An enigmatic and elusive beauty, the island of Kea is but a stone’s throw from the metropolis of vibrant Athens. Undiscovered and picturesque with its colorful streets, pristine beaches and archaeological sites of mighty empires past, Kea is an island that deserves your attention.
Hosting the largest oak forest in the Cyclades, Kea is a veritable garden of Eden with steep hills, olive groves, vineyards, and sweeping valleys. The opportunities for hiking are abundant and often end with the arrival at a secluded, wild beach. The coastline of Kea (also known as Tzia) is truly striking and rich in history. ‘Yachties’ know the area as a place that requires skill to sail in, due to the changing winds and temperatures off the coast. Not only are the waters of Kea tantalizingly blue and sometimes tempestuous, but they also hold many a secret. It is said that Greek ships sank there, in the bays of Kea, on their way back from Troy and, in more recent history, the sister ship of the ill-fated Titanic, the Britannica, lies in Kea’s cerulean depths.
Ruins in Kea island - credits: Violeta Meleti/Shutterstock.com
This small island only 90 minutes from Athens, has been interwoven with the capital city through history. During the Persian invasion and the battles of Salamis and Artemisium, Kea was one of the few islands to fight alongside Athens. Many centuries later, it would also be one of the first islands to take part in the War of Independence. Through a network of cobbled roads, you can hike to 3 city-states of ancient times, Karthaia, Koressia, and Poiessa, and witness the remnants of the ancients hidden amongst the undergrowth. Perhaps one of the most charming facts about Kea, however, is the myth of how the stone lion outside of Ioulida, the capital of Kea, came to be. It was said that the Gods were incredibly jealous of the island's beauty, so they sent a fearsome lion to chase away the nymphs who lived in the cool springs of the island. To appease the Gods, the inhabitants carved a lion statue out of a rock. However, this did not help, and the island became dry and barren. In their desperation, they built a temple to Zeus who, being pleased with this, brought rain to the island that allowed the nymphs to return. Thus, the beauty of the island was restored!
View of Kea Island - credits: kokixx/Shutterstock.com
If you are dreaming of escaping the crowds and finding beaches of a wilder nature, Kea is the island for you. The majority of the beaches are small and secluded, however, there are some with amenities and varying facilities. If you would like to be somewhere that is partly organized and offers some facilities to its visitors, the best beaches are Gialiskari, Koundouros, and Korissia. Whilst it can be busier on the weekends with Athenians escaping the city, during the week it is usually very quiet. Gialiskari is particularly picturesque with its surrounding eucalyptus trees and crystal clear waters and -if you’re an avid hiker- there is a 30-minute scenic trail down to the beach from Ioulida.
Village of Kea - credits: Violeta Meleto/Shutterstock.com
The small towns on Kea are wonderfully untouched and very much reflect the original spirit of traditional island villages. Ioulida may be the capital, but with locals traveling only by donkey or foot, it is hardly more than a sleepy island village. There are also a number of interesting architectural and historical sites to see. From the remnants of Venetian walls to the cave church of Agia Paraskevi and, of course, the impressive Kastro, there is much to marvel at. If you’re after spectacular views, head to the monastery of Panagia Kastiani, which lies perched on top of an enormous rock and looks out across the sea. The heart of this town, however, is undoubtedly the main square. Full of life -and the main site for any festival or celebration on the island- it is a wonderful place to go in the evening and enjoy a light breeze after a hot summer's day. There are several festivals throughout the year, but notably, a religious festival on August 15th, involving traditional music, copious amounts of fresh food, lots of dancing and laughter into the early hours of the morning.
Another village to note is Vourkari, a small fishing port tucked into a sheltered bay. The port town has somewhat of a reputation for its good tavernas and, in particular, for its deliciously fresh seafood. With fish restaurants lining the harbor entrance, you will be utterly spoilt for choice! Try the spaghetti with lobster flavored with wine, as well as other traditional delights lie this, whilst looking out across the bay. If, after a scrumptious meal, you’d feel like walking, go for a stroll along the cobbled streets and admire the brightly colored houses. For something to take home, check out some of the small art galleries that offer beautiful paintings of Kea.
Ferries to Kea run from the port of Lavrio, situated at the southern tip of Attica. The journey is roughly 1,5 hours. You can reach Lavrio from Athens' city center either by taxi or by using the KTEL bus. Alternatively, you can use a combination of public transport and a taxi, by taking the tram to Voula and then taking a 30-minute taxi ride to Lavrio. The main ways to get around Kea if you are not coming by car is either with the public bus service or by taxi. By far the most cost-effective, the bus routes start either in Ioulida or the port and usually coincide with ferry arrivals. From Ioulida in particular, there are buses available to many different parts of Kea. Taxis are largely available from the port, although there are some operating at other points around the island. Perhaps the best way to see Kea, however, is by renting either a car or a motorbike. This will give you the freedom to discover some of the quieter and more secluded spots of the island.
The Greek islands are uniquely beautiful and each possesses its very own character and charm. Whether it’s Crete and her reputation for unbeatable food, Santorini with her breathtaking views, Kea for its wild beaches and picture-perfect towns, or any other destination close to Athens as mentioned on our Athens travel guide, one thing is for sure: there is a lifetime’s worth of islands to discover in Greece. What are you waiting for?