Like all respectable Greek cities, Patras has the kind of storied history that puts even European capitals in the shade. Off the harbor in 429 BC, Corinthian and Athenian ships once fought to a bloody standstill, while in 279 BC the city helped repel an invasion of Celtic Galatians. In between fending off attacks from Slavs and Saracens, it began to gain a name for its silk production from the 7th century, which brought renewed prosperity alongside its reputation as a major port. Like the rest of this region, it eventually fell into Turkish hands. Thomas Palaiologos, the last Byzantine to leave Patras before the Ottomans took over in 1458, carried an unusual prize with him—the skull of the apostle St. Andrew, which he gave to Pius II in exchange for an annuity. St. Andrew had been crucified in Patras and had been made the city's patron saint. In 1964 Pope Paul VI returned the head to Patras, and it now graces St. Andrew's Cathedral, seat of the Bishop of Patras.
These days the city is still a busy Greek port, though earthquakes and overdevelopment have accounted for most of the elegant European-style buildings that earned Patras the nickname "Little Paris of Greece" in the 19th and early 20th centuries. You might want to zoom right by unless you're looking to catch a ferry and you've got some time to kill, or you happen to arrive during carnival season (Jan.–Feb.), when the city turns into one big party. Having said that, the waterfront is pleasant, and as arcaded streets rise to the center, the town flattens into a series of large loungeable platias (squares). The tree-shaded Queen Olga Square is the nicest, and if you have time for a stroll, take Agios Nikolaos Street upward through the city until it comes to the long flight of steps leading to the Kastro, the medieval Venetian castle overlooking the harbor. The narrow lanes on the side of Agios Nikolaos are whitewashed and lined with village-style houses and the views from above are impressive.