There are more than 200 inhabited Greek islands and travelers can feel a bit overwhelmed trying to decide which ones they should visit. Most Americans stick to Santorini, Mykonos or Crete but there are scores of other viable alternatives that are just as alluring as these famous locales.
Over the next several weeks, I’ll be reporting on some Greek islands you might want to consider for your next holiday. Our first stop is Kos, a bucolic island of about 30,000 year-round inhabitants that was the home of Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine. Here are several reasons why Kos is well worth a visit.
Direct Flights. Unlike many Greek islands, you can fly directly into Kos on Ryanair from a dozen European cities including London, Rome and Brussels, and a number of other discount airlines, including German Wings, Air Berlin and Easy Jet. We flew from Bari, Italy, for about $100 each, one way. Kos is also a convenient ferry hub where you can continue on to Patmos, Kalymnos, Rhodes, Piraeus (Athens) and a number of other ports.Paradise for Cyclists. Kos is a flat island that is great for cycling. You can get from one end of the island to the other in an hour by car, so it’s just large enough for a nice long bike ride. You can rent a bike for about 4-5€ per day and there are well maintained bike trails all over the island. (But beware the mopeds and motorcycles!) Take a spin around the island and you’ll get amazing views of Bodrum, Turkey, Nissyros and other beautiful islands in the vicinity.
History. If you’d like to do a bit of sightseeing in between visits to the beach and excursions in the area, Kos town has a castle, some impressive ruins that date to the 3rd Century B.C. and a huge, impressively twisty old tree held up by scaffolding where Hippocrates supposedly schooled his students.
A Lively Port. For those in search of a lively base, Kos Town is a good choice, as it has a nice mix of bars, restaurants and shops. The streets are alive until late in the evening during the summer.
Boat Excursions. Kos is a great place to get out on the water without breaking the bank. For 35€ or less per person, you can visit Bodrum, which is just 20 minutes away, Nisyros, a lovely island with an active volcano, or a combination trip involving Kalymnos, home to Greece’s famous sponge divers, and Pserimos, a quiet little place with 15 families and a nice sandy beach. During the high season, there are even more day trip options, including Rhodes and Symi.
Beaches. Just outside of Kos Town there’s a very long pebbly beach with dozens of beach bars that’s great for families. My favorite beach bar is The Artemis Paradise, which is just in front of a nice hotel of the same name (see photo). They have terrific frozen coconut drinks and iced cappuccinos for less than $3 in an idyllic setting.
Outside of Kos Town, you can find nicer sandy beaches. My favorite is Paradise Beach, which can be reached by bus from Kos Town in 45 minutes for €4.40. Tigaki is also quite nice, especially for children, given the shallow waters. Down the way from the main beach, there’s a clothing optional beach for the naturists and exhibitionists.
Good for Kids. Your kids will love the beaches and in the evening take them to Friends Junior, a terrific play place for kids above the Friends Café in Kos Town. For €4, they’ll supervise your kids while you have a coffee or surf the net, and the price includes a big balloon and a drink of their choice. We had to literally drag my 2-year-old kicking and screaming from this place, he liked it so much.
Nightlife. During the high season, and to a lesser degree in the shoulder season, the bars in Kos Town get quite busy. If you want to meet a good-looking Scandinavian, this is a good place to do it. But note that some of the bars trend toward the cheesy side – they play Top 40 music and employ gals dressed in booty shorts to lure in passersby.
Cheap Laundry and Other Good Stuff. If you’re coming to Greece for a short trip, getting your laundry done won’t be an issue but Kos is big enough to support a couple laundromats that don’t have tourist pricing. Easy Laundromat is my favorite. They did a mountain of laundry for us for just €6. The beauty of coming to a mid-size island like Kos is that you can find businesses like this one that cater to locals and have good prices.
Good Food & Cheap Accommodation. I stayed at the Kosta Palace Hotel right on the harbor in a one-bedroom apartment in late May for just €50 per night. I also spent my first two nights at the Hotel Sonia, which is significantly more expensive and the rooms are smaller, but they have better Internet access, a much better breakfast and renovated rooms. There are scores of similar places and the prices go up only a bit during the high season. Our favorite finds on the dining front were Broadway, an inexpensive Greek restaurant that is only a 10-minute walk from the port in Kos Town and Ararat, a really tasty and inexpensive Armenian restaurant, just off the harbor in Kos Town.
Caveats. Kos and especially Kos Town won’t appeal to everyone. Kos is a major destination for Europeans in July and August and from May-September, you’ll be hit with offers for restaurants, bars and excursions left, right and center as you walk around Kos Town’s harbor area. But if you want a quieter, low-key place simply go further out from Kos Town.
[All photos by Dave Seminara]