Hydra is an enchanting island that is quite unique compared to other Greek islands in a number of ways. One of these is that there are no cars or scooters allowed which makes it quiet tranquil and feels like time has stood still in many respects. Horses, donkeys, and mules, as well as water taxis, provide transport which means Hydra holidays are quite different from other destinations.
Situated in the Saronic Islands, Hydra is one of the wealthiest islands in Greece and is where the original ship-owning families built neo-classical mansions on the hills. The locals fought in the Greek War of Independence, while the island’s ships and wealth supported the war.
Hydra was home to a number of famous people including one of Greece’s most important 20th-century painters -Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas Painters and poets such as Seferis and Katsimbalis.
Katsimbalis was visited by Henry Miller, who wrote about it in the Colossus of Maroussi. Soon after the Australian playwright George Johnston and his wife Charmain Clift moved to the island and were joined by the famous Canadian musician Leonard Cohen, who went on the live in Hydra for 20 years. These people, and their friends, became the original ‘bohemians’ blending their artistic endeavors with the carefree lifestyle of the culture.
Nowadays, Hydra remains a much-loved hotspot but has avoided the mass tourism of some other well-known islands. This is partly due to stringent planning regulations, which have ensured that the island’s quaint charm remains intact. As a result, Hydra oozes charm and charisma, with donkey carts and hodge-podge houses commonplace.
While Hydra is calm and traditional, don’t be fooled – it also has a wild side. Ouzo bars and tavernas come to life once the sun goes down, and few visitors can leave without indulging in a tipple or two.
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When to visit Hydra
The best times to visit Hydra is April-June and September-October. The weather is mild and as are tourist numbers. High season is late June to early September, and prices will reflect that as will the crowds and accommodation availability.
Summer is great even if it’s busy. The water is warm, there are blue skies every day and a fun holiday atmosphere. Sandy beaches are in short supply but the clifftop bars and tavernas are full of people swimming off the rocks in the sparkling sea below.
Best beach and swimming weather: June to September
Best sightseeing weather: March to June and September/October
Where is Hydra?
Hydra is located in the Saronic group of islands, which are the closest to Athens.
It sits at the tip of the Saronic Gulf after Poros and before Spetses and it takes between 90 minutes and 2 hours by ferry to get there from Athens.
How to get to Hydra,Greece
There is no airport on Hydra or, in fact, any of the Saronic islands. The closest one is Athens. A trip to the Saronics will always involve the sea even if you drive to the Porto Heli Peninsula on the mainland and catch a small ferry over to Poros, Hydra or Spetses.
Luckily these islands tightly hug the Saronic gulf and are probably the most protected in Greece in terms of wind and bad weather. It is highly unlikely you will experience seasickness in this area and ferry cancellation are not common.
Athens to Hydra
From Pireaus Port Hellenic Seaways Flying Dolphin and Hydrofoils run daily trips to Hydra and several times a day in Summer. Tickets are usually €28 per person and the journey takes 90-120 minutes.
By Water Taxi
From Varkiza Marina in Athens you can pre-book a sea taxi to take you to Hydra Town, Kamini, Vlychos, Plakes or Mandraki. This takes 2 hours and costs €500 one way for up to 8 passengers.
Ferry to Hydra from the Porto Heli Mainland
Drive to Metochi ( where there is a secure car park for 5 Euro per day) and catch a ferry or water taxi over to Hydra. This takes just 25 minutes and you buy your ticket on the jetty or onboard. Tickets cost €6.50.
By Water Taxi
If the ferries have stopped running for the day call Kostas Georgakopoulos on +(30) 6944 738 100 and he or his son will come and collect you in one of their water taxis.
A Day trip to Hydra
It is quite viable to visit Hydra on a day trip from Athens, in fact this is something we have done several times. You can either use the ferry system as mentioned above or join a full day cruise which visits Poros and Aegina as well and includes lunch!
