Rhodes, Greece: From Medieval Wonder to Sun-Swept, Modern Destination

Where can you find a 14th-century castle, pristine beaches, and souvlaki all in a four-mile radius? We'll give you one guess.Read More

The historic Old Town square in Rhodes (Source: Shutterstock / ian woolcock)

You’ve heard of the Colossus of Rhodes, right? Of course you have. But how much do you know about its originating city, Rhodes, Greece? It turns out that this tropical island — the largest of the Dodecanese islands — has enjoyed the influences (and beautification) of several different peoples over the centuries. From war-mastering Athenians to the Persians, Macedonians, Ancient Romans, crusading Europeans, and Ottomans, the island has seen its fair share of cultural influxes. These have proved to be invaluable to its formation, framing it as a capital of culture, royal affairs, and architectural development.

The many-layered history of Rhodes

Rhodes has a dizzying history. First inhabited in the Neolithic Age, it remained a relatively quiet Aegean island until the Hellenistic Period, inaugurated by Alexander the Great. Thanks to its domination of regional trade, the city became a hub of diverse cultures — and wealth. It was during this period that sculpture art became prolific, education institutions flourished, and the city thrived. It was also during this period that the wonder of the ancient world, the Colossus of Rhodes, was erected. Unfortunately, however, political instability in the fractured region grew to unsustainable levels, precipitating a muddy conflict involving the Antogonids, Seleucids, and Egyptian Ptolemies. Long story short: Rome stepped in to quell the conflict, but left Rhodes to its own devices thereafter.

Rhodes in the 19th century (Source: Wikipedia)
Rhodes in the 19th century (Source: Wikipedia)

As the centuries went on, more meddling peoples claimed and relinquished the island, sometimes leaving little trace and other times marking Rhodes with unique architecture or, conversely, abhorrent pillaging. In one case of the latter, the Umayyads purportedly stole the ruins of the Colossus (which had collapsed in an earthquake) and melted down its iron and bronze for other uses. By the 14th century, Rhodes was under the purview of European crusaders (the marks of which you can see in its meaty battlements), followed by the Ottomans. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that Rhodes took its current political form, and only after the conquering Nazis handed the island over to the Brits who returned it to Greece.

Whew. We told you it was dizzying.

Island and city layout

The island of Rhodes is spread across 540 square miles; it’s an elongated formation, stretching from southwest to northeast. The island boasts 43 different towns and villages, many of which have populations of fewer than 1,000 people. The city of Rhodes is the biggest with a population of just over 50,000.

Rhodes (the city) resembles a thumb jutting into the Aegean Sea. At the northern tip are many of the sites you’ll want to see, including the location of the Colossus of Rhodes, the Aquarium, and the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights.  There’s also a healthy helping of museums, casinos, restaurants, and hotels in this area.

The city spreads south from this point, mixing residential and commercial construction. You’ll find plenty of markets along the main thoroughfare, Themistocleous Sofoulis, while beaches and parks punctuate the landscape further down the island.

How to get to Rhodes and get around on the island

As with many island-rich countries, Greece’s inter-island transportation is largely conducted by boat. That said, you can certainly fly into Rhodes from Athens and other major Greek cities. The airport is almost exclusively served by Aegean Airlines and Olympic Air.

Once on the ground, local taxis can take you to the city. Average fares run about 30 Euros ($33 USD). Alternatively, you can rent a car for only about $20 USD per day, so it might be worth your while to grab one. But get a small car; roads can be narrow and winding, making them harder to traverse in a large vehicle.

Where to stay in Rhodes

There are two main concentrations of hotels in Rhodes — one in the north of the city, surrounding the Old Town; and one further south along the western coast. Many of these are great choices, but (surprise) we have a few of our favorites.

The Kokkini Porta Rossa is house in a 14th-century knight's former home. (Source: PLACED Facebook)
The Kokkini Porta Rossa is housed in a 14th-century knight’s former home. (Source: PLACED Facebook)

The Kokkini Porta Rossa gets high marks for its blending of medieval, classic Greek, and modern. Fun fact: It’s actually housed in a 14th-century knight’s residence. Tucked up against the sprawling city park, Kokkini Porta Rossa has epic views of the city, ocean, and ambling tourists. Part of the charm is the attention to artistic detail; every room seems to be appointed with paintings or sculptures that call on Rhodes’ deep history. Oh, did we mention there’s a multi-course Greek breakfast included? Prices start at 245 Euros ($270 USD) per night.

If you’re keener to soak in the azure wonders of this Aegean paradise, Atrium Platinum Luxury Resort Hotel & Spa is probably a better fit. This is five stars of glitz, glamor, and pampering — complete with a pool that looks like a replica of the Greek islands. Four onsite restaurants, a fully loaded spa, and a wealth of planned activities and events mean you don’t really have to leave. (But you should — there’s a lot more to Rhodes than your hotel.) Prices start at about $172 USD per night.

