KOS island, Greece, sits bang in the middle of the Dodecanese chain of Greek islands that hug the Turkish coastline between Rhodes and Patmos. Kos holidays are hugely popular with the British package tour firms.
The island of Kos is one of the best Greek Islands for a typical beach holiday and this was one of the first Greek islands to go for mass-market tourism in a big way with many Kos hotels built on beaches along the long, sandy coastlines to the east and south.
Kos is long and thin, about 45km by 11km and, unlike many other Greek islands, it is mostly flat and low-lying, especially in the north and west. As a result, much of the scenery on Kos is not outstanding by Greek standards. The Kos landscape does get more mountainous in the south and east but much of the north of the island is made up of a featureless plain.
The lack of hills has helped to make cycling a very popular holiday activity and there are no end of bicycle rental outlets and even some dedicated cycling roads between the big hotels. Kos is well known for bargain holidays and there are plenty of quality Kos hotels to choose from
As well as the nightlife of Kos Town and a plethora of beach resorts, the island also offers the discerning tourist some of the best archaeological sites in the Mediterranean. For many though, it is the long sandy beaches that make a holiday to Kos so appealing to so many, with day trips to nearby Turkey a very popular holiday option.
Kos has been a popular beach holiday island for many years and the influence of package holiday deals has been mostly felt on the east coast around Kos Town where beach holiday hotel complexes dominate. Apart from some pleasant beach resorts strung along the north coast the main holiday area on Kos is to the south-west around Kamari Bay. Apart from the sands at Kamari itself there are a string of deep sandy swathes along the east end of the bay that attract holiday crowds throughout the summer.
KOS TOWN is an exciting mix of beach resort and museum. Open-air nightclubs and ancient ruins sit side-by-side around the enclosed Kos Town port. Greek and Roman remains with their elegant columns and street mosaics, are pitted against music-thumping street bars and a nightmare of night neon.
An earthquake in 1933 unearthed most of the Kos Town ancient ruins which were subsequently excavated and restored by the Italians. It was the Italians too that laid out the Kos Town's 'garden suburb' grid of streets that are liberally punctuated with splendid Ottoman and Italianate buildings. But it was the concrete mixer that poured out the modern pillbox bunker style of architecture.
Recent efforts have been made to right the biggest wrongs — a one-way traffic system, a sewage treatment plant, protection for monuments, a traffic-free main square and a smart new marina but Kos Town is, at core, a bedlam of noisy nightclubs that attracts youngsters from all over Europe. The Eksaria area of Kos Town in particular is stuffed with bars several thousand revellers nightly.
Daytime is a different matter. This is still a picturesque town and pleasant town, despite the drab modern buildings. Neatly arrayed streets, wide, clean and tree-lined, converge on attractive small squares, profuse with flowers, vines and palm trees. The newly built Kos Town marina is worth a stroll and there is a wide and inviting promenade behind the beach, though you may have to dodge the tourist train and passing cyclists.
Kos Town's main Eleftherias Square, now traffic-free, has the neatly restored Defterdar Mosque and some imposing, if pompous, Italianate buildings one of which houses the Archaeological Museum with its small but excellent collection of Roman sculptures and mosaics. The square has lively market stalls peddling the usual tacky souvenirs.
Nearby is the less interesting of Kos' two main archaeological sites- the Agora. A sunken bowl filled with a confusing jumble of ruins. Just across a square is what purports to be the oldest tree in Europe. More than 50ft in diameter, it is said that Hippocrates himself was taught in its shade - a somewhat shady claim that would date the tree at 2,500 years. It was once supported by elegant marble pillars but nowadays must make do with ugly scaffolding.
Behind the tree is the Venetian Castle of the Knights, built in the 14th century. The castle is approached over a bridge that spans a splendid avenue of palm trees marching along what used to be the moat. Through an impressive 16th century gateway is an inner set of walls and a large compound liberally littered with crumbled statues and pillars. The castle walls are a patchwork quilt of stone and worth a walk to take in the views across the town and harbour.