There is also a VIP cruise option which includes your transfers in Athens, priority boarding and access to a VIP lounge on the boat.
Trying to fit it all in?
Check out this tour that occurs over a 3 day period and takes in Athens and Cape Sounion, then Delphi and finally the Saronic Islands on the last day. Includes hotel pickup.
Where to stay on Hydra
Hydra Town Hotels
Most visitors to Hydra stay in Hydra Town (also known as Idra). It’s basically impossible to land on the island without taking in the beauty of Hydra Town. The town is wrapped around the island’s port, which is also one of the most beautiful sights on the island.
It’s certainly a magical view that greets most visitors as they approach the island, with the horseshoe-shaped port and historic buildings dotted around. Despite its old world good looks, the port area of Hydra Town is known for its youthful exuberance as well as its historic beauty.
Here, you’ll find most of the island’s amenities and attractions. The bars of Hydra Town have long attracted an eclectic mix of visitors – from 1970s rockstars to local Greek youths indulging in a good time. Equally, there’s fabulous diversity in the eating options too – from small traditional tavernas to upmarket restaurants.
So, if you want to be amongst the action on Hydra, then Hydra Town is probably your best bet.
Recommended budget hotel: Amaryllis Hotel
Recommended mid-range hotel: Hotel Sophia
Recommended luxury hotel: Hydrea Exclusive Hospitality
Vlichos ( Vlychos)
Hydra is not as well-known for its beaches as some of the other Greek Isles. However, there are still plenty of places to enjoy the beauty of the sea – like charming Vlichos, which also benefits from being within easy striking distance of Hydra Town.
Located just a couple of kilometres away from Hydra Town, it’s easy to reach on foot or perhaps on horseback for something different.
Despite its proximity to Hydra Town, Vlichos has a different look and feel. It’s a much smaller village, where life is easy and time passes slowly. In summer when the tourists are in abundance, a couple of small tavernas and shops open to cater to the visitors, before closing again during the colder months.
Apart from the tranquility, Vlichos also has the appeal of having a decent beach. Like most of the beaches on Hydra, Vlichos Beach is pebbly rather than sand, but it’s still a great spot for relaxing by the sea. In summer, there are plenty of umbrellas and sun lounges, and the sea is safe for swimming. As well as the main Vlichos Beach, there’s also Plakes Vlichos.
As well as the beach, you can also spot a charming old Church and some gorgeous homes as well.
Recommended mid-range hotel: Hydra Erato
Recommended luxury hotel: Four Seasons Hydra Luxury Suites
One of the most recognisable icons of Hydra is the terracotta red roofs that topmost of the stark white buildings. These tiles were traditionally made locally in kilns, known as Kamini in Greek. Many of these were located in a small village just west of Hydra Town, hence its name Kamini.
The kilns may no longer burn, but Kamini remains a popular place to stay on Hydra. It offers easy access to Hydra Town, while also offering a hearty taste of traditional village life on the Greek Isles. Plus, with beautiful sea views and a few attractions including the ruins of an old armory, it is a charming base for your stay.
Kamini has far fewer amenities than Hydra Town, but if you do want to eat or drink locally you won’t be totally stranded. There’s a handful of tavernas, as well as a beach bar and a small store for groceries and essential items.
Close by you will also find Castello Beach, sometimes known colloquially as ‘Baby Beach’. As the name suggests, it’s fairly pint-sized, but still, a charming spot to spend a day or afternoon. For a small fee, you can enjoy a day lazing on a sunbed under an umbrella, but use of the beach itself is totally free.
Recommended budget hotel: Kaminia Cozy House
Recommended mid-range apartment: Villa Ada
Recommended luxury villa: Kamini Hydra Thea
If you’re desperate for the feel of the sand beneath your toes then you’d best head for Mandraki. Not only does it offer Hydra’s only sandy beach, but it’s also a lovely place to stay on Hydra.
This charming village is located only about a kilometre east of Hydra Town, again making it convenient for those hoping for tranquility as well as convenience.
