Hydra is a beautiful Greek island with traditional stone houses, a couple of hours from Athens by catamaran. Motorized vehicles are not allowed on Hydra, so a refreshing quiet dominates its cobblestone paths.
The whole island consists of a main town, Hydra (Idra), and a few scattered settelements.
The main town has a sheltering yacht and fishing boat harbor, along with a couple of other tiny communities, all built on the north coast.
For the visitor, Hydra is a trendy destination (many celebrities, like Leonard Cohen maintain a residence in the town), and a quiet place to get away from it all without having to travel to the end of the world.
There are plenty of clubs, bars, and restaurants to add some spice to a holiday, but overall, peace and quiet rules in the streets beyond the main promenade around the harbor.
The trademark of the island is the complete absence of automobiles (save for the trash collection vehicle), and everyone gets around of foot or the traditional donkey.
Beyond the main town, the other small settlements of the island don’t offer many accommodations, with the exception of Mandraki, that’s nothing more than an exclusive tourist resort that occupies the island’s lone shingle beach.
For swimming elsewhere in the island, the modified rocks to the west of the town are the best and most popular spot.
Things to see and do at Hydra
Swim off the rocks in the town’s shore
Since there is no major beach on the island, the rocks off Hydra town have been adopted by bathers for a refreshing dip into the Aegean sea.
The flat rocks are surprisingly accommodating to sunbathing, and over the years they have been augmented by the town and the adjacent cafes/bars with patios and stairs that allow easy entry/exit from the water.
This is one of the best things to in Hydra. The cafe-bars open mid-morning, and you can sit on their balcony, under a parasol, enjoying a beverage between dipping into the sea.
The tables with parasols are popular, so go early. You can sit on a table under an parasol and enjoy swimming even before the bar opens.
There are a couple of other shingle beaches of note, Places Vlychon, and Bisti beach, that are only accessible by boat from the town’s harbor. The beaches are accessible by a long hike as well, so the boat trip would be an option for either going or returning to the Hydra harbor.
Hike Hydra’s foot paths
One of the best things to do in the island of Hydra is to hike the footpaths outside the main town. You can go on the hike alone, or you may sign up for a hiking tour in town.
There are four major hiking routes from Hydra main town (chora), signposted from the harbor:
- Profitis Ilias
Route length: 4.4km (8.8km with return to chora).
This hike starts at the town, and ends in Eros peak after about 2 hours and 15 minutes (count another two hours for the return). The highest elevation is 666 meters, and you can see Proifits Ilias monastery on the way.
- Agios Georgios Bisti
Route length: 12.4km.
The hike ends in Agios Georgios Bisti after going through Episkopi settlement. It takes about 4 hours and 40 minutes. The highest point of this route is about 345 meters.
- Zourvas Monastery Lighthouse
Route length: 12.5km (17.2km with return to chora).
This hike takes about 4 hours and 45 minutes (about 7 hours with the return). It ends at Zourva lighthouse, and you can also see Zourva monastery on the way. The highest point of this hike is 608 meters.
Route length: 6.9km.
This 2.5-hour hike is circular, and it ends in Mandraki Savros chappel. The highest point is 40 meters.
Museums and Other Attractions
There are several venues with themes of local interest in the main town.
In Hydra, you can visit the Lazaros Kountouriotis Mansion, to experience how magnates lived 200 years ago. Kountouriotis was one of the biggest contributors of money to the Greek revolution agains the Turks.
The museum and Historical Archives of Hydra is housed in a majestic stone building on the harbor. It contains folklore and historical artifacts donated by the island’s prominent families. The roof terrace is available for social functions such as weddings.
One curious urn supposedly contains the actual heart of the islands admiral hero of the revolution, Andreas Miaoulis.
The island of Hydra has been a significant maritime power, and flourished even under the 400 years of Ottoman occupation of Greece.
Hydra’s shipping families moved merchandise throughout the Mediterranean, and the architecture of the town buildings are a testament to the wealth and prestige its captains brought back home.
Given the long tradition of maritime power, Hydra played a central role in the 1821 Greek revolution that overthrew the Ottoman rulers and led to the creation of modern Greece.
The most famous admiral from Hydra, and a celebrated hero of the revolution is Andreas Miaoulis, whose statue adorns the entrance to the island’s harbor.
It’s proximity to Athens make Hydra island a very popular destination for a quick one, or two-day trip.
While it is easy to visit Hydra in one day, it would be best to arrange for at least an overnight stay in the island. This way you can experience the serenity of the island when the cruise ship crowds have departed in the afternoon.
In the summer, several “Flying Dolphins” (catamaran) and ferries bring visitors from Pireas (the port of Athens) to the island. Most of them would stop in a couple of other destinations along the way, Aegina and Poros, so it’s possible to perform a mini island-hopping in the Saronic Gulf, right outside Athens.
Many travel agents promote their Hydra-Poros-Aegina trip as a big attraction, and many visitors to Athens find it a convenient way to enjoy a one-day cruise.
Most of these cruise ships are of the “tiny” variety, and their amenities and services are more reminiscent of conventional ferry offerings, rather than luxurious cruise experiences.
The one-day cruises leave Athens early in the morning and return late in the evening.
They are generally very slow, and that leaves only one or two hours to disembark at each port. Unless you enjoy the slow sailing, you would be better off getting to Hydra (and the other nearby islands) with a catamaran.
Accommodations in Hydra are plentiful, but the island is tiny so during the summer it would be best to make reservations ahead of time.
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