In this destination guide we will visit the medieval old town of Rhodes (Rodos) in Greece.
A visit to Rhodes
The island of Rhodes is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Greece.
Although many people flock to one of the many tourist resorts on the island’s coastline to enjoy the sea and sun, an equal amount of holidaymakers visit Rhodes for its culture and history.
When it comes to culture and history, Rhodes Town is arguably the island’s biggest tourist draw, followed by the cute town of Lindos with its acropolis.
Old town fortifications
As my hotel was located in the north of the city centre, the Amboise Gate was the nearest point through which I could enter the old town of Rhodes.
Named after Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller Emery d’Amboise and located on the north-western side of the old town, it’s certainly the most impressive gate in my opinion.
The Amboise Gate actually exists out of three sets of gates and the defensive fortifications with chemins de ronde, towers and bastions are quite formidable.
In total there are 11 places (9 gates and 2 portals) giving access to the medieval old town and it’s certainly well-worth it to see a couple of them.
It’s also possible to walk inside the moat surrounding the old town walls.
Rhodes Town is famous for its medieval old town, which has been listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
In medieval times, Rhodes was the home base of the Knights Hospitaller, a Catholic military order that ended up on the Greek island after the fall of the Crusader states.
The Knights Hospitaller (full name: Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem) made a formidable bastion out of Rhodes Town.
Their headquarters was the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, a castle at the far northern edge of the old town.
The castle – one of the few buildings in Greece built in Gothic style – now houses a museum.
Street of the Knights
One of the most famous streets of Rhodes Town runs from the Grand Master’s Palace down to the harbour.
This is the Street of the Knights of Rhodes, or simply called Ippoton in Greek.
The Street of the Knights of Rhodes is one of the best preserved medieval streets in Greece and perhaps all of Europe.
On this cobblestone street you can find several historic inns, with each one representing one of the countries from which the Knights Hospitaller originally came from.
At the end of the Street of the Knights you can find another interesting museum, namely the Archaeological Museum of Rhodes.
When I walked through the Street of the Knights it hit me just how empty the streets of Rhodes Town were during my visit.
There are normally masses of people strolling up and down this street, especially so when you visit at the height of summer.
However, just like my visit to Naxos Town earlier this trip, there was hardly a soul in sight in this medieval town either.
Personally I didn’t mind at all, as you don’t always get the opportunity to explore the delights of such a popular tourist destination without having to battle the crowds.
Through some side streets and alleys I made my way to the Suleiman Mosque, which was built after the Ottomans took control of Rhodes in 1523.
Besides the Crusaders and the Ottomans, also the Italians left their legacy behind during their occupation of Rhodes, while in earlier history the ancient Greeks, Romans and Byzantines all left their mark.
Even in the shopping streets and the more touristy old town restaurants there was hardly a soul to see.
I had therefore little problems finding a good spot for lunch.
The moussaka and cold beer at the restaurant I chose – Mama Sofia – did hit the spot.
Backstreets of Rhodes Town
After the tasty lunch, it was time to explore Rhodes Town a bit further.
In my opinion, the best about Rhodes Town are its backstreets.
When you walk away from the main thoroughfares and enter the backstreets, it almost seems like you enter a completely different world.
Wandering to the backstreets and alleys of Rhodes makes for the perfect opportunity to admire the medieval architecture and to soak up the charm of the city.
I especially loved the backstreets in the south-western corner of the old town – roughly the area between Saint George’s Bastion and Saint Athanasios Gate.
Once I reached the Saint Athanasios Gate in the south-western corner of the old town, it was time for another break.
Here you can find the Old Town Corner Bakery, which is a nice spot for a coffee and a pastry.
Once I had finished the iced coffee it was time to move on as there were still plenty of places left that I wanted to visit in the old town of Rhodes.
Another particularly nice area of the old town is leafy Dorieos Square.
The square is dominated by a large ficus tree, the decaying Recep Pasha Mosque and an old covered fountain.
It’s a wonderful place to sit down with a beer and to absorb the surroundings as almost all the outdoor terraces are shaded by the trees.
From Dorieos Square, I headed deeper into the old town towards the south-east, passing by the Ibrahim Pasha Mosque.
Here, the streets go gradually uphill and from the southernmost fringes of the old town you therefore have some pretty views over the entire historic centre.
It is also possible here to climb and walk on the defensive walls for some more gorgeous views over the old town of Rhodes and its fortifications.
Next up was a walk through the old Jewish Quarter of Rhodes Town, which is centred around lively Platia Evreon Martiron (Jewish Martyrs Square).
Besides the 16th century Kahal Shalom Synagogue – the only one on the island of Rhodes and the oldest in Greece – there are a couple of other interesting sights to visit in this part of town.
If you exit the old town through the Virgin Mary Gate and cross the street, you find yourself standing on Sachtouri Beach.
From this beach you have a good view over the Port of Rhodes and all the large passenger ferries departing to points throughout the Dodecanese, North Aegean Islands, Cyclades, Crete and Piraeus.
Church of the Virgin Mary
Back in the Jewish Quarter, you also shouldn’t miss the ruins of the Church of the Virgin of the Burgh.
This 14th century Gothic church was once the most important one in Rhodes Town, although it was sadly destroyed during the Second World War and never rebuilt.
Today, only some side chapels and the three apses of the sanctuary are left standing, while the rest of the surface on which the church once stood has been turned into a public square.
