Chora village and the old harbour of Astypalea island in Greece
travel guide

Exploring the Dodecanese Islands in Greece

Situated in the south-eastern Aegean Sea, the Dodecanese island group is actually closer to Turkey than mainland Greece. These Greek islands were occupied by the Venetians for a long time and have strong medieval architecture and monuments, in addition to the ancient Greek sites. While visitors flock to the famous Cyclades Islands, the Dodecanese Islands are as lovely and much more peaceful to visit.

Two of the larger islands in the group, Rhodes and Kos, are the most popular with visitors while tourism is developing in Karpathos and Patmos. Many of the smaller islands are visited mostly for day trips, while others are completely off the radar of most tourists.

Below are just a handful of the Dodecanese Islands which are worth visiting for a few days. All have beautiful beaches, quaint towns and fascinating interiors to explore.

Rhodes

Beautiful view over Lindos Bay in Rhodes, Greece

The largest of the Dodecanese islands, Rhodes has a fascinating mix of landscapes, cultures and attractions. It's also one of the islands you're likely to visit on your Dodecanese journey. With good ferry connections from some of the other major Greek islands (Santorini and Crete), an airport and a direct ferry to the mainland of Turkey, Rhodes is a great place to start your Dodecanese island adventure.

Of course, there's also a huge amount to do and see on Rhodes, starting with beautiful beaches, ancient ruins and medieval old towns. Rhodes Old Town is near the port and a UNESCO World heritage site. While it can get very busy during summer, it's lovely to explore in the quieter months, with a walled medieval town, twisting streets and charming restaurants.

Other highlights on Rhodes are the beautiful village of Lindos - its acropolis is home to some of the best ancient Greek ruins in the country. Lindos also has stunning views and the village itself is charming with white buildings nestled into the hills.

Other highlights in Rhodes include visiting the Rodini Park, the oldest park in the world, the Valley of Butterflies and the monastery of Filerimos. There are many beautiful beaches, including Ladiko, Tsambika, Kallithea, and Agathi. If you have the time, head to the small, isolated bays on the southern side of the island, visiting the peaceful village of Lachania on the way.

Rhodes hotel recommendations

Kos

Colourful Greek vases in Kos, Greece

With a history spanning 5,000 years, Kos bears the marks of many cultures, including the Romans, the Venetians and the Ottomans. As a result, there are a range of fascinating attractions on roads. Perhaps most important is the ancient centre of Asklepieion, which followed the medical tradition of Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine. Other noteworthy landmarks in Kos are the Neratzia Castle, the ancient Greek Agora, and Antimachia Castle.

Kos is also known for its cycling as bicycles are a popular mode of transport on the island. There's also a 13km path stretching from Faros Beach to Psalidi Beach which makes a wonderful jogging, walking or cycling route. Inland, there are a number of beautiful hiking tracks and mountain biking trails, many with beautiful views. If you want to go further, you can also explore the more remote parts of the island on a jeep tour.

Of course, as with the other Greek Islands, there is a huge amount of choice when it comes to beaches on Kos. Whether you want a sandy, isolated bay, or a beach near a town, there's one to meet your criteria. There are also a few lovely villages on the island - Zia, in particular, is a beautiful mountain village near Kos and renowned for it's lovely sunsets. Nisyros, the volcanic island, is also an easy day trip from Kos. There also good ferry connections to some of the smaller islands as well as to Bodrum in Turkey.

Hotel recommendations in Kos

Kalymnos

The Monastery of St. Sava above Kalymnos town in Dodecanese, Greece

The rocky island of Kalymnos is situated north of Kos, near the Turkish mainland. Kalymnos is a popular beach holiday destination, with many seaside towns on the western side of the island. It's also a popular day trip from Kos.

Aside from it's stunning beaches, Kalymnos is also a renowned climbing destination and the venue for the annual International Climbing Festival which attracts visitors from around the world. If you enjoy climbing, book into a course during your visit.

From Kalymnos, you can visit the tiny island of Telendos, where you'll find secluded beaches, clear lagoons and tiny hamlets. It's a wonderful place to relax and escape everyday life. With direct ferries from Kos, you can also easily access the nearby islands of Leros and Patmos from Kalymnos.

Hotel recommendations in Kalymnos

Astypalea

Chora village and the old harbour of Astypalea island in Greece

Being in a relatively isolated location and with a population of under 2,000, Astypalea is still an off-the-beaten track destination in the Greek islands. While not part of the Cyclades group, walking through Astypalea will definitely make you think of Santorini or Mykonos. With whitewashed houses, tiny churches and narrow laneways, Astypalea embodies many people's idea of the Greek islands.

The main town of Chora is especially lovely and well set up for travellers with good hotels, shops and restaurants. Set on the hill, many houses have gorgeous views over the sea and, perched on a hill above the village, sits the Venetian-era Querini Castle, one of the main attractions on the island.

Once again, there are many beaches to choose from around the island - and the larger beaches nearer to Chora will have sun umbrellas, tavernas and hotels. Further away from the main village, you'll find gorgeous, secluded spots, which are well worth exploring. You can also hike to the impressive Drakospilia Cave or do a guided tour of the island. If you want to explore further afield, consider a day trip to the tiny islands of Koutsomitis and Tigani and swim in their crystal, clear waters.

Hotel recommendations in Astypalea

Karpathos

The clear waters of the Mediterranean in Karpathos, Greece

If you need a tranquil place to recharge, surrounded by natural beauty, Karpathos is the perfect place to spend a few days. Even among the other Greek islands, the beaches on Karpathos are particularly beautiful - Kyra Panagia and Apella are the favourites and well worth a visit, while the southern coast has a number of good options for water sports.

For a touch of culture, explore some of the tiny villages which are dotted across the island. Many of them are set into the hillside, with the charming town of Olympos is tucked into the mountains. See the windmills and churches, and you may even spot some women in traditional clothes. If you enjoy caving, Limniotis Cave is worth visiting too.

From Karpathos, it's a quick trip to Saria Island, a remote and uninhabited volcanic islet with yet more stunning beaches, turquoise water and great hiking options (with spectacular views, of course). You can also go for a guided walk through the valley of Pigadia or up to the Agia Kyriaki church to learn about local history and soak in the stunning landscapes.

Hotel recommendations in Karpathos

Where to next

If you've come from Turkey, consider island-hopping to the Greece mainland via Santorini and Naxos. Or, you may prefer to explore more of the Turkey, heading down from Fethiye to the Turquoise Coast, or venturing inland from Bodrum to the famous attractions of Ephesus and Pamukkale.

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Roxanne de Bruyn

Author - Roxanne de Bruyn

Roxanne is the founder and editor of Faraway Worlds. She is a freelance writer and guidebook author and has written for several travel publications, including Lonely Planet and The Culture Trip. With a background in communications, she has studied ancient history, comparative religion and international development, and has a particular interest in sustainable tourism.

Originally from South Africa, Roxanne has travelled widely and loves learning the stories of the places she visits. She enjoys cooking, dance and yoga, and usually travels with her husband and young son. She is based in New Zealand.

Last Updated 3 May 2022

Chora village and the old harbour of Astypalea island in Greece

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