An island that is both incredibly picturesque and in close proximity to Athens, the capital of Greece, sounds like a fragment of the imagination. Well, it’s not. It exists and goes by the name of ‘Hydra’.
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Aristocratic, cosmopolitan, with a rich history and great naval tradition, Hydra is one of the most famous and popular islands of the Saronic Gulf. Built amphitheatrically on two rocky hills around the port, the city of Hydra is considered a shining example of Greek island aesthetics and is protected by the Tax Office of Byzantine Antiquities as a traditional settlement.
Where is Hydra located?
The island of Hydra belongs to the Saronic complex of islands in Greece. It is located in the Aegean Sea between the Myrtoan Sea and the Argolic Gulf. It is separated from the Peloponnese by a narrow strip of water. In ancient times, the island was known as ‘Hydrea’, which is a direct reference to the natural springs that are found on the island.
How do you get to Hydra island?
Hydra Island - credits: S-F/Shutterstock.jpg.com
We’ve already mentioned that the island of Hydra is located relatively close to the Greek capital, however exactly how far is Hydra from Athens?
The island of Hydra can be reached from the port of Piraeus, Poros, and Spetses. The duration of the journey is 1.30-2 hours, while the ferry services are frequent, especially during the summertime. Alternatively, you can access Hydra by car up until Metochi, an area opposite Hydra, where there is a designated space to leave your car and in ten minutes you can pass through Hydra by boat or by sea taxi.
Things to do on Hydra island
Despite its relatively small size, Hydra doesn’t lack in things to see and visit. With a number of fascinating sights and natural beauties waiting to be discovered, we assure you that you won’t have to deal with even a moment of dullness on the island.
Walk its picturesque streets
There is no denying that Hydra is a sight to behold. The dominating element of stone, its cobbled alley, unique architecture, and glamorous ambiance, make taking a walk among its streets a must. Among the innumerable sights, the Bastions stand out with the cannons that dominate the imposing right and left at the entrance of the port and the bronze statue of Admiral Andreas Miaoulis, at the base of which his bones are buried. Along the waterfront, there is also the Port Authority, which is housed in the old stone gunpowder depot, while for lovers of history and art, the museums of Hydra are considered important monuments of cultural heritage.
In Hydra, from the very first minutes you walk in its alleys you feel one thing. You feel that you have been transferred to another era. Horns and lanterns have no place here, modern buildings give way to traditional houses with tiled roofs, dark blue doors, and windows, and time takes on another meaning.
Try its delicious cuisine
Traditional Greek feast - credits: Nadir Keklik/Shutterstock.com
It wouldn’t be a region of Greece if it didn’t boast a long culinary tradition that makes even the most demanding of visitors salivate. In the port, you will find the tavern ‘Oraia Hydra’ with excellent gastronomic offerings. Next to it, you will also find ‘Karamela’, which offers the best ice cream on the island. Inside the settlement, there is ‘Annita's shop’ and ‘Xeri Elia’, which has been operating since 1825. Leonard Cohen has written a song for this tavern and visited it many times with his friends.
The most famous culinary offering of Hydra is its beloved almond cookies. They are made with rose-water, lemon zest, and honey, and are a reference point for the island as they are interwoven with its history. What’s more, its traditional local dishes include stuffed squid, the well-known ‘fisherman's pasta’, mussels with plenty of parsley, and sea bass with a salt crust. Don’t leave the island without trying at least a couple of them in order to get a grasp of the local culture.
Catch the sunset
At sunset, you will see groups and couples leaving the port and walking to ‘Kanoni’, which translates to the ‘Cannon’ in Greece. Kanoni is the place that is dominated by the decommissioned cannons, and where the wonderful view of the Saronic Gulf spreads. From there, you will enjoy the most epic sunset of your life. In fact, if reach the area after a rainstorm, the spectacle is beyond all expectations as the sun tilts and hides in the clouds, and tassels of light bathe the neighboring islet of Doko and the sea.
Enjoy the nightlife
aDance club - credits: bbernard/Shutterstock.com
Hydra boasts a fun and varied nightlife. Most hangouts are quite sophisticated and relaxed, but there are also bars where you can dance the night away until the early morning hours. Among its top nightlife offerings, you will find ‘Amalour’, ‘Pirate Bar’, and ‘Papagalos’. All three are excellent choices that are popular among the locals and promise an unforgettable time. Sip on your cocktail while you take in your astonishing surroundings and leave all of your worries behind!
