Also known as Tsirigo from the time of its Venetian occupation, Kythira is a hidden gem of a Greek island lying between the Peloponnese and Crete. It was referred to in Homer’s Iliad and is known in mythology as the birthplace of the goddess Aphrodite. And there are cultural highlights everywhere, from Venetian castles and Byzantine monuments to architecture reminiscent of both Mani (in the southern Peloponnese) and Crete. You’ll fall in love with all the things to do in Kythira, from days spent on the beach to the leisurely pace of village life, as well as activities like hiking and canyoning and learning about traditional crafts. You just have to hop on a plane from Athens or a ferry from Piraeus or Neapoli (in the Peloponnese) and your holidays in Kythira will have begun.
Take a stroll around Hora and the Venetian castle
The main town of Kythira (known as Hora, as with many Greek islands) is found in the south, at the crest of a hill that’s topped with a Venetian castle that once served as protection from pirates. Today, the sweeping views from the castle are all about the peace and tranquillity of the Aegean Sea. Just below the castle is Mesa Vourgou, built by the Venetians in the 16th century with multiple churches. And as for Hora itself, the atmosphere is unforgettable, with classic white buildings, mansion houses, alleyways and courtyards.
Look out for local products like rozedes (traditional sweets) and fatourada (the local liqueur), and the views of the seaside village of Kapsali. And you can brush up on your history at the Archaeological Museum. Hora is great at any time of day, from late-morning brunch to evening cocktails or a nightcap at a cosy bar (see our suggestions below).
Spend the day at Kaladi beach
It could never take long before your list of things to do in Kythira takes you to the beach. We start with one of the most beautiful and popular … Kaladi beach. It’s a pebbly beach, divided into three sections, with the most amazing blue-green water. The first two sections are separated by a rock (giving the beach its distinct appearance) and the third is essentially a small open cave that leads to another tiny beach. You have to negotiate a dirt road and around 150 stone steps to get down to the beach. There’s a snack bar just before the steps, but otherwise come prepared to spend the day here. Around a 10-minute swim to the right of Kaladi beach (or a splash away on your mattress or SUP) is neighbouring Vlychada beach, which is also worth checking out. And after your swim, you can go for food or evening cocktails to Avlemonas village.
Visit the seaside village Avlemonas
Avlemonas is the most picturesque of Kythira’s coastal settlements, with cute white houses and enough by way of amenities for it to be the base for your holidays in Kythira. It’s built around a cove that resembles a fjord, creating the perfect setting for an afternoon or evening walk. There are even coves within the coves, which make amazing swimming spots.
Take your pick of the beaches
Wherever you are in Kythira, there are beaches calling out to you. Beyond Kaladi, the highlights are Melidoni beach (clear water, fine sand and plenty of water sports), Chalkos beach (emerald-green water, smooth pebbles and all the amenities you could need), Kapsali beach (sandy and close to Hora, with water sports, tavernas and other amenities), Fyrri Ammos (close to Kalamos village, with red-coloured pebbles and just enough sunbeds and umbrellas), Fourni beach (on the north coast, perhaps Kythira’s most boho beach), Diakofti beach (an exotic feel, with more shallow, turquoise water) and Paleopoli beach (sand and fine pebbles, plenty of space and shallow water that’s a hit with kids).
And a final pro tip for Paleopoli: At the far right of the beach, you’ll find a massive rock in the water with a small opening. Swim through and you get to Limni beach!
Hike the valley of the watermills
Hiking is definitely one of the best things to do in Kythira and you’ll find hiking trails everywhere. One of the most beautiful is in the so-called valley of the watermills, from Mylopotamos to Kato Hora and back again. It’s a 4.8km route that passes the Neraida (or Fonissa) Waterfall (a beautiful 20m cascade of water outside the summer months) and along a path with more than 20 smaller waterfalls and a succession of one-time watermills where the islanders used to mill flour. (They would even sleep the nights during milling season.) The path continues to the old castle of Mylopotamos, after which a hearty meal awaits at Platanos taverna (see our suggestions below).
Pro tip: For the more adventurous, there are canyoning excursions, including a route starting at the waterfall and descending the entire path to the watermills. And there’s a route along a gorge that ends at Kalami Beach that includes abseiling down a small waterfall.
Take a boat trip to Hytra island
Just off the south coast is an islet called Hytra that you can visit on a 1.5-2hr boat trip from the port of Kapsali. Also called Avgo (egg), it’s a small, rocky isle which doesn’t look like much at first sight but hides some secrets. Around the back is a sea cave with water so clear and blue it might just be your favourite swim of your holidays in Kythira. It’s also the nesting site of rare falcons (Varvakas) and each spring comes alive with delicate yellow flowers called Sebreviva that Kythira locals gather.
Bathe in the ‘Green Lake’
Here’s a gem that you’d never know about unless you were told about it. Around 45min-1hr by foot south of Limnionas beach is a natural rock pool that’s big enough to swim in and is called The Green Lake because of the colour of the seawater. You can also reach it by boat from Kapsali (the same one that takes you to Hytra) but if you do decide to walk, be sure to wear a pair of running or walking shoes because the terrain is a bit difficult (not for small kids). Either before or after your hike, you can relax on Limnionas beach where you’ll find a snack bar and a small taverna.
