A tour of the medieval Old Town of Rhodes
Rhodes Old Town has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988, but it’s not your classic heritage spot and it’s certainly unlike the main town of any other Greek island.
Continuously inhabited since medieval times, it was a sovereign state under the rule of the Knights of the Order of St John in the Middle Ages until it fell to the Ottomans in 1522. Many knights accepted the offer of safe passage and fled but other residents remained, resulting in a uniquely multicultural city.
The streets are so well-preserved that you half expect a knight on horseback to ride past at any time. And that’s before you turn into the Ottoman or Jewish districts, which have a very different feel to them. And yet Rhodes town also retains a distinctive Greek island vibe.
There are many shops and restaurants within the walls, particularly around central Hippokratous Square, but there are also quaint and quiet alleyways, adding to the charm of a town that is (almost) car-free.
Highlights of Rhodes Old Town
To fully appreciate the history and architecture of Rhodes Old Town, it’s best to join an organised tour. But you can always get yourself a good map and explore by yourself. One way or another, prepare for an experience that is, without doubt, one of the best things to do in Rhodes.
Just inside Marina Gate, this is the old town’s main square, with shops, cafes and tavernas around a central fountain. Sokratous Street (one of the main shopping streets) leads westward from here.
Street of the Knights
Cobblestoned, streetlamp-lit and completely knightly. This must-see street has been so beautifully preserved that you can imagine knights inhabiting the inns along the way, conversing, planning or in prayer.
Palace of the Grand Master
Also known as the Kastello, the headquarters of the Order of the Knights of St John is the stand-out building of the old town. The architecture alone is worth the visit and the spacious halls are filled with medieval decor, including Roman and Early Christian floor mosaics. On the ground floor is a permanent exhibition of artefacts dating from the early Christian era to the period of Ottoman rule.
Our Lady of the Castle
This Byzantine-style church is believed to have been built in the 11th century. It has had multiple uses, having been converted into a three-aisled Gothic house of worship by the knights and into a mosque by the Ottomans.
Contains various archaeological artefacts but is noteworthy for also housing the Hospital of the Knights.
Before heading on to explore other districts, it’s worth heading up the Clock Tower (Roloi) for the panoramic view.
Just below the Street of the Knights, the pink-coloured Suleymaniye Mosque was built after the Ottoman’s conquest. Its minaret can be seen from a distance, making it a good reference point. Nearby, in Arionos Square, is the Mustafa Pasha Mosque and next door to that are the 16th century Turkish Baths. With alternating days for men and women, the baths offer an authentically Turkish Hammam.
In the 1930s, there were six synagogues in Rhodes town and a Jewish population of around 6,500. So the 16th century-built Kahal Shalom Synagogue and the Jewish quarter are important sites to explore in order to absorb the full cultural identity of the island. The quieter roads here will give a feeling for daily life in the Old Town.
Where should you start a tour of Rhodes Old Town?
- With seven gates in the walls of the old town, you can start your tour from wherever you want.
- For the most part, walking is easy within the old town but there are streets with staircases and cobblestones (as befitting a medieval city). Beyond the highlights, part of the charm is simply wandering around the backstreets.
How do you get to Rhodes Old Town from the airport?
- Rhodes town is 23km (37 mins) by car or taxi from the airport. There is also a regular bus service, with bus stops located between the new and the old terminals of the airport. Tickets can be purchased from the bus driver.
When is the best time to visit Rhodes?
- The Old Town of Rhodes is worth visiting at any time of year. But Rhodes is a popular Greek island, so your best experience will be to visit in the quieter and cooler periods (April-June & September-November).
- If you do visit in July-August, start your tour in the morning or early evening to avoid the crowds and heat.
What are the opening times and ticket prices of museums in Rhodes?
- €10 (€5 reduced) tickets are available for entrance to the Palace of the Grand Master Archaeological Museum, Church of Our Lady of the Castle and Museum the Decorative Arts.
- Palace of the Grand Master: Seasonal opening times apply (08:00-20:00 from April-October). €6 (€3 reduced). Lift available for visitors with disabilities. More info
- Our Lady of the Castle: Seasonal opening times apply. 09:30-16:30 (closed Tuesday). Entry €2 (€1 reduced). Limited access for visitors with disability. More info.
- Synagogue: Entry €4. Seasonal opening hours apply. (April-October 10:00-15:00, closed Saturday). Access for visitors with disabilities.
How long do tours of the Old Town of Rhodes last?
- You can cover the highlights of Rhodes Old Town in 2-4 hrs, which is the length of most organised tours.
- But there is so much to see that it’s worth spreading the experience over more than one day.
There are hotels within the walls of Rhodes Old Town.
Let’s all try to keep the magic of Greece’s villages, towns and cities alive for future generations.