Villages infused with the scent of jasmine and bougainvillea, a magical Medieval UNESCO-listed old town, superlative beaches with glistening waters: There are hundreds of reasons to come to Rhodes, but we’ll try to condense the tally to just 15. The largest of the Dodecanese islands in the southern Aegean, Rhodes has architecture that looks like nowhere else in Greece, stemming from Medieval times when the Knights Hospitaller wrapped the capital in impenetrable walls to repel attacks by the Ottomans.
Rhodes also has history of a much more ancient kind, at the Lindos Acropolis famed for its rock carving of a trireme, the Acropolis of Rhodes and the ruins of the city of Kameiros.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Rhodes:
1. Rhodes City
The medieval centre of Rhodes City is straight from a movie, encased by a crescent-shaped fortificaton.
Pass through the gates and you’ll be on rambling cobblestone streets, ducking under vaulted passages and flying buttresses.
It’s the sort of place where you won’t mind losing your way, and it pays to be nosy and get a look at the magnificent interior courtyards behind the wooden portals.
Arrow straight, the Street of the Knights is on an ancient road and part of a Gothic ensemble known as the Knights’ Quarter from the 1400s.
The way is edged by the facades of inns for the Order of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, lined up in different nationalities including English, French, Spanish, Italian and German.
In the western streets of the old town are faint traces from Ottoman times, at the Hammam and the Sultan Mustafa Mosque, both from the 1700s.
2. Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes
One of the only examples of Gothic architecture in Greece, this castle belongs to Rhodes City’s World Heritage Site and has roots going back to the 7th century when it was a Byzantine citadel.
The castle’s heyday came in the 14th century when the Knights Hospitaller turned the fortress into their base of power and a plush residence for the order’s Grand Masters.
When Rhodes was under Italian control in the 20th century, damage from a 19th-century explosion was repaired and Benito Mussolini chose the castle as a residence.
Today the palace is a museum, telling the story of monument and exhibiting the centuries-old architecture of the Main Hall and the arcaded courtyard.
There are also artefacts from around the Dodecanese like a series of mosaics from Kos.
3. Lindos Acropolis
On the crag to the east of the modern village of Lindos is a site inhabited and venerated by a long line of civilisations.
Its history goes back to the Mycenaeans in the 7th century BC, who were the first to worship here, while the Byzantines, Knights of St John and the Ottomans used the rock for defensive purposes.
What’s left is an exciting mishmash of ancient ruins and the 14th-century Castle of the Knights of St John.
First off the view of the coastline from the top is enough reason to make the climb (or donkey ride) on its own.
There isn’t enough room to list everything you need to see in the Lindos Acropolis, but the vestiges of the Doric Temple of Athenia Lindia from the 4th century BC, the Propylaia (gateway) from the same period are musts.
See also the relief of a trireme by the steps to the acropolis and the Hellenistic Stoa from the 3rd century BC.
4. Archaeological Museum of Rhodes
The island’s main archaeological museum is in the Hospital of St John, a late-Gothic complex with an arcaded courtyard on two levels.
In front of the western arcade is a striking late-Hellenistic tomb monument with a lion holding the head of a bull between its paws.
Before this is a Byzantine mosaic from the early Christian Basilica of Karpatha on the island of Karpathos.
Another outstanding piece to track down is the statue of the Crouching Aphrodite from the 1st century BC, modelled on the famous Hellenistic representation of Aphrodite attributed to Doidalses two centuries before.
There are also vases and sculptures from Kameiros, astonishing mosaics, steles and capitals, as well as the medieval tombs for knights and coats of arms collected from buildings around the city.
Long before Rhodes City was founded Kameiros was one of the largest urban centres on the island, occupied from prehistoric times by the Mycenaeans.
The ruins of the city are on Rhodes’ northwest coast at the base of Mount Akramytis.
On a terrace at the top is the acropolis, which has the vestiges of a temple to Athena Kameiras, a stoa with two rows of the Doric columns and a reservoir that could hold 600 cubic litres of water, with terracotta pipes to conduct it to the residential quarters below.
On the middle terrace was the main settlement which has housing blocks on a grid pattern.
And lastly, below this is the later Hellenistic temple, a fountain house, agora and a wall inscribed with dedications to deities like Zeus, Poseidon and Artemis.
6. Mandraki Port
The northernmost of Rhodes City’s three harbours, Mandraki Port is the most fun to explore on foot, with a long mole up its east side leading to the Fort of St Nicholas and traced by the three iconic windmills.
This started out as a guard tower in the mid-15th-century but became a fully fledged fortress under Grand Master d’Aubusson in 1480. This is also the supposed location of the Colossus of Rhodes on the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
That representation of the sun god Helios was erected in 280 BC and was toppled by an earthquake not long after in 226 BC. The idea of the statue bestriding the entrance to the port probably isn’t historically accurate, but is romantic all the same.
In Rhodes’ far south is a piece of coast unlike any other on the island.
Prasonisi is a tidal island joined to the mainland by a long sandbar.
