Route 1: Discovering Rhodes Town
In ancient times, when the island’s sailors and merchants ruled the southeastern Mediterranean, Rhodes was one of the most powerful and rich towns of Greece. In order to get a sense of this ancient history, you have to walk up the hill called Monte Smith, where among the green fields, the wild flowers, and the pine trees you will find the ruins of the ancient Acropolis of Rhodes. The ruins belong to the Hellenistic period (3rd century BC), and among other remains include the temples of Zeus Polieus, Athena Polias, and Pithios Apollo, as well a stadium and an Odeon for 800 spectators.
But there can be no denying that the main attraction of the island is the Old Town of Rhodes, the medieval quarter of the capital city. There is so much to see that it is hard to know where to start–or stop–but the walls are the obvious boundary. Built by the Knights of St. John (using locals, captives, and slave labor), the original foundations were of an earlier period but the great walls we see today–with their gates, towers, bastions, and ditches–are largely the result of work done in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The walls of Rhodes are a Hollywood vision of a medieval fortress: their total perimeter is some two miles, and much of this can be walked on a combination of the upper and lower courses.
However long one explores the walls and whichever gates one enters through, most people will head straight for the Street of the Knights, carefully restored with cobblestones and authentic architectural details. It is generally regarded as the best preserved medieval street of all Europe. Along both sides are the “inns” of the knights–more like their headquarters and guest houses–designated by names such as Tongue of France or Tongue of Italy, reflecting the fact that the Knights of St. John came from various countries throughout Europe and spoke different languages. At the far end of the street is the monumental and majestic Palace of the Grand Master, with its imposing entrance and massive towers. The interior has many priceless treasures, and a visit to the Palace may be one of the most rewarding activities of your stay in Rhodes. It must be admitted that what we see today is essentially the 1930s reconstruction of Italians (what has been called “Mussolini manorial”), but it is worth visiting as a museum, and even if not historically authentic as architecture, this palace does convey a sense of the power that the Knights exercised over this island for over 200 years.
The part of the city where the Grand Masters and the Knights lived, grouped by country of origin and language, is called Kollakio, while the common people–the Greeks and the Jews–lived in the Bourg an area filled with churches, synagogues, and public buildings. Just wandering through the narrow medieval streets of old Rhodes yields constant delights–archways, courtyards, gardens, or hammams (Turkish baths) –all blending together to create a unique, picturesque, and enchanting town.
Then there is the Rhodes that is the direct descendent of what made Rhodes so prominent and prosperous from ancient times to the present: A bustling emporium of products both domestic and imported. The main “bazaar” in the old town is on Sokratous Street but numerous side streets branch off from it. In the shops that line these streets you can purchase everything from expensive clothing and jewelry to moderately priced textiles and ceramics to cheap beach gear and souvenirs.
Outside the walls lies the New Town, facing the Mandraki Harbor, guarded by two bronze deer and the three windmills. Presumably once the site of the Colossus of Rhodes, it is now crowded with yachts and inter-island ferries. The Italians who ruled the island in later years left a very clear mark on the architecture of this part of Rhodes. Walking along the waterfront, you will see some remarkable buildings with soft curves and pastel colors, built according to the colonial Italian style. Such buildings are the National Bank, the Court House, the National Theatre, the Post Office, and the fine Aquarium, worth a visit to see many species of the Greek Archipelago swimming in their crystal tanks. Route 2: From Rhodes town to Lindos
Lindos village is one of the most beautiful and picturesque villages of the Aegean as well as the location of the island’s most significant archaeological site. The route from the city of Rhodes to Lindos takes you along some of the most famous beaches of the island. The first one you come to is the world-famous Faliraki beach, below the village Kalythies: It is a long sandy beach, well-protected from the northern strong summer winds. Afandou beach is the next highlight of the route, and further along the way you will find Tsambika and the beaches below the village of Archangellos–the latter can generally be described as smaller, more picturesque, and quieter beaches. After Archangellos the road runs through flat landscape until Kalathos village, and the long turn-off road takes you to a sandy beach that stretches for miles around the Reni bay. On the northern edge of the bay lies the little-known castle of Feraklos, while on the southern edge of the bay lies another much more famous village, Lindos, which you reach by turning left off the main road.
The Lindos Acropolis sits high above the village and some people may want to take advantage of the donkeys to make the ascent, but a slow steady walk up the long ramp-like stairway brings you to the lower entrance (don’t fail to look closely at the carved ship’s stern on the rock face to the left; it dates from c. 180 BC). Now comes a steep stairway up to the lower level of the acropolis with the remains of various structures; then, climbing up the broad ancient steps, you come to the upper level and head for the columns of the Temple of Athena (c. 350 BC), one of the most photographed buildings of ancient Greece. Part of its impact depends on its location: it is isolated at the edge of a steep cliff (from which, by the way, you can look down to the small rock-bound harbor where legend claims Paul the Apostle landed). It is a truly spectacular experience to stand here and gaze down to the sea.