The village is home to a permanent population of just a few dozen, meaning it has a distinctly slow way of life. The population does swell, however, in the summer months as visitors arrive to enjoy its charms and to laze on the beach.
There are two beaches in Mandraki, and if it’s sand you’re after then you need to head for the Mandraki Resort Beach. This is the famous sandy beach, which is flanked by a resort and beach bar. There is also another beach called (somewhat confusingly) Mandraki Beach, which is pebbly but still worth visiting.
Recommended mid-range hotel: Villa Mandraki
Recommended luxury hotel: Mandraki Beach Resort
Quieter areas – Bisti Beach, Limnioniza and Zogkeika
The majority of the accommodation in Hydra is located around the central north coast of the island. However, the rest of the island also enjoys abundant natural spoils, including a gorgeous coastline.
Accommodation options tend to be more limited away from the larger villages listed above, and many visitors prefer to make day trips from Hydra Town and surrounds to the quieter areas of Hydra.
However, there are a few places to stay if you’re keen to get away from it all and spend a few quiet nights.
In the northwest of the island, there is Bisti Beach, which as the name suggests is a beautiful spot by the coast.
Directly south from Hydra Town along the coast there’s the remote beach of Limnioniza, which is beautiful and unspoiled. Or, the largely undiscovered northeast coast offers Zogkeika, with a beautiful lighthouse and beach.
Where to eat on Hydra
Around the harbour in Hydra Town are several good tavernas and you can sit and watch the comings and goings of the boats at any time of day. Oraia Hydra is right next to the donkey station and The Cool Mule is right next to the ferry stop and has great frappes, ice creams and light meals.
If you head west around the cove you will come across several clifftop bars and cafes with stunning views, including Papagalos and Omilos which are excellent. Spilia Beach Club and Hydronetta are also both wonderful and great for a swim too, although it can get quite lively as the day progresses.
If you walk further around to the village of Kamani then make sure to dine at Castello Kamini for a very special lunch, or dinner.
Techne Restaurant and Social is very romantic and has a lovely ambience while Plakostroto also has a beautiful setting and great food with a modern twist on Greek favourites. Enalionis a beautiful taverna by the beach at Vlychos and is great for both lunch and dinner.
Kai Kremidi is perfect for a cheap and cheerful night out and does great souvlaki.
The aforementioned Spilia Beach Club and Hydronetta are great places for drinks and music as is Amalour which gets very busy late at night and there is often dancing.
Isalos cafe on the port is a good place to hang out any time of day and Pirate bar at the port is great for coffee, drinks, and traditional music.
Things to do on Hydra
If you are up for a hike head up to Mount Eros for spectacular views of the islands and over to the mainland. Stop at the Prophet Elias Monastery along the way and take plenty of water!
Shopping on Hydra
There are lots of lovely shops on Hydra from souvenir shops to specialist food shops and upmarket jewelry stores and fashion boutiques. There are also a number of nice galleries as well. Most of these shops run around the harbour and up through the main streets.
There are a couple of good supermarkets – Maragos, Bexis, and Rabias are all in Hydra Town and Four Corners is in Kamini. There is also a good butcher, Rabias Meat & Fish in Hydra Town.
One novel shop that you don’t see many places is Georgia’s supply boat. This is the main cargo boat for the island and delivers everything from the mainland including building supplies, wine, food furniture, and even horses and Ikea home delivery!
Things to do on Hydra cont/
Despite a reasonably sized coastline, there are few sandy beaches on Hydra. Many of the best swimming spots are off rocky outcrops and ledges but the water is clear and cool and still delightful. And you don’t have to worry about sand in your pants!
The best beaches on Hydra are:
- Vlychos Beach is a 30 minute walk west from Hydra Town. It is a pretty beach on a small cove and consisted of small pebbles. There is a good taverna on the hill and you can hire sunbeds and umbrellas.
