All Rhodes lead back to Greece
The Greek islands are like a diner menu, in that there are literally hundreds of options to make you happy no matter your taste. But if you’re looking to go to one island where you can experience as much Greek culture as possible, then set your sights on Rhodes.
The largest of the Dodecanese Islands in southeastern Greece, Rhodes hits the checklist for all travelers. There are ancient ruins to visit, beaches to relax on and nature to discover, plus delicious food and buzzing nightlife to enjoy. Fittingly for its name, you can get around easily on Rhodes and it’s about a 57-mile drive from north to south, so give yourself a few days here to explore.
Read on for our guide to seeing all that this magical island has to offer.
After a one-hour flight from Athens or Crete, lose yourself in Rhodes Town, the oldest inhabited medieval city in Europe. (Rhodes is both the name of the island and its largest city.)
Walk around the roughly 200 streets or alleys of the Old Town. The city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is full of Byzantine and Gothic churches, traditional fountains and shops. Take a stroll down the Street of the Knights and you’ll come to the Palace of the Grand Masters of the Knights of St. John, built in the 14th century; be sure to look down at incredibly colorful mosaics on the floor.
The clifftop Acropolis of Lindos stands about 380 feet tall and is an important archaeological site in Greece. In addition to the fortress walls and columns overlooking the sea, the site is also home to the Temple of Athena Lindia, dating back to 300 BC. On your way up or down the steps at the foot of the acropolis, keep your eyes peeled for the relief sculpture of a Rhodian warship cut into the rock, dating back to about 180 BC.
While the Colossus of Rhodes—one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—no longer exists, you can still visit the presumed site at Mandraki Harbor and imagine a standing figure the size of the Statue of Liberty. While this monument to the Greek sun god Helios no longer stands there, the modern world placed statues of two deer where Colossus’ feet once stood.
There are two kinds of beachgoers: those who want to lay in the sand and those who want to be as active as possible in the water. Rhodes has both types covered. On the east coast, there are calm, sheltered beaches for sunbathing and swimming. The west coast beaches are more secluded, but also are windier and have bigger waves that are perfect for surfers of all kinds (board, wind, kite).
Picture calm water in between two headlands and a beach surrounded by olive trees and that’s Ladiko, where snorkeling in the turquoise sea is a must. For views of the coastline as well as the Acropolis of Lindos, head to Saint Paul’s Bay, which has two beaches; here, you can cliff dive, snorkel or swim. Just down the hill from the Monastery of Tsambika are the wide, white sands of Tsambika Beach; there is also a separate nudist area on this beach. Fourni Beach, on the west side, has no tourist facilities, but offers a remote spot among rocks and pine trees; bring water shoes for this pebble beach. Surfers head to Prassonissi Beach as its location on the southernmost part of the island not only lends itself to good winds, but also churning waters due to the convergence of the Aegean and Mediterranean seas.
In the European Union, there is a network of nature protection areas known as Natura 2000. You can visit some of these places in Rhodes, such as the Seven Springs (Epta Piges) or the Valley of Butterflies. All year, the water flows out of the springs, forming a small lake visitors can reach either through a narrow, dark tunnel or via a walking path above said tunnel. Along with swimming in the lake, people come here for the hiking in the nearby forests. As the name suggests, the Valley of the Butterflies offers the unique chance of seeing thousands of butterflies in one spot; this natural forest of Oriental Sweetgum trees secrete a substance that attracts Jersey tiger butterflies which can be found here from May to late September.
Less than two miles outside of Rhodes Town is Rodini Park, a green oasis full of cypress and pine trees, a picturesque wooden bridge over a stream as well as more than a few peacocks. Known as the world’s first landscaped park, it was popular with the Romans, who built an aqueduct here.
Head to the basement of the Hydrobiological Station, recognizable by its funky design of curved lines and round windows, to get up close to marine life. Here, at the northern edge of the island and minutes from the city center, you'll find the Aquarium of Rhodes.
Designed to look like an underwater sea cave with craggy rocks on the walls and paved black and white pebbles on the floor, the aquarium houses underwater species native to the Mediterranean, like turtles, sea flowers, octopi and numerous fish. In addition, there is also a touch pool and a chance to book a guided scientific tour with one of the marine biologists. Exhibits include a 2,000-year-old monk seal skeleton that was found in an archaeological dig in the port of Rhodes; of note, it was buried in the same way as humans back then, so the thinking is that it was probably considered a member of a family.
One thing holds true no matter where you are in Greece: you’ll never go hungry. This is true in Rhodes, where not only can you get a great meal at one of its many restaurants, but you can also stay out late at one of its many bars.
Local ingredients like wheat and olives are normally found in Rhodian dishes like couscous and various pasta dishes like macaroni and hilopites (small pieces of egg noodles). Menus tend to include vegetables like wild greens, red pumpkins, onions, capers, green beans and vine leaves to accompany various meat and seafood-based dishes.
Dishes not to miss include pitaroudia (fried chickpea-balls with chopped mint, onions and tomato); amarangoi (daisy shoots boiled in vinegar and served with skordalia, a garlic potato purée); and giaprakia (a mixture of minced beef, rice and tomato wrapped in vine leaves). For dessert, try the melekouni (toasted sesame seeds and honey), a traditional dish normally served at special events; in the past, people would send out small diamond-shaped melekouni instead of a paper wedding invitation.
The climate in Rhodes is, well, ripe for wine making, thanks to the sunshine, frequent rain during the winter and cool sea breeze during the growing season of May to September. Sample the white varieties of Athiri, Malagouzia and Muscat as well as the red variety of Mavrothiriko. Be sure to try Rhodian souma, a strong, local digestive aperitif, made from grape marc and wine. For a little magic trick at the bar, add water or ice to your souma and it will turn white like ouzo does.