A glorious mixture of Byzantine, Turkish and Italian architecture, erected on top of far more ancient and largely unidentifiable remains, the Old Town is a world of its own. In theory, it consists of three separate sections, though casual visitors seldom notice the transition from one to the next. To the north, sturdy stone mansions known as inns line the arrow-straight streets of the Knights’ Quarter. These strikingly austere edifices, built to house knights from specific countries, were laid out by the medieval Knights of St John. South of that, the Hora, also known as the Turkish Quarter, occupies the central bulk of the Old Town. This tangle of cobbled alleyways is now the main commercial hub, packed with restaurants and shops interspersed between derelict mosques and Muslim monuments, and, regrettably, bursting with visitors every day in summer. The Jewish Quarter in the southeast, which lost most of its inhabitants during WWII, is now a sleepy residential district.
Visitors can walk atop the central stretch of the imposing 12m-thick ramparts that still protect the landward side of the Old Town, and descend at various points into the wide, deep moat that encircles them, filled with lush gardens and perfect for a relaxed stroll.
Of the nine gateways to the Old Town, the busiest and most dramatic are the northernmost two, closest to the New Town. Liberty Gate, the nearest to Mandraki Harbour and the taxi rank, leads to a small bridge and the main tourist areas, while the atmospheric D’Amboise Gate, further inland, crosses an especially attractive section of the moat en route to the Palace of the Grand Master.
The so-called New Town of Rhodes has existed for 500 years, since Ottoman conquerors drove the local Greek population to build new homes outside the city walls. Almost nothing in the area, north of the Old Town and centred on Mandraki Harbour and the casino, though, holds any historic interest. Instead the New Town is a busy modern resort, alive with guesthouses and restaurants, from gleaming hotel monoliths to tiny tavernas, along with banks, boutiques and all the businesses that keep Rhodes ticking along.
A continuous strip of beach, starting north of Mandraki Harbour, stretches around the island’s northernmost point and down the west side of the New Town. The best spots are on the east side, known as Elli Beach, where there’s better sand, more facilities, and, usually, calmer water.