Kos is one of the Greek Dodecanese Islands located in the Aegean Sea 370 kms south east of the mainland port of Piraeus and just five kms south of Turkey. It is the second largest island in the archipelago after Rhodes. The island has 290 kms of coastline with many wonderful beaches. It is an island of big resort complexes and frantic foam parties, but it is also the birthplace of Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine, and home to the western world’s first ever medical school.
Huge numbers of visitors descend on the island in the summer months, the vast majority intent on serious sunning on the beaches by day and even more serious partying after the sun goes down. However Kos is also an island steeped in history, a land of castles and temples from antiquity, a place where traditional unspoilt villages cling to the craggy slopes of pine-clad mountains.
Kos has 290 kms of coastline, its best sandy stretches being packed with holidaymakers in the high season. However it is still possible to find tranquil, almost deserted beaches where you can swim and sunbathe in peace or relax over a leisurely lunch in a fresh fish taverna by the sea.
In Kos Town there is a pebbly strip of beach just south of the main harbour, but the nearest decent beach is 3 kms north west along the coast at Lambi. Another 4 kms west along the coast there’s beautiful and unspoilt Selveri Beach where the sand shelves gently into the shallow water.
The beach has panoramic views of the Turkish coast and is blissfully quiet compared with the busy seaside resorts further west.
The waterfront to the south east of the Castle of the Knights in Kos Town is called Akti Miaouli and leads to the fairly busy pebble beaches of Psalidi (3 kms from town), Agios Fokas (7 kms) and Therma Loutra (11 kms). The latter is popular for its bubbling hot mineral springs which gush from a grotto into a shoreline pool where they warm the sea water to a pleasant temperature.
The two most popular resorts on the north coast are Tingaki and Marmari, separated by the Aliki Salt Lake which attracts hundreds of migratory birds between January and April. Both resorts have good beaches and are highly developed to meet the needs of package holidaymakers. The water here in summer is warmer than the sea off the south coast of the island and strong winds make this stretch of coastline popular with windsurfers.
Mastahari, west of Marmari, is far less developed. It is far more “Greek” than its neighbours to the east and has a small port with excursion boats to Kalymnos and the small island of Pserimos.
The most frantic seaside resort on the island is Kardamena (30 kms from Kos Town). This resort is swamped with shops, bars, hotels, travel agencies and of course hordes of holidaymakers. All kinds of water sports and leisure facilities are available here and you can take a boat over to the volcanic island of Nisyros (where the floor of the main crater is hot enough to melt rubber-soled shoes).
Further south west along the coast you come to the beautiful Kefalos Bay which has the most scenic and secluded beaches on the island. A series of six magnificent beaches form an almost uninterrupted stretch of fine white sand at the base of the cliffs. The beaches have all acquired new names designed to appeal to international tourists – Exotic Beach, Magic Beach, Sunny Beach, Banana Beach, Paradise Beach and Camel Beach.
At the western end of the bay there is Agios Stefanos which is dominated by a huge Club Med complex but even if you’re not a guest there this beach is well worth a visit. The small peninsula is topped by the well-preserved remains of two 6th century basilicas and you can swim out to the islet of Kastri which has a tiny blue and white chapel. The snorkelling around the rocks here is the best to be found around the island’s coastline.
At the south west tip of the island you’ll find wild and rugged scenery and the unspoilt pebble beach of Agios Theologos which is a popular body-surfing spot.
Head north around the cape to Limnionas which is a little fishing harbour with two uncrowded sandy beaches either side of the peninsula.
Places to visit
Start by exploring Kos Town, in the north east corner of the island where the ferries dock, visiting yachts are moored and excursion boats line up to transport holidaymakers to various beaches around the coastline and to neighbouring islands.
Dominated by the huge 15th century Castle of the Knights, the town is an odd blend of ancient and modern. Shops, restaurants and bars co-exist with ancient ruins exposed after the earthquake which rocked the island in 1933. The quake revealed the remains of a Roman agora (market place) with a third century BC temple and a 5th century AD Christian basilica. Here you can see the Hippocrates Plane Tree, allegedly planted 2,400 years ago by Hippocrates. The tree is almost certainly one of the oldest in Europe but is no more than 600 years old.
One of the most interesting historic sites is the Casa Romana, a roman villa which once had 26 rooms and three pools surrounded by shady courtyards. Here you can still see lions, leopards, dolphins and other sea creatures in the mosaic floors.
In the town’s main square, Plateia Eleftherias, you will find the archaeological museum which gives an insight into the island’s past with finds from Hellenistic and Roman times. One of the star exhibits is a 4th century BC marble statue of Hippocrates.
The Asklipion site
The Asklipion site (4 kms from Kos Town) is one of the most important classical sites in the whole of Greece. The ruins consist of a 3rd century BC propylaea (the elaborate porch built at the entrance of ancient sanctuaries), Roman baths dating back to the 1st century AD, the 4th century BC Altar of Apollo and the 2nd century BC Temple of Asclepios (the god of healing). People came from far and wide to visit this religious sanctuary and healing centre and also to study at the medical school until the 6th century AD.
The Asfendiou villages scattered along the wooded, northern slopes of Mount Dikaios, give an insight to how the people of Kos lived before the advent of tourism. The picturesque hamlets of Agios Georgios and Agios Dimitrios have managed to maintain much of their traditional character whilst nearby Zia, the island’s highest village, attracts lots of tourists who come to witness the beautiful sunsets.
However, Lagoudi (close to Zia), remains unspoilt and from here you can visit the medieval village of Pyli overlooked by the Palaio Pyli castle which contains a Byzantine church with 14th century frescoes.