Affectionately known as the City of the Argonauts, in Greek mythology, Volos was where Jason boarded the Argo on a quest for the Golden Fleece at Colchis.
As a nod to this ancient hero there’s a replica of an ancient Trireme ship berthed at the city’s port.
An industrial port city in modern times, Volos could also be the embarkation point for your own voyage, with ferries departing the city to the paradisiacal islands of Skopelos, Skiosos and Alonissos.
Volos has real history of its own at the Neolithic settlements of Dimini and Sesklo, more advanced than anywhere else in Greece 6,000 years ago.
The finds from these settlements are at the city’s Archaeological Museum.
A constant presence to the north is Mount Pelion, where you can drive to high-altitude villages in leafy forests, and the best beaches on mainland Greece.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Volos:
1. Athanasakeion Archaeological Museum of Volos
This museum has a payload of artefacts from the Geometric period, from 900-700 BC, a time associated with legends like the Trojan War and Jason and the Argonauts.
Many of the finds discovered at the Neolithic settlements of Dimini and Sesklo are here, like terracotta figurines, jewellery and stone tools.
Whole burials from the Mycenaean period have also been transferred to the museum, showing the skeleton and the offerings around it.
There are also Hellenistic funerary steles from Dimitriada, around the Pagasetic Gulf, that still have bright traces of paint, as well as reliefs from the early-Christian and Byzantine periods.
2. Tsalapatas Museum
A token for Volos’ industrial development in the 20th century, the Tsalapatas Museum is in a roof tile and brickworks founded in the 1920s by Spyridon and Nikolaos Tsalapatas . At the height of production the factory churned out up to nine million tiles (Byzantine and French-style) and bricks of different sizes each year.
After the factory shut down in the 1970s its Hoffmann kiln, trolleys, compressors, clay silos, dryers and cutters were all kept on site, and the museum eventually opened in 2006. You’ll get to step inside the Hoffmann kiln, which used to bake 24 hours a day, stopping just twice; during Greece’s Nazi occupation and following an earthquake in 1955.
3. Dimini Archaeological Site
West of Volos are the ruins of a Neolithic village first occupied around 4800-4500 BC, with houses built from mud bricks on stone foundations.
Designed according to a social hierarchy around a central square, Dimini has a level of sophistication in its urban planning that isn’t seen at other settlements from this time.
Dimini’s residents also had an unusual amount of privacy in their homes, where cooking took place inside rather than outside, which had been the norm.
Each of the houses are also separated by walls, rarely found at other settlements from the Middle Neolithic.
During excavations at House N a ceramic pot was found with the remains of a child inside from a prehistoric burial.
Close by there’s a tholos (beehive) tomb from a later Mycenaean settlement.
4. Sesklo Archaeological Site
If you’re hungry for more prehistoric archaeology after seeing Dimini, Sesklo is in the countryside a bit further west.
At Sesklo you’ll glimpse the Sesklo Civilisation, the first Neolithic culture in Europe, with the oldest fragments going back to between 7510 and 6190 BC. The site shines a light on people who lived off agriculture and animal husbandry and had advanced stone and obsidian tools, and pottery-making skills.
Beyond the historical meaning of the place, Sesklo is in a picturesque location, bordered by two streams on the Kastraki Hill with long-distance views of the countryside.
The settlement once occupied an area of 20 hectares and a population as large as 5,000, but burned down around the 5th millennium BC, after which only the hilltop or acropolis was inhabited.
5. Mount Pelion
At Volos you couldn’t be in a better place to travel the dreamlike landscapes of Mount Pelion.
This peak has 24 villages, which, like Portaria below, have unmistakeable “Pelian” houses made from green, blue or grey slate and with painted wooden window frames and doors.
You’ll be tempted to go on a driving expedition, past gorges, waterfalls and orchards growing plums and firiki, a small, oval apple that originated in Egypt.
Mount Pelion is steeped in Greek mythology, as the home of Chiron the Centaur and the place where Thetis and Peleus were wed, starting a chain of events that would lead to the Trojan War.
And if you’re willing to put in the miles, some of mainland Greece’s best beaches can be found on the Aegean under Pelion’s eastern slopes.
Hemmed by pine-topped cliffs, the beaches at Agioi Saranta and Mylopotamos are out of this world.
An easy drive north of Volos will bring you to the lovable village of Portaria on the slopes of Mount Pelion.
Facing the Pagasetic Gulf at an elevation of 650 metres, Portaria, was founded around the Monastery of Panagia in the 1200s.
The village is wreathed in greenery, abounding with deciduous trees, orchards, gardens and flower pots on its streets.
On the slopes are mountain streams and waterfalls that are a spectacle after a little rain.
Also part of Portaria’s allure is its architecture, with noble mansions that have colourful window frames and doorways painted in the Pelian style.
Seek out the rustic wooden Monastery Church of Panagia Portarea, which has vivid frescoes from the 16th century.
7. Centaurs’ Path
In Greek mythology Mount Pelion was the domain of the Chiron the Centaur, who was a tutor to heroes like Heracles, Achilles, Jason and Theseus.
