Rhodes is the largest of the Dodecanese islands and also the historic capital. Due to its seafaring location, Rhodes played a huge part in the areas ancient history, some of which dates back centuries and can thankfully still be appreciated today. If you’re looking for a beautiful island beach holiday, that’s also got plenty of architecture to entertain history buffs, plus gorgeous natural landscapes to boot, then Rhodes and nearby Kos sound like the perfect destinations for your next Greek island getaway.
The Old Town of Rhodes was established in 407 BC and went through multiple periods of rule including the Roman, and later Byzantine Empire. Then in 1309 the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem conquered the island and settled here. In 1523, it was conquered once again by the Ottoman Turks, and all of these transitional moments of history have been captured in the architectural landscape scattered across Rhodes.
You can enter the medieval old town through the Gate of Freedom where you’ll be met with a tapestry of buildings, the bastions, walls, gates, alleyway, minarets, houses, fountains, tranquil and busy squares which all transport you back in time. Be sure to visit the monumental Palace of the Grand Master; once a Byzantine fortress built in the 7th century A.D., it was converted in the 14th century by the Knights of the Order of Saint John into the residing home of the Grand Master of the order. It is now a museum for tourists and a spectacular one at that!
Street of the Knights
You might be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled upon a movie set when you reach the cobblestone Street of the Knights. This exceptionally well preserved medieval street is lined with inns that once played host to the soldiers. What was once the knight’s hospital at the end of the street is now an archaeological museum, perfect for those seeking to enrich their knowledge of ancient Rhodes. Make a pit stop at the impressive nearby Church of Our Lady of the Castle which is now the Byzantine Museum and also the Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent. We highly recommend taking a stroll through the Turkish District where you’ll be wowed by some 16th-century Turkish baths.
Of course, when it comes to Greek holidays, beaches are, for most, top of the agenda and Rhodes has plenty on offer. For those who like their beach holidays to come with a side of action, you want to head to the west side of the island, to the beaches of Ixia and Ialysos, where the strong winds create excellent conditions for wind and kite-surfing, along with other watersports. There are plenty of local cafes and bars to entertain the more relaxed beach-goers. For a little local-known gem, head further south to the quiet Aliki beach near the village of Monolithos. From Rhodes Town down the eastern coast, there are plenty of beaches which all remain popular with tourists. Faliraki Bay boasts three unique beaches including a nudist option if that floats your boat. Finally, for fine sand which can be hard to come by on Rhodes, Tsampika is where you should head – with shallow waters and no surrounding hotels, it makes for a relaxing day at the beach.
For nature-lovers, make your way to Petaloúdes, which affectionately translates to Butterfly Valley. If you fancy a day in the shade and away from the crowded beaches, head inland to this tranquil oasis. Enjoy a pleasant walk through the valley towards the monastery at the top; however, this is not the sole reason to visit. In late May, huge swarms of butterflies congregate here and it is a marvellous sight to behold.
Hugging the base of a mountainous rock formation, the settlement of Líndos is crowned by an ancient acropolis. Blending ancient and medieval culture, this is one of the most-visited archaeological sites in Greece. It is believed that the temple of Athena atop the acropolis was founded by Danaus, who was escaping the wrath of Hera. Sweeping your way up to the top, you will pass ancient carvings of Greek warships. Once you enter the gate, you’ll be transported into a portal to the past, with 300 BC ruins, 4th-century gateways and the breathtaking ancient theatre beneath the Temple of Athena. The view of the white stone houses below is picture-perfect and the ultimate souvenir of Rhodes.
Greek food is known and loved the world over and for good reason; this delicious Mediterranean cuisine with its own passion and flair is what legends are made of. Rhodes is no exception and you’ll find plenty of tavernas and restaurants to satisfy your hunger. While you’re visiting, be sure to try some local delicacies such as Pitaroudia (fried chickpea balls with mint, onions and tomatoes) and stuffed cyclamen leaves with lentils. A popular main dish is Vlita; a stew made from wild greens and stuffed vegetables, and Kolokoudi (baked pumpkin). For the meat-eaters, why not try the typical goat dish which is cooked in a narrow ceramic pot called Pydiako, or Spetzofai which are baked sausages with peppers and onions. For dessert, munch on the traditional Melekouni, a sweet made from crushed almonds with orange peel, cinnamon and nutmeg – sublime.
Why stop at one Greek island when you can visit two? Neighbouring Kos is just a short ferry ride away from Rhodes making it ideal as a bolt-on to your Greek getaway. Kos floats just off the coast of Turkey and just like Rhodes has a historic past in which it was conquered various times throughout the ages, resulting in an archaeological wonderland for us to explore in the present day.
The golden standard of beaches, Tigkaki is a blue flag beach complete with white sand and shallow waters located on the north side of the island, as well as Marmari. For quieter, more rocky areas look to Lambi, Karnagio, Psaldi and Aghios Fokas. Towards the south of the island, Kardamena beach has fine sand and shallow waters that are perfect for paddling.
Castles, ruins and relics
Kos is a mosaic of archaeological relics and ruins, from the port to the city and the west of the island. The most significant historical fact about Kos is that it was the birthplace of Hippocrates, the ‘father of medicine’. He is said to have given many lectures and teachings to his students in various locations across the island, but perhaps the most impressive is under the shade of Hippocrates’ Plane tree – which is now a whopping 2,500 years old! In the city, the sites not to be missed are The Medieval Castle, The Eleftheria Square, Platanos Square and the Lotzia Mosque. If you travel 3.5km southwest of the city, you’ll find the Asclepeion: a sacred ancient hospital.
Kos by bike
While some islands might not be suited to biking trips, Kos is definitely an exception. With a cycling lane running around Zouroudi beach and another that stretches 13km from Psalidi, across the city to Faros beach, cycling is certainly the ideal way to get around. There are bike parks all over the island so don’t be afraid to find your own path to explore.
This article was produced in partnership with the Greek National Tourism Organisation | www.visitgreece.gr