Explore the Springs of Amir Ali near Karavas
While we’re on the subject of discovery, just by Karavas village in the north are the intriguingly named Springs of Amir Ali. It’s a lovely area to walk in, with plane trees and running water in the spring and autumn. There are various stories surrounding the name (some involving a Turk during Ottoman times who preyed on local girls and met his fate at the hands of a young Kythira resident right here). There’s a cafe and a delicatessen nearby and be sure to pop into the bakery in Karavas – the ladopaximada (rusks made with olive oil) are a local speciality. Fourni is the nearest beach option.
Go to the Cave of St Sophia in Mylopotamos
This ancient cave near Mylopotamos village, in western Kythira, has a rich history, which you can enjoy for a small entrance fee. The cave extends to some 2,000m2 (it was fully explored in the 1950s) and while you’ll only see 200m of it, you’ll be impressed by the stalagmites and stalactites and cooling 16C temperature, even in peak summer. The cave entrance has been converted into a church, literally built into the rock, and there are icons of St Sofia, whose body (legend has it) was found in the cave.
Build up those Insta-memories
There’s no way you’ll want to keep this beautiful island to yourself, so let’s see what your Instagram feed could look like during your holidays in Kythira. The stone-built Katounis Bridge is a legacy of British rule on Kythira, with 13 arches and spanning 110m. (It was commissioned by a British governor in 1826, apparently so he could visit a girl he had fallen for in Katouni).
Meanwhile, the Moudari Lighthouse in Cape Spathi (the northernmost tip of Kythira) has epic sunset views and the gorgeous little chapel of St Nicholas of Krasas is an awesome spot in the southwest, very close to Myrtidia Monastery. Legend has it, a captain saved from shipwreck by the patron saint of sailors constructed the church using his cargo of wine instead of water. Finally, Agios Ioannis on the Cliff is a chapel built into the rock face, 100m above the sea. The Evangelist John is said to have begun writing the Apocalypse here before moving south to Patmos.
Learn about the traditions of Kythira
Kythira is an island full of living traditions, no more so than olive oil production. In the village of Mitata, a resident called Panagiotis Kastrisios (known as Favas) set up an olive mill in 1880 that you can visit today. Run by his granddaughter, Fava’s Oil Press is now a museum where you can learn about traditional cold extraction olive oil pressing. You’ll see how important olive oil was (and still is) to the fabric of village life. There are even soap-making workshops offered by Sofia, the owner of a Herovolo, a natural cosmetic and healing products store, in Potamos that use olive oil as the main ingredient. Another local tradition is pottery, which you can learn all about at the Rousos Ceramics Workshop (another century-old family business making household items) in Kato Livadi or at the gallery shop in Hora.
Be introduced to village life, Kythira-style
Last but by no means least on your list of things to do in Kythira is to visit the villages. You’ve already been introduced to Mylopotamos and Avlemonas but arguably the most picturesque village in Kythira is Mitata, right in the heart of the island and with lovely mountain views and for many Kythira’s best festival. Just opposite (separated by the Tsakonas Gorge) is the smaller, sparsely populated village of Viaradika, with a natural source of drinking and plenty of greenery. The gorge is great hiking territory and there are even Via Ferrata excursions within the gorge. The largest (and often liveliest) village is Potamos, with shops, cafes and restaurants – and a popular flea market on Sundays. And another quaint little village is Pitsinianika, where you can become a local in the Kafeneio tou Halikokou by ordering a Greek coffee and handmade sweets, or maybe meze and other cooked appetisers.
Top things to do in Kythira
If all of that made you want to hop on a plane to Greece, then holidays in Kythira are for you. It’s an island that’s perfect for summer holidays, but there’s the bonus of more greenery and running water if you visit in spring or autumn. Either way, it’s a destination made for total relaxation.
- Platanos (Mylopotamos) – Home-cooked food. Famous for its cockerel in red sauce and rabbit stifado (red sauce with onions)
- Tony’s Pizza (Hora) – Great quality Italian food/pizza. A must
- Psomoladea (Avlemonas) – Seafood with a gourmet twist
- Filio (Kalamos) – Traditional home-cooked food
- Manolis (Diakofti) – Meat and seafood dishes
- To Kafeneio tou Halikokou (Pitsinianika) – Local delicacies & Greek coffee
- Koukos (Hora) – A cocktail bar with a lovely view of Kapsali village from above
- Choraki (Hora) – A cosy bar in a cute little alleyway of Hora
- Arachtopoleio (Avlemonas) – Cocktail bar, serving sweets, with a sea view
- Il Mercato bar (Hora) – Cocktail bar with a nice yard and a castle view
- Astikon (Potamos) – Bar with tables in the main square, ideal for a coffee and sweets during the day and a relaxed drink at night