After our great experience in Corfu last year, we were on the lookout for trip opportunities to the other Greek islands. So when the chance presented itself, we did not hesitate long and grabbed a last minute ticket to Kos. Kos is one of the Dodecanese islands, right in front of the Turkish coast, so it is at the south-eastern tip of Greece. The Island was first mentioned in Homer’s Illiad and is one of the main tourist destinations in Greece, after Rhodos, Corfu and Crete. The island is famous for beautiful beaches, great seafood, and some ancient archeological sites.
Day 0: Late Afternoon Flight into Kos
Day 1: Northern Shores, Kos Town and Therme
Day 2: Beaches, Beaches and even more Beaches
Trip Cost (all in): 125€ p.P. /day (moderate)
Trip Duration: 2 days (w/o travel time)
Vacation days required: 1/2 day (leaving Friday afternoon)
Kos is one of the farthest Greek destinations from Germany and a direct flight takes about 3 hours. There is one-hour time difference between Kos and Germany, so we arrived early evening with our afternoon flight. We stayed in a small B&B in Kefalos, which is on the south-western peninsula. Kefalos is famous for its beautiful bay and for being less “mass-touristy” than the northern all-inclusive resorts. However, less touristy is relative. Even here you still encounter tourists of a certain kind… This starts with applause for the landing, the white towels to reserve the beach chairs, and the immediate complaints whenever something was not available in German. Thankfully people of this kind usually head straight to their resort and stay on one beach all the time, except for organized resort tours. So not too many encounters with this species. 😉
Right after arrival we got away from the crowd, picked up our rental car (Peugeot 107, 40ps, more on that later) from a very nice lady at the Sixt counter and headed off to the west. Kefalos is a 30min drive from the airport. From one end of the island to the other is maybe 60mins, so you will not get much mileage on your vacation. After a quick meet&greet with the landlady, we headed for the waterfront in search of a local taverna and some seafood. Most restaurants offer a selection of mezes, which is an assortment of Greek starters and great to try many different dishes. And for the mains go for freshly caught fish or seafood or – in case you absolutely must have meat – the local lamb.
Day 1 Northern Shores, Kos Town and Therme
We started the next morning quite late and with a huge breakfast (including freshly baked cake, Greek salad, fruit salad and cookies) provided by our B&B and then started our exploration of the island. First stop were the beaches near Kefalos and key highlight of this area is Agios Stefanos Beach – which is located in between the remains of a 5th century basilica and the small island of Kastri, with a small chapel. The beach view is amongst the best on the island, although it is a stony beach and you can find better places for swimming. The winds and the half-moon shape of the bay make Kefalos bay an ideal place for wind surfing.
A beach better suited for swimming is Paradise Beach, which is located at the connecting point of the southwestern peninsula and the main island. The waters are crystal clear and very shallow and the entire feel of the place is like a tropical beach. It is great for swimming and all watersport activities such as jet ski rides, kite surfing, standup paddling and more. It is however quite popular and can be crowded.
We continued onwards to the north of the main island. Kos can be categorized roughly as follows:
- Southwestern peninsula around Kefalos: more local and less crowded. Some lonely and beautiful beaches at the western coast
- The northern beaches of the main island: Very touristy, where the mass tourism and resorts are located. Typical all-inclusive resort kind of tourists.
- Kos city, for historic sites and culture.
- The south-eastern part: A few upscale resorts, thermal baths, but otherwise quite underdeveloped
- The mountain region in the island center around Palio Pyli and Zia. Great views and some hiking.
On the way we stopped at Antimachia, an ancient ruined fortess of the Knights Hospitaller. Entry is free but there is not much to see and, while the coastal views are nice – you see better elsewhere [not recommended]. We headed on to see the northern beaches. The northern shores are very windy, so it is again good for surfing and you’ll find mostly sand beaches. Some guides recommend the “salt lake” called Alikes, located near Tigaki, the most popular Northern beach. Actually [not recommended], unless you come in Spring when the Flamingos are here. So to sum it up, there essentually is just one really long stretch of beachfront in the North, which is great to see and to go for a long walk (or cycling near the ocean), but that’s about it.
I can recommend a bike ride along the Northern coast, once you get away from the resorts you will find quieter stretches which are great to just sit by the water and relax. As I wrote, the Northern beach area is otherwise more for the mass tourist resorts. We took a walk along the shore and then went onwards to Kos city. We were initally not expecting much of the city, but were pleasantly surprised. The small alleys are cozy and nice, and the streets are clean and white. You can do the entire city on foot and parking is easy. The city does not feel crowded. Sadly, some of the sites (for example the Neratzia Fortress) got badly damaged in an earthquake in 2017 and are still blocked off for tourists. We spent the early afternoon strolling through the city, getting a snack here and there. The port is quite nice to sit and watch the sailboats and there are some archeological sites to visit (e.g. the Asklepieion). Make sure to visit the Tree of Hippocrates – the father of medicine. While the current tree is not that old, it is supposedly a descendant of the original tree under which he taught. The square around the tree is is beautiful, with the old abandoned Gazi Hassan mosque nearby.
It was already late afternoon when we left Kos (half a day is enough to see all sites at leisurely pace) and we headed down south. It is a ~30mins drive till you reach Empros Therme. This place is a must do [recommendation], although it is very crowded. At this spot, a sulfurous natural hot spring flows into the ocean, protected by a little pool. The waters are hot (40°) and you can shift between the cooler ocean and the hot springs. Amazing experience! We got lucky and arrived when it was only relatively few people, but I strongly recommend coming early morning for some privacy. Also – don’t stop at the top of the cliff near the shops at the big parking area. Instead drive all the way down. The road is fine and there are additional parking spots right at the bottom. Most people park up at the cliff and walk down, but the walk up is very dusty and it kills all the refreshment you got from the hot/cold ocean waters. We spent a long time in the hot springs, spicing it up with an occasional swim in the cool ocean nearby.
