Discover the remote Greek island of Kastellorizo – this tiny island in the far east of the country is a peaceful pastel-coloured paradise surrounded by turquoise waters that makes the perfect escape.
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As the smallest inhabited Greek island and the furthest from Athens, Kastellorizo is the prettiest Greek island you’ve probably never heard of. It’s one of the Dodecanese islands, which also include Rhodes and Symi, but is closer to Turkey than to any of them.
Kastellorizo (sometimes spelled with just one l) is also known as Megisti or ‘biggest’, because despite only being around 10km2, it’s the largest island in its archipelago. It’s only 800 metres from the Turkish coast, but has still kept a strong Greek spirit. And regular flights and ferries from Rhodes mean it’s easy to lose yourself out there.
The island has spent a lot of its history under Turkish or Italian rule. And its population fell from a peak of 9000 in the 1900s to just 400. An earthquake in 1926 and heavy bombing by the Germans during WWII, when Kastellorizo was the only Allied-occupied island in the region, meant most residents were evacuated or left, many moving to Australia.
Today Kastellorizo has been rebuilt and restored, with colourful houses around the bay backed with steep cliffs and surrounded by the clear turquoise waters of the Aegean. This mostly car-free island is a relaxed place to escape from it all for a few days.
Kastellorizo has had its moments of fame too – the Oscar-winning Italian WWII drama Mediterraneo (1991) was set and filmed in Kastellorizo. And Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour wrote a song called ‘Castellorizon’ inspired by a night he spent on the island.
Kastellorizo doesn’t have a huge list of attractions, but is somewhere to read, wander, swim, eat and unwind. And I fell in love with its beautiful scenery and low-key charms after my first visit. So here’s everything you need to know about visiting Kastellorizo Greece.
How to get to Kastellorizo Greece
Unusually for such a small island, Kastellorizo has its own airport. But you can also get there by ferry from Athens, Rhodes and other Greek islands, as well as Kaş in Turkey.
From Rhodes to Kastellorizo
Olympic Air runs flights between Rhodes Diagoras airport and Kastellorizo. Flights take 40 minutes and there are normally three a week in low season, going up to six a week in high season. Kastellorizo airport is 3km out of town, so you could walk it in 45 minutes if you didn’t have heavy bags. Otherwise there’s a minibus or the island’s one taxi.
You can also reach Kastellorizo from Rhodes by ferry, with up to eight services a week from three ferry companies – Dodekanisos Seaways, Blue Star Ferries and SAOS.
Dodekanisos Seaways ships are smaller, faster catamarans, and take 2.5 hours. They depart from Kolkonas harbour, next to the Sea Gate on the edge of Rhodes’ old town. Blue Star and SAOS ships are larger, slower car ferries which take 3.5–5 hours. These depart from Rhodes’ Akandia harbour, which is a 15-minute walk from the old town.
From Athens to Kastellorizo
Blue Star Ferries also run a ferry all the way from Athens’ Piraeus port to Kastellorizo, normally twice a week. The journey takes 22 hours, and stops at other islands like Kos, Tilos and Symi along the way. The ferries are huge, almost cruise ship size, with restaurants, shops and cabins (though book them in advance in high season).
From Kaş to Kastellorizo
You can also take a ferry from Kaş on the Turkish coast to Kastellorizo, which only takes 20 minutes. Services are run by Meis Express and Meis Ferry Lines (Meis is the Turkish name for Kastellorizo), and run daily from June to October and once a week off season.
The ferries are timed so you can easily do a day trip* to Kastellorizo – leaving Kaş at 9.30am/10am and returning around 4pm. To reach Kaş you can fly to Dalaman (150km/2.5 hours away) or Antalya (200km/3 hours away) then take a bus or shuttle transfer.
The best things to do in Kastellorizo
Explore the harbour
Kastellorizo only has one real town, which is centred around its horseshoe-shaped harbour, lined with pretty red-roofed, pastel buildings. At one end of the harbour is the island’s former mosque and a ruined castle, and at the other is a row of small hotels.
A narrow concrete path leads along the waterfront, which is lined with bars and restaurants, with their tables perched precariously on the water’s edge. Cats slink between your feet and nap in the sun, and sea turtles swim past in the bay. It’s an easy place to spend a day wandering, stopping for food and drinks, and soaking up the views.
