Widely considered as one of the most beautiful islands in Greece, Hydra makes up part of the Saronic Islands and is one of the closest of its kind to Athens, taking only two hours to get there by ferry from Piraeus.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of this stunning little paradise is that there are no cars or motor vehicles on the island, aside from garbage trucks and ambulances. The main method of transportation here are the delightful mules and donkeys, as well as the water taxis.
Its rustic beauty has attracted world-famous musicians like Leonard Cohen, celebrities like Sophia Loren and travelers of all kind who seek inspiration and never end up leaving.
Its fascinating history began in the 18th century when Hydra was incredibly prosperous because of its commercial fleet which traded to countries like Spain, France, and America. While the Napoleonic wars were taking place, it was the Hydriots which fed the hungry of France and Spain by breaking through the English blockades.
They also played a major role in the 1821 War of Independence, 3contributing a significant amount of ships and resources in the fight against the Ottoman Empire; their fleets were powerful and took part in crucial sea battles.
Today, it prospers due to its flourishing tourism and is a coveted destination for seekers of romance and beauty.
I have been to Hydra many times as a day trip from Athens. Recently I had the chance to spend three days on the island with Travel Bloggers Greece. Here are a few things to do in Hydra either as a day trip or as a longer vacation.
Things to do in Hydra:
The Donkeys of Hydra
The mules on this island are the go-to transport for items like luggage and heavy shopping. People also have the chance to ride on them, and there are donkey men who specialize in transporting tourists from one place to the other. You can even ride a donkey from the port. With over 1000 donkeys on the island, you won’t be hard pressed to book their services, and you will notice that they add a distinctive touch to the island. You can find the donkey rank located outside the Alpha Bank of Hydra’s Port.
Horseback Riding with Harriet’s Hydra Horses
What is a more romantic and unique way to spend time on a Greek island? Run by Harriet Jarman who has been a local of Hydra since childhood, this company runs horseback riding excursions varying from 45 minutes to the whole day. It welcomes toddlers, children, and adults and offers ten set itineraries up into the steep terrain and three treks along the coast. Harriet’s Hydra Horses also puts an emphasis on animal ethics, and some of the horses have been rescued from abusive owners and environments. I had the chance to ride her beautiful horses within the town’s alleyways.
Admire the Local Architecture
One of the most important things to do in Hydra is to wander around and soak up the atmosphere. The town is constructed on a hill and is rippling with exquisite stone mansions, elegant monasteries, and cobblestoned streets. The port which it surrounds glitters with deep and crystal clear water. It is simply delightful getting swept up in the alleyways and exploring the colorful bougainvilleas that make this island so alluring, so make sure you set aside the time to get lost.
Visit the Monastery of the Assumption of Virgin Mary
With 300 churches and six monasteries throughout the island, a traveler is spoiled for choice when choosing which to visit. The Monastery, however, is Hydra’s main cathedral and is located in the center of the harbor underneath the clock tower. It was said to have been built by a nun on her arrival in 1643 and consists of a magnificent Byzantine-style cathedral, frescoes from the 18th century and exquisite Orthodox decorations. It is a focal point for the Greek Orthodox Church and is a place of worship, so appropriate dress is required.
Visit the Museums of Hydra
- Historical Archives Museum. Founded in 1918, the Historical Archives Museum displays artefacts and rare documents related to the historical, traditional and cultural aspects of the island from 1708 –1865. Within the museum is an Archive and Museum Section and a library.
- Kountouriotis. In Hydra, most of the mansions have been turned into museums. This particular one is dedicated to Lazaros Koundouriotis, who played a vital role in the War of Independence. It was built in 1780 and features beautiful interiors, paintings by the Greek artists including Konstantinos Byzantios and historical jewelry and furniture belonging to the Koundouriotis family.
- Ecclesiastical Museum. Located on the west side of the Monastery and housed in a former monk cell, the Ecclesiastical Museum has been open since 1999 and showcases elaborate holy vessels, jewelry, musical manuscripts and other historical relics of the Monastery.
