
Silversmithing Museum & Silversmithing Hall (KE.PA.V.I.)
The traditional silver work from Ioannina has been well known in Greece for centuries.
Located in the castle of Ioannina in the western bastion of the north-eastern acropolis (Its-Kale), the museum is the space were it tells its tales and focuses principally on the history of silversmithing in the region of Epirus.
After a visit to the museum it it recommended to visit the hall of the History of the Art of Silversmithing (KE.PA.V.I.). Here visitors can receive information on the art of silversmithing, the construction materials and the tools used, through five thematic sections.
Useful tip: Ioannina has two licensed tour guides that really know their stuff. For tours of the city, the Castle and the island, seek out experts Nikos Zacharakis and Evgenia Bellou. They will travel you back in time and tell you the “secrets” and myths of Ioannina.
Ioannina: Easy to get to
Once considered a quite “out of the way” destination due to its distance from Greece’s major cities, Ioannina today is among the hotspots of the Greeks but also of international travelers.
“Ioannina is one of the first choices of the Greeks for a vacation… From being the most isolated city, we are now in the center of attention thanks to the improvement of the roads,” Mayor Elisaf highlights.
Two motorways was all that was needed to make it more accessible to tourism. The start came with the opening of the Egnatia Motorway which made access to Ioannina from Northern Greece a whole lot quicker and residents becoming regular visitors since the traveling time, from Thessaloniki for example, was slashed. Ioannina can be reached from Thessaloniki in only 2 hours and 15 minutes (from 5 to 6 hours previously).
Next came the Ionian Motorway, which contributed to the seamless connection of Ioannina with the Peloponnese, Athens and other parts of western Greece.
“We are in the center of the country, close to all cities… Kavala for example is three hours away, Athens three and a half hours, Patras one and a half hours away… Argyrokastro in Albania is only one hour and 15 minutes away,” Elisaf adds.
The Municipality of Ioannina has a very updated website with amazing photographs that gives you all you need to know about the destination. Press here.