By far the largest and historically the most important of the Dodecanese islands, Rhodes (ro-dos) abounds in beaches, wooded valleys and ancient history. Whether you’re here on a culture-vulture journey through past civilisations, or simply for some laidback beach time, buzzing nightlife, or diving in crystal-clear waters, it’s all here. The atmospheric Old Town of Rhodes is a maze of cobbled streets that will spirit you back to the days of the Byzantine Empire and beyond. Further south, in the picture-perfect town of Lindos, capped by an ancient Acropolis, sugar-cube houses spill down to a turquoise bay. While both Lindos and Rhodes Old Town get very crowded in summer, Rhodes is large enough to allow plenty of room to breathe that pure Aegean air.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Rhodes.
A short, steep-stepped footpath climbs the rocky 116m-high headland above the village to reach Lindos’ beautifully preserved Acropolis. First fortified in the 6th century BC, the clifftop is now enclosed by battlements constructed by the Knights of St John. Once within the walls, you’re confronted by ancient remains that include the Temple to Athena Lindia and a 20-columned Hellenistic stoa. Silhouetted against the blue sky, the stark pillars are dazzling, while the long-range coastal views are out of this world.
A weathered, sun-kissed stone lion, visible from the street, invites visitors into the magnificent 15th-century Knights' Hospital that holds Rhodes’ superb archaeology museum. Exhibits range through several upstairs galleries, and across beautiful gardens to an annexe that’s open shorter hours in summer (9am to 4.50pm). Highlights include the exquisite Aphrodite Bathing marble statue from the 1st century BC, a pavilion displaying wall-mounted mosaics, and a reconstructed burial site from 1630 BC that held a helmeted warrior alongside his horse.
From the outside, this magnificent castle-like palace looks much as it did when erected by the 14th-century Knights Hospitaller. During the 19th century, however, it was devastated by an explosion, so the interior is now an Italian reconstruction, completed in the '18th year of the Fascist Era' (1940). Dreary chambers upstairs hold haphazard looted artworks, so the most interesting sections are the twin historical museums downstairs, one devoted to ancient Rhodes and the other to the island’s medieval history.
Austere and somewhat forbidding, the Street of the Knights (Ippoton) was home from the 14th century to the Knights Hospitaller who ruled Rhodes. The knights were divided into seven ‘tongues’, or languages, according to their birthplace – England, France, Germany, Italy, Aragon, Auvergne and Provence – each responsible for a specific section of the fortifications. As wall displays explain, the street holds an ‘inn’, or palace, for each tongue. Its modern appearance, though, owes much to Italian restorations during the 1930s.
The Old Town’s central commercial and residential district, south of the Street of the Knights, is known as the Hora. Having acquired its current appearance following the Ottoman takeover of 1522, it’s also called the Turkish Quarter. The most important of many churches that became mosques is the colourful, pink-domed Mosque of Süleyman, at the top of Sokratous. Across the street, the Muslim Library, founded in 1793 by Turkish Rhodian Ahmed Hasuf, houses Persian and Arabic manuscripts plus handwritten Korans.
One of Rhodes’ loveliest (and busiest) beaches, Ladiko Beach consists of two back-to-back coves, indenting either side of a small peninsula 3km south of Faliraki and 16km from Rhodes Town. Both parts are covered with sun loungers, rented by adjoining tavernas. The first you come to, the larger of the two, is composed of sand and gravel. The smaller and even prettier bay beyond, consisting of pebbles and also known as Anthony Quinn Beach, is better for swimming.
Cradled in a natural hillside amphitheatre 1km up from the sea, the remarkably complete ruins of ancient Kamiros stand 34km southwest of Rhodes Town. Founded in the 10th century BC, and mentioned by Homer, Kamiros reached its peak during the 7th century BC, but was devastated by earthquakes in 226 BC and 142 BC. Visitors enjoy a real feeling of walking the streets of an ancient city, complete with baths, temples, private homes and public squares.
The so-called Valley of the Butterflies, 7km up from the west coast, and 32km southwest of Rhodes Town, is a major day-trip destination for package tourists. A narrow wooded cleft in the mountains, threaded with attractive footpaths, it comes alive in summer – typically between around 10 June and 20 September – with colourful butterflies, drawn by the resin exuded by storax trees. That’s by far the best time to visit, though the trails remain busy for most of the year.
The Jewish Quarter, an enclave of narrow lanes in the Old Town’s southeast corner, centres on Plateia Evreon Martyron (Square of the Jewish Martyrs). Now all too quiet and dilapidated, it was home a century ago to a population of 5500. Half fled in the 1930s, while 1673 Jews were deported to Auschwitz in 1944; only 151 survived. The Jewish Museum of Rhodes, entered via the 1577 Kahal Shalom Synagogue – the oldest synagogue in Greece – tells the full story.