The other excavated archaeological area is to the south of Kos Town, although it is called the Western excavation. It is by far the most interesting. Ruins include a Roman nymphaeum, with mosaic floors, and the remains of some fine houses. The best of these is the House of Europa where a floor mosaic depicts a well endowed Europa being carried off by a bull.
A low block turns out to be the Casa Romana - a 3rd century Roman villa rebuilt and restored. It has three courtyards, some swimming pools, and even more mosaics. Nearby too is the Roman Odeon, a splendid theatre now beautifully restored.
Kos Town beach marks the start of a long trail of sand that leads south to the cape at Agios Fokas. Nearer town the beach is narrow and noisy with edge-to-edge sun beds as far as the eye can see.
Inland from Kos town is the village of PLATANI, the last refuge for the island's dwindling Turkish community. In the 1960s there were around 3,000 Turks in Platani but as the enmity between the two countries has grown so the population has declined to a few hundred.
Platani is still the place for a Turkish night out at one of the many restaurants, most of which are superior to any in Kos town. Nearby is a Jewish cemetery surrounded by pines. Dates on the headstones end in the 1940s when the occupying Germans shipped out all the Jews to die in concentration camps in 1944.
West beyond Asklepion is a group of hamlets clustered on the green slopes of Mount Dikeos, or Dikaion, known collectively as the ASFENDIOU district. Lost in the greenery of the island's thickest forests Asfendiou, sadly, is just about the only part of Kos that can genuinely be called traditional Greek nowadays.
At Asfendiou you can get a brief glimpse of what life must have been like before the package tour firms moved in - but not for much longer. The more accessible are beginning to succumb to the cash-rich tourists - and who can blame them?
At PILAIOPILI there is an amazing ruined castle perched proudly on a pinnacle of rock and giving wonderful views over hills and sea. ASOMATI has the most picturesque whitewashed houses on the island while EVANGELISTRA has some of the best tavernas.
At west facing ZIA the rot is already setting in as tour buses unload scores of visitors every evening to enjoy dramatic sunsets. That said, many enjoy the visit in an area known for the friendly locals who never seem to tire of the hordes.
Tavernas are noted for good food and the village boasts the oldest windmill on the island. Many shops sell locally-made thyme flavoured honey and olive oil.
The east coast of Kos is package tour heaven. To see just how packaged it can be you have only to follow the road that runs from Lambi in the north to Agios Fokas in the south. Back-to-back hotels are strung along much of the coast, hemmed in by a service road and cycle track. Sandy beaches are common too - if you can find an unoccupied spot.
What picturesque possibilities there once were have long gone, stamped out by the luridly multiplying hotel chains with their sunbeds packed like cereal packets on a supermarket shelf. But, if it's an all-inclusive hotel deal you want, with sun and sand and a swimming pool, then the east coast of Kos is pretty hard to beat. For a good choice of hotels with discount prices, visit Where to stay in Kos for more information
Around 3km to the south of Kos town - and really just an extension of it - is the tourist resort of PSALIDI. This is very much a holiday beach resort and doesn't consist of much other than a sprinkling of tavernas, a couple of supermarkets and lots and lots of large hotels.
Psalidi beach is not the best, consisting of scruffy pebbles and harsh shingle with a little sand here and there. Access is mainly down some very steep pathways. Beach facilities are what you would expect from hotel resorts - plenty of sunbeds and brollies, showers and toilets, beach bars and watersports.
The best area of Psalidi is known as Blue Beach, where there is a pleasant grassy area on which to sunbathe. What recommends Psalidi to holidaymakers is the proximity to Kos Town and its nightlife, along with all the trimmings that come with the luxury holiday hotel lifestyle.
For those looking for beach holidays with plenty of nightlife in nearby Kos Town Psalidi is an attractive option. Buses to Kos Town are frequent and cheap and there is a good cycle lane. You can also walk, though you take your chances with the mopeds and quad bikes that career along the road between Psalidi and Kos Town, day and night, in both directions.
