A glorious mixture of Byzantine, Turkish and Italian architecture, erected atop 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, housed knights from various countries and line the arrow-straight streets of the Knights’ Quarter. These fabulously austere buildings were laid out by the medieval Knights of St John. South of that, the Hora, also known as the Turkish Quarter, is a tangle of cobbled alleyways that’s now the main commercial hub, packed with restaurants and shops as well as derelict mosques and Muslim monuments. The Jewish Quarter in the southeast, which lost most of its inhabitants during WWII, is now a sleepy residential district.
Although there’s no public access to the imposing 12m-thick ramparts that encircle the Old Town, you can descend at various points into the broad moat that separates the inner and outer walls. Now filled with lush gardens rather than water, the moat makes for a great stroll and is ideal for picnickers.
Of the nine pyles (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 on towards 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 area, 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.
The town 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 tend to be on the east side, where there’s usually calmer water and more sand and facilities.