With a coastline that unravels for over 290 kilometres, Kos has more than its fair share of beaches. They come in all shapes and sizes, from golden swathes backed by beach bars, to hidden bays and little-known coves. The island’s good looks don’t end with its shores, either. Inland, whitewashed villages spill down the hillsides and wild flowers blanket the fields. Then there’s Mount Dikeos, whose slopes are peppered with pine forests and castles.
In terms of where to stay, Kos has two very different sides to it. Kardamena is the best place to head for nightlife – its streets are packed with karaoke bars, English pubs and strobe-lit clubs. The cosmopolitan capital, Kos Town, is also lively, with holidays here revolving around lantern-lit dinners by the harbour-side, and cocktails and dancing in the bars of the backstreets.
Kefalos combines old and new. At first glance it’s thoroughly traditional, with its sugar-cube houses, ancient ruins and timeworn windmills. But it’s also home to the purpose-built resort of Kamari, which is bubbling with cafés, bars and restaurants. If you want to keep things low-key, Psalidi is another good option. There’s little more than a golden sandy beach and a sprinkle of tavernas and shops here.
Things to See and Do in Kos
With a coastline that stretches for nearly 300 kilometres, Kos serves up the complete set of sandy swathes. You’ve got everything from sleepy coves sandwiched by cliffs to ribbons of sand backed by restaurants of every persuasion. If you’re into watersports, head for the north coast, where the breeze is a bit stronger.
The big beach
Kardamena Beach is the busiest on the island, and it’s got facilities that cater for everyone. Revellers drop by to enjoy fry-ups on the promenade, families come to paddle in the gentle waters, and locals call in to show off their watersports skills. If you want to escape the crowds, catch a boat to Nisyros Island, a peaceful sanctuary just offshore.
The secret beach
Helona Beach is about 10 minutes from Kardamena Beach. It’s usually overlooked in favour of its better-known neighbour, which means it’s lovely and peaceful. It’s backed by nothing but hills and a couple of boutique hotels, and gives way to a string of coastal paths that were made for long walks.
Kos Town is the best place for a blowout. The narrow streets winding up from the harbour are great for picking up oil paintings and ceramics, and in Eleftherias Square, you can get good quality wine and cigars. You’ll find individual boutiques in the old town, as well as well-known designer names like Tommy Hilfiger. Over in Kefalos, meanwhile, there are a few good leather boutiques.
Kos Town’s pedestrianized old quarter is packed with shops displaying local fashions, funky swimwear and make-up brands you’d recognise from home, like Lancôme and Estée Lauder. Psalidi, meanwhile, is characterised by beachside stalls selling chunky silver jewellery and caricature portraits.
Kos Town’s old quarter is a good bet if you’re on a budget. The Agora marketplace is full of shops and stalls selling handmade crafts, island trinkets and local produce – expect knuckles of cheese, fresh fruit and veg, and giant pots of honey. The Tuesday Bodrum Market in Turkey is also worth the ferry ride from Kardamena. Bargains include soft leather bags, evil-eye friendship bracelets and rainbow-coloured lanterns.
For long, leisurely suppers, try Psalidi – there are some great seafood restaurants lining the promenade. If you’re staying in Kefalos, meanwhile, have dinner in the town centre, then wander the cobbled streets of Old Kefalos, where local musicians tend to perform in the evenings.
For strobe-lit nightclubs, karaoke bars and funky discos, Kardamena is right on the money. Bar Street and the side roads leading off it offer the best choice. For something a bit more upmarket, give Kos Town a go. The cosmopolitan clubs and cocktail bars around Daikon and Nafklirou Street wouldn’t look out of place in Covent Garden.
Creamy goats’ cheese is fermented in rich red wine to create this local speciality, which is rich in colour and flavour. The cheese, also known as ‘wine cheese’, is served as an appetiser in Kos, alongside other meze dishes like vine leaves and mixed olives.
This dish falls into the ‘simple pleasures’ category. Locals stew Kos’ home-grown tomatoes in a thick syrup until they’re sweet enough to eat. There are a million and one ways to serve the finished product – some of the more popular ones include using it as a filling in a savoury pie or piling it on crunchy bread to form a bruschetta.
Kiosks all over the island serve this snack to people on the go every day. To make it, the meat – usually lamb or beef – is slow cooked, and then sliced and wrapped in doughy pitta bread. The pitta is then also stuffed with chopped onions, plum tomatoes and a generous helping of tzatziki dip.
This is a dinnertime staple in Kos. Fluffy bulgur meat is mixed with tender chunks of meat or, if you’re creating a vegetarian version, vegetables like aubergine and tomato, to create a sort of pilaf. Garlic, dill and mint add extra flavour, while a dollop of plain yoghurt finishes things off nicely.
This very dry white wine, which has been produced for more than 2,000 years, has a really distinctive taste – think fruity with a hint of pine tree resin. If you take a sip and you’re not sure about it, dilute the flavour by adding some soda or lemonade.
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Set on the northeast coast of Kos island, the capital Kos Town wears its history well. The Romans, Ottomans and Italians have all left their stamp here in the architecture and ruins, while a 15th-century castle plays up to the resort’s Medieval roots. There’s plenty of room for modern Greece, too, as you’ll see in the lively bars and harbour-side restaurants. There’s a beach in the centre of town, too.
Psalidi is a small, modern resort on the east coast of Kos. It’s so close to the capital, Kos Town, that it could almost be classed as a suburb. Even with some of the island’s most exclusive hotels lined up along its unspoilt seafront, it’s still a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it place, making it ideal to really recharge your batteries.
This hillside village, 40 kilometres southwest of Kos Town, was the island’s first capital. These days it’s split into 2 parts. One of them is up on the hill, where the narrow streets are lined with charming old buildings and you’ll see the remains of a castle. Then, down on the coast, there’s Kamari, home to ancient basilicas, a beach and a marina dotted with yachts and fishing boats.