Rhodes vs Kos – it’s the debate that comes up time and time again among travelers bound for the Dodecanese islands. These are the two of the largest isles in the chain, and the two most visited of the region. With a whopping seven million passenger arrivals between their airports alone, you’re in good company whichever you choose for your vacay…
The truth is that there are oodles of similarities between Rhodes and Kos. They both lurk in the sparkling Aegean Sea just off the Turkish coast. Each comes with a strikingly rich history that’s wrapped up with medieval knights, ancient polis states, and Ottoman conquerors. Oh, and both spots are famed for their beaches, which are dazzlingly white and can roll on for miles and miles.
So, which to choose? This guide is what you’ve been searching for. It’s a Rhodes vs Kos showdown that will deal with the ins and outs of each island to get you jetting down to the one that suits you the most this year.
Rhodes vs Kos: The general vibe
Rhodes is up there with Santorini and Crete among Greece’s most popular holidaying spots. The airport here alone pulls in 4.5 million passengers annually, and oodles of island-hopping travelers come in on ferries out of Athens between May and September. The upshot? There’s no denying Rhodes is extremely tourist orientated. Most of the places you’ll visit are out-and-out resorts. From Rhodes Town to Lindos, the east coast is all cottages and rentals and beach bars. Faliraki takes that to the limit – it’s the party hub.
Kos does have some of that tourist vibe. In fact, it’s got lots, particularly if you stick to one of the three main resort areas. They are Kos Town, Kardamena, and Kefalos. The main difference is that Kos gets roughly half of the annual visitors of Rhodes. It’s rarely as busy and there are towns where you can escape to feel the authentic pulse of old Greece.
Winner: Kos – there’s just more chance to feel real, raw Greece
Rhodes vs Kos History
This is a tough one. Both islands are steeped in millennia of history. In Kos Town, you can barely move for the crumbling remnants of the ancient Agora of Kos, the Roman Odeon, and the gnarled Tree of Hippocrates. On top of that, the first thing you see in the city is a soaring castle built by the crusader knights of the 13th century.
However, Rhodes pushes that to all new and dizzying heights. The focal point for history buffs there should be the UNESCO site of the Medieval City of Rhodes. It’s a maze of Game of Thrones-style castle turrets and crenulations, which hit a zenith with the Palace of the Grand Masters and the Gothic Great Hospital. There’s also the old plinth of the Colossus of Rhodes, which is hailed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Rhodes vs Kos: Beaches
We’ll make it simple: Neither island here will disappoint on the beach front. Check Rhodes. It’s home to the rock-speckled bay of Ladiko Beach, the snorkeling inlet of Anthony Quinn Beach, and the breathtaking bay of Agathi. That’s just three of 42 wonderful beaches on the island, too, which run the gamut from family friendly to positively far-flung and rugged.
Kos has a reputation for “the finest beaches in the Dodecanese” (not our words, but the words of Lonely Planet!). It’s hard to disagree. The north and south coast offer something very different. Go north to see wind-lashed shores and Caribbean-esque sand beaches like Marmari. Go south to find classic Greek holiday beaches, the best of which is Agios Stefanos, with its view of a rugged, church-topped islet out at sea. Lovely.
Rhodes vs Kos: Hotels
There’s never going to be a shortage of hotels on either of these islands. If we had to pick, we’d say Kos excels in slightly upmarket boutique hotels. They’re often perfect for honeymoons or romantic trips with a difference. Check out the likes of OKU Kos. Like a Balinese resort with its thatched sunning umbrellas, it rolls straight onto a secluded swathe of sand dunes on the north coast. Then there’s 5-star Michelangelo Resort & Spa, which has one of the best infinity pools we’ve seen in Greece.
Rhodes manages a slightly more diverse array of hotel options. They go from uber-family friendly resort hotels with everything in one place (take a look at the Lardos Bay hotel) to characterful Greek B&Bs with infinity pools soaring high in the mountains (we especially love the look of the Bouganville Bed & Breakfast Stegna). There are also bargain stays for the gap yearers on offer in the main resort areas, like the Rhodes Backpackers Boutique Hostel in Rhodes Town – a good base for a hedonistic holiday.
Rhodes vs Kos: Nightlife
When the sun drops behind the Aegean Sea to the west, both these isles can get pretty raucous. Each has their own nightlife hub. In Rhodes, that’s Faliraki. A vintage 18-30s spot, it’s got wild clubs like Bondi Bar and Bedrock that string up the main strip. Don’t come expecting traditional Greek evening shindigs or locals. The vibe is very much tequila slammers and body shots.
Kos’s answer to Faliraki is Rhodes Town and the town of Kardamena, which is on the south coast. The first of those is home to long Bar Street, where there are more ouzo-doused party venues than you could possibly get through in a week. Kardamena, meanwhile, is a tad more chilled, but still packs out with revelers in the 18-30s group from May to August.
Winner: Draw – there’s nightlife aplenty on both
Rhodes vs Kos: Ease of access
It shouldn’t be hard to get to either of these islands. Kos has an international airport – the Kos Island International Airport. It’s right in the middle of the isle and has low-cost, short-haul links to loads of northern and western European cities. You can come in from Berlin, London, Geneva, and Belfast in 4-5 hours no problem. Be aware that many of the routes are seasonal, so there are less departures and arrivals in the winter months. Kos also has some convenient ferry links, including one to Piraeus in Athens that takes around 10 hours and goes overnight.
Being the slightly larger and more-visited island of the two, Rhodes is probably going to be a touch easier to get to. The airport – Rhodes Diagoras International Airport (RHO) – handles more than double the traffic of Kos, so there’s sure to be extra links to more destinations around the continent. Rhodes Airport also has a lot of charter arrivals from Russia. Moreover, Rhodes is one of the main terminals for Greek ferry links going eastwards, so it’s a prime place to end those island-hopping trips. There are also regular boats to and from Turkey.
Winner: Rhodes, but don’t let this be the decider because both islands are pretty easy to reach
There’s no easy answer when it comes to Rhodes vs Kos.
The truth is that both of these Dodecanese isles are downright stunning. They offer long lengths of sun-splashed sand, rugged mountain ranges scented by thyme blooms and olive groves, and historically rich towns brimming with ancient temples and castles. Both are also pumping in the summer months, with resorts that burst with karaoke bars and dance venues and cool beach clubs.
There are some differences to remember. Rhodes is probably a touch more energetic than Kos. Kos, on the other hand, tends to be better for honeymooners after chicer hotels surrounded by nature. We’d also say that the better beaches fringe Kos, while Rhodes comes up trumps on the history and culture front.
The choice is yours…