It may be popular with windsurfers, but AGIOS FOKAS has little else to offer tourist visitors. The resort backs onto a scruffy beach of grey sand and grit and, to add to the delights, there's a huge hotel complex to keep those noise levels high.
Beyond the headland on the southern coast are the hot thermal springs of EMBROS THERMI. The crowds thin out a little here and it is not too hard to appreciate why. Embros Thermi is backed by brooding rocks and the black volcanic sands are narrow and not particularly attractive.
The proximity of Kos Town, a regular bus service, and the novelty of hot natural springs makes Embros Thermi a popular target for day trippers, though many express disappointment at their visit.
The hot springs at Embros Thermi flow straight into the sea over a gravel beach so it's ideal for swimming and snorkeling but its a long, hard trek back up the steep hill.
The north of Kos island is flat and featureless, making access to holiday resorts easy but providing little in the way of scenic interest except out to sea where Pserimos, Kalymnos and Turkey are all visible. Waters in the north are warmer but there is almost always a breeze, especially in August when the meltemi blows. Cycling and horse riding are popular on the north coast of Kos too, thanks to the flat landscape. Beaches on the north coast of Kos tend to be quieter than those in the east and south.
LAMPI or LAMBI beach lies across the headland to the north-west of Kos Town within bus, cycling or even walking distance, although dodging the traffic - mostly bikes - can be a headache.
The sands have become more popular as people try to escape the crowded beaches of the island capital and it can now be said to be almost a busy.
The beach at Lampi is a fine, long, straight and sandy stretch of white sand that goes on for about 1km. Lampi is considered my many to be the best family beach on the island with sand that shelves gently into the sea, making it safe for children.
Lampi beach tends to attract daily visits from those staying in Kos Town as Lampi is on a regular and frequent bus route. The traffic is usually pointed in the opposite direction after 8pm when visitors head to the town for a taste of the nightlife.
Like all northern beaches Lampi can get windy at times and the waves can come crashing in. There are plenty of sunbeds and umbrellas as well as lots of watersports, including parasailing.
The Lampi resort used to be occupied by the military but the Greek army has long lost the battle with the tour operators who are now packaging up the place with an almost military precision.
Further west along the coast and separated from nearby Marmari by a vast salt marsh is TINGAKI or TIGAKI, a busy and often crowded beach resort that has become increasingly popular with British and German holiday companies.
Tingaki resort is a one-street affair packed with the usual bars, cafes and tourist shops. The landscape is flat and featureless except for the many hotels and apartments that are scattered across the somewhat unappealing plain.
Facing north, the long, deep and sandy beach at Tingaki gets its fair share of windy weather and windsurfing is popular here. There are plenty of sun beds for visitors on the most attractive parts of the beach.
Tingaki beach is narrow in places but made up of good white sand backed by low dunes. It is possible to wade out a good way offshore before it gets deep, making Tingaki beach good for children and families. The beach is fringed with a few cafes and bars, with more to be found in the main street and there are the usual watersports.
The sand at Tingaki improves the further west you go until you reach the salt pans where there are hard, flat sands and shallow seas. There is a naturist beach here just beyond the outfall from the salt lake.
Further west, the land turns to a marsh that can stay wet well into June, making this an ideal stopping off point for migratory birds, tame terrapins and zillions of mosquitoes.
Beware pitching too near the shore at Tingaki - passing cruise liners can send waves crashing in and only those sunbathers lying near the dunes will survive the wash.
A few miles along the coast and just east of some large salt pans is the beach resort of MARMARI or MARMARIS where the sands broaden and bank up into low-lying dunes.
Slightly more sheltered from strong winds, Marmari is about 15km from Kos Town and enjoys quieter seas than Tingaki with the sand sloping more gently into the sea. Marmari is still a north-facing beach however so the sea swells can get pretty heavy in windy weather.
