Kos island offers something for everyone: beautiful beaches, sleepy towns, nature parks, traditional villages, and a rich history that goes all the way back to ancient Greece.
Kos is the third largest island of the Dodekanese–the group of islands in southeast Aegean sea–to the north of Rhodes island.
It is a welcoming Greek island with a lush, green interior, and a coastline that is ringed by some of the best beaches in the Aegean.
Being close to othe islands as well as to the Turkish coast would allow you to take one or several day cruises to places like Kalymnos, Pserimos, Nisiros, or Bodrum (Turkey).
Relaxing at the vast beaches of the island’s southern coast will make you feel as if you are in a tiny, sparsely-populated paradise. That’s because even though Kos is very popular in the summer, its large size absorbs crowds very well
Beyond the coast, you can enjoy a host of small villages which are tacked away among pine trees on Mt. Dikeos, or the peaceful forest in Plaka.
A little farther west, around the rugged landscape of Cape Kefalos, you can experience spectacular sunsets over a quiet dinner at a beachfront table.
The Northern coast of Kos has been all but appropriated by package tourism.
But it has developed tastefully, and on such a long coastline it never feels overcrowded. The accommodations are scaled to human proportions so you will not be overwhelmed by huge buildings or crowds.
To the north, all tourist activity is centered on the beaches even though they are often too windy for swimming. Alternately, conditions are perfect for water sports like wind and kite surfing.
In contrast, the southern coastline is sparsely populated. Besides the rampant development of Kardamena town, the rest of the coast is sparsely populated until you reach Agios Stefanos.
In this span you will find the most beautiful beaches of Kos.
Things to Do and See
Visit Kos Town
wn of Kos is a nice place to stay during your visit. If you book accommodations at another part of the island, you will undoubtedly find plenty of reasons to keep driving back to town.
The town’s endless cobblestone streets, the variety of shops, bars, and restaurants, along with its cultural landmarks and scenic promenade will keep you busy and entertained.
Kos town is a joy to walk around. It does has the unmistakable “touristy” look and feel, but it has developed tasteful to showcases its best attributes in every corner.
Besides the Northern end of town where package tourism has left its unattractive mark with rampant development of bars and tourist traps, the rest of Kos town offers a friendly face to its many visitors.
Kos offers a great variety of restaurants, cafes, and bars at the promenade or around Kazouli Square to enjoy by night, and countless historical attractions to visit by day.
Ancient Greek and Roman ruins are sprinkled throughout town, while Byzantine and Ottoman monuments dominate the most popular cobblestone streets of the town near the harbor.
The harbor itself is a visual delight with a promenade framed by restaurants and cafes, and flanked by Neratzia castle to the east.
At night, when the absence of the summer sun allows for a leisurely stroll by the water, the glimmering lights reflected in the water make this one of the most picturesque harbors in Greece.
Only the aggressive boat operators pursuing all passers by to book their day-cruise distract from the harbor’s beauty.
The ancient plane tree under which Hipocrates taught his pupils (or so the story goes), is one of the most visited sites in town.
Today it’s a hot spot of restaurants, cafés, and tourist shops.
Go Swimming at the Excellent Kos Beaches
Even if Kos lacked the interesting history, or the considerable tourist infrastructure, it would still be a swimming magnet.
With beaches like “Magic”, “Sunny”, and “Paradise”, Kos’ beaches are in a league of their own–and not only in beach naming. If swimming is your forte, the island has more above-average beaches than other Aegean islands.
Our favorite Kos beaches are topped by Magic beach because it is quiet, and Paradise beach for its fine sand and beautiful water.
Paradise beach tends to get too crowded, but it’s definitely worth a visit if the youthful “see and be seen” atmosphere is to your taste.
Visit the Archaeological Sites and Museums of Kos
From all the attractions of Kos, the most important ancient site is the Asklepieion. It’s an impressive archaeological site loaded with history.
The Asklepieion is located about twenty minutes outside of Kos and is easily visited on a long bike ride (albeit the road is narrow and driving can be challenging) from Kos town.
In ancient times the Asklepieion was a sanctuary dedicated to the god of healing, Asklepios, and the place where the Hippocratic philosophy of medicine was practiced.
Hippocratic philosophy became the foundation of western medicine, and doctors today take the “Hippocratic Oath” to uphold specific ethical standards.
Neratzia Fortress was built by the Knights of St. John to defend the island from the encroaching Ottoman Turks in the 14th century.
The fortress itself dominates the harbor of Kos town, and its interior is sprinkled with marble ruins from the ancient Greco-Roman era.
Neratzia, along with Agios Petros castle in the opposite peninsula in Halicarnassus, controlled the sea lanes of the Asia Minor coast.
If you look closely, you will notice many ancient Greek and Roman building parts incorporated into the building of the defensive wall.
During the Ottoman occupation, the Turks used the castle as barracks for their guard, and it was also home to the local governor.
Kos Archaeological Museum
The Archaeological Museum of Kos is small, but it has enough interesting artifacts from the Greek and Roman era to warrant a visit.
You can stroll around its halls leisurely in about 30-40 minutes.
Enjoy a Day in the Hot Springs at Thermes
Thermes is the location of sulfurous hot springs, fenced by a semi-circle of large bolders.
The surrounding landscape has been bulldozed into submission, so it feels as if you just landed at an asteroid.
But don’t let initial appearances fool you. Any skepticism will evaporate as soon as you entere the hot water inside the hot spring circle of rocks.
The water is so hot it will take you a long time to completely submerge yourself. But once your body adjusts to the warm temperature, you will not want to get out.
Find pure bliss by alternating between dipping in the hot spring and swimming in the ice cold sea right outside the rocks that frame it.
It will probably be one of the most memorable experiences of your Kos holiday.
