If it’s come down to Kos or Kefalonia, then you can rest assured that you’re going to have one seriously sun-soaked, food-filled, and beach-heavy trip to the Greek islands this year. The reason? Both of these destinations are famed for their stunning coastlines and their good-time R&R. But they are also quite different…
In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find two Greek islands that were further apart from each other. Separated by more than 370 miles of the Aegean Sea and the vast mountains of the Peloponnese, they lie at opposite ends of the country; one gazing east to Turkey, the other looking west to Italy. On top of that, Kefalonia is known for its relaxed vibes and untouched backcountry, while Kos is altogether livelier and more vacation-ready, with big hotels and party spots.
This guide will dig deep into all those differences to help you decide if it will be Kos or Kefalonia this year. It picks out five key aspects of the places, ranging from the nightlife scene to the beaches, from food to the ease of getting there and back again.
Kos or Kefalonia for beaches?
Here’s a tricky one. Kos is widely considered to harbor the very best beaches in the Dodecanese chain, while Kefalonia is hailed by some to have the best in the Ionian chain. If anything, that means beach lovers will have plenty to pick from, no matter the place they go to. But let’s dig a little deeper…
On Kefalonia, the coastline to the south of the island is the softer. It’s got small embankments that slope into the Ionian Sea through runs of yellow sand. It’s not for nothing that the main resort towns – from Skala to Lourdata to Argostoli – are all located there. There’s room for sunbeds on some of the more built-up beaches, but access is easy even on the more out-of-town spots. Our favorites in the area include Koroni Beach and Eglina, which looks more like Crete than Kefalonia. Head north and things will change dramatically. This is where you encounter the coastal landscapes that Ionia as a whole is known for – think soaring cliffs of chalky stone gleaming above an impossible-to-reach cove and aquamarine waters. Myrtos Beach (a sort of doppelganger to Shipwreck Beach over in Zakynthos) steals the show, but Foki Fiskardo is the secret jewel, offering a horseshoe bay enfolded by pine forests.
Then comes Kos. Beach lovers are never disappointed by this isle. Beneath the Dikeos Mountains, the sands and pebbles here come in all styles and sorts. The northern shores are wilder and more untouched but tend to get heavier waves. The south shore is where the touristy resort towns are, complete with managed beaches dotted by tavernas and sunbeds. Of the latter, Kardamena Beach is the most popular of all. Hang there for safe family swimming and to enjoy uber-happening nightlife once the sun has set (more on that later, though). For the best beaches Kos can muster, be ready to hop in the rental car. The likes of Mastichari Beach and Limnionas come into the frame then, complete with white-tinted powder and empty pockets of rock reef for snorkelers.
Winner: Draw. Neither can win this. Both are totally gorgeous when it comes to beaches.
Kos or Kefalonia for hotels?
Bagging the right hotel is key to forging the perfect Greek island escape for many a traveler. Thankfully, both Kos and Kefalonia have lots up their sleeve. The selection is pretty balanced, too. Kos gets more visitors (upwards of 800,000 compared to Kefalonia’s mere 192,000), but Kefalonia is bigger by area. One has extra hotels to cater to the travelers; the other has lots of options because it’s so big.
The more relaxed and local vibe on Kefalonia helps to keep smaller, family-owned hotels in the mix. They’re perfect if you’re keen on experiencing the raw and real side of the island and want to bed down in tiny villages or fishing towns away from the main resorts. The southern part of the isle has the larger hotels, but even there the atmosphere remains pretty low key and the hotels nice and intimate. Some of the best hotel options on Kefalonia are:
- Anna’s Apartment ($-$$) – Taste the wild side of Kefalonia by choosing this mountain apartment in the hills, surrounded by rugged peaks and old Mediterranean oak woods.
- La Signora Hotel ($$) – A boutique hotel with a courtyard swimming pool, featuring BBQ areas and air-conditioned rooms near Lourdata.
- Karavados Beach Hotel ($$-$$$) – A grand mansion of a hotel set over two ridges near the beaches of the south coast, Karavados Beach Hotel has a gorgeous pool and rooms with balconies overlooking the sea.
There’s a whiff of chic Mykonos about the hotels of Kos, especially if you stick to the vibrant party towns and main resorts of the south coast. You can also find some lovely family apartment blocks near the beach that are great if you’re bringing the kids in tow. Oh, and there are urban apartments in the heart of Kos Town for those wanting to hit the bars and the history sites. Finally, Kos has a new breed of uber-cool eco resort for adults, where rejuvenating massages, thalassotherapy, and yoga are the order of the day. Be sure to check out:
- OKU Kos ($$$) – A very stylish, very on-trend resort that enjoys a place near the quieter northern beaches, OKU takes a hint of Bali and brings it to the Greek islands.
- Hotel Esperia ($$) – A midrange three-star option that’s got a lovely L-shaped pool.
- Cooks Club Tigaki ($$$) – A boho hotel with its own bar-club, Cooks Club Tigaki is done out in a mashup of Turkish and Moroccan styles, with a sun-splashed garden and a fine-dining restaurant.
Winner: Kefalonia, but that’s just because we like smaller, local hotels and B&Bs. There are some seriously stylish options on Kos these days.
