According to Greek mythology, the Island of Rhodes was created as a gift from Zeus to the Sun god 🌞, Helios, after Helios became enchanted with a nymph known as “Rhode”. The three original cities on the isle of Rhodes (or Rodos) were named after the three sons of Helios and Rhodos. In 408 BCE, the three cities united and they built the City of Rhodes as their common capital.
A Rich, But Turbulent Past ⚔️
As the 4th largest Greek island and the largest island of the Dodecanese Islands, Rhodes has always been a coveted island due to its strategic location. From one point on Rhodes, you can see Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and on a clear day, one may even catch a glimpse of Mount Idi in Crete, Greece. Rulers of Rhodes read like a Who’s Who of the Aegean Sea and Mediterranean Sea. Some the rulers on the list include: the Persians, Alexander the Great, Venetians, Romans, Byzantines, the Knights Hospitallers, Suleiman the Magnificent with the Ottomans, Italians, and finally Greece as we know it today. That is quite a rich history!
At different times, Rhodes flourished as a trade center as well as a place known for its artists, sculptors, and for their school of rhetoric! Even St. Paul came to Rhodes to evangelize.
Colossus of Rhodes
Rhodes was also very famous for creating one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. A sculptor from Lindos took on the task of building the largest statue in the world at that time as the statue stood watch over the port of Old Town Rhodes.
It was known as the Colossus of Rhodes and it was completed in 280 BCE after 12 years of construction. The Colossus of Rhodes was a mammoth statue of the sun god, Helios. Its exact location is debated, but it is generally agreed that it did not straddle the harbor as depicted in the popular image above. It stood watch for 54 years before an earthquake in 226 BCE brought down the statue. It was never rebuilt and most of the statue laid where it fell for about 800 years. Another debate revolves around the ultimate fate of the statue’s remains. While some say that an Arab force melted down the bronze and sold it in 653 AD, others argue that it is more likely that it was melted down to be used to make coins long before the Arab invasion.
In any event, the statue was huge, standing 108 feet tall, which is the equivalent of the Statue of Liberty 🗽 from base to Crown! What an accomplishment.
Streets of Old Town Rhodes
Old Town Rhodes
We arrived by airplane from Cyprus and our instructions to our Airbnb were to take a taxi to the “Red Door”. We did not anticipate the Red Door really being the entrance to a medieval fortress – with huge outer walls and even a dried-up moat! It was incredibly impressive. I could only imagine the stories that could be told if the ancient stones could speak.
We were fortunate to really experience Old Town Rhodes as our Airbnb was located within the city walls. To get to our temporary home, we wandered through a maze of streets where Google Maps was a necessity! I almost felt like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs just in case we got lost! Walking through Old Town feels like walking through history – but in real time! It was magical and something we recommend.
During our stay, we had the opportunity to become acquainted with some of the locals that owned restaurants in Old Town Rhodes. On our first night, we stopped by Kostas Tavern where we met an elderly man who said that the restaurant had been established back in the 1920s by his parents. And now, his son was working the restaurant with him as his grandchildren played nearby. Another great person that we met was George, who owned Decan Concept Boutique Estate, a small hotel with the most wonderful breakfast spot on the pedestrian street below. George was nice enough to let us use his internet to work and he became a great source of information about what to see and do not only in Rhodes but also in Crete, where they own another hotel. We enjoyed hearing the stories from both the elderly man and George about how they ended up here in Old Town Rhodes.
Major attractions, restaurants, and stores were within easy walking distance from anywhere in Old Town Rhodes, making it so much easier to “live like a local.” The first thing we did was to explore the streets of Old Town Rhodes. We went to several squares, including the well-known Hippocrates Square, where we tried some hand-rolled ice cream from Ice Roll!
Throne of Helios – 9D Movie Theater
On our second day, we decided to walk over to the 9D movie theater known as “Throne of Helios”. As we headed outside the walls of Old Town, we walked along the edge of the marina where we got to see shops that were located on boats! Shopping on a boat was a new experience and we enjoyed the novelty. We also walked past one of the forts where we got an incredible view of the marina, ocean, the windmills, and cruise ships.
We paid €13 Euros for the adults and €9 Euros for the children. As we entered the Throne of Helios 9D theater, the lobby had posters that described many historical facts about Rhodes. We waited for a few minutes then entered into the theater. Two movies are shown: 1) a 20-minute movie about the history of Rhodes and 2) a 10-minute animation about a race between the viewer and the gods of Olympus. The kids had so much fun (and even the adults) getting wet, going “underwater”, seeing “snow” and we were all amazed at the rich history of Rhodes. If you are ever in Rhodes, we absolutely recommend going to Throne of Helios 9D Interactive Cinema.
Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes and the Street of Knights
The Knights of Saint John, known as the Knights Hospitallers, ruled Rhodes from 1309 – 1522. Rhodes was a sovereign state that minted its own currency and had a port that rivaled Venice for commercial goods.
Originally, the site where the palace was located was an ancient temple dedicated to the sun god, Helios. Recent speculation even places the Colossus of Rhodes at this location. On top of the temple ruins, a Byzantine fortress was built and it was this fortress that served as the foundations for the Palace of the Grand Master. The Palace was continuously renovated and strengthened as the threat of an Ottoman invasion remained a constant concern. The palace was used as the residence of the Grand Master as well as a fortress and an administration center.
