There’s no shortage of idyllic islands to visit from Rhodes, Greece. Nope, once you’re done exploring the great crusader castles, the cobbled streets of Rhodes Town, the pulsating party places of Faliraki, and the blinding beaches of Lindos, you can simply hop on a boat to sample somewhere completely different. It’s that easy.
What’s great is that Rhodes acts as a sort of transport hub for the Dodecanese islands. That means there are loads of ferries heading out to all sorts of wonderful places, but also that Rhodes is a fantastic starting point for yacht charterers looking to whiz across the easternmost islands of Greece. Oh, and don’t expect to be twiddling your thumbs on the journey from A to B here – there are swimming coves and marine safaris and even views of the Turkish mountains to enjoy as you go.
This guide aims to focus in on seven of what we consider to be the crème-de-la-crème of islands to visit from Rhodes, Greece. It’s got the multicolored harbors of Symi and the wild hedonism of Kos, along with a few islands that don’t hit the headlines so much. Ready? Grab the passport and the sunscreen and let’s go…
Symi – one of the most popular islands to visit from Rhodes, Greece
Symi has risen and risen in fame in recent years. It’s established itself as something of a go-to place for celebrity chefs and Instagram influencers, and has even been hailed as one of the most enchanting spots in the whole Mediterranean. That’s mainly thanks to the gorgeous appearance of its pastel-painted marina, a place where old Italian-styled homes cascade down a steep hill into a pearly blue Aegean Sea where boats jostle for room by the tavernas. Lovely.
Symi is very small. You could fit it into Rhodes more than 10 times over. Symi also attracts a noticeably more monied crowd than its compadre to the south. So, expect those family resort hotels to be replaced by chic B&Bs and boutique lodgings. Expect, too, for the pace to slow a little and the prices to increase, as fine-dining restaurants and exclusive cafés come into play. Mainly, though, you’ll be here for rest and relaxation, to wander the donkey-trodden streets of the Chorio village, sail to empty beaches like Saint George Bay, read, paint, sleep, and eat.
Getting to Symi from Rhodes is a cinch. There are oodles of day trip options that will pick you up right at the door of your hotel, pop you on a boat, and get you back by evening. But they will never be as cheap as the public ferry, which takes a mere hour from start to finish and runs at least twice daily in the main season months (May to September).
The majority of travelers looking to explore this part of Greece will be deciding between Kos or Rhodes. They are the two most visited in this chain of islands, and both have loads going for them. The good news is that you don’t actually have to pick one over the other at all. They are close enough to be linked by regular ferry boat (a connection goes around three times daily from Rhodes Town in the main season) and there’s even a short-haul flight that takes just 30 minutes if you’re running out of time!
What Kos excels in is nightlife and beaches. The first of those is taken care of by the hedonistic enclave of Kardamaina on the south shoreline. It’s a true 18-30s resort in the style of Faliraki and Kavos, complete with gyros stalls and a strip of pubs and clubs that go on until sunup. You’ll also get a very lively nightlife scene in Kos Town, fueled by Scandinavian shot bars and beach clubs that bring a bit of Balinese cool into the mix.
When it comes to beaches, let’s put it this way: Lonely Planet doesn’t hesitate to proclaim them the “finest beaches in the Dodecanese”. In a land so rich in sands and coves, that’s saying something. We’ll let you make up your own mind as you hop from the blustery windsurfing mecca of Mastichari Beach to the warm-water snorkeling coves of Thermes Beach to remote Marmari and Tigaki. All are lovely; all are different in their own way.
Karpathos squiggles through the southeastern edge of the Aegean Sea roughly midway between the end of Crete and the end of Rhodes. That makes it a perfect steppingstone for those wanting to explore Greece’s largest island (Crete) after they’ve seen the medieval wonders of the hub of the Dodecanese (Rhodes). But this is also much more than just a pitstop on the way from one sun-splashed spot to another…
It’s much loved by those who like to go off the beaten path, because big hotel chains and holiday brochure editors have yet to swing on by. There’s a whiff of old times in the salty airs, especially as you clamber up to villages like little Menetes and Othos, which cling to precipitous ridges in lush mountain ranges, often plumed in mists and rainclouds. Hikers, especially, are sure to find loads to get stuck into in that inland region.
Down on the coast as you leave the highlands of Karpathos behind, there are some pretty darn jaw-dropping places to sunbathe, snorkel, and swim. Look to the white-rock cove of Kyra Panaghia. Or choose Apella Beach for somewhere that would almost look right at home in the Caribbean. Oh, and there’s Afiartis, which is one of the world’s best windsurfing locations.