In winter when the tide is high this can disappear completely underwater, leaving Prasonisi stranded.
In summer people visit to hike on the island, a nature reserve, and take the opportunity to sit on a beach with water on both sides.
The beach is exposed to sea breezes and the sails of windsurfers are a common sight.
The more sheltered east flank has inviting shallow water and is also preferred by less experienced watersports enthusiasts.
Meanwhile the west side and its rolling waves are favoured by seasoned windsurfers and kite-surfers.
8. Tsambika Monastery
A recurring theme in Rhodes is that difficult climbs will be rewarded with interesting monuments and heart-lifting views.
That is the case at this church in a natural park above one of the best beaches on the island.
The road will only take you so far, after which you have to scale a stairway with 350 steps.
At the top you’ll be 300 metres above sea level.
To the north you can look down on the small resort of Kolymbia, while southwards you can see as far as the Lindos Acropolis 20 kilometres away.
The church itself is from the 18th century and built in the Dodecanesian style, with hollow roof tiles.
Traditionally, women struggling to conceive would make the pilgrimage to the church barefoot to pray to the icon of the Virgin.
9. Monolithos Castle
Some way from Rhodes’ tourist centres, this monument on a rock 100 metres over the west coast requires a bit of a journey.
But it’s a trip you won’t regret once you conquer the stairway snaking up the cliff.
Raised by the Knights of St John Monolithios Castle was once among the four most powerful strongholds on the island, and was never conquered.
Inside the walls are two 15th-centurch chapels, to St George and St Panteleimon.
But best of all, you can scramble around the rocky, pine-edged paths to survey the rocky cliffs atop Mount Akramytis behind, and cast your gaze out to sea to spot the tiny Dodecanese islands.
10. St Paul’s Beach
A bathing spot with a view to treasure, you can recline at St Paul’s Beach and contemplate the Lindos Acropolis on its soaring throne.
The main, sandy beach is on the southern curve of an ovular bay with just a small opening on its northeastern side.
On the north end, right beneath the acropolis, is another smaller pebble beach.
Both fill up quickly in summer, when you’ll be sharing the beach with hundreds of people.
But that takes nothing away from the main attraction which is the transparent sea, tranquil and shallow enough that even non-swimmers can wade in and relax.
11. Tsambika Beach
Below the monastery is a beach almost too perfect to be true.
Tsambika Beach is 800 metres of fine golden sand enclosed on three sides by craggy slopes coated with garrigue and pines.
The beach is low-shelving and wide, accommodating several rows of sun loungers and parasols, and marked by flags is a sequence of beach bars and restaurants.
If you get bored of paddling in the shallow emerald sea there’s a watersports centre on the beach for more exhilarating activities.
12. Kalithea Hot Springs
The natural springs at Kalithea had been favoured for their curative properties since ancient times.
But it wasn’t until the Italian period, following an analysis of the water in the 1920s, that they were properly developed.
The complex was designed in a mix of neo-Baroque and Moorish styles by architect Pietro Lombardi, and exotic trees and bushes were planted in the gardens.
The spa is no longer in business, but the elegant Moorish pavilion and pergolas have been restored and are rented out for functions.
If you pay a small fee you can bathe in Kalithea Bay, a long inlet with transparent water, fringed by sun loungers and palm sunshades on terraces.
13. Monastery of Filerimos
Roughly ten kilometres southwest of Rhodes City is Filerimos, an isolated mountain in a natural reserve.
Among the cypresses, up a winding road you’ll come to a monastery established by the Knights of St John in the 15th century.
With pointed arches the church has all the hallmarks of Gothic architecture, and there’s a large cross pattée in the stonework on the facade.
Make sure to take a walk in the grounds, where peacocks are free to roam, and you’ll stumble upon a 14th-century underground chapel.
And if you stick to the mountain path you can follow the stations of the cross to a majestic cross at a viewpoint over the coast and farmland to the west.
14. Kritinia Castle
Like Monolithos Castle, Kritinia is on the island’s remote west coast doubling as both a fortification and a watch tower.
The castle is Venetian and was put up in the 15th century on a perch with 360° views of the Aegean and surrounding terrain.
At that time Rhodes was anticipating an attack by the Ottomans, and it came in 1480, when the island managed to repel a 100,000-strong army.
The castle is not much more than a shell today, but on the portal you can identify the coat of arms of Grand Master D’Amboise from the early 16th century.
In the compound is a 16th-century chapel to St John, decorated with magnificent frescoes from the period.
15. Anthony Quinn Bay
So-called because it was bought by the Mexican-American actor Anthony Quinn when he was filming the Guns of Navarone on Rhodes, this bay near Faliraki on the east coast wins hearts for its glimmering emerald water.
The bay is at the end of a rocky inlet with long headlands that keep the sea currents out.
From these coniferous slopes the water clarity makes for seriously instagrammable photos, and down on the beach there’s a little archipelago of rocks for you to climb and sunbathe on before returning to the water.
These rocks might pose a bit of a hazard for younger children, so families may prefer Tsambika or St Paul’s, but couples and teenagers will be in heaven.