The town is only a few streets deep – go back further and you’ll meet the steep cliffs surrounding the harbour. A lot of the buildings in the harbour were rebuilt after WWII. And if you go back a street or two you’ll still see ruins with construction going on, a lot of it funded by Australians whose family came from the island, known as ‘Kazzies’.
There are a couple of museums at the east end of the harbour. The archaeological museum inside part of the old Castle of the Knights of St John has pottery, statues, tombstones and other finds on display. And the 18th-century Ottoman mosque is now the island’s folk art museum, with old photos, traditional local costumes, arts and crafts.
Swim in clear waters
Kastellorizo has some of the clearest, warmest waters I’ve found in Greece. And although there aren’t any real Kastellorizo beaches, there are plenty of places where you can take a dip – including the harbour, with ladders into the water to help you get in and out.
Look out for sea turtles swimming by too – endangered loggerhead turtles breed across the bay in Kaş in Turkey so you often see them in the waters around Kastellorizo.
If you want to soak up the sun, several of the hotels around the harbour have sunbeds and umbrellas set up for their guests along the edge of the waterfront pathway. Or there are a couple of places where you can hire a sunbed for the day for around €6.
The Megisti hotel at the far west end of the bay has a big terrace – 2/3 is reserved for guests but there is a section with sunbeds for hire to non-residents. It’s popular though so get there early. There are also sunbeds at Faros bar across the bay. The Megisti gets the late morning sun but loses it mid-afternoon, and Faros gets the afternoon sun and sunset.
Away from the harbour you can also swim from a platform next to the Agnanti Apartments in Mandraki, or there are small pebbly beaches in Mandraki harbour and Plakes (accessible only by boat). Or take a trip to St George’s Beach or the Blue Cove (see below).
Visit St George Beach
For more of a beach club feel (albeit without the actual beach), take a boat trip to nearby St George Beach. Tiny Agios Georgios island is only five minutes away by boat – you can usually find a boat to take you over near Stratos Café in the corner of the harbour.
On the island there are terraces around the headland with sunbeds and umbrellas which you can hire for €6. There’s also a traditional whitewashed church and a café (cash only) where you can get drinks and simple food like burgers and club sandwiches.
It’s a great place to spend a few hours reading, relaxing and swimming in the warm, shallow waters. It’s a good idea to pre-book your return time though when you go over as it gets very busy with people heading back to Kastellorizo around 4pm/5pm, before the island closes for the night by 7pm. Our return boat trip cost €7.50 per person.
Follow the coast path to Mandraki
If you fancy stretching your legs, head east of Kastellorizo to neighbouring Mandraki. To get there you follow the stone path around the headland next to the mosque. It only takes 15 minutes, with views out to the tiny islet of Psoradia with its ruined buildings.
Look out for the steps on the right, which lead up to a 4th-century Lycian tomb. The tomb is cut into the rock face, with a temple-style façade, originally decorated with carvings and paintings. No one knows who it was built for or when exactly, and although there are similar tombs in Turkey, this is the only one that’s been found in Greece.
On the way into Mandraki you’ll also see a pretty waterside chapel, decorated with painted tiles. Mandraki itself is a sleepy place, which is mostly residential and has a shallow harbour with a few fishing boats. And if you follow the road back to Kastellorizo, you can call into the grand, recently restored Church of Saint George of Santrape.
Get a view from up high
On the ridge between Kastellorizo and Mandraki is the ruined Castle of the Knights of St John. The knights gave Kastellorizo its name – christening it Castello Rosso (red castle) because of its towering red cliffs. There isn’t much left of the castle now, but you can climb up a metal staircase for great views over Kastellorizo one way and Mandraki the other.
Or head up even higher to the Monastery of Saint George of the Mountain. A staircase with 400 steps runs up the cliffs behind Kastellorizo – you can see it zig-zagging uphill. From the top of the stairs you get a panoramic view over the island and to Turkey.
The monastery sits on a plateau at the top of the hill. It was built on the site of an older Christian basilica and still has its original mosaic floor. The walk takes 30–45 minutes each way, though it’s best to do it early or late in the day as it gets very hot.