The streets and squares to the west of the Jewish Quarter such as Sokatrous Street and Hippocrates Square are the busiest in Rhodes Town.
During the daytime the streets will be crowded with sightseeing and shopping tourists, while in the evening hours people flock to this part of the old town for people watching and grabbing a drink at one of the many cafés you can find here.
It’s certainly good fun to stroll through the street markets in this part of town.
There are also some noteworthy sights in this part of town such as the Castellania, a building which used to be a courthouse in medieval times but nowadays houses the city library.
One of the things I always like about Greece are the community cats strolling the streets, something which is also the case in Rhodes Town.
As I was away on a longer trip and missing my own cats at home, I made sure I stopped a few times to pet some of the sweeties.
As my walk through the old town of Rhodes came to an end, there was one major sight left to visit.
I’m talking about Mandraki Harbour, which has been the port of Rhodes since ancient times.
Although the larger ships and ferries now depart from the new port directly towards the east of Mandraki Harbour, yachts and smaller excursion boats still anchor at Mandraki.
Mandraki Harbour is home to some of the most famous landmarks of Rhodes as well, such as the windmills, Saint Nicholas Fortress, the Governor’s Palace and the Church of the Annunciation of the Theotokos.
However, Mandraki Harbour is most famous as the place where the Colossus of Rhodes once stood.
The Colossus of Rhodes – a statue depicting the sun god Helios – was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Although it is commonly believed that the 33-metre-high statue straddled the harbour’s entrance, this is actually a myth that took root in medieval times.
The statue was completed in the year 282 BC but collapsed in an earthquake in 226 BC.
A deer statue now stands on the place where the mighty Colossus of Rhodes once stood.
As the sun was almost setting, I decided to walk towards the west coast hoping to catch some beautiful sunset views.
Rhodes Town is located on the far northern tip of the island, so walking from the east side of town (where you will find the medieval old town) to the west side is just a matter of minutes.
I walked to Akti Miaouli Beach, which together with the more sheltered Elli Beach is the most popular beach in Rhodes Town proper.
When I arrived on the pebble beach the sunset colours were already stunning.
I sat down for a good 30 minutes to admire the sunset and twilight colours over the Aegean Sea before heading back into Rhodes Town.
It then suddenly hit me that during the last weeks in Greece I haven’t eaten a single souvlaki yet – so I immediately decided that I should get one for dinner.
In the end, I bought two souvlaki from one of the neighbourhood takeaway restaurants and walked back to the beach to eat them.
Rhodes Town at night
When you are staying in Rhodes, it’s also a must to visit the old town in the evening or at night.
Both the colours and the atmosphere are completely different at night.
Many of the old town landmarks are beautifully illuminated at night, which makes another walk through the medieval centre already worthwhile.
However, the biggest reason to visit the old town of Rhodes at night is the vibe, as in the late evening hours dozens of people stroll through the city streets.
It’s a great opportunity for people watching, a late dinner or some drinks at one of the many old town bars.
Rhodes Town is one of the most beautiful and interesting places in all of Greece to visit thanks to its extremely well-preserved medieval core.
The old town centre of Rhodes is a delightful place to wander around aimlessly.
As you walk further away from the main thoroughfares, the atmosphere and surroundings really become something special.
The ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Ottomans and Italians all left their legacy behind in Rhodes Town and the mixture between these styles is absolutely intriguing.
There are tons of interesting sights to visit in the old town of Rhodes, although this lively city is as much about enjoying the good Greek life in one of the many cafés, bars and restaurants.
I was extremely lucky to visit Rhodes Town at a moment (summer of 2020) when there were almost no other tourists around in Greece, although even at peak holiday times the city makes for a rewarding destination.
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘A Dodecanese Dream: Summer Island Hopping in Greece‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Back in the Skies – My First International Flight in the Age of Corona
2. Review: Kimon Hotel, Athens, Greece
3. Exploring Plaka: Through the Winding Streets of the Old Town of Athens
4. Climbing up the Acropolis: Visiting Athens’ Most Famous Sight
5. Review: Skyserv Melina Merkouri Lounge Athens Airport
6. Review: Sky Express Athens to Naxos (ATR 42)
7. Review: Studios Zafiri, Naxos Town, Greece
8. Naxos Town: The Gorgeous Historic Heart of the Cyclades
9. Review: Blue Star Ferries Naxos to Astypalaia
10. Review: Belvedere Studios, Astypalaia Town, Greece
11. Astypalea Town: The Unknown Crown Jewel of the Aegean Sea
12. Astypalea Island Guide: Exploring the Butterfly of the Aegean
13. On a Night Boat in Greece – Astypalea to Kastellorizo With Blue Star Ferries
14. Review: Traditional Apartments Alexandra, Kastellorizo, Greece
15. Kastellorizo: A Look Around Greece’s Easternmost Island
16. Hiking on Kastellorizo: Two Sunset Hikes Detailed
17. Review: Olympic Air (Dash 8-100) Kastellorizo to Rhodes
18. Guide: How to Travel From Rhodes to Halki by Ferry
19. Review: Dorothea Apartments, Halki, Greece
20. Halki Town: Eating, Swimming & Relaxing in Beautiful Emborios
21. A Hike to Horio: Exploring Halki’s Old Abandoned Capital
22. Guide: The Best Beaches on the Island of Halki
23. Review: Hermes Hotel, Rhodes Town, Greece
24. A Visit to the Delightful Old Town of Rhodes (current chapter)
** rest of the chapters to follow soon **