There is a local horse riding centre at Marmari that takes full advantage of the flat sands, although there is some local dispute over the legality of riding horses along the shoreline.
The main resort at Marmari is very popular with Germans while the UK hotels stand rather isolated along the shore. Marmari has several tavernas and small shops selling the basic foodstuffs as well as the usual tourist souvenirs.
The bars in Marmaris are generally subdued so don't count on karaoke until the early hours. Marmaris is a quiet resort and if you prefer something busier it is probably best to head elsewhere.
The inland road south from Marmari brings you to the area known as PILI, or PYLI, the joint name for three neighbouring hamlets of ARMANIOU, AGIOS GEORGIO and AGIOS NIKALO.
The hamlets at Pyli are set within lush countryside and villagers here are mostly cattle farmers. The villages of Pyli are nothing special but there is not much else to choose from in this neck of the woods if you want to take a break from the beach resorts. You can visit the tomb of Harmylos, an ancient Kos hero.
From Pili the road leads to PALIO PILI where there is the well preserved remains of a Byzantine fortress that shelters a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary within its walls.
The fast developing beach resort of MASTICHARI or MASTIHARI has an attractive beach of flat white sand and has attracted package tour companies in some numbers.
A forest of sunbeds now adorns the Mastichari shore backed by a long line of tavernas. Behind the tavernas lies a small warren of purpose-built shopping streets, neatly laid out and lined with tourist shops, cafes and a few small bars.
Mastichari beach is sharp white sand - seen right devoid of the sunbeds, a rare sight these days. At the western end of the beach is the remains of a 5th century basilica.
Those seeking more privacy can take one of the many tracks that appear beyond the power station and tumble down to several sandy coves, backed by low cliffs. Underwater rocks can make the sea less than inviting for swimmers.
Mastichari resort has plenty of seashore restaurants and bars, half a dozen mini markets and a handful of gift shops selling the usual tourist trinkets. Mastichari is a quiet, relaxed and low key resort and this area of Kos is a big favourite with German tourists.
The long harbour wall at Mastichari stretches out to sea for 200m or so if you want to catch one of the frequent ferries that leave for the nearby islands of Pserimos and Kalymnos.
Around 5km inland from Mastichari is one of the most photographed windmills on the islands at ANDIMAKIA or ANDAHAHIA.
Pretty impressive it is too standing on the main street with its dozen sails unfurled. The windmill is preserved as a working museum and Andimakia is a popular picnic spot for coach tours.
Just to the east along a well signposted road is a crusader castle overlooking the straits. It has an imposing gateway and you can walk along the west parapet for great views. There are a couple of interesting chapels nearby well worth a visit.
Andimakia itself is a picturesque hamlet of whitewashed houses and flowers Nearby the large Venetian fortress dominates the central plain.
The south coast of Kos is more popular than the north or east, with endless stretches of sandy beach to attract the holidaymakers. The seas in the south are usually much calmer than the north, but can feel much colder too. Mountains in the south of Kos provide more scenic interest than can be found in the flat north of the island and in the far west of Kos island the landscape can get very wild indeed.
The island narrows to about 2km before expanding into the rugged, volcanic area of KEFALOS on the west side of the island.
Kefalos village sits high on a headland with views along the whole south coast, with the old town above and the sprawling bay and long beach resort of KAMARI below. The old town at Kefalos is an attractive mix of whitewashed houses with colourful doors and windows.
Views from the hill fort at Kefalos are impressive but the going is steep on foot. Even higher, and forming an impressive backdrop are the twin peaks of Mt Zini and Mt Latia, both somewhat spoiled by radio masts and Zini even further by extensive quarrying.
Kefalos is also the end of the line for Kos island buses and an outpost for more adventurous hikes into the western wilderness that ends on the rugged peninsula at CAPE KIKELLO.
Regular tours are offered from Kefalos to a nearby Byzantine church and to the ruins of the ancient Astypalia amphitheatre (once thought to be Kos island capital). There are also regