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Dodecanese islands (Kos, Rhodes, etc.), Greece

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Did You Know … ?

  • Hippocrates, the father of medicine, led classes and tended the sick on Kos.
  • Christian tradition says John, one of Christ’s disciples, wrote the Book of Revelation on Patmos.
  • The name Dodecanese is Greek for twelve islands.
  • The “Colossus of Rhodes,” destroyed in a 226 B.C. earthquake, was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
  • In the oldest manuscripts held on Patmos, all words were run together to save space on the parchment.

A dozen islands plus

The Dodecanese are Greek islands in the southeastern Aegean Sea. The group hugs Turkey’s coast. Rhodes, at 540 square miles, is the largest, and Kos, Patmos and Rhodes are the best known.

The group includes a dozen main islands, but there are numerous smaller ones, too. Some of the Dodecanese receive air service but others are accessible only by water. Some of the smallest are uninhabited. All sit in sparkling blue waters under sunny skies, very effective lures for travelers who want to vacation on or near water. Active vacationers can sail and windsurf or, on land, climb mountains, cycle and hike.

The Dodecanese islands also are rich with the leavings of earlier Greek civilizations or those of invaders and occupiers. Tourists cannot easily see and sometimes wouldn’t have access to selected locations, especially underwater archaeological sites, but the endowment is so rich, it is still a challenge to take in and appreciate the significance of available attractions, ranging from ancient acropolises and temples to medieval castles and walls, plus churches from across the centuries.

There is 21st century life to explore, too, with village visits, shopping for pottery (and more) and evenings spent in tavernas.

Therefore, the following is a once-over-lightly treatment of a few choices among the Dodecanese islands:

  • Rhodes is known for its fortified medieval city and its Palace of the Grand Master. The serious history buffs will seek out the fourth century B.C. Acropolis of Lindos.
  • Karpathos, second largest of the islands, is good for nature lovers with its mountainous terrain. Also, its villages are very traditional and may be called living museums.
  • Kos, third largest, is good for its beaches, water sports and cycling. It is famed as the home of Hippocrates, the father of medicine. Remains of the Asklepeion, an ancient medical center, are here.
  • Kalymnos, fourth largest, is a climber’s destination, as well as among the several islands with a castle and archaeological museum.
  • On Patmos, where John the Disciple is said to have written the Book of Revelation, visitors seek out the cave where believers say he lived and the fortified monastery of Saint Ioannis built in his honor.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Go scuba diving in the Dodecanese islands. Be aware that some areas are off limits so that  can protect its subterranean archaeological riches from pilferage.
  • Do your windsurfing at Kefalos on Kos or Prassonissi on Rhodes. Equipment is available for rent.
  • Make use of the extensive bike-only routes on Kos.
  • Slow down and use a good camera for photos that look like artwork — or, at least, postcards.
  • Organize an ambitious sailing itinerary among the Dodecanese. Or, for less money, plan an island-hopping journey traveling among islands by public ferry.
  • Plan a climbing expedition on the mountainous Kalymnos. It has been the scene of international climbing festivals.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Wander around the Old City on Rhodes, and visit its Archaeological Museum. Also, get out of the main city. Climb to the top of the Acropolis of Lindos for great views and a better understanding of the island’s long history.
  • On Kalymnos, seek out the early Christian settlement at Elinika, perhaps the best-preserved settlement in Greece. Also, consider the traditional settlement and former island capital, Horio, for its Byzantine monuments.
  • At the islands of Pserimos or Marathi, among others, you can rent a boat and sail around them.
  • Visit Greece’s only museum devoted to volcanoes, on the island of Nisyros, which is itself still an active volcanic center.
  • If birds are your travel motivator, head to the uninhabited islands around Lipsi. Put the island of Agathonissi on that itinerary, too.
  • Taste Kastelorizo’s traditional sweets — katoumari and strava — while admiring the island’s brightly painted houses.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Play golf on Rhodes. In spring, see the Sound and Light Show, as well.
  • Visit a few of the islands as part of a Greek Island cruise.
  • Look for the popular historical sites on Kos — the castles and the ancient medical center, the Asklepeion — but include scenic villages such as Zia as well.
  • Make the island group’s castles a travel theme. Numerous islands have at least one.
  • Make a pilgrimage to Patmos to see the cave where John the Disciple is said to have written the Book of Revelation, and to Symi to pay homage to the icon of Archangel Michael at the Panormitis monastery.
  • Shop in Rhodes for ceramic tiles and plates, as well as kilim rugs.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Greek National Tourism Organization at