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Ithaca, Greece, is also known as the Island of Odysseus, the mythological Greek hero and king of the island. It is located in the Ionian Islands on the western side of the Greek mainland. Ithaca has been inhabited since the 2nd millennium BCE, originally under Mycenaean rule, but the island diminished in influence following the fall of the Mycenaeans.
During the Hellenistic period and subsequent Middle Ages, the population of Ithaca decreased, and by the Venetian and Turkish war, the population was next to nothing. Today, Ithaca is a charming, picturesque island with a relaxed vibe. There are many things to do in Ithaca, from the secluded beaches to the mountain villages to the historical and mythological highlights of this beautiful island.
Odysseus is widely considered to be the hero of the Trojan War, but he’s most well-known for his long journey home after the war ended (depicted in Homer’s Odyssey). This journey took ten years, during which him and his men were tested by sirens, cyclops, and monsters.
His wife, Penelope, had many suitors in Odysseus’s 20-year absence. When Odysseus returned and revealed things only he would know, Penelope recognised him for who he was, and he in turn slaughtered all the suitors.
Ithaca is a small island off the northeastern coast of Kefalonia, in between the island and the western Greek mainland. It is a mountainous island full of cypress trees, hiking trails, and secluded beaches. Permanent population of Ithaca was just over 3,200 in 2011
A Guide to Ithaca Island in Greece
The best time to visit Ithaca
The best time to visit Ithaca is during the late spring to early fall (May to October). The average summer temperatures range from 15 degrees Celsius (mid-70s F) into the low 20s Celsius (mid-80s F). In May and October, rainfall is slightly higher than during the summer, however, it’s a great time to visit to take advantage of fewer crowds.
If you go in April, or late October, you’ll enjoy warm weather – not hot – but you may find that some things are closed for the winter. Travelling in June, July, and August will ensure you are there at the peak of the season and it’ll be crowded and vibrant.
How to get to Ithaca
Ithaca doesn’t have an airport. The nearest airport is the one in Kefalonia island.
From Athens: You can either drive to the city of Patras (210 km) and then take the ferry to Ithaca (Pisaetos Port) from Patras Port. The crossing takes between 3,5 hours to 4 hours. Alternatively, you can take the bus (ktel) from Kifissos bus station in Athens and then take the ferry.
From Kefalonia: You can take the ferry from Kefalonia (Sami) to Ithaca (Pisaetos Port). The crossing takes around 20 minutes.
From Astakos (western Greece): You can either drive to Astakos (291 km) and then take the ferry to Ithaca (Pisaetos Port). The crossing takes around 3 hours and 15 min.
From Lefkada: In the summer you can take a ferry to Ithaca (Frikes) from the island of Lefkada(Nidri).
Things to do in Ithaca
There are so many fun things to do in Ithaca. With a history that stretches back millennia, and a local population who enjoy sharing their heritage with visitors, plus a vast network of hiking trails, empty beaches, and small villages, there is enough to to in Ithaca for even the most active traveler.
Explore the beaches
Ithaca has amazing beaches! Most of them are secluded and non-organised, meaning there are no services like taverns, bathrooms/changing rooms, or umbrellas and chairs. Some of the best beaches in Ithaca are Gidaki, Agios Ioannis, Sarakiniko, and Dexa. Many of these are only a few kilometres from Vathy, the main town.
Check here: The best beaches in Ithaca, Greece
Visit the Monastery of Panagia Kathariotissa
The Monastery of Panagia Kathariotissa is a small monastery at the centre of the island, 600m above sea level. It is dedicated to the patron saint of Ithaca, while the locals believe that the icon of the Virgin Mary was painted by Saint Luke.
The monastery was reconstructed in 1696, but the katholikon dates back to the early 1500s; the date of the original construction is unknown.
Explore the picturesque village of Kioni
Kioni is a small village on the southeastern coast of Ithaca, about 24km from Vathy. It’s situated on the sides of a small fishing port and was built by villagers in the 16th century. Few of the original houses remain following the 1953 earthquake, however, the ones that do are architecturally intriguing. Kioni is a popular tourist spot with lots of tavernas, cafes, and guesthouses.
Rent a boat to visit the secluded beaches
The best way to get to some of Ithaca’s best-secluded beaches is by boat. With a half-day or full-day hire, you can explore on your own and visit the beaches you really want to see. You can hire boats from Vathy or Kioni.
Vathy is the capital of Ithaca. It is located in the southern part of the island and is built around a long and deep natural harbour. Some of the most interesting things you can do in Vathy include visiting the archaeological museum, which has many of the findings from the archaeological sites around the island and seeing the painting of Jesus Elkomenos, by the famous El Greco, which is inside the Church of Agios Nikolaos of Xenon.
The Cathedral of Vathy is located near the harbour. It features a carved wooden iconostasis of considerable value and history. There is also a Folklore and Nautical Museum, which shares the traditional dress, embroidery, daily life, musical instruments and workshop tools of past Ithacans. You can also see photographs of the earthquake that destroyed much of the island in 1953. On the waterfront are various souvenir shops, restaurants, and bars, as well as a bust of Odysseus.
In the harbour is Lazaretto Island, once the prison and quarantine island of Vathy. Today the only building on the island is the Church of the Savior.
Hike the Ithaca Trails
Ithaca is brimming with hiking trails. There are so many to list but some of the ones that begin near Vathy are easy to do on short notice and require little preparation, although you should always take water and sunblock. Some of the more popular trails on Ithaca only take up to 3 hours one way, though there are trails that are much shorter.
Ithaca is, for the most part, still wild and uninhabited in her mountains. Coloured stones help keep hikers on track, and some tracks are signposted. The Council of Ithaca has cleared a number of the most popular mountain tracks. The starting points for most trails are listed on the maps of Ithaca sold in the shops.
Admire the view over Vathi from Perachori Village
Perachori is a vibrant village in the hills above Vathy. It is built in an amphitheatre setting and from here you can see all the way to Lefkada and Zakynthos. Perachori villagers are mainly farmers, and visitors can enjoy locally sourced produce, meats, cheeses, honey, and more.
In the nearby woods are several monasteries, churches, and medieval villages, including Kounouvato. This is where St. Raphael was born; the Church of St Raphael sits on his former home.
Hike from Perachori to Paleochora
On the slope opposite Perachori is the crumbling medieval island capital of Paleochora, which was the capital until Venetian rule. It is a short and easy walk along a paved path between the two towns. Some highlights of Paleochora include the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, also called Palea Panagia, the small Chapel of the Virgin Mary, the Maroulatiki of Paleochora, and the Church of Agios Ioannis. Both the chapel and the Church of Agios Ioannis have impressive artwork, statues, and frescoes, all of which have been painstakingly restored to their former glory.
Check out the effigy of the Odyssean Palace in Stavros
Stavros is a small town in the northern part of the island. It is home to the effigy of the Odyssean Palace, which is a depiction of the palace that the famed king would have lived in.
It was created by Italian architect Bruno Mazzali and has been on display in the town since 2013. Archaeologists have long thought that Odysseus’s palace was in the area of Stavros, and indeed there is evidence of a Helladic acropolis nearby.
Visit the School of Homer archaeological site
The School of Homer, or Agios Athanasios, is considered to be sited where the palace of Odysseus was. It is still a work in progress and not much can be seen, however you can visit this archaeological site and learn about why archaeologists believe this is the site of the Mycenaean palace.
Visit the fishing village of Frikes
The small fishing village of Frikes has been inhabited since the 16th century, when fishermen began to take advantage of the natural harbour for trading with the nearby island of Lefkada. Frikes has two traditional windmills that look down on the harbour, and there are several hidden beaches accessible from trails leaving town. Summer visitors can participate in the Holy Apostles festivities on June 30th.
Visit the mountainous village of Anogi
Anogi is one of the oldest villages on the island, located in the mountains at about 500m altitude. Today just 37 people live in Anogi. Visit the village’s only kafenio, which serves traditional homemade dishes. Next to the cafe is the Church of the Koimisi tis Theotokou, which served as the cathedral of Ithaca when Anogi was the capital of the island.
In the early days, it had a single back door to protect the church from pirates. The village also boasts unique geological formations called menhirs, which are large, tall and narrow boulders like monolith standing stones. Anogi is also the starting point of the most popular hiking trail to Kioni.
Exogi village and the pyramids
Exogi is a small village near Stavros. During its early years, under the Venetians in the 16th century, Exogi produced a number of different oils and wines among its terraced gardens, which were then shipped from the harbour at Frikes. Today, it has under 50 residents. One of them was an eccentric millionaire named Ioannis Papadopoulos, who built two pyramids as graves for his parents and himself. Surrounding the pyramids are cryptic symbols.
Check out the Acropolis of Alalkomenes
The Acropolis of Alalkomenes is located on the southwestern side of Ithaca at Piso Aetos. It probably dates to the post-Odyssean period, and includes about 400 acres of tombs, temples, and dwellings. The path to the acropolis begins at the church of Saint Giorgios.
Where to Stay in Ithaca
Wineland Ithaca offers two apartments for families or couples. The apartments are located in an older house set within a vineyard and olive grove. The apartments are spacious and offer panoramic views of the Ionian Sea from the private terraces.
They are ideal for up to 4 people, with a bedroom and a pullout sofa in the living room. The fully equipped kitchens boast ovens, fridges, and espresso machines. Wineland provides a complimentary breakfast and coffee for guests.
They can also offer vineyard tours and wine tastings of their homemade wines.
Wineland Ithaca is close to Vathy, and also very close to the nearby beaches, making it relatively easy to explore from here.
How to get around Ithaca
The best way to get around Ithaca is by car. It’s an absolute must, as so much of the island is only accessible if you have a car. You can rent a car in Kefalonia and take it on the ferry, or rent a car or scooter in Vathy.
Ithaca offers visitors a glimpse into the rich past. Odysseus, the mythological king of the Mycenaeans, lived in Ithaca, and his palace is rumoured to be in the north. Vathy, Anogi, Exogi, and other villages were once capitals of the island during Venetian times. While today they have fewer residents, those that live there are eager to share their heritage, folklore, and history with visitors.
Many of these towns are accessible by car or hiking trail, and if you’re hiking you’ll have the chance to find so many other points of interest along the way. Hire a car to explore the island or rent a boat to visit the many beaches on Ithaca. From monasteries to museums, acropoli to adventure, Ithaca has a lot to offer.