Blessed with abundant beautiful beaches, sublime natural landscapes, a rich cultural heritage, and over 300 days of sunshine each year, Rhodes is one of the most popular of Greece’s myriad islands. Tucked in the south-eastern corner of the Aegean, facing Asia Minor, it’s the largest of the Dodecanese archipelago. Its location, at a crossroads for trade and seafaring, has meant that it is also the most important island historically, with the Knights of St John, Ottomans, and Italians all laying claim to it – leaving their mark in the landscape, culture, and delicious cuisine.
If you’re a sun worshipper, Rhodes will delight you. If you seek history and culture, you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied. And if you yearn for adventure, you’ll love hiking and biking in the verdant interior or kitesurfing and windsurfing along the windswept west coast.
Cosmopolitan yet traditional, timeless yet modern, Rhodes is also known as the ‘Island of the Sun’ and the ‘Island of the Knights’. To us, it’s simply ‘home’, and we’re uniquely placed to show you the best of our wonderful island. Here’s our local guide to Rhodes and Rhodes Town through the eyes of local experts – if anything here inspires you to book a trip, take a look through our Rhodes Tours and Day Trips.
The Mythology of Rhodes
Greek mythology is filled with magical tales, and Rhodes is no exception. The origins of Rhodes are connected to a myth about Zeus, leader of the gods, and Helios, the sun god.
Following Zeus’s victory over the giants, he divided Earth between the Olympians, but Helios was away at the time and missed out. Upon his return, Helios demanded his share, so Zeus promised him the next piece of land that rose from the sea, and that was dazzling Rhodes, which Helios blessed with his radiance.
The island was inherited by the three grandsons of Helios – Kameiros, Ialysos, and Lindos – who divided the island, giving their names to their respective city-states.
According to mythology the original inhabitants of Rhodes were the Telchines, a mystical race of sea-demons who were magicians, artists, and craftsmen, lauded as inventors of metalwork.
A Short History of Rhodes
The Minoans and, subsequently, the Mycenaeans were here during prehistoric times, but it was the arrival of the Dorians that saw Rhodes gain in power and prestige. Between 1000 and 600 BC, the three city-states grew in size, while Rhodian ships colonised parts of the west coast of Asia Minor along with Sicily, Spain and France.
During the fifth century BC, Rhodes became part of the Delian League under the leadership of Athens. In 408 BC, the three ruling city-states were united under a single capital with the founding of Rhodes Town. The island subsequently fell under the control of first the Romans, then the Byzantines.
In 1309 AD, the Knights of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem conquered Rhodes, acting as a gateway between Europe and the Holy Land. Under their control the island flourished, regaining its dominance in trade, which funded the island’s impressive fortifications, especially in Rhodes Town.
The Ottomans seized control in 1522, in the darkest period of the island’s history. Rhodians were forced into the countryside and denied the right to partake in commercial activities. The island remained under Ottoman rule until 1912 when the Italians took over, using their short rule to establish construction projects like the aqueduct and restore some of the island’s medieval heritage.
After short periods of English and German domination, Rhodes officially became part of Greece in 1947.
Things to See and Do in Rhodes Town
Straddling the north of Rhodes, overlooking the Turkish coast, Rhodes Town is the capital and largest town on the island. It’s divided into two distinct parts: the sprawling New Town and medieval Old Town.
The Medieval Town of Rhodes
Sealed behind imposing double walls and a deep moat in the heart of Rhodes, the Old Town whispers of bygone times. The oldest inhabited medieval town in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there’s a certain magic to simply wandering through its atmospheric cobblestone streets, where ancient temples and majestic palaces rub shoulders with churches and mosques, amid bustling restaurants, independent boutiques, and souvenir shops. If anything in this section inspires you, take a look at our Rhodes Medieval Walking Tour, which also looks at the incredible Jewish Quarter. For a completely different kind of tour in the same area, take a look at our Rhodes Old Town Walking and Wine Tour.
Classical, Ottoman, and Italian influences are evident, though it’s the Knights of the Order of St John that shaped the architecture of this fortified town. The highlight is the Palace of the Grand Master. Originally a Byzantine fortress, it was transformed into a residence by the knights, restored under the Italian occupation following an explosion, and now houses a museum.
Adjoining the palace is a wonderful walk around the fortified town walls, while the entrance stands at the top of the Street of the Knights. This beautifully preserved medieval street houses seven inns, one for each of the Knights’ birthplaces: England, France, Germany, Italy, Provence, Auvergne and Aragon.
At the base of the street is the Hospital of the Knights, now Rhodes Archaeological Museum, containing finds from around the island. Opposite is the Byzantine Church of Our Lady of the Castle, which features well-preserved frescoes and paintings guaranteed to impress.
The eastern corner of the Old Town houses the Jewish Quarter, La Juderia. Once home to up to 4,000 Jews, it contains several important monuments including the Kahal Shalom Synagogue, the Jewish Museum of Rhodes, and the Square of the Jewish Martyrs with its seahorse fountain and holocaust memorial.
The distinct pink walls of the domed Suleyman’s Mosque stand at the heart of the Turkish Quarter, opposite the Muslim Library. Climb the neighbouring Roloi Clock Tower standing at the highest point of the Old Town, for sublime views over the entire area.
Things to Do in Rhodes New Town
The cosmopolitan New Town is both a working city and modern Mediterranean resort. Hotels, bars, and restaurants jostle for position along the beachfront, alongside the famous Rhodes Casino and Art Deco Rhodes Aquarium.
The most picturesque of the three harbours, Mandraki Harbour, is believed to be the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Colossus of Rhodes. This giant bronze statue dedicated to the sun god, Helios, allegedly straddled the harbour entrance, where the statues of the stag and doe now stand. St Nicholas Fort guards the harbour entrance, dedicated to the patron saint of travellers, next to the iconic three windmills.
The buildings opposite Mandraki mostly date to the Italian occupation, including the New Market, Post Office, Town Hall, and Bishop’s Residence.
The New Town isn’t completely new, though. It’s worth wandering to the highest point to visit the Acropolis of Rhodes: an archaeological complex that houses the crumbling Temple of Apollo and Hellenistic stadium. Continue past the archaeological site to a viewpoint at the edge of Monte Smith for superb sunset views over Rhodes Town, back along the west coast and over to the coastline of Turkey.
If it’s greenery you’re seeking, visit Rodini Park on the outskirts of Rhodes Town. The first landscaped park on the island, it’s charmingly overgrown with a wild, untamed beauty and several peacocks strutting amongst the waterways.
I hope this blog post has inspired you to visit the incredible Rhodes Town when you come to the Island of the Sun. If you have any follow-up questions about any of the locations or Rhodes tours mentioned above, please feel free to get in touch. What are you waiting for? Start planning your dream Rhodes Experience!