When we stepped off the ferry in Kalymnos one sunny morning, we could instantly sense that it had a different vibe to the other islands we’d visited that week. Though the places we had been were undoubtedly beautiful, each one was bustling with holidaymakers, and we felt like we were hearing more English than Greek everywhere we went.
But in Kalymnos, for the first time, it didn’t feel as though the tourists outnumbered the locals. And as we sat down to consult our map, we started to catch glimpses of ‘real life’ as it slowly played out around us.
In a kafeneio across the road, people lingered over cups of strong Greek coffee, whilst motorbikes whizzed past, their owners driving fast and helmet-less.
Up the street, two elderly women, dressed in all black, sat quietly at the bus stop, whilst others nearby talked with an animation characteristic of Southern Europe as they went about their days.
On the corner a group of old men, with skin roughened by years of sun and salty air, absentmindedly flicked kombolói as they sat together and watched the world go by.
And for me, all these little pieces started to form a familiar picture. This was the Greece I’d been hearing about for years.
Kalymnos is famous amongst climbers for its dramatic cliffs and rocky mountains. It is also renowned for its once flourishing (and dangerous) sponge diving industry. But these are certainly not the island’s only drawcards. Kalymnos is also the perfect place for those who want to relax, enjoy beautiful, rugged scenery, and immerse themselves in a way of life unique to this part of the world.
But don’t just take my word for it. Use this list of things to do in Kalymnos as a guide, and get to know the island for yourself.
1. Rent a set of wheels and explore
Everywhere you go in Kalymnos, you will find brilliant vistas of rugged earth and endless sea. The ultramarine blue of the Aegean is the backdrop to everything, and no matter where you venture, the ocean will never be far from your mind.
I will never forget the day that we experienced this for ourselves, when we explored the island on a quad bike. Our round-trip journey took us past quiet beaches and tiny churches, through little villages and olive groves, and up a windswept mountain with breathtaking views, helping to acquaint us with the beautiful place that Zac’s grandparents once called home.
To get the most out of your time in Kalymnos, you really need your own way of getting around. Whilst there is a local bus service, this is relatively infrequent, so your best bet is to hire a quad bike (ATV) or moped and zip around at your leisure. The roads are decent, and relatively quiet outside the main town of Pothia. Fun fact: an ATV is known colloquially in Greek as a ‘gourouna,’ which means ‘sow’ (we asked a few people why this was the case, but no one seemed to know – so just roll with it).
We hired our ATV from a friendly guy at Kalymnos Scooter Rental in Masouri. It cost us €30 for the day, plus €4 for a petrol refill. You’ll see plenty of people getting around on mopeds, but if you’re looking to rent an ATV, it’s wise to book ahead in summer, as there are fewer available.
2. Take a boat to Telendos
Sleepy little Telendos lies one kilometre off the coast of Kalymnos and makes a great half-day trip. With no roads or cars and a population of around fifty people, it is incredibly quiet and the perfect place to unwind.
We spent a morning relaxing at two of its pebbly beaches, before grabbing a late lunch at one of the tavernas that overlooks the water. Try the marithes (fried whitebait), saganaki (fried cheese) and mermizeli (a Kalymnian version of a Greek salad with dried barley rusks) at To Kapsouli restaurant if you’re looking for the perfect meal. Just don’t feed any of it to the local cats, or they will swarm – I learned my lesson there!
To get to Telendos, simply catch the small taxi boat that leaves from the wharf at Myrties every half an hour (or when full). A one-way trip will set you back €2. From there, explore the few paths to the beaches and restaurants – it really is impossible to get lost.
3. Sip a frappe by the water in Vathi
How often do you just sit and watch the world go by? These days, it seems that we never get the chance to take pause, gather our thoughts, and truly embrace a moment of quiet. But this not the case in the lovely village of Vathi, where a few little tavernas down by the harbour cater to those looking to do just that.
After wandering down the ‘main street’ where people sell jars of thyme honey and dry octopus on racks in the sun, stop at a restaurant by the water and grab a frappe for €2. Drink it slowly.
Take in the nautical scene around you, while you listen to the quiet conversations of passers-by. Watch boats come and go, and feel the warm summer breeze on your skin. Let your mind wander. Breathe. Enjoy life in the present.
We don’t do this nearly enough.
When we stopped at one of Vathi’s tavernas during our day of quad-biking, we were greeted by a guy with one of the broadest Aussie accents I’ve ever heard. As it turns out, he was raised in Darwin, but returned to his homeland as an adult. He told us that he was drawn back by a way of life that just couldn’t be replicated in Australia.
Come to Vathi, and you’ll see what he means.
4. Wander the streets of Pothia
The Italianate architecture of Kalymnos’ main town makes for a picturesque harbour scene that you’ll notice the instant you arrive on the ferry. Grab a sweet treat or two from one of Pothia’s numerous Zacharoplasteion and set about exploring.
You’ll notice that some buildings look as though they are in need of a bit of TLC – the wind, the sun, and the salty air hasten the process of decay here. But the peeling paint in its various hues is part of Pothia’s charm, and reminds visitors once again of the inextricable connection between Kalymnos and the sea.
Spend some time strolling the narrow streets that meander away from the harbour, and let Kalymnian life reveal itself to you.
5. Take in the view at Agios Savvas
The monastery of Agios Savvas, dedicated to the patron saint of Kalymnos, sits high on a cliff overlooking the island. The church is beautiful in itself, but the grounds also offer spectacular views over Pothia and the ocean.
Given its position, it’s a steep hike to get here. We were lucky to get a lift from a cousin, but a walk up the hill can be a good idea, especially if you think you’ve been indulging in too much saganaki. If you decide to pay a visit, remember to dress appropriately – it is a church, after all.
6. Stop for lunch at Harry’s Paradise
Situated in Emporios, Harry’s Paradise serves up traditional Greek fare with a twist in an idyllic garden setting. Everything on the menu is home-cooked and made with fresh, local ingredients – some even come straight from the garden!
This farm-to-table approach to cooking (which is not a fad, but a traditional way of life that has endured here into the 21st century) is what makes Greek food stand out. Ask any Greek and they will tell you that produce like tomatoes and red onions taste better in Greece than anywhere else – and they are absolutely right. Don’t believe me? I was sceptical at first too. All you can do is come here and taste the difference for yourself.
Harry’s is the perfect place to linger for an hour or two, before heading down for a swim in the crystal-clear waters of Emporios beach at the end of the road. There’s no better way to spend an afternoon than by enjoying good food, swimming, and taking a nap in the sun.
7. Watch the sunset in Myrties
When your hair is sufficiently windswept and your skin feels warm from a day of sunshine, there’s no better way to spend an evening than by sitting in Myrties and watching the day turn to night. There are many lovely restaurants here that overlook the ocean, but we opted to stay in a little apartment with a balcony, so we enjoyed the view from there. Grab a couple of beers and watch as the sun dips behind Telendos and throws a glittering path across the Aegean to the shore. It’s magic.
Need to Know:
- Kalymnos lies in the Dodecanese islands and is easily accessible from the bigger tourist hubs of Kos and Rhodes.
- A ferry from Kos is the cheapest way to go, with boats leaving every hour or two from Mastichari, which can be reached from Kos Town by bus for €3.20.
- Once in Mastichari, ask at the kiosks on the pier for ferry timetables and prices. Our tickets on the Kalymnos Star cost €7.50 each.