The gorgeous island of Kalymnos is the perfect holiday destination for anyone who likes authenticity, natural beauty, heritage and tradition, and adventure! Kalymnos is one of the islands of the Dodecanese that still gets comparatively less tourism than others in the cluster. That means you can enjoy it fully without running into tourist crowds, even during peak season!
Being calm and authentic alone makes Kalymnos the perfect island for adventure, but that is not all it offers for those seeking excitement: Kalymnos is also called the hub of climbing thanks to its mountainous landscape that merges smoothly and perfectly with the seaside and the lush beaches for when you want to rest and relax.
To make the most out of your vacation to this pure, beautiful island, read through this guide that has everything you will need and then some!
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- Where is Kalymnos?
- How to get to Kalymnos
- A brief history of Kalymnos
- Things to do in Kalymnos
- Explore Pothia
- Explore the old Chora and its Windmills
- Explore Massouri village
- Discover Vathy village
- Enjoy the natural fjord of Rina.
- Visit the museums
- Visit the castles
- Visit the caves
- See the Temple of Delian Apollo
- Discover Kalymnos’ sponge harvesters
- Hit the beaches
- Do some rock climbing.
- Take a day trip to Telendos.
- Sample the food
Where is Kalymnos?
Kalymnos is part of the Dodecanese island cluster in the Aegean Sea. It is located between the islands of Kos and Leros. It is also very close to the Turkish coastline. The island itself is not too big but big enough to warrant several days of exploration, depending on your tastes. Stunning rock formations and caves mark Kalymnos’ unique landscape.
The best time to visit Kalymnos is during summer, which for Greece is from roughly mid-May to late September.
High season is during July and August, as is the period when most heat waves are likely to happen, so if you’re going to Kalymnos for adventuring, climbing, or hiking, consider doing so earlier or later in the summer.
The sea is its warmest in September, which is the month when you can have access to the amenities of the summer. Note that September is a busy month in Kalymnos with many climbers, so book your hotel and car in advance.
How to get to Kalymnos
You can go to Kalymnos by plane, by ferry, or both.
Kalymnos has its own domestic flights airport, so all you need to do is take the plane from Athens airport to Kalymnos. The flight lasts around an hour. The airport is 6km from the main town of Kalymnos, called Porthia.
If you opt to go by ferry, you will need to take a boat from Athens’ Piraeus port to Kalymnos. The trip lasts 10 hours, so make sure to book a cabin. The ferry to Kalymnos makes the trip around three times a week, so it’s best if you book your ticket and cabin in advance.
Alternatively, you can get to Kalymnos through different routes and combinations of flights and ferries. For example, you can take the plane to Rhodes or Kos and then the ferry from Rhodes or Kos to Kalymnos to cut travel time and see more islands while you travel.
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A brief history of Kalymnos
The first inhabitants of Kalymnos came as far back as 6000 years ago. It is thought that ancient Greeks from the Archaic period colonized the island. However, during the Persian Wars, they found themselves controlled by the Carians.
Carians were a people living in Anatolia, in Asia Minor, who often intermingled with the Greeks throughout history. After the defeat of the Persian Empire, the people of Kalymnos were mostly independent and allied with the city-state of Athens.
They were tightly connected with the island of Kos, on which they depended for commerce and other activities. Like the rest of the Greek territories, Kalymnos became part of the Roman Empire when the Romans expanded.
During Byzantine times, Kalymnos was also part of the Byzantine Empire until the first fall of Constantinople in 1204. When that happened, Genoa took control of the island and a hundred years later, so did the Knights of Rhodes, who also had Kos. In the early 1500s, the Knights of Rhodes lost to the Ottomans, and Kalymnos became part of the Ottoman Empire.
In 1912, the Italians took control, and finally, after WWII, Kalymnos became part of Greece in 1948, together with the rest of the Dodecanese.
Things to do in Kalymnos
Though Kalymnos hasn’t ever featured in history in any fascinating manner, the sheer heritage that the island features, together with its impressive geological formations and landscapes, is enough to give you amazing experiences. There are a lot of things to see and do, but the must-do, must-see shortlist of what you absolutely shouldn’t miss is the following:
Pothia is a gorgeous port town that rests against the slopes of two hills and pours into the beautiful, lushly green valley they form. Walking around Porthia is like exploring a painting. The town is full of heritage and iconic, beautiful architecture.
Whitewashed houses, brightly colored shutters, doors, tall mansions, and decorated buildings wait for you to discover them as you walk its narrow pathways. And, unlike many other Greek islands, you can do it with frequent shade as there are many tall trees in between houses and yards.
Pothia manages to balance the traditional with the modern, so it’s a perfect place to begin exploring Kalymnos itself.
Explore the old Chora and its Windmills
Before Pothia, Kalymnos had a different main town, more towards the center of Kalymnos. It was built several centuries ago during the age of pirates and it was protected by a great Byzantine fortress right overhead.