Climb mount Eros
With an altitude of almost 600 meters, Mount Eros in Hydra is the highest mountain on the island and the most romantic mountain in the country. Its latter element is also shown in its name, which translates to ‘love’ in Greek. The panoramic view of the island, the Saronic Gulf, and the Myrtos Sea create a truly unique feeling. The incredible hike to reach the top of the mountain includes the beautiful church of Agios Konstantinos of Hydra and the Monastery of Profitis Ilias where Greek hero of the Revolution Theodoros Kolokotronis was imprisoned for some time.
Pay a visit to the Mansion of Koundouriotis
Above Hydra’s waterfront, lies the impressive historic house of Lazaros Koundouriotis that today operates as a branch of the National Historical Museum. Built in the shape of "p", and painted with natural ocher, it is the home of Hydra's nobleman and great shipowner, who played an important political role in the Struggle and during the period of Independence. A typical example of traditional hydraulic architecture, it will catch your eye from anywhere on the island.
It was built at the end of the 18th century, at the time of the economic prosperity and naval supremacy of Hydra. In the mansion of this important political figure of modern Greece, important consultations were held on issues of the Revolution of 1821, and important personalities of the time, both Greek and foreign, were hosted.
On the ground floor, in the old cellars of the mansion, are permanently exhibited paintings by two renowned painters in Greece and abroad, Pericles Byzantios and his son Constantine, who were closely associated with the Koundouriotis family. The top floor is presented as it was left by the last descendant of the family and donor Pantelis Kountouriotis, with old furniture, utensils, mirrors, tableware, paintings, family portraits, personal items, and heirlooms of the Koundouriotis family.
Explore the Historical Archive - Museum of Hydra
For lovers of history, there is the Historical Archive - Museum of Hydra that operates daily and displays important museum relics, archival material, and a library with valuable publications. The museum space operates on the ground floor and the first floor. Relics of the Balkan Wars and the First and Second World Wars are exhibited on its premises. In the vestibule of the floor, you can find costumes, great works of art of the 18th-19th century, weapons of Hydra fighters, beautiful engravings, naval maps, and other exhibits of great historic significance.
The best beaches of Hydra
Cliff jumping - credits: EpicStockMedia/Shutterstock.com
Cosmopolitan Hydra has beautiful beaches. These are real treasures that you will not find anywhere else. Some beaches are easily accessible on foot or with the famous donkeys. In others, you can go by boat. Wild beauty, caves, with pebbles or sand, compose a fine art of nature, on a small island, next to Athens!
The beautiful seaside traditional settlement of Vlychos offers a magnificent view. All-white cottages with large whitewashed courtyards stretch to the foot of the adjacent hill above the beach. Vlychos Beach is accessible on foot, following either the coastal road or the passing through the city of Hydra. Alternatively, you can access it by the sea, either by a sea taxi or a boat. Of course, the beach is organized with umbrellas and sunbeds. There are refreshments and coffee snacks as the picturesque taverns prepare your meal with fresh fish and Mediterranean cuisine.
As you stand at Hydra’s port looking at the sea, you see a coastal road on your left. If you follow the road, after about 20 minutes of a steady footpath, you’ll find Mandraki beach. This is a small cove with an organized beach, as there are a homonymous hotel and beach bar. The beautiful beach boasts a sandy shore, making it the only beach in Hydra without pebbles. Just before you reach the beach, there is a nice fish tavern with fresh fish and seafood and affordable prices.
Very close to the port of Hydra lies one of its jewels, which is also a trademark of the island, the beach of Spilia. Steep, beautiful rocks in shades of gray, create the perfect setting for diving in clear blue waters in style. Some rocks have been formed into platforms for sunbathing, offering a unique beach experience to its daring visitors.
Nearby Spilia Beach lies the beach of Hydroneta, located in perhaps the most beautiful part of the island. It can be found below the famous cannons, on the rocks. As a result, it is suitable for long dives from the rocks in the crystal clear deep waters, while here, too, plateaus for sunbathing have been created. There is also a café in the area that allows you to enjoy snacks and refreshments all day long.
After Hydroneta you will come upon Avlaki, a beautiful small beach full of pebbles. It is an ideal spot to admire the sunset from, while at night, it gets beautifully illuminated, offering a special summer spectacle. In order to reach it, all you need to do is go down the steps that can be found immediately after Hydroneta, and you will find yourself in front of green-blue waters and a small pier where you can sunbathe.