Relax at Agios Stefanos Gulf
Agios Stefanos is a well developed resort town at the west end of the island. It’s home to the most picturesque swimming spot of the island.
From Agios Stefanos beach, you can swim to Kastri islet, and you can casually stroll around the ancient ruins scattered right on the edge of the beach.
Enjoy a Sunset at Ag. Theologos
If you have wheels, drive all the way to the west end of the island, past mt. Kefalos to swim at Agios Theologos.
Afterward, relax even more by watching the sunset over dinner at the lone restaurant’s terrace.
Take a Day-Trip to the Surrounding Islands, or to Bodrum (Turkey)
You will find plenty of day-cruise boats at the old Harbor. Many offer trips to Bodrum in Turkey, where you can see the ruins of the ancient Greek town of Hallicarnasos.
Good choices for a day-trip would be Nisiros island, with its active volcano steaming, or Kalymnos with its traditional sponge-diving history.
Another nearby island of interest is Simi. It’s a tiny island with beautiful neo-classical houses lining the promenade.
You can also visit Rhodes with the daily ferry connections. The trip takes 2.5 hours with a fast catamaran.
Visit Pyli and Zia Traditional Mountain Towns
Visit the castle at Paleo Pyli. Beware that the climb all the way to the top of the castle is a real challenge in the intense heat, so arrive early to beat the crowds and the sun.
Zia village is a traditional mountain village that has transformed into a tourist town. You can visit the watermill which was built in 1800 and is still in working order today.
Visit Plaka Forest
If you live in a country with abundant forest land, you will probably be underwhelmed by Plaka forest.
But it’s a nice place to visit, if for no other reason than to see the peacocks that loiter there. If you travel with children, have a picnic in Plaka forest.
The island’s proximity to Asia Minor, and its fertile ground have made Kos an important center for many historical periods. It has also been the convenient target of many invaders, from Romans, to Franks, to Turks.
Bronze Age Kos
Excavations at Aspripetra Cave near Kefalos have unearthed evidence of habitation since the Neolithic Era.
In the Mycenaean era, Kos it was powerful enough to contribute a large number of ships to the Trojan War.
“And men who held Nisyrus, Casus and Crapathus, Cos, Eurypylus’ town, and the islands called Cylydnae—combat troops, and Antiphus and Phidippus led them on, the two sons fo the warlord Thessalus, Heracles’ son. In their command sailed thirty long curved ships.” (Homer, the Illiad, 2.772)
Iron Age and Classical Times
Later in the 7th century BCE Kos was allied with the nearby island of Rhodes and its three cities Kamyros, Iallysos, and Lindos before it became a subject of the Persian Empire.
Under Persian patronage, Kos fought under the Queen of Caria, Artemisia, on the losing side at the battle of Salamis .
After the defeat of the Persians in the 5th c. BCE Kos joined the Delian league under the leadership of Athens and became an important center of the Classical era with considerable maritime power.
Founding of Modern Medicine
Kos’ best known contribution to humanity are the teachings of Hippocrates (460-370 BCE).
The Hippocratic philosophy of treating disease as a natural phenomenon of cause and effect, and not as the manifestation of divine will, has earned Hippocrates the title “Father of Medicine”.
This shift of focus from the metaphysical to the physical marks the foundation of modern medicine.
Hippocrates’ writings, very little of which has survived to our day, promoted a methodical study of clinical symptoms, treated disease with natural means, and prescribed ethical practices for physicians through the Hippocratic Oath that is still used today.
The Asclipieion, the ruins of which can be seen today in the outskirts of Kos town, was a sanctuary dedicated to the god of healing, Asclepius.
This sanctuary was one of many that became popular in ancient Greece around 300 BCE for their healing reputation.
Another well-known Asclepieion is the sanctuary of Epidaurus in the Peloponnesus.
Hellenistic Era to Modern Times
Kos became the subject of Alexander the Great’s empire in 336, and after his death it came under the influence of the Ptolemies.
Later yet, during the Roman domination of the Mediterranean, Kos island was reknown for its fine wine and textiles that were admired by the Roman aristocracy.
The 5th-6th century basilicas that have been excavated in the island show that Kos was an important Christian center in the Byzantine Empire.
By 1315 the island came under the hegemony of the Knights of St. John who fortified the island against the aggressive Ottoman forces.
After several attempts, the island was finally occupied by the Turks in 1522.
Kos was liberated four centuries later in 1922 by the Italians and was reunited with Greece after WWII.
Four or five days would be adequate to explore the island, but you should stay a bit longer if you plan to take all the side cruises to the surrounding islands.
Getting to Kos Island
The best way to get to Kos is by air. Multiple daily flights from Athens land at the airport of Kos, which is located in the center of the island, near the village of Andimahia.
In addition, if you booked a package stay, you may arrive with one of the many charter flights that fly directly to Kos from Europe.
By ferry from Piraeus
Daily ferries from Piraeus arrive at Kos Town and then continue on to the other islands of the Dodekanese.
The ferry trip is a bit too long, so going to Kos by boat is good if you really enjoy sailing.
If you plan to visit other islands during the same trip, you might want to leave Kos for last since connecting Ferries from Piraeus arrive at Kos around 4:00 in the morning, while a ferry from Rhodes arrives around 8:00 PM.
Kos island is fairly large, so your visit will be much more enjoyable if you have a vehicle to explore.
Renting a moped is adequate if you only plan to explore a small part of the area around your hotel.
But if you plan to visit more of the island, a car is a safer and more comfortable choice. A small moped would not be able to go from one end of the island to the other.
The north coast has the faster road, but your will find more picturesque attractions in the winding, narrow pavement through Mt. Dikeos, or the south.
Click here to see it on the map and to get directions in a new window.