- Bisti Beach for calm, clear water with sun lounges and umbrellas for rent. It is at the western tip of the island, past Vlychos and can only be reached by boat which takes around 20 minutes.
- Saint Nicholas Beach is also on the far western coast and can only be reached by boat. The journey takes about 30 minutes and you can hire sunbeds. Its a much wider beach than Bitsi but also very calm and tranquil.
- Avlaki Beach is very close to Hydra Town and it takes about 10 minutes to walk there heading west around the cove. There are no facilities and you swim off the rocks and concrete platforms but the water is gorgeous. As you walk around you will see people swimming off many of the rocky outcrops along the way and several bars and tavernas too.
Things to do on Hydra cont/
Museums & Churches
There are several fascinating Churches and Museums to visit on Hydra. They are;
The Museum and Historical Archives of Hydra
Impossible to miss on the left-hand side as you enter the harbour by sea. This former mansion is beautifully restored and is home to a fascinating collection of artifacts and archives including a lot of maritime-related things. They even say the actual heart of local hero Admiral Miaoulis is kept here in an urn!
Open: daily from 9 am to 4 pm or 9.30 am to 9:30 pm in Summer
Cost : €5 per person (Concessions: €3)
Lazaros Koutouriostis Museum
Built in 1780 by the largest shipowner of Hydra as his family home, and then a major center during the Greek War of Independence this museum pays tribute to Lazaros Koundouriotis and his family. You will see weaving looms, the original kitchen, and even costumes and textiles. It’s a fascinating trip back through the centuries!
Open: March to October: daily except Monday, 10.00 – 14.00 and 17.30 – 20.30
Cost: €4 per person
Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary
This beautiful cathedral is located right near the port and is easy to find due to its distinctive bell tower. It is actually designated as a Monastery so it is used for services, baptisms and funerals but not weddings.
It is believed it was first founded in 1655 and was a female monastery of nuns. It played an important part in the Greek revolution and is known fondly as the ‘Admiral’. The church is now an art museum and the beautiful Byzantine structure is worth seeing for its design and decoration alone.
Open: April to November, Tuesday to Sunday 10 am to 5 pm
Cost : 2 euro
Other points of interest in Hydra
Leonard Cohen’s House
In 1960 the Canadian musician and songwriter ( most famous for ‘Alleluia”) bought a small house on Hydra after seeing a poster for Greece in gloomy London. It was a big deal to commit to a single place in those days, especially for a wandering musician but a bequest from his Grandmother made it possible.
Leonard went on to live on Hydra for 20 years and created some of his best work on the island including Days of Kindness and Bird on a Wire.
The house can be a bit tricky to find. It is just down from Kriezi Street near Four Square Supermarket. On Google maps find co-ordinates 37.347642, 23.463340. It has a door knocker in the shape of a hand.
Open: Anytime but you can only see the outside.
Tombazis Mansion ( School of Fine Art)
The wealthy Tombazis family was another shipping family who contributed greatly to the war effort. Locovos Tombazis was in fact appointed admiral of Hydra’s fleet. His three-story mansion is now restored and is home to the School of Fine Art, owned by the University of Athens.
Open: not generally open to the public
Tsamados Mansion ( National Merchant Marine Academy)
Next to the Hydra Historical Archives and Museum on the eastern side of the port, this former mansion was owned by Admiral Tsamados who converted his ship, the Aris, into a war ship during the war. The Naval Academy began in 1749 and changed its name to it’s current one in 1800.
The academy is in full operation and cadets are normally there for four years.
Hours: not generally open to the public
Castle of Kavos
The remains of the Castle sits above the eastern entrance to the harbour and was once an important outpost for soldiers to see enemy ships approaching. It is surrounded by canons and there are both the Greek and Hydriot flags above a monument to Admiral Miaoulis.
As well as the Canons on the eastern side of the harbour you will also see a row of then sitting proudly above the western cove.
During the 18th century, they were used to defend the island from Ottoman attacks and again in the 19th century.