When it comes to rest, relaxation, and experiencing the sleepy joys of the untrodden Dodecanese, Tilos has to be one of the best islands to visit from Rhodes, Greece. It awaits right next door, about 49 miles directly west of Rhodes Town. There, it slithers in a lazy S-bend through the Aegean Sea, rising in a series of honey-tinged ridges that billow with dust clouds.
The shorelines below are threaded with a couple of very handsome villages. They are where most visitors choose to bed down. You’ve got Livadia, a cluster of cafés and white-painted hotels that spills straight into a protected bay. Then there’s Antonios, where some haunting Orthodox shrines shoulder above a pure blue lagoon between the mountains. Up higher you can still see the remains of Byzantine churches, some still adorned with dazzling mosaics and frescos that date from the 1400s.
Travels on Tilos today are mainly about ecotourism and seeing the untouched Greek island flora and fauna. The airs here are thick with wild herbs – thyme, oregano, oleander – and you can hike the donkey paths from lookout to lookout to take in 360-degrees, watching for dolphins or monk seals in the sapphire waters below as you go. Talk about a rejuvenating trip!
Kalymnos has long been on the radar of avid climbers. Like Greece’s answer to Railay Beach in Thailand, it sports dagger-like turrets of stone that are a joy for those who come with the harness and the ropes in tow. But it’s not just for those looking to scramble up the limestone crags. It’s also a very convenient island to visit from Rhodes, Greece, mainly because there are several daily ferries that link it to both Kos and Rhodes throughout the height of the summer months.
You’ll come into Pothia on the south coast. That’s a maze-like town that’s everything you’d expect of a Greek island hub. Look one way and the colored dome of an Orthodox church shoulders high. Look another and there’s an open plaza riddled with coffee joints where the locals slap down dominos. The town is also the place to find the fascinating maritime museum, which chronicles the seafaring past of the sponge fishers of Kalymnos. Oh, and don’t leave town without heading up to the Chrysocheria Castle, an old citadel raised by the Knights Hospitaller.
Probably the most famous beach on Kalymnos is Therma Beach. It’s not much of a looker but does have an intriguing geothermal spring that keeps the tide pools balmy all year round. The sands of Platis Yialos and Palionnisos are better for lazing and snorkeling, but they can be a chore to get to if you’re not much of an ATV pilot.
It can take up to six hours to swap Rhodes for Leros. The trip goes directly northwest through the very heart of the Dodecanese chain, so it’s a good option if you wanted to visit the tempting spots that are en route – Kos, Kalymnos, Symi. Alternatively, you can do the whole thing in a single sitting, taking one of the five-weekly boats that go from Rhodes Town direct.
When you arrive, prepare to step into a port town that’s arguably more Sicily than south Greece. It was actually inhabited by the Italians for much of the 20th century (31 years to be precise), and there was a determined campaign run by the Italian fascist powers to make it more like home. They raised Art Deco mansions and fortified a new port called Portolago, which now showcases a striking (yet barely attractive) architectural style all of its own.
That intriguing past runs side by side with a rocky, rugged backcountry of high hills and carved cliffs. As the island drops into the Aegean, it also offers some of the region’s lesser-known diving spots, so expect to find a nascent scuba scene in the offing too. We’d say look to base yourself in Agia Marina. It’s the prettier and more charming of the villages on Leros.
Last but most certainly not least on our list of the most beautiful islands to visit from Rhodes, Greece, Kastellorizo is one of the region’s – nay, the whole country’s – most enchanting and enticing locations. So close to the Turkish coast that you could almost swing a shisha pipe across the strait, it’s got a strange fusion of Islamic, Ottoman, Italian, English, and homegrown Greek charm about it. That, coupled with the fact that it remains truly off the main tourist radar, means it’s one for the true intrepid globetrotters.
Officially called Megisti, this one’s rich in history. You can head out to explore the ancient dig site at Palaiokastro or see the Castle of the Knights, which is just another of the many crusader-era forts in this part of the Aegean. The main town hugs the eastern shoreline, delving just a few streets inland to zigzagging roads that host Italian-style homes and restaurants with views over to Turkey.
Exploring the island is a joy in itself. It’s basically void of cars, and there are some tree-fringed paths leading to old churches in the hills. You can also spend whole days on the shoreline. There aren’t many sandy beaches a la Rhodes there, but there are loads of rocky jump-off points with stepladders that let you descend straight into the sea.