Rhodes has the advantage of being big enough to hold your interest for more than just a few days, but small enough to conquer by car. Eight incredible days later and there were still things we did not have time to see. From the impregnable stone fortress of Rhodes Town, to the charming beaches, and delectable cuisine, Rhodes possesses a unique culture 3,500 years in the making. It is an unforgettable island with much to offer every type of traveler – from the history buff to the nature lover.
Rhodes is the largest island in the Dodecanese archipelago, covering 541 square miles of diverse terrain. It is distinguishingly shaped like a spearhead, with the northernmost point being occupied by the capital, Rhodes Town. The interior of the island is mountainous and forested with pine and cypress trees. Quaint mountain villages and beautiful terrain dominate the center of the island, while the framing shores, particularly along the eastern coast, are lined with towns that lure in tourists during the busy summer months.
With so much to offer in the realms of culture, history, geography, and gastronomy, it is no wonder that Rhodes has landed itself at the top of many bucket lists. From our time spent in Rhodes filming for the David’s Been Here web show in Greece and researching for our travel guide series, we’ve narrowed it down to these top five reasons you should visit Rhodes:
This vibrant capital city is home to an impressive walled city built by The Order of the Knights of Saint John. Beginning in 1309, they spent the following 200 years adding and fortifying their headquarters. It is the oldest continuously inhabited medieval town in Europe, and undeniably the most popular tourist attraction on the island. We spent a day strolling the cobblestone streets and taking in the top sights: Hippokratous Square, Ipoton Street (Street of the Knights), Grand Master’s Palace, and the Archeological Museum. After a full day of sightseeing, we ventured out into Mandraki Harbor directly outside the old town. Although its precise location remains a mystery, here is where the ancient Colossus of Rhodes once stood. This behemoth bronze statue of the Greek titan Helios was regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World!
Tip: The best way to take in the old town sights is by foot. All attractions within Rhodes Old Town are walking distance from each other.
Thirty-six miles from Rhodes Old Town is the captivating town of Lindos, which along with Ialyssos and Kamiros, forms part of the three principal ancient cities of Rhodes. When in Lindos, you can hire a donkey (€5 each way) to take you up to the Lindos Acropolis. The site dates back to the 4th century and contains the ruins of ancient Greek temples and medieval churches.
The town of Ialyssos is also a great place for a history lesson. Of the three ancient towns, it is the closest to Rhodes Town. It boasts the ruins of several ancient cities inhabited by the Phoenicians, Mycenaeans, Byzantines, and the Knights of St. John. Highlights of ancient Ialyssos are mainly located along the inclining avenue that begins directly at the site’s entrance.
Ancient Kamiros sits along Rhodes’ western coast. It was once a large Doric city dependent upon agriculture. In the 6th century, Kamiros became the first Rhodian city to mint its own coins. Residential buildings and housing developments occupied the lower half of the slope in what is considered to be the finest layout of an ancient Greek neighborhood. Remnants of the impressively advanced drainage system can still be seen today. The upper area was dominated by the town’s impressive acropolis. Points of interest include the fountain-adorned sanctuary that greets guests, the sacrificial area, the Sanctuary of Altars, the 6th century B.C. cistern that occupies the highest point of the town, and the remains of the Athena Kamiros temple.
Tip: If you are planning on touring archeological sites in Rhodes, keep in mind the time of year you are visiting. The hottest months are June through September. When outdoors bring a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, comfortable shoes, and be sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Try to sightsee in the morning to beat the midday heat and the crowds.
Food is an integral part of any culture, but in Greece it’s the lifeblood of society. Greek cuisine is well balanced and healthy. Core ingredients include olive oil, herbs (oregano, rosemary, and thyme are the most common), tomatoes, cheese, beef, pork, fish, and wine. A typical Greek meal will start off with meze (appetizers), a hearty salad of vegetables and feta cheese, then move onto the main dish of fish or meat, and end with a simple dessert of fresh fruit or baked sweet. Bread is a fundamental part of every meal, and is mostly used as a utensil to sop up delicious dips, sauces, and condiments.
Rhodians enjoy a continuous supply of fresh seafood throughout the year. Restaurant menus have centuries-old family recipes mingling with Mediterranean fusion dishes, giving the island a diverse and unique gastronomy. Foodies will be spoiled for choice when it comes to dining out; Rhodes is home to hundreds of restaurants – from hole-in-the-wall tavernas, to upscale venues that rival the finest restaurants in Athens.
Tip: Please note that many restaurants are closed during winter.
If you’re a beach lover, you will have plenty to celebrate in Rhodes. The most comfortable and popular beaches are located along the eastern coast of the island making it easy to hop between beach towns and explore multiple coastlines. While some west coast beaches are lovely and offer umbrellas and beach furniture, the western shorelines tend to be narrower, with coarser sands and more rocks. Some of our favorite beaches on the island include Ixia, Ialyssos, Afandou, and Plimiri. Faliraki is another popular beach with plenty of watersport activities, resorts, and restaurants. Faliraki is easy to get to by local bus, but its touristy atmosphere turned us off.
Day Trip to Symi
Luckily for visitors, Rhodes enjoys a close proximity to Symi Island, which can easily be reached by ferry from Mandraki Harbor. Upon approaching Symi port, you will be greeted by colorful fishing boats bobbing in the harbor and neoclassical homes stretching up the island’s hillside. Gialos is the main harbor on Symi and the island’s capital. From here it is easy to rent a scooter for the day, which is definitely the best way to see the island’s sites!
Situated on the hill overlooking Gialos is the village of Chorio. Those who do not wish to enlist a scooter for the day will have to contend with the Kali Strata, a long stepped-street leading up to the village. Regardless, the slope is gentle and the steps are mercifully spaced. The top can easily be reached in 15 minutes. Chorio’s streets are narrow, dotted with herb sellers, and lined with neo-classic dwellings. At the top you will get the best panoramic views of the city and the harbor.
If beaches are what you seek, then head over to the small coastal village of Pedi or the beautiful Marathounda Bay. Marathounda is located roughly 45 minutes away from the main harbor on scooter, and is one of Symi’s best kept secrets.
Tip: There is nothing at Marathounda except for an exceptional natural backdrop and crystalline waters, so be sure to bring whatever you are going to need, including water, sunscreen and a towel.
The reality is there are several other reasons to visit Rhodes. To read the articles and watch episodes we produced while in Rhodes, and for tips on where to dine and sightsee, check out our Rhodes blog and Rhodes web series.