With these tales in mind you can pick up the Centaurs’ Path up the slope from the village of Portaria, a short hike over mountain streams crossed by little wooden bridges on green slopes shrouded by beech, plane, chestnut, oak and maple trees.
Occasionally you’ll be able to look between the leaves and see the Pagasetic Gulf and Volos far below.
8. Pelion Railway
The narrow gauge line from Volos to Milies in South Pelion was laid in 1903 and operated up to 1971 when it was shut down as a cost saving measure.
But in 1996 the section from Ano Lechonia, ten kilometres east of Volos, to Milies started running as a heritage line.
There are services on weekends from mid-April to the end of October, and every day in July and August.
Travelling at a leisurely 20 km/h you’ll course through Pelion’s verdant landscapes of oak and olive trees, climbing to look across the Pagsetic Gulf.
The ride takes 90 minutes, and just before Milies station you cross the remarkable De Chirico Bridge: While the bridge itself is straight, the rails cross it on a curve.
You can take lunch in Milies and poke around the village, before catching the return train in the afternoon.
9. Anavros Park
As you leave the Archaeological Museum you can go for a gentle walk along this seafront park.
In 1988 there was a sculpture symposium at Anavros Park and there’s a line of whimsical concrete and metallic pieces that resemble trees next to the water.
There’s also a skatepark here, and if you stay on the promenade and head east you’ll be at Anavros Beach.
This beach flies the Blue Flag, and has four cafes and restaurants in touching distance, so you have almost all you need for a few peaceful hours in the sun.
10. Alikes Beach
A few minutes by road southwest of the centre of Volos you’ll arrive at a long sandy beach in a laid-back area with bars and restaurants.
The beachfront at Alikes is divided by breakwaters, leaving transparent shallows where toddlers and unsteady swimmers will be able to wade and paddle with no danger.
Although rather narrow, the beach is filled with sun loungers and parasols, and some of the bars behind have waiter service.
You could also take a walk to the end of one of the breakwaters for a photograph of Mount Pelion across the Pagasetic Gulf.
11. Agiou Konstantinou Park
With dark rippling mountains on the horizon, the Pagasetic Gulf has the power to stop you in your tracks.
Luckily, just beside the University of Thessaly a short way from the port there’s a newly refurbished park with benches where you can revel in the views.
There are lawns, which are lush in autumn, winter and spring, and columns of pines, palms and deciduous trees.
On the water is a long, straight seafront promenade if you’d like to walk off lunch or take the prettiest route to the Archaeological Museum a couple of minutes away.
12. Hill of Goritsa
A natural boundary above the east side of Volos, the Hill of Goritsa crests at 200 metres.
One reason to make the climb is to see the whole of Volos, its bay, the Pagasetic Gulf and Mount Pelion in one view.
But there’s also ancient history up here.
In the 4th century BC Philip II of Macedon built a city for up to 5,000 inhabitants on this perch.
At that time there was a wall running along the ridge for almost three kilometres, watched by 33 towers.
At the highest point you can still see the ruins of the acropolis, while in a cave near the Church of Zoodochos Pigi the ancient inscription “Dios Milichiou” has been found in the rock, proof of the veneration of Zeus at the city.
13. Castle of Volos
In the old town in the western part of the city there’s evidence of a once mighty fortress.
The Castle of Volos was built on the Palaia Hill during the rule of Emperor Justinian in the middle of the 6th century AD. The castle was pulled down in 1889, but lengths of the eastern and western walls are still standing to a height of seven metres.
The sight isn’t much to look at now, but it deserves a few minutes when you come to the Tsalapatas Museum to picture what this building would have looked like in Justinian’s time.
14. Theofilos Museum of Anakasia
Up in the village of Anakasia, under five kilometre out of Volos is the Kontos House.
Three storeys high and dating to 1835, this Byzantine-style building is on a rectangular plan.
The house is special because of what’s inside: In the early 20th century the treasured folk artist Theophilos Hatzimihail decorated the house with colourful, naive frescoes of landscapes, battle scenes, wildlife, saints, mythological figures, flowers and herbs.
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When it comes to dining Volos has its own way of doing things.
All around the city you’ll see Tsipouradika, which take their name from Thessaly’s regional drink, Tsipouro, a brandy made from pomace left over in wine presses.
Tsipouradika are a product of the 19th century, when industrial workers would need somewhere to spend their lunch hours as they were unable to return to their homes.
After the Greco-Turkish War in the early 1920s these establishments were cross-pollinated by refugees from Anatolia, who brought their own cuisine back with them.
As they did more than a hundred years ago, Tsipouradika have a cheerful atmosphere, with impromptu folk songs fuelled by shots of Tsipouro.
Most Tsipouradika are fish and seafood restaurants cooking up stuffed quid, fried shrimp with tomato sauce and feta, steamed mussels, bonito, anchovies, sardines, red mullet, pickarel, swordfish and grouper, all with fresh salad.