The largest and the most popular of Greece’s Dodecanese islands, situated in the Aegean is Rhodes. Although famous for its fabulous beaches and popular holiday resorts, this island has so much more to offer its visitors. It is probably most well-known for its incredibly beautiful medieval town, which is in fact one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe and is the jewel in Rhodes‘ crown. For this reason I’d put a visit to the historic town on the list of the top five things to do in Rhodes.
Explore The Town Of Rhodes
Rhodes town is the capital of the island, situated in the north of Rhodes and the largest town in the Dodecanese. It is split into two very distinct parts, the new town and the old medieval town which nestles unscathed by the passing of time within the historic city walls.
For more than two hundred years Rhodes was ruled by the Knights of Saint John and their presence is evident to this day. They largely shaped the character of the island with the fortified walls, gates, palaces and churches. During the 213 years that the knights were sovereign of the island they erected beautiful buildings in Byzantine and Gothic architectural styles and one of the greatest buildings of Medieval times is the famous ‘Castello’, the Palace of The Grand Master Of The Order. This was the home of the leader of the knights of Saint John but today is home to the Museum of Rhodes, which houses a seriously impressive collection of archaeological findings from the Eastern Mediterranean such as the statue of Laokoon and the mosaic of Medusa.
The town of Rhodes which stands proud over the harbour is unique on so many levels, not least because it is the oldest inhabited medieval town in Europe, with a population of 6000 people. Moreover, it is a beautiful fusion of medieval buildings, shops, restaurants, Gothic and Byzantine churches along with Turkish mosques which sit harmoniously together to create this spectacular city. It is a fascinating place to explore and to be honest I don’t think there are many Greek island towns to rival that of Rhodes. You could spend hours wandering along the cobbled streets, soaking up the atmosphere and exploring the traditional Rhodian houses, the numerous mosques and churches, the Palace of the Castellan, not to mention the spectacular Palace of the Grand Master.
To the north of the old town lies the distinctly different new town of Rhodes. Don’t be misled by the name new town. Quite simply, when the Knights of Saint John were defeated by the Ottomans in 1522 the residents were displaced from the old town and had to build new settlements. They were joined by people who had settled in the north of the island called ‘Neohori’ or New Town.
The style of architecture here is largely Neogothic or Venetian as most of the buildings in the new town date from the period during which the island was under Italian rule. There are some great attractions to be found here. This part of town is vibrant and superb for shopping. It’s also got a great selection of cafes, bars and restaurants. Here you will also find Mandraki harbour, which is the most picturesque of the island’s three ports. The iconic image of the island’s two bronze deer statues standing guard at the mouth of the harbour were built by the Italians and are the emblem of Rhodes.
The Valley Of The Butterflies
The Valley of the Butterflies is a beautiful nature reserve and a great trip for anyone travelling with children in particular. Here you can enjoy a quiet walk through the valley which runs along the river Pelekanos with its spectacular scenery and waterfalls. It is certainly one of the most attractive parts of the island, covering an area of approximately 60 hectares.
You are guided through the valley over wooden bridges and along pathways. It is a very tranquil place and a great place to enjoy nature at its best. During the summer months the valley is inundated with many hundreds of thousands of panaxia quadripunktaria butterflies, also known as tiger moths, who come here to feed and mate by the storax trees. Of course, it goes without saying that the area has to be enjoyed responsibly and with respect to the butterflies whose numbers have been dwindling over the last few years. It is important not to disturb them, particularly as they are resting as they do this to conserve energy.
Take A Trip To Lindos
Another trip worth taking during your stay in Rhodes is to Lindos, situated on the east coast of the island. Towering above this stunningly beautiful historic village is the Acropolis of Lindos. Due to the fact that it has a preservation order on it, no cars are allowed here and no hotels can be built. It is the second most visited archaeological site in Greece and one of the most photographed. With its beautiful bay and its whitewashed houses on the hillside, Lindos really is picture-perfect.
The winding streets with the distinctive white and black “chochlaki” floor are a joy to explore. As you make your way along these streets you can admire the beautiful facades and doorways with their highly intricate carvings. It is refreshing to see how unspoilt it is by the passing of time. In the centre of the village is a lovely little church called the Virgin Mary of Lindos. This is definitely worth a visit as it is full of 15th century frescoes. There are many wonderful ‘Captain’s Houses’ in Lindos, built between the 16th to 19th century which have beautiful interiors and extremely impressive ceilings.
The Monastery of Tsambika
About 25 km south of Rhodes town is a beautiful Byzantine church named the Monastery of Tsambika, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. This is a fabulous place to visit during your stay. The monastery stands at the top of a hill , 300 metres above sea level, with truly stunning views over the sea and the surrounding countryside. It’s a long walk up, almost 300 steps in fact, but it’s worth it for the view when you get to the top. The church itself is pretty with beautiful icons and an incredibly intricate pebbled floor. You can light a candle here and then take time to enjoy the spectacular vista.
Take A Day Trip To Symi
Another day trip I would definitely recommend is to the nearby island of Symi. Just 23 miles from Rhodes and only 4 miles from the Turkish coast, it is, without doubt one of the most beautiful of the Greek islands and can only be reached by ferry from both Rhodes and Kos. From Rhodes the crossing takes just a couple of hours. It’s difficult to put into words just how incredibly beautiful this little island is. Moreover it is a very unspoilt island.
There are just half a dozen taxis on the island. No car hire is available. Apart from the fact that the island is just too small, there are only two main roads. If you wish you can hire a scooter and there is a bus service, but to be honest the best way to see it is on foot. It is I would say a hikers paradise.
Symi built its wealth in the nineteenth century through two main industries, sponges and ship building, but these days the main industry is tourism. It has a population of about 3000 people and enjoys good weather for most of the year. Summer temperatures average 33 degrees and often hit 40. The port, with its beautiful pastel coloured neoclassical houses is a wonderful sight to behold as you approach the island. It is made up of two main areas, the harbour in Symi town ‘Yialos’ to give it the correct name and Horio (meaning village) which is halfway up the mountainside.
There are many old churches and monasteries on the island, The Monastery of the Archangel Michael at Panormitis, being the most famous. It has a beautiful village square with traditional tavernas and bars. If you are looking for a peaceful escape and time to soak up some of the best experiences you can enjoy on a Greek island then this is a must-see destination.