During the late 1930s and early 1940s, the building was used as the residence of the King of Italy and also for the fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. In 1947, the Dodecanese Islands, including Rhodes, were given to Greece. Since that time, the palace has served as a museum. The museum has antique furniture from the 16th and 7th centuries as well as incredible frescoes, sculptures, and statues. Be sure to visit the music room to see the incredible mosaic of Medusa.
On The Road in Rhodes: A One Day Itinerary 🚗
The next thing that we did, and recommend that you do, is rent a car for at least one day. We rented a van for the six of us and took a road trip to explore the island. We explored the Bee Museum, Koskinou Village, Butterfly Valley, Agathi Beach, and Lindos (including a climb up to the Acropolis). Originally, we had also included a visit to Seven Springs and to Tsambika Monastery on the itinerary, but because the kids wanted more beach time, we ended up cutting both places out of the road trip. However, we later regretted not visiting Tsambika Monastery once we saw how gorgeous it was from the roadway far below!
Koskinou Village is famous for their colorful village doors made of wood or iron and carved with designs, so we went to explore it. Some of the houses and colorful doors made for beautiful Instagrammable pictures. To be honest, I don’t think I would include a stop in this town if a one-day road trip is all the time that a person had to travel around the island of Rhodes.
The Bee Museum 🐝
Our next stop was supposed to be Butterfly Valley, but when we saw the billboard for the Bee Museum, we knew that we had to stop for Nathan as he loves honey & honeycomb. If you are an avid bee and honey lover, we recommend stopping there. It is the only bee museum in all of Greece. The museum itself was very nice and informational over the history of bee’s lives in Rhodes. And while it was small, it had several interactive exhibits that provided what I call edutainment (a mix of education and entertainment). My favorite exhibit was of an active beehive that was enclosed by see-through plastic so that people could watch the bees’ activities. It even had a microscope that you could move to different areas of the beehive if you wanted to get a closer look. These enclosed beehives were then connected by a tunnel so that the bees could exit to collect pollen to feed their young and to collect nectar in order to produce honey. Of course, nectar was the food of the immortal Greek gods, so wanting to eat the sweet honey seems more than appropriate as we visited Greece!
The gift shop was a cornucopia of honey and honey products. It had so many edible souvenirs and almost all of them included local and raw honey. We bought several items, including honey filled candies and even a honey liqueur that was truly delicious!
Butterfly Valley 🦋
We got on the road again to Butterfly Valley, going up mountains and seeing the mountain side of Rhodes. The fee to enter Butterfly Valley is €5 which gives you access to explore as long as you want. At the beginning we didn’t see any butterflies, but then Nathan made an observation of how they were camouflaged on the trees. We saw hundreds of them everywhere!
The butterflies were mostly resting as this phase of change required a lot of energy. For this reason, we did not see a lot of butterflies flying around as they were conserving their energy. The only time they would fly around is if they felt threatened by natural predators. For the most part, our trip to visit the butterflies was uneventful – but wait!
One thing to note is that you can walk from one entry point in the park to another entry (exit) point in the park. We did not know this, and we turned around when we were almost to the second entry point. If we ever visited again, I would walk the entire route as both entry/exit points had something unique. Most of us had exited, but Edith and Nathan lingered behind. They were so lucky they did because on their way out, they got to see a huge burst of color as the colony of butterflies took flight. They said the amazing experience was one of the most beautiful things that they had ever seen.
We went during the end of the season, but we still got to experience them. I cannot even imagine how wonderful it is when it is prime butterfly season in Rhodes.
Agathi Beach 🏖
The kids were ready for the beach, so we hit the road to Agia Agathi Beach which is known for their golden sand. Our jaws dropped when we saw the turquoise water and beautiful golden sand. The beach has a restaurant and bar that serves delicious Greek dishes. We enjoyed our Gyro platters, calamari, and specialty drinks. After lunch, we rented two sets of lounge chairs and headed to the sea. The water was so refreshing and crystal clear! Nathan, Bethany, Natalie, and Kathy swam out to the deeper blue water and saw baby flounders swimming and hiding in the sand in the sea floor. This is an absolute must stop if you are taking a road trip to Lindos and the kids did not want to leave!
Lindos and the Acropolis
Unfortunately, we did have to leave Agathi Beach and we headed to the Acropolis of Lindos. Bethany and Kathy decided to stay in town while the rest of us went to the top of the large hill where the Acropolis sits. Natalie and Edith took a donkey ride while Nathan and I walked to the top. The donkey ride was surprisingly very affordable at €8 euros one way for each person. If you decide to walk to the top instead, you will have several places along the way to take breaks, go into shops or get refreshments or a snack.
Reaching the top, we saw the breathtaking views of the nearby harbor town and rocky cliffsides. We saw the ruins of a historical Greek temple and the iconic pillars. We would recommend this climb to the acropolis to everyone, but especially to those who want to see spectacular views and learn more about the history of Rhodes. After a tiring day of exploring, we headed home to Old Town Rhodes again.
Rhodes was an incredible experience, and we would not hesitate to return. There is so much more to see, do and explore!