When it was almost time for sunset, we got back to the car and circled back past Kos to head into the mountains. Destination: Zia, a small mountain village, famous for evening sunset views. Of course, Zia is featured prominently in every Kos guidebook, so we had a lot of company. But if you head further up the hill, instead of just entering the first few restaurants, you will get an equally great view and it is (a bit) less crowded. We chose Olympia and the food and service were quite good, as were the views.
There is simply nothing better than a beautiful sunset to end a perfect vacation day.
Day 2 Beaches, Beaches, and even more Beaches
We had planned to start early and go for a swim before breakfast but failed miserably and slept in late. That’s what vacation is for: Making plans and then blatantly ignoring them to have a good time 😉 We could take it easy that day anyway, because we had nothing scheduled except for exploring more of the island’s beaches. Right after breakfast, we went back to Paradise Beach and stayed there for swimming and watersports until it was noon and getting too hot and too crowded. After a refresher at the beach bar, we then went back to the hotel, picked up our stuff, and drove on the westernmost tip of the peninsula. We made a quick stop in the little port of Kamari, just next to Kefalos, which is more laid-back and quieter than Kefalos itself.
Up the mountain towards the western most tip of the peninsula. Our destination was Kavo Paradiso. There are many remote beaches up here and they are hard to reach as only gravel roads lead there. Do not attempt with a scooter or bike! The roads are doable in a normal rental car, although our tiny Peugeot was struggling with some of the rougher patches, with sand roads and steep uphill drives. Nonetheless the gravel battle was worth it – see for yourself!
The owner of the beach bar (or actually: The shed with a stereo and a battery-powered fridge) was a really cool guy, his music was great, and there were only few people. Another 100% [recommendation] – the waters and the beach itself are fantastic.
We did a few other beaches and coves during the afternoon, but none were as good as Kova Paradiso. On that note: Another thing that Kos is popular for are the white and blue churches, but you do not need to go out of your way to look for one as they are all over the place, large and small. A popular one is the Agios Mamas chapel, which you will pass on your way to Kova Paradiso
It was time for our last stop: Kardamena, which used to be a small fishing village, but now is a popular summer destination. Still, it felt quieter than the other villages and the palm trees along the old port are a nice sight. We enjoyed yet another seafood dinner in the sunset and then headed to the airport (which is ~10mins from Kardamena) for the evening flight home.
Kos is a great place to enjoy fresh seafood, spend some quiet time at one of the few remote beaches, or engage in some watersports action. The historic sites keep you busy for max. one afternoon and I think it does get a bit dull if you stay here for more than a few days. However, for a long weekend, the warm Greek hospitality and wonderful island nature do their best to help you recharge your batteries.
The main sight of Kos are of course the beaches. Here are my favorites:
- Agios Stefanos Beach – either from the new resort up the hill or with a drone
- Sailboats near Kamari Port
- Kova Paradiso Beach
- Agios Theologus Beach
- View of Kamari / Kefalos from up the mountain, just follow the main road
- Sunset views from Zia or nearby
- Kos city old town and the port
(In this new section I write about Drone laws for the specific country and any trials and tribulations I have encountered while traveling.)
Greece has revised their Drone Laws in 2017 and now have a comprehensible ruleset. Application for (commercial) flight approval is complicated and cumbersome, but you are allowed to fly in non-restricted areas if the drone stays within 50m of you. All restricted areas (essentially 8km around the airports) are marked in the following map:
I emailed them with some specific question and they replied within the hour! Amazing and other countries should take the Greek government as an example. Very clear, very fast, and very structured. Great! Of course the 8km rule means that many Greek islands will have only few flight locations.
Greece is an amazing country for food and so is the island of Kos. My recommendations:
- Mezes (Mezedes): Bascially just starters. Get a selection and try everything. Try the red cheese (or different versions thereof) which is alcohol infused cheese and quite interesting.
- Drink: Ouzo and Retsina (Greek resinated white wine, very dry)
- For meat lovers: Souvlaki (meat skeweers), Bifteki (cutlet) und Gyros. Most animals still roam freely on Kos, so the meat is very good.
- For desert: Yoghurt with Meli (honey)
- For seafood: Freshly caught are Sea Bass, Sea Bream, Octopus, Galeus and more.
The food is very oily and garlic heavy. I love that, but you have been warned. 😉
Some good restaurants:
- During peak season, hotels sell out fast. Book in advance
- Rental car companies are few, you should reserve in advance. You can do the island by bus, but it is cumbersome. Either rent a bike, scooter or quad from your hotel or a car at the airport. If you want to go to the remote beaches, a car is a must.
- Gravel Road drives take much longer than you might think. Plan roughly 2x as much time as you normally would.
- Therme and the good beaches get crowded quickly. Go early (before 10).
- Careful with roaming! Kos is directly in front of Turkey and the phone networks overlap. If you have EU Roaming you might end up with a shocking bill if your phone logged-in to the (stronger) Turkish network!
- Stay away from the mass tourist places, which unfortunately are quite frequent on the island.
- The gravel roads are tough, do not attempt with a scooter. Check if your rental car company has full insurance coverage. Plan for enough time.
- Some boat tours to the beaches are just a rip-off. You can get to the beaches faster by car. Only the tours to the surrounding islands (Pserimos, Kalymnos, Nysiros) make sense.