Walk from Kamini to Hydra Town
For a beautiful walking route, go from the picturesque fishing village of Kamini, west of Hydra Harbor, to Hydra Town. What makes it worthwhile is that it is off the beaten path as there are no tourist shops, but here you can explore the parish church of John the Baptist and find stunning mansion ruins. Don’t forget to stop along the way to admire the dusk at Sunset Restaurant, which prides itself on having a spectacular and romantic view of the sea and mainland Greece as you wine and dine.
Climb the Bastions
In the 18th century, Hydra enlisted the use of cannons to protect themselves from the Turkish fleets. Fortunately, they were not used much as the Greek fleets did a good job of protecting the island. The bastions with cannons were a necessary precaution and one you can still see today to the left and right of the harbor. Make sure to climb the bastions and admire its history and the breathtaking view of the Aegean sea.
Visit the Beaches of Hydra
- Vlychos Beach. Vlychos Beach is a lovely, pebbled beach in the picturesque town of the same name, just 2km west of Hydra Town. You can reach the village by water taxi or by foot. Its waters are crystal clear, and visitors can enjoy a drink nearby from the few taverns surrounding it. It is ideal for those who love quiet, undisturbed beaches and is worth the visit wherever you may be on the island.
- Kaminia Beach. Only 1km west of Hydra Town and near the village of Vlihos,Kaminia’s shallow waters make this pebbled beach ideal for families and children. It is located within a small fishing village and has an array of delicious restaurants, cafes, and taverns lining the coast, making this beach an idyllic one to visit.
- Within walking distance of Hydra Town, Spilia is a rocky “beach” with translucent blue waters. It is not technically a beach but is a perfect diving spot from because of the numerous rocks in the area. Nearby, there is a café of the same name where people can find refreshments.
- Agios Nikolaos.On the western end of Hydra is the remote and beautiful sandy beach Agios Nikolaos. With its aquamarine waters and sheltered location within a cove, it is one of the more blissful beaches to visit on the island. As well as umbrellas and deck chairs, there is a café where people can find all kinds of foods and refreshments. It can be reached by foot or boat from Hydra Town.
- In front of the Four Seasons Hotel and located in Plakes town, the long, sandy beach of Plakes Vlychos is an island dream offering panoramic views of mainland Greece and the surrounding islands. The beach is shallow making it ideal for families with children while a tavern offers traditional foods and drinks. To get there, the hotel offers a boat that runs every hour between the village and Hydra Harbour, or you can hire a water taxi. The cost of the hotel’s water taxi is 3 € per person one way. To hire a water taxi, you will need around 20 €.
Visit Rafalia’s Pharmacy
Considered one of the most beautiful pharmacies in the world, Rafalia’s is an attraction well worth the visit and is one of the most important on the island. It is a family business founded in 1890 by Evangelos Rafalias, located within a gorgeous century-old mansion. You can browse through and purchase a variety of beauty products including soaps, lotions, and cologne that are made using old traditional recipes from Greek pharmacopeia. Not only are the products of high quality, but they also come in stylish packaging, too. This pharmacy is the oldest in Greece that has remained in the same family. We were also very lucky to have a tour of the family’s mansion next door which can be rented on Airbnb.
Experience the Festivals of Hydra
Throughout Hydra’s calendar are numerous festivals, all celebrated with splendid pageantry. Here are just a few of them:
- Easter celebrations span several days in Hydra, with a special tradition for each day to commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. On Good Friday, the people of Hydra carry candles and follow the epitaph during a procession; on Saturday, the resurrection is celebrated in the courtyard of a church at midnight; and on Sunday, Hydriots end the festivities with roast lamb and wine. Easter celebrations finish with the “Burning of Judah” and a dazzling fireworks display.
- On the last weekend of June, Miaoulia is celebrated with flare in remembrance of Admiral Andreas Miaoulis, who played a vital part in the War of Independence. The festivities last for a week and include folk dancing, concerts, and boat races. At the very end, a reenactment of the heroic deeds of the Admiral take place and reaches its climax in a sensational fireworks display.