Kos or Kefalonia for nightlife?
We’ll just go right out and say it: Do not go to Kefalonia if you’re looking to party. There are lots of things that this Ionian destination is famed for, but the after-dark hedonism isn’t one. You’ll be much better off in other islands in the region, like Zakynthos or Corfu, the home of Kavos. The most happening town on the island is probably the stylish hub of Fiskardo in the north. Tucked into a deep natural harbor with its multi-colored houses and their red-tiled roofs, it’s a chocolate box village that’s home to some excellent tavernas and eateries (check out Tassia and Vasso’s). There are also a few chic cocktail bars there, with pretty views over the pine-fringed shorelines.
Kos, on the other hand, can get positively wild. We’d actually say it’s the major party island of the Dodecanese chain, with only Rhodes’s Faliraki to match up to. Here, there’s a duo of places to let loose. The first is the dedicated 18-30s resort of Kardemena on the south coast. That’s got its own strip, complete with more Anglo pubs and sports bars than you could possibly need. The nightlife there is endless in the summer months, so be ready to be bothered by reps and shot hawkers until the (very!) early hours. There’s also a good party scene up in Kos Town, and we especially love the vibey beach clubs that spill out onto the sands to the north of the center – Artemis Heaven, boho Mylos Beach Bar.
Winner: Kos, no doubt about it!
Kos or Kefalonia for ease of travel?
There’s good news for travelers thinking about hitting Kos or Kefalonia this year – both islands come with their own airport. On top of that, there are countless ferry connections linking both destinations to ports both big and small in their surrounding regions, so you shouldn’t find it a chore to arrive even if you’re not taking to the skies.
The main arrival point on Kefalonia is the Kefalonia International Airport Anna Pollatou (EFL). It’s the 11th busiest airport in Greece, which actually means it’s pretty small – just 190,000 people pass through the concourses each year. Still, there’s a decent array of flights heading there, including some enticing low-cost links with fliers like Ryanair and Transavia. What’s unique is that EFL airport offers excellent connections to other spots in Europe, but not as good links to the UK. You can get to Warsaw, Munich, Frankfurt, Naples, and Tallinn in a single sitting, but only a few carriers go to London airports or to Manchester. Boat wise, there are links from the Greek mainland on the KTEL network out of Athens (ticket prices include the boat crossing and the bus) and even long-distance links from Italy that come into Argostoli port.
Most of the time, flights to Kos will take a touch longer because the island is located further east from the most popular points of origin in Europe – Paris, London, Madrid. You’re looking at over four hours when coming in from the UK. However, Kos has a larger airport than Kefalonia and that means more potential flights. Lots of them are seasonal, but you’ll catch names like Lufthansa, Ryanair, Olympic Air, TUI Airways, and SAS Scandinavian Airlines running routes in from loads of major EU hubs and British cities. Kos also has more ferries on the menu than Kefalonia does. Not only can you catch overnight boats from Athens, but you can hop on links from Rhodes, catch seasonal links from Santorini, and even come across from the towns on the Turkish Riviera (although that will mean going through passport control).
Winner: Kos – there’s a bigger airport and more boat connections overall.
Kos or Kefalonia for things to do?
Kos and Kefalonia are islands in Greece, remember – most people come here to laze on the sand, snorkel in the coves, and enjoy long lunches of fantastic regional food. All that’s on the menu, but there are one or two things that also set each island apart from the crowd.
Let’s start on Kos. Stacks and stacks of history awaits between the pumping party streets of Kardamaina and the shopping walks of Kos Town. You can spend a morning wandering the ancient Asklepion, the center of healing that once counted the so-called Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, among its students. An old 14th-century castle – the Neratzia Castle – keeps watch over the port, too, while the remains of a 2,000-year-old agora and marketplace beckon below. History lovers will not be left disappointed. Neither will the adventure seekers. Just look to the heart of the island, where the 840-meter-high Dikeos Mountains beckon with valleys of scrub and lookout points.
Kefalonia has two sides, one above ground and one below. Delve into the complexes of the Drogarati Cave and you’ll get to see strange formations of mineral stone, big stalactites and stalagmites, and colossal caverns carving through the earth. There’s something incredible at the Melissani Cave, too, where a glimmering body of water hides in a sinkhole deep in the ground. For traditional Greek charm, don’t miss Assos Village. It has pastel-painted houses lined up along a boat-bobbing promenade. Oh, and hikers can conquer Mount Ainos. That dwarfs what Kos can muster at a cloud-shattering 1,628 meters up, with a hike to the top that passes through dolomite valleys and fir woods.
Winner: Draw. It all depends on what you’re after from your vacation, but bear in mind that these places are pretty different.
Because Kos and Kefalonia lie at opposite ends of Greece, it can be tricky to check off both in the same island-hopping trip. Thankfully, they are quite different, so you should have a few things to draw on when you come to make up your mind. Summing up, we’d say that Kos is better for those looking for a classic bout of Mediterranean sun, sea, sand, and partying. It has epic beaches and epic nightlife. Kefalonia is way more rustic and remote, with a whiff of the jet setter about its main resorts. It’s for those on the hunt for R&R by clear seas, yachting trips, and great Greek food.