Planning a Greek island getaway can quickly become overwhelming. The Mediterranean nation is simply an incredibly diverse destination. Besides the mainland, there’re 227 islands to choose from. So, how do you choose? While this certainly depends on a range of factors and preferences, I’m here to make the case for an island that has it all: Kos.
Often overlooked in favor of larger Rhodes and Crete, Kos is a laidback isle in the South Aegean Sea, just off the coast of Turkey. Yes, we all want to visit bucket-list destinations Santorini and Mykonos eventually, but Kos is not only a great intro to Greek island life but also lets you combine a relaxed beach vacation with a few explorations of authentic Greek history & culture. Let’s break down some of the best things to see and do in Kos, Greece.
This post contains selected affiliate links, which help to keep this blog up and running. Should you make a purchase or booking after clicking one of these links, I may receive a small commission – at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!
Where to Stay in Kos Greece
Measuring 40 by 8 km / 25 by 5 mi and home to roughly 33,000 Greeks, Kos is the third largest isle of the Dodecanese Island Chain. Despite its decent size, there’s no need to worry about spending too much time on the road – every corner of the island can be reached within a comfortable one-hour drive. You’re here to relax, after all. The real surprise is the variety of things to see and do in each part of the island.
Most hotels are either nestled around the south-western town of Kefalos, the coastline north of the airport, or in the north-eastern tip of the isle, close to Kos Town. With several established resorts to choose from, it’s hard to go wrong. But if you prefer to be on the safe side of things, you want to book yourself a room at the Horizon Beach Resort in Mastichari.
The resort combines four stylish pool areas with an open layout and an expansive and lush palm tree garden. Rooms are exceptionally clean, and the hotel’s beachfront is one of the finest stretches of sand on the island. When checking in to your room after a quick 15-minute ride from the airport, your Greek island getaway is off to a good start.
Should you have a few extra means to spend, there’s really no way around the extraordinary OKU Kos. The village-style hotel offers a tad more privacy – and the affluent yet casual design has a relaxing effect. Staying here will have you feel like you are on a private tropical isle, especially if you splurge on a room with a private pool.
Things to do in Kos Greece
1. Roam Kos Town
Kos Town is the capital of the island and home to its largest harbor. With roughly 20,000 inhabitants, a daytrip to this laidback town is a rather casual affair. But don’t be fooled by its modest size. This place is packed with historical and cultural sights. After all, 5,000 years of history, very turbulent at times, have left a mark – in a positive way. The Romans, Ottoman, Byzantines, and even the Italians have all ruled here at times.
Start your exploration of the city with a walk along the waterfront. Here, you will not only find a great selection of local restaurants but also many colorful fishing boats, gently rocking in the warm sea. Mix and mingle with the locals as they browse for the freshest catch of the day. The fishermen, many of which are proudly flying the Greek flag, do know how to advertise their latest batch of seafood and fish.
Towards the northern end of the harbor, you’ll eventually come across Nerantzia Castle, a massive brick complex stemming from the 15th century. The castle will serve as a fine appetizer for Kos Town’s biggest draw: The Ancient Agora.
This ancient market is an expansive archaeological site sitting right in the middle of Kos Town. Its origins date back to the 3rd century BC and the views across this imposing composition of ruins, mosaics, and ancient columns will definitely leave an impression. No Greek island getaway would be complete without a glimpse into the nation’s rich history.
If you’re longing for a shadier place, get lost in the quaint alleys surrounding Eleftherias Square. And if you just need to take a quick rest, the next taverna is never far away. No matter how you chose to spend your time here, a trip to the island’s capital should definitely be on your list of things to do when in Kos.
2. Explore the Islands Around Kos
One of the best things to do in Kos is hopping on one of the many daily cruises that leave Kos Town each morning. Nothing says Greek island getaway more than sailing through the azure Aegean Sea while sunbathing on deck. The typical route takes you to three different islands off the coast of Kos.
Kalymnos Island will likely be the first stop of the tour. The island is home to about 16,000 Greeks and widely known for its sponge divers. In fact, these precious natural goods made this island one of the wealthiest places in Greece. Wander around the harbor or climb a few steps leading up to a small church overlooking the bay – the views will be satisfying either way.
Next up will be Plati Island. Should that cocktail in your hand fail to cool you down, here’s your chance for a quick dip in the unspoiled sea. But be prepared for a few curious looks by the sole inhabitants of Plati Island, a handful of goats.
The last stop of the day will be Pserimos Island. There’re actually people living here, but mostly during the summer months, and not more than 80 in total. While most visitors explore Pserimos during a daytrip, several tavernas, apartments, and a fine golden beach invite you to stay here longer.
When in Kos, there’s really no reason why you should not venture offshore. During high season, tours leave daily from the main harbor in Kos Town. Tickets will only set you back about 30 € per person, which is a very fair price for a full day of Greek island hopping. Most tours include a BBQ-style lunch, served either on board or in a local taverna. We opted for this tour and couldn’t have been happier.
3. Take in Scenic Views at Agios Stefanos Beach
As inviting as the beach just in front of your room at Horizon Beach Resort is, you do need to take a look at some other parts of the island’s coastline, too. And Agios Stefanos Beach is a good excuse to leave your sunbed. Hop in your rental car (or the local bus) and head towards the south-western tip of the island. Here, right next to the small town of Kefalos, lies one of Kos’ most scenic beaches.
Three tiny islands, the biggest of which holds the Agios Stefanos Church, offer a dramatic backdrop for the ancient agora, from where most visitors take in these views. The shallow water is exceptionally clear and great for snorkeling. Experienced swimmers may even head over to Kastri Island. But don’t get your hopes up for a Mamma Mia moment – the church is usually closed.
4. Relax at Therma Hot Springs
When planning a Greek island getaway, natural springs may not even be on your personal wish list. But when in Kos, a trip to the Therma Hot Springs is only yet another bonus activity. The springs are located a comfortable 15-minute scenic drive from Kos Town, along the island’s more rugged coastline. Park your car right next to the small taverna and the signage indicating the way down to the springs.
From there, the walk down to the secluded beach takes about 10-15 minutes. Make your way across the black sand towards the natural pool that has been created with several larger rocks at the northern end of the bay. It is here that the hot water emerges from the rocky coastline and flows directly into the sea.
The spring water is particularly rich in sulfur, calcium, and magnesium and is said to have several healing powers. But be careful when you dip into mix of spring and sea water. The former surfaces with a temperature of 40-50 °C / 100-120 °F.
5. Enjoy the Best Sun Set Views in Zia
Just when you think you’ve seen enough iconic blue and white architecture, Zia will prove you wrong. The remote village located on the slope of the Dikeos Mountain offers not only a great selection of local art shops and romantic restaurants, but more importantly – likely the best sunset views in Kos.
If you don’t feel like venturing around the island with a rental car, you might want to book a half-day tour to Zia with a local guide. For the most rewarding Zia experience, opt for a sunny afternoon without clouds. When we built our itinerary of things to do in Kos, we saved up Zia for the last evening, which, unfortunately, was a bit cloudy. But we enjoyed it nevertheless!
Spend the afternoon wandering along the charming cobble-stone alleys and browse some of the local craft shops. Wherever you look, Zia entices visitors with mountain panoramas and sea views. In the evening, it’s time to decide for one of the inviting restaurants, many of which offer panoramic outdoor seating. Once you’ve settled down, sit back, relax, and enjoy the Greek sun slowly dipping into the sea in front of you.