While these are certainly our picks, it’s important to note that Rhodes has many high-quality hotels and accommodations, so you can afford to be a little picky — as long as you stay within your budget.

What to see in Rhodes

First stop: the city of Rhodes, of course. We recommend you make the city your base of operations while on the island; day trips out of the city will allow you to visit most of the key sights on the island. Once settled in your Grecian digs, be sure to start your adventure by spending some time in Old Town up north. Specifically, check out the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights. Built by the Knights Hospitaller in the 14th century, it functioned as a palace, fortress, and military headquarters. The austere, but clearly medieval style, will reel you in – not to mention the interspersed Greek art that seems anachronistic, if delightful. Only a handful of the 150 rooms are open to the public, but they’re well worth a visit.

The Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights lit up at night (Source: Shutterstock / Philippos Philippou)
The Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights lit up at night (Source: Shutterstock / Philippos Philippou)

There are a lot of other landmarks in Old Town, and while we can’t catalog them all, many guides will take you on tours of the area. You can also peruse the area’s sites on your own; here’s a handy guide to help you map out your trek.

Next up: Nearby Rodini Park. This sprawling green space hugs the southern edge of Old Town, so is an easy walk after visiting the castle-cum-palace. Set along a wandering stream, this verdant oasis sports many surprises, including the tomb of Ptolemies, a second-century funerary monument. You’ll also enjoy an abundance of flora, quaint little bridges, and well-worn stone paths.

The last must-visit in Rhodes is the aquarium. At the northernmost tip of the island, this scenic gem was designed to look something like a sea cave – complete with Aegean sea life swimming within. The aquarium is actually the location for some serious marine research, though you can enjoy it simply by ambling through and marveling at the variety of creatures bobbing to and fro. Full admission for an adult is 5.50 Euros ($6).

Ready to venture out of the city? Make your first stop the tiny town of Kallithea, 25 miles south of the city of Rhodes. The big draw here is the collection of Roman baths. Known for its healing waters, Kallithea was once a prime location for Ancient Romans seeking a therapeutic soak. These days, the soaking continues but with a touch more pomp and circumstance. The Kallithea Springs resort is rife with guests who come to celebrate weddings, anniversaries, and other special occasions, while others simply relish the idea of enjoying the sun and warm mineral water alongside massages, obsequious service, and a drink or two. Do as you please, but be sure to take in the history as much as you do a relaxing bath.

The inspiring Archangel Michael Monastery on the island of Symi (Source: Shutterstock / Aerial-motion)
The inspiring Archangel Michael Monastery on the island of Symi (Source: Shutterstock / Aerial-motion)

For your next foray on the island, head to the beaches of Archangelos on the island’s east coast, about 35 minutes from the city of Rhodes. We’ve all seen Greek beaches proudly displayed on postcards, and when you visit Archangelos, you’ll know why: white sand, crystal blue water, and the notable absence of tourist hordes. The big beach to visit here is Stegna Beach; grab an umbrella, towels, and some sunscreen and enjoy those rays all day long. You might catch a glimpse of castle ruins, too.

If you want a longer trek, you can take a ferry to the Archangel Michael Monastery on Symi island to the northwest of Rhodes. This Venetian-style institution boasts an impressive welcome as you sail in to dock on the island – white-washed walls, three impressive floors, and a bell tower line the beach. No longer in use, the monastery now houses guests, boasts a small museum, and is tour-able for day-trekkers.

Where to eat

We’ll be honest: It’s hard to go wrong with food almost anywhere in Rhodes. And since we have a quasi-obsession with Greek food, little surprise that our top three picks for good eats are all Mediterranean establishments. First, the long-lauded Tamam Restaurant. Family-owned and 100% delicious, Tamam’s standout dishes include the fork-tender Lamb Chops; shell-on, lemony Prawns; and the saucy baby octopus.

Make time for a decadent meal at Rhodes's own Tamam Restaurant. (Source: Tamam Restaurant Facebook)
Make time for a decadent meal at Rhodes’s own Tamam Restaurant. (Source: Tamam Restaurant Facebook)

For more Greek feast (because yes), head to To Posperi. This place gets high marks for cozy-quaintness, but even higher ones for its food. Go-to dishes here must always be the Lamb Stifado (a braised lamb dish); the Veal Liver; and Stuffed Mushrooms. Enjoy it all with some Greek red wine and Greek tunes playing in the background. Καταπληκτικό!

To make sure you get your three Greek squares, make Gitonia Mezedokafenes a stop between adventures out on the island. Serving up more of the classic Mediterranean fare we adore, Gitonia Mezedokafenes does salads like we’ve never had them – fresh, bounteous, and zesty. But the must for an entrée is the Mixed Grill, guaranteed to fill you up no matter how big your appetite might be. (Just leave room for a decadent slice of Baklava for dessert.)

As you can imagine, we’ve only touched the surface of the many offerings of beautiful Rhodes, Greece. For more information on this idyllic island and to plan your own trip, visit the Rhodes tourism site or Greece’s tourism site.