On descending, you will want to take at least a short time to appreciate the village of Lindos, designated a national landmark to preserve its traditional narrow streets, architectural details, homes, and other buildings. At the very least, step into the Church of the Panagia with its remarkable 17th century frescoes.Route 3: From Rhodes town to Ialyssos and Kamiros
An excursion to Ialyssos and Kamiros offers not just archaeological sites but perhaps more important for many people, numerous attractions along the way. The coast from the city of Rhodes to Trianda (also called Ialyssos) passes by the island’s major hotel-resorts, providing hundreds of rooms overlooking the sandy beach of Ixia. When you arrive at Trianda, don’t be fooled by the village’s modern look: by taking a small turn from your route to go up the pine-covered hill of Filerimos you can enjoy the ruins of the famous ancient town of Ialyssos. At this site you will find ruins from various historical periods, ranging from ancient times to the Byzantine period and the times of the Knights.
Moving on from Trianda you will pass by green fields, villas, hotels, restaurants–and the island’s airport. When you reach Theologos village you ought to pay a visit to one of the island’s most popular attractions: The Valley of the Butterflies. In fact, they are moths, many thousands of them drawn (especially in July and August) by the scent of the storax, the resin from the sweet gum tree that grows here–Roman Catholics use it to make incense and also use the seeds of its fruit to make rosaries! In any case, innumerable insects cover the bushes and the tree trunks around the idyllic green valley, at times flying in a colorful and impressive cloud. If you do visit the valley, you are requested to respect the natural environment and keep your voice down so that you do not give flight to the butterflies.
Moving to the main road to the south you will easily find the important archaeological site of Kamiros, a site full of ruins of ancient temples, fountains, and markets. At prehistoric times people here worshiped the ancient gods that taught the humans how to make bread! Moving along, there are some nice and quiet beaches until you reach the little harbor village of Skala Kamirou, from where the boats to nearby Halki island depart. On the top of the hill there is a nice Venetian castle offering a perfect location to enjoy the sunset!Route 4: Central and Southern Rhodes
One of the least visited but most beautiful regions of the island is hidden in the mountain villages of central Rhodes, around Mt. Attavyros, the highest mountain of Rhodes. Villages like Embonas, Kritinia, Siana, Agios Isidoros, Arnitha, Laerma, Monolithos and more have kept the native flavor of the countryside of Rhodes: here you will find old castles, churches, beautiful old houses, and of course some little-known small traditional tavernas. Many dense pine forests full of streams surround the mountains and the villages of central Rhodes create an enjoyable and less-known landscape of Rhodes.
For those willing to explore even further south, you can head southwest from Laerma, picking up the main coast road below Lindos and continuing on southward. This road then passes by the long and less developed sandy beaches of Lardos, Kiotari, and Genadi and eventually reaches the small quiet village of Kattavia, built into green fields full of vegetables. From Kattavia you can take the road that leads to Prasonisi, the southernmost part of Rhodes Island. For many people Prasonisi is the best beach of Rhodes. Certainly, the exotic landscape with the shallow sandy waters that let you walk to the small Prasonisi Island provide for a wonderful and picturesque setting. The strong winds that usually blow in the summer make those beaches very attractive to windsurfers. Route 5: A Day-Trip to Symi
Those with more time on Rhodes might well consider a day-trip to Symi, less than 10 miles north of Rhodes and in recent years a major attraction. There are boat connections with Rhodes throughout the year, most frequently during high season. Symi was once a prosperous center of shipbuilding, merchant shipping, and sponge-diving, but after World War II these failed to revive and the island was all but deserted.
This, however, has contributed to its present charm, for the old mansions and villages survived unchanged; as a result, Greeks and foreigners now flock here to savor the traditional feel of the island. An increasing number of expatriates have returned to the island, and today there is some shipbuilding, an emerging tourism industry, and even a bit of sponge-fishing. Yialos, the main port, is where the action is, such as it is, but most visitors will want to take the bus or taxi up to Horio, the old capital with its Church of the Panagia. Another favorite destination is the Panormitis Monastery, now virtually a guest house. Those more interested in a swim have their choice of several beaches–Pedi, St. Nikolas, or St. Marina. Museums & Activities
- The Palace of the Grand Masters, Old Town of Rhodes. In addition to taking in the impressive medieval castle architecture, visitors are able to enjoy several exhibits with artifacts and information that spans the island’s extensive history.
- The Archaeological Museum, Old Town of Rhodes. Housed in the former Hospital of the Knights, this museum features ancient Rhodes ruins such as pottery and sculptures, mainly found in the Kamiros excavation.
- The Byzantine Museum, Old Town of Rhodes. Located in the Church of the Panagia, this museum hosts religious icons and frescoes from the Byzantine era.
- Museum of Decorative Arts and Folklore, Old Town of Rhodes. Gain a cultural perspective through observing traditional costumes, fabrics, or pottery –all representing important aspects of everyday life in Rhodes through the centuries.
- Municipal Gallery, City of Rhodes. This impressive modern building houses works by Greek artists of the 19th and 20th century.
- Shalom Synagogue, Old Town of Rhodes. A reminder of the once flourishing Jewish community in Rhodes, the Synagogue also maintains a small museum that presents relevant photographs, books, manuscripts, and clothing.