Take a boat trip
One of the best things to do in Kastellorizo is get out on the water. And the island’s most popular boat trip is to the Blue Cave on the south east coast. This spectacular sea cave is one of the biggest in Greece, with vivid blue waters and hanging stalactites.
Getting there is a bit of an adventure, and is best done with a guide. It’s around a 15-minute boat trip to reach the cave, then the entrance is so small you need to lie down in the boat to get through. You can only do the trip in good weather and ideally in the morning, when the sun makes the waters glow, making floating in them a magical experience.
You can also take a boat trip to the small island of Ro, off the west coast of Kastellorizo. This was the home of Despina Achladioti, known as the ‘Lady of Ro’ and a hero of the Greek Resistance. After her father and mother died, she was the island’s only resident.
When Kastellorizo was evacuated in WWII, she stayed on the island, raising a Greek flag every day in definance of the occupying Italians. And she kept this up right until she died in 1982, aged 92, when she was buried on the island with military honours.
You can also take a day trip from Kastellorizo to Kaş on the Turkish mainland – the ferry ride only takes 20 minutes. Or get out on the water yourself by hiring a kayak or paddleboard and exploring the island’s rocky coastline and neighbouring islets.
When to visit Kastellorizo Greece
Kastellorizo is one of the furthest south of the Greek islands, so it has a slightly hotter and drier climate than most. Summers get very warm, with average high temperatures of 33ºC (91ºF) in July and August. Shoulder season is more comfortable, with highs of 22–25ºC (72–77ºF) during May/June and September/October, and plenty of sunshine.
Although things quieten down on the island from the end of October, the sea is still warm enough to swim in right up until Christmas – November sea temperatures average 23ºC (73ºF). Winters are mild with average highs of 11ºC (52ºF) and lows of 8ºC (46ºF), but December and January are the wettest months with around 10 days of rainfall.
Where to stay in Kastellorizo
Kastellorizo only has a few hotels, mainly on the western side of the harbour, but there are also several guesthouses as well as apartments and villas available to rent.
The Poseidon Hotel* is made up of eight colourfully painted buildings, split into studios, apartments and villas, some with sea views. Rooms have kitchenettes as well as balconies or terraces, and there’s a communal terrace where breakfast is served. The hotel is set back from the seafront, but has a row of sunbeds and umbrellas on the waterfront.
The four-star Megisti* is Kastellorizo’s biggest hotel, located at the western end of the harbour. It’s a modern building (and not the prettiest), but all 19 rooms have sea view balconies. There’s a terrace out front with sunbeds and umbrellas (mostly reserved for hotel guests) and ladders into the sea, as well as a bar which serves food at lunchtime.
Casa Mediterraneo* sits on a hillside at the eastern end of the harbour – perfect for watching the sun go down. Three mansions have been converted into six high-end suites by their architect owner (who also runs the Mediterraneo hotel opposite). They’re stylishly designed and decorated in warm, spice tones with refurbished antiques.
Where to eat and drink in Kastellorizo
There’s a row of restaurants around the edge of Kastellorizo’s harbour, serving fresh fish and seafood. Other local specialities include goat, squid and onions (salantourmasi) stuffed with rice and herbs. And there are a couple of Kastellorizian sweet treats, including katoumaria (clove and sugar pastries) and a type of baklava called strava.
Our favourite spots included Alexandra’s, with sea turtles swimming right past its waterside tables. We shared plates of mussels, grilled sardines and Greek salad with a carafe of white wine for under €50. Lazarakis is another good spot for seafood, in a romantic location on its own pier. It’s popular with the yachting crowd, making it a bit pricier.
For traditional Greek dishes head to Old Time Old Story, who serve moussaka and meatballs under a canopy of vines. Or Ta Platania (as seen in the film Mediterraneo) is 10 minutes’ walk from the harbour, with a changing daily menu of home-cooked dishes.
Finally neighbouring Stratos Café and Meltemi Café on the waterfront are good places to start or end the evening with a cocktail, glass of Greek wine or iced coffee. And Faros bar near the mosque gets the last sun of the day and gorgeous, glowing sunsets.