Aerial view of Hydra - credits: Aerial-Motion/Shutterstock.com
Kamini beach is located about 15-20 minutes walk from the city, following the scenic coastal road. Of course, you can also access it by boat or sea taxi. Mikro Kamini -which translates to ‘Small Kamini’ in Greek- is a beach with fine pebbles and wonderful waters. It is located next to the picturesque homonymous port and provides its visitor opportunities for coffee, drinks, food, and sunbeds.
Bistri and Agios Nikolas Beach
At the pine-covered edge of the island, here are two beautiful beaches, Bisti and Agios Nikolaos. Both have sunbeds and a beach bar that will offer you the basics: water, coffee, juices, and some snacks. They are both relatively quiet and stand out from the rest of Hydra’s beaches.
Reasons why Hydra is an unspoiled island
Stone mansions, cobbled streets, flower-decorated houses, and many donkeys, keep its image unchanged over time, complementing its magic and trademark identity. Hydra is in fact an island that seems to have escaped the wear and tear of time. The most significant reason for that is of course the lack of vehicles that protect the island from reckless drivers and maintain an otherworldly ambiance visitors seek to experience away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities.
What is Hydra island known for?
An exceptional advantage of the island is that there is no kind of wheeled vehicle. The movements are done only with donkeys or on foot. Hydra is small and walking is easy, pleasant, and romantic.
Almost all points of interest can be found on the waterfront or in the small streets behind the port. In the small town of Hydra, you can wander the cobbled streets and admire the houses that go up to the hills. Leonard Cohen, among others, bought and renovated a property there, being a member of a large group of prominent Greeks who had long appreciated the charm of the island. Sophia Loren participated in the 1957 film "The Child and the Dolphin" shot in Hydra, while on the island Melina Mercouri filmed the film ‘Phaedra’, directed by Jules Dassin.
What is not allowed in Hydra?
Donkeys on Hydra - credits: stella photos/Shutterstock.com
As already mentioned above, in Hydra, no type of vehicles are allowed. Whether it’s a motorbike, a car, a truck, or anything in between, you’re not allowed to use it. Instead, your only means of transport is your own feet or the donkeys, which can be found in the port. To go to the beaches, one can go by boat. There are boats that make scheduled itineraries and cost less and sea taxis that cost more, but it is advantageous if the company is large. These boats start in front of the Cathedral in the port.
Reasons to visit Hydra during your Greek vacations
- It is one of the most picturesque Greek islands
- You can walk to every corner of the island and is therefore extremely convenient.
- As vehicles are not allowed in Hydra, you will have the opportunity to decompress without the sounds of a car or engine horn polluting the atmosphere.
- wandering around the alleys of the island you will discover fantastic shops with hand made creations and of course the shop of the internationally recognized designer Eleni Votsi who designed the Medal of the Athens Olympic Games
- It has major historical significance
- It has noteworthy architecture
- It has a rich local tradition you’ll be able to get introduced to with the help of its locals.
- Its luscious and diverse natural environment will enchant you and magnetize all nature lovers visiting. What’s more, the island’s mild climate allows for hiking all year round!
Where should I stay in Hydra? Hydra Best Hotels
In Hydra, you may not find the abundance of accommodation options you can find on the rest of the Greek islands. However, you will find several that can meet every mood and budget.
Most accommodations are located in the port of Hydra where the homonymous settlement and seat of the municipality. Other accommodation is scattered in smaller settlements or coves of the island. The island has rooms to let and hotels, several of which are of a high standard. It is no coincidence that Hydra has been considered a secular destination for years, while its landscapes appear in several Greek films.
Our top recommendations in regard to accommodation in Hydra includes Leto Hydra Hotel for a luxury, family-friendly stay. If you’re in the mood for precious moments of romance, you can opt for Cotommatae Hydra 1810. Of course, Four Seasons Hydra Luxury Suites is also an excellent well-rounded choice, along with Hydrea Exclusive Hospitality and Orloff Boutique Hotel.
The cobblestone streets, the serenity the lack of vehicle offers, and the striking grandeur of Hydra make it an excellent Greek island destination every tourist would be happy to visit regardless of what they’re looking for. Follow our advice and book a few days in Hydra for a one-of-a-kind experience you won’t be able to top. If living inside a card postal sounds like something you’d like to do, look no further!