It is abandoned now and everything is in various states of ruin, but it feels like an open-air archaeological museum to wander in its paths. Chora also has three beautiful remnants of windmills that stand as a landmark in the area and make for great photos. They are perched on the stone of the sharp, steep mountain slope like something that nature has reclaimed.
Explore Massouri village
9 km north of Pothia, you will find the picturesque village of Massouri. Just like in Pothia, you will get to wander around beautiful whitewashed houses and enjoy the sweeping views of the bay, the fierce mountainous slopes, and the perfect contrast of the deep sea. You can also hop on a tiny boat and take the 10-minute boat trip to the tiny islet of Telendos, which rises from the sea like a tiny volcano. (It’s not)
Discover Vathy village
Vathy village is literally Kalymnos’ oasis: you will find it and its verdant, lush, vibrant landscape right in the middle of an otherwise completely barren, dry area of sloping hills. Vathy is one of the most fertile spots of Kalymnos and its beautiful houses are aligned towards the deep natural port- where the village gets its name (Vathi means ‘deep’). Lining the port are several traditional boats and fishing boats. Some of them give tours of the island from the sea, so consider trying one!
Enjoy the natural fjord of Rina.
Vathy’s deep bay is, in fact, a natural fjord that should be enjoyed in and of itself. It’s called the fjord of Rina. You can’t miss out on swimming in its crystal clear waters and discover its various tiny little bays that create tiny beaches or resting spots just for you. There are also traces and remains of ancient settlements to explore from the shore and watch (or participate!) divers leap off the great rock into the emerald waters underneath.
Visit the museums
Kalymnos has few but fascinating museums to visit.
The Archaeological Museum of Kalymnos: Situated in the center of Pothia in a beautiful neoclassical building, you will find the Archaeological Museum. Within, there are housed several important exhibits, including the famous, recently discovered “Lady of Kalymnos,” a gorgeous Hellenistic era sculpture in perfect condition.
There are also exhibits spanning most of the history of Kalymnos, from prehistoric times to Byzantine times, with offerings from the temple of Apollo, coins, vases, jars, urns, tools, weapons, and more.
Folklore Museum: Just outside of Pothia, this museum is privately owned and features several items from the heritage of Kalymnos’ traditions. There are folk costumes and outfits, bridal dresses, household items of previous times, a loom, and more. The museum staff will treat you to wine and bread and talk to you about the museum.
Sea World Museum: This impressive private museum is in Vlychadia village and is all about the marine world of Kalymnos. You will see a wide variety of local sponges, countless shells and other remnants of sea creatures, huge sea turtles, and even a large wreck of an ancient merchant ship complete with its cargo of amphorae!
Visit the castles
Great Castle: Also called Paleochora or Castle of Chora, this is one of the most famous sites of Kalymnos. It looms impressively over the old Chora and is thought to have been built on the ruins of ancient Pothia. Paleochora was Kalymnos’ old capital center, built in the Byzantine style in the 1400s. It remained in continual use until the 19th century.
To reach it, go up the 230 steps from Pothia to Paleochora. It might be a task, but you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous, sweeping views of the island and nine well-preserved churches with beautiful frescos.
Chrisoheria Castle: It’s also known as Pera Castle (it means “the castle over there” in Greek). It’s located right between Chora and Pothia and was meant to protect and supervise both towns. It was built during the reign of the Knights of Rhodes, who forced the locals to help build it. However, because it was too small to protect against the Ottomans, it was abandoned in the 15th century. It’s remarkably well-preserved, including the two churches that were built inside it.
Visit the caves
The Cave of the Seven Maidens: Just 500 meters from the center of Pothia, you will find this remarkable ancient site of worship and place of legends. According to it, during the Ottoman Occupation times, pirates descended upon the island of Kalymnos. Seven girls, all virgins, fled the towns, fearing that the pirates would kidnap or rape them. As they ran, they saw the mouth of a cave and they entered, never to be seen again.
There are rumors that the cave is haunted, and you can hear female voices calling out or moaning, lost, in the large cave. Within the cave, there were found several traces of ancient worship from the neolithic times. There’s also a little pond with stone steps inside.
Kefalas Cave: This stunning, gigantic cave boasts an impressive 103-meter corridor with huge stalactites and stalagmites. There are six chambers in this cave, which is very near Pothia, in the area from where it gets its name, Kefalas. Within it, there were also found remnants of worship to the god Zeus, so it’s also called “Zeus’ Cave.” It’s considered the most beautiful cave in Kalymnos, so make sure you visit!
Skalion Cave: It’s also known as the Cave of Aghios Ioannis and you’ll find it near the area of Skalia. It’s got gorgeous stalagmites and stalactites in bizarre formations and shapes, making for a breathtaking decoration that won’t disappoint you. Just be careful walking to it as the terrain is quite uneven and craggy.
