Rhodes Old Town has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988 but it’s not your classic heritage spot. The streets are so atmospherically medieval and well preserved that you half expect an armoured knight on horseback to ride past at any time. That’s before turning into the Ottoman or Jewish districts. And all with an unmistakably Greek vibe.
Welcome to a medieval citadel that has remained continuously inhabited and very much alive since it was one of the region’s last bastions of Christendom during the Middle Ages. It was a sovereign state under the rule of the Knights of the Order of St John until it fell to the Ottomans in 1522. Many accepted the offer of safe passage but other residents remained. The result is a uniquely multi-cultural city.
There are many shops, particularly around the central hub of Hippokratous Square. But there are also quaint and quiet alleyways, adding to the charm of a town that is (almost) car-free.
Whichever of the many city gates you enter by, you’ll certainly head to the evocatively named Street of the Knights. At one end is the Palace of the Grand Master and at the other Our Lady of the Castle Church and the Archaeological Museum. As you amble along, there are 16th-century Inns representing the different languages (or tongues) of the Knights Hospitaller. And at the other end of town, is Hora, where the commoners lived.
The beauty of the Old Town is in its detail, so it’s worth choosing an organised tour. Or find yourself a very good map and prepare to step back in time. Here are some highlights:
Next to the Marina Gate, this is the main square of the Old Town and an excellent reference point, with a central fountain and surrounded by shops, cafes and tavernas. Shop-lined Sokratous Street stretches westward from here.
Street of the Knights
Cobblestoned, streetlamp-lit and completely knightly. This is the most famous road in Rhodes and has been beautifully preserved. 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 an absolute must. The architecture alone is worth the visit and the spacious halls drip with medieval decoration, including Roman and Early Christian floors mosaics. The ground floor hosts 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 and was over time converted by the knights into a three-aisled Gothic house of worship and by the Ottomans into a mosque.
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 distinctly pink-colored Suleymaniye Mosque was built after the Ottoman’s conquest. Its minaret can be seen from a distance, making it a landmark. Nearby, in Arionos Square is the Mustafa Pasha Mosque and next door to that are the 16th century-built 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 and a Jewish population of around 6,500. So the 16th century-built Kahal Shalom Synagogue and the Jewish quarter are important sites to absorb the full cultural identity of the island. The quieter streets here will give a feeling for daily life in the Old Town.
With gates all around the Old Town, you can start your tour from wherever you want. There are staircases and cobblestones as befitting a medieval city but, for the most part, the streets are easy walking.
Beyond the highlights, part of the charm is simply wandering around the backstreets.
From the airport:
By car or taxi: 23km (37mins)
By bus: Regular service to Old Town. The Bus stop is located between the new and the old terminals and tickets can be purchased from the bus driver.
Museums and cultural sites
€10 (€5 reduced) ticket available for entrance to Palace of the Grand Master Archaeological Museum, the Church of Our Lady of the Castle and Museum the Decorative Arts.
Palace of the Grand Master:
Seasonal opening times apply (8:00-20:00 from April-October). €6 (€3 reduced). Lift available for visitors with disabilities.
Our Lady of the Castle:
Seasonal opening times apply. 9:30-16:30 (closed Tuesday). Entry €2 (€1 reduced). Limited access for visitors with disability
Entry €4. Seasonal opening hours apply. (April-October 10:00-15:00, closed Saturday). Access for visitors with disabilities.
- The Old Town of Rhodes is alive and worth a visit at any time of year.
- You’ll enjoy the experience even more if you visit in the quieter and cooler periods (April-June & September-November).
If you are there in July-August, start your tour in the morning and or evening to avoid the crowds and heat.
- You can cover the highlights of the Old Town in 2-5hrs, which is the length of most organised tours.
- There is so much to see that it’s worth spreading the experience over more than one day.
There are hotels inside the Old Town so you can choose to stay within its walls.
Let’s all try to keep the magic of Greece’s villages, towns and cities alive for future generations.