You get all the Greek classics on a holiday to Kos – this island has ancient ruins, olive groves and plenty in the way of sugar-cube villages. But it’s the beaches that’ll really seal the deal…
An island of two halves
When it comes to holiday resorts, Kos goes from one extreme to the other. On the one hand it’s got bright and breezy towns like Kardamena, where the beach comes with a side-order of karaoke bars and nightclubs. On the other, there are blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spots like Psalidi that are not much more than a handful of tavernas and a sliver of sand.
From past to present in Kos Town
Of course, there are places that walk the middle-ground tightrope, like Kos Town. The island’s capital teams ancient ruins and a chic harbour-front with a strobe-and-laser fest dubbed the ‘Street of Bars’ by the locals.
With over 290 kilometres of coastline, Kos isn’t exactly short of a golden sweep or two. In fact, the sands skirting the south coast are among the best in the Dodecanese. As for the northern shores, they’re spot on for watersports.
Inland, Kos is textbook Greece, with whitewashed villages giving way to wooded hillsides and silvery olive groves. It’s got plenty of historical leftovers, too. Marble columns hark back to Kos’ stint as a Greek and Roman outpost, while gargoyles and ramparts are a nod to the island’s former overlords, the Knights of St John.
Head out to eat and you’ll most likely be presented with a glass of this anise-flavoured liqueur at some stage of the meal. It’s served ice-cold and straight up, but be warned – you’ll be tipsy pretty quickly.
Things to See and Do in Kos
When it comes to beaches, Kos doesn’t hold back – this little island has almost 300 kilometres of coastline and it definitely makes the most of it. On the south coast there are first-class sandy stretches in resorts like Kardamena, while up on the north coast the beaches come with decent sea breezes – perfect for watersports.
The Big Beach
The top name here is Kardamena Beach. It’s a 3-kilometre ribbon of fine, white sand on Kos’ west side. This is definitely the place to be if you like your beaches busy and buzzing with action. You’ve got all manner of watersports to get your teeth into, and the beach is backed by bars and restaurants dishing up everything from traditional meze to burgers and chips.
The Secret Beach
If you’d rather take the tempo down a notch, head 10 minutes down the road from Kardamena to laid-back Helona Beach. It’s a long stretch of blonde sand with calm, paddle-friendly waters. And apart from a couple of swish hotels and a smart sailing club, there’s nothing here to disturb the peace.
For designer togs in Kardamena, head to the main square, where fashion boutiques sell everything from fancy frocks to designer sunnies and gold jewellery. In Psalidi, the narrow streets of the old town are dotted with dinky shops selling hand-woven linen and hand-painted ceramic pots. And in Kos Town, you can buy things like gold jewellery and hand-knotted rugs in the shops in the old town.
If you’re a bit of a browser, the pedestrianised old town in the capital will be your kind of thing. It’s like one huge al fresco shopping centre, with everything from jewellery boutiques to craft shops crammed with curios. And if you’re in Kardamena, it’s worth catching the boat to Bodrum in Turkey for the Tuesday market – the place is piled high with rainbow-bright dresses and leather bags.
Markets traders have been selling their wares in Kos Town’s Agora marketplace for centuries. You can still pick up all sorts of things today, from huge jars of sticky island honey to shells and sponges. In Kardamena, you’ll find a few cheap shops in the main square selling things like T-shirts and bikinis. And if you need any basics, head to the Louis supermarket at the top of Bar Street.
For a quiet one, pull up a pew at any of the family-run tavernas lining the sand in Psalidi. They serve up a tidy line in fish dishes. And although Kos Town is best known for its party scene, the cocktail bars along the harbour pull in a more relaxed crowd. Plus, you can catch a film at Orpheus, the open-air cinema, at the marina next door.
For a concentrated hit of Kos nightlife, head to Kardamena’s Bar Street. It’s packed to the rafters with clubs and bars, and there are plenty of karaoke joints where you can belt out Eighties’ numbers until the wee hours. Kos Town is a big contender, too – head to Daikon and Nafklirou streets, where cosmopolitan cocktail bars and clubs pull in a classy crowd.
Souvlaki is the Greek take on fast food. Juicy chunks of meat – usually lamb or pork – are grilled on skewers and served up in pita bread with a pile of crunchy salad. They’re pretty tasty eaten straight off the skewer, and you can usually get veggie versions, too.
These moreish pastry triangles look a bit like Cornish pasties, but they’re way lighter on your stomach. You can get them filled with all sorts of things, but the line-up usually involves lamb, mint and shallots. Follow the locals’ lead and dunk them in a pot of tzatziki.
There are versions of this comfort food all over the Eastern Med, Balkans and Middle East, but the Greek one tops the bill. Juicy lamb – or sometimes beef – in a rich tomato sauce is layered up with aubergine and béchamel, and baked until it’s golden and oozy. Locals eat it with tzatziki on the side.
If you fancy a drop of Greek wine, this is your best bet. The Hatziemmanouil family have been producing this award-winning vino for generations. The vineyard produces a good Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, and the dessert wine slides down your throat like honey.