See the Temple of Delian Apollo
The ancient Greek god of the sun and music, Apollo, was the patron god of Kalymnos. The temple of Delian Apollo was Kalymnos’ political and religious hub in ancient times. It is probably why, when the island dwellers converted to Christianity, they opted to keep using the same area.
They built the basilica church dedicated to Jesus Christ of Jerusalem, which is said to be built with stones and materials from the temple. Going to the site, you will see an imposing, impressive half of the church still standing and remnants of the temple all around. You will find it just outside Kalymnos’ old Chora.
Discover Kalymnos’ sponge harvesters
Kalymnos is known all across Greece as the island of the sponge harvesters. Sponge harvesting was a big part of Kalymnos’ economy and heritage. Since the time of Homer, Kalymnian sponge harvesters would dive into the island’s deep blue sea with nothing but a knife and a heavy stone to keep them weighed down in order to search for the precious sponges on the sea floor.
They were the fittest and most enduring young men on the island that did this and the mortality rate was frightfully high. With the advent of technology, diving trips became safer and safer, sparing the lives of these daring sea hunters.
The Kalymnian sea sponge is considered one of the best in the world, so make sure to buy some while you’re at the source! You will find them sold by the dozen at the ports and at shops.
Hit the beaches
Kalymnos features many beautiful beaches with emerald or turquoise waters. All of them are worthy of a visit, but here is a shortlist of the most popular and noteworthy ones:
Porthia’s beach: You can walk to this beach if you’re staying in Porthia! It has got a lovely pebbled seashore and beautiful turquoise waters. Because it’s so close to the main town, it gets busy easily during the summer.
Myrties beach: This is one of the organized beaches of Kalymnos. It’s quite popular with families and there are many amenities available. It’s just 8 km from Porthia, with azure waters and a long, ample pebbled seaside.
Kantouni beach: This beautiful sandy beach is also quite popular and organized. It is surrounded by interesting rock formations that provide a unique sight as you swim. The waters are almost completely transparent with how crystal clear they are. You’ll find it only 5 km from Porthia.
Platis Gialos: This gorgeous beach offers a distinct experience with its black sand and impressive rock formations. It’s unorganized so you need to bring what you will be using with you, including shade. It’s 7 km from Porthia.
Kalamies beach: This is an unorganized, gorgeous sandy beach with lush vegetation contrasting perfectly with the blue of the waters. It is in the north of Kalymnos, near the pretty Emporios village.
Lagouna beach: If you are a fan of snorkeling and scuba diving, this beach is for you. And if you happen to like good food, again, this beach will make you especially happy. Lagouna is gorgeous, with thick trees casting shade on the golden sand. There are also some great taverns nearby!
Do some rock climbing.
If you are a fan of climbing as a sport, then Kalymnos will be your heaven. The island has gained international renown as a perfect climbing hub for all skill levels. You will find perfect limestone crags with several thousand routes to fit your level. In fact, it’s considered the perfect site to learn rock climbing safely.
There are instructors giving courses for all levels, including beginners, taking you through gorgeous routes with beautiful views and unforgettable landscapes and vistas. Depending on your skill, you can do more specialized climbing as well, such as cave climbing.
Even if you have never tried rock climbing before, you will find something to love and make unique memories.
Take a day trip to Telendos.
Telendos is only ten minutes away from Kalymnos by boat. In reality, Telendos is an ancient part of Kalymnos, separated from the main island by an earthquake in 535AD. It’s an inlet with only one village. Its residents live off the sponge trade, as is tradition.
Visit Telendos for its gorgeous beaches and impressive hiking trails. You can explore the entire island on foot within that one day! Visit the old castle ruins and the old church of Aghios Konstantinos.
If you happen to be there on August 15th, partake in the great feast and celebrations for the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Stick around for the Full Moon festival that takes place on the night of the last full moon of August, with singing and dancing and good full through the night and until morning!
Sample the food
Kalymnos is famous for its exquisite traditional cuisine, a spin on Greek Mediterranean cuisine. So while you are there, make sure you try some of the staples of Kalymnian cuisine:
Mermizeli: this is a famous Kalymnian salad, also known as “the island salad.” It’s made with local vegetables and herbs and a special type of local rusk.
Kalymnian dolmades: these are local vine leaves stuffed with rice and meat as well as herbs that make the otherwise generally Greek dish distinctly Kalymnian. You might also hear it called “fylla” which means leaves.
Octopus fritters: these are the local delicacy, deep-fried meatballs made of octopus and local herbs.
Spinialo: This is another delicacy unique to Kalymnos, and its fouskes are marinated in seawater. Fouskes are shellfish with a rock-like shells.
While you’re in Kalymnos, make sure to enjoy the local thyme honey, which is considered one of the best, as well as the local soft white cheese, called kopanisti, which is spreadable, and mizithra.