It’s great fun deciding which Greek island to pick for a family holiday, and even better with some guidance to steer you expertly around an admittedly enormous and gem-packed archipelago.
Naturally Visit Greece have island expertise to spare, know all the best ones for toddlers, ideal isles for teens and multi-talented treasures to keep everyone happy. So when they single out the Dodecanese for special mention, it’s definitely worth learning a bit more.
These are the islands that float in the Aegean, almost as far south as its possible to go in Greece, so needless to say they’re very sunny, beachy and stunningly beautiful. If you hear that Hippocrates was born on Kos, you probably don’t need to be told that they’re also laden with amazing stories. And kids with a bold spirit of adventure are in the best type of company in the Dodecanese: at one time or another everyone from Ptolemaic Egyptians to Trojan warriors has set foot on these ancient shores.
So which island would you like to visit first? Here’s a run down of the top six handpicked by Visit Greece, now you just have the fun of choosing your favourite.
Kos is the third largest island in the Dodecanese and even at that you can still drive it from end to end in just over an hour. Which is why it’s all the more wonderful to find it piled high with activities, archaeological marvels, ancient history and a seemingly never ending supply of spectacular beaches.
Its reputation as a European windsurfing giant should appeal to sporty kids, toddlers will be won over by the friendly, easy going atmosphere everywhere, and there isn’t anyone immune to the charms of pretty Kos Town or the fact that you can cycle just about everywhere: brilliantly refreshing in summer when sunny, southern Aegean temperatures climb steadily upwards of 25˚.
Start with the beaches, Kos has over 70km of them ranging from golden sunbathing sands to windsurfing and water sports legends. Several are Blue Flag and you’ll particularly like: Mastichari, about 20 minutes south of Kos Town and a favourite with families; toddler-friendly Tigkaki Beach; white sand Kardamena Beach considered best on the island by locals, and Therma Beach, minutes from Kos Town and famous for hot springs – of course.
Before you delve into the island’s ancient sites, visit the fabulous Kos Archaeological Museum. Recently reopened after four years of complete renovation, it’s now hard to tell what is more jaw-dropping: the spectacular building or the awesome collection of antiquities.
Wandering in the footsteps of Hippocrates round the Asklepion just south of Kos Town is an island must-do. Doctors flock here from all over the world to watch Hippocratic Oath re-enactments. And even non-professionals can’t help but be impressed by the excavated remains of what’s believed to be the first ever Medical School, founded by Hippocrates in the 4th century BC.
Kids will appreciate a ramble round Neratzia Castle accompanied by courtly tales about the Knights of the Order of Saint John, responsible for building this imposing fortress in the 14th century.
Kos Town is a lovely small city with a gorgeous waterfront district, heaps of restaurants and unusual shops. Blue Flag Agios Fokas is the fantastic town beach. The Sanctuary of Hercules is just one of the remarkable archaeological sites excavated around the Old Port. And make time for charming Eleftherias Square right in the heart of town, home to the colourful Public Market and Kos Archaeological Museum. Puppet shows in the Park of Colours are another must-see with younger kids.
Whether you want to swim or play on its beaches or just stare in awe at the view, Agios Stefanos is the spot that makes more appearances on Instagram than anywhere else on Kos. The archaeological site is fascinating and you can see right across to the romantic islet of Kastri on a clear day – which is just about every day here.
Kos is only 40km long by five kilometres wide and it’s cycling heaven for families. There are safe, well-marked paths a plenty and even bike trails down on the sands at quite a few beaches. And if you want to explore Kos Town, there are cycle lanes there too.
Hot spring swimming is an ethereal experience at Ebros Thermes on the island’s south coast. You can’t drive down to the beach, but that’s great news for kids since donkeys are the preferred mode of transport on to the sands instead.
Antimahia Castle is one of the island’s most popular sites and famous for its almost transcendental air of serenity. Though if you want to change it up bit, go see the castle then drop in on nearby Kardamena after: it’s the Kos resort known for laid back chic, gorgeous white sand beaches and a very pretty harbourfront.
Distracting as the stunning coast clearly is, don’t forget to go inland occasionally. Deserted mountain villages dating back to medieval times make for eerie exploring with older kids. And hiking the foothills – or higher – on Mount Dikeos is a fun contrast to windsurfing and water sports for teens.
How to get to Kos
Direct flights from London to Kos Airport take four hours.