- Taking place in late August is the Koundouriotia festival which commemorates the death of Hydriot and the first Greek Republic president Pavlos Kondouriotis. Visitors, officials and authorities in military and art come to the island to celebrate his life which involves sporting events, exhibitions, and lectures, finally finishing off on the last day with a thanksgiving and memorial service.
Where to eat in Hydra
The Greek island of Hydra has an amazing food scene. From traditional seaside tavernas to posh restaurants and Italian bistros. Here is a guide on where to eat in Hydra:
Hydra Harbor – Town
To Piato (next to the clock tower)
A traditional restaurant that serves Greek cuisine located on the waterfront. From its prime spot, you can watch the life at Hydra’s port while you enjoy its delicious dishes. The restaurant took its name from the Greek word piato (plate). Inside the restaurant, you will find a big collection of plates decorated by the clients. It serves a selection of appetizers, salads, fresh fish, meat and traditional cooked dishes. We tried a couple of the appetizers, the salads and a mixed grill with a selection of meats. Great food and reasonable prices.
An Italian trattoria located in the alleyways of Hydra town, only 150m from the port. The restaurant is decorated by old photos, tools, and equipment used by sponge divers. It serves traditional Italian recipes made with fresh Greek ingredients. We tried its homemade pizza with the thin crust, spaghetti and a couple of appetizers. They were all delicious, but I personally enjoyed the pizza, one of the best I tried in Greece.
Hidden at the alleyways of Hydra’s town this authentic Italian restaurant serves food from Napoli and the South of Italy. Set in a beautiful courtyard surrounded by flowers its Italian’s owners prepare seafood and Italian dishes. We tried a delicious warm pasta salad and the casta salad, steamed mussels, an octopus carpaccio, and pasta with octopus. We finished our meal with a refreshing lemon granita.
Located in Hydra’s harbor across the ship’s embarkation point. It is an all day cafe-restaurant serving anything from coffees, drinks, salads, and food. We celebrated our friend’s birthday there with wine, cake, and delicious canapes.
Located on the seafront of Kamini town and just a short walk from Hydra’s town. From its terrace, you can enjoy a wonderful view of the sea, the small fishing harbor, and the village. It serves traditional Greek dishes, fresh salads, homemade appetizers like tzatziki, dishes of the day like moussaka and fresh fish straight from the boats below the taverna. Don’t forget to try the grilled calamari, a specialty in Hydra.
A family run taverna in Kamini village that serves Greek food often using ingredients from their garden, fresh fish, and other traditional dishes. We tried a couple of salads, appetizers like the vegetable millefeuille, stuffed peppers with cheese, a creamy beetroot salad, fried calamari and grilled fresh fish all cooked to perfection.
Other restaurants worth trying around the island:
Orea Hydra in Hydra’s harbor, Omilos in Hydra’s harbor, Enalion in Vlychos beach.
Where to stay in Hydra
I had the pleasure of staying in Mastoris Mansion located just 90 m away from Hydra’s port. The mansion has many traditional characteristics like stone walls. It offers five rooms beautifully decorated, a nice terrace where delicious breakfast is served and the kindest owners ready to answer all your questions and help you anyway needed.
How to get to Hydra
By Flying Dolphins that depart from the port of Piraeus, several different hours during the day. The journey lasts approximately 2 hours. For more information, you can contact Hellenic Seaways.
By car: Cars are not allowed on the island but you can drive up to Metohi in Peloponnese in approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes, park your car and cross to Hydra by a ferry or water taxi in 25 minutes.
If you are coming from Hermioni in Peloponnese you can cross by the speed boat “Christos” in 30 minutes.
Hydra is truly the gem of the Saronic. Within this chic and bohemian island is so much to taste, see and do and that is why it is a favorite getaway from the world-famous to local Athenians nearby. It is not only famous for its crystal clear beaches, vibrant festivals and lack of motor transport, its nightlife, fine restaurants, quaint villages and beautiful architecture make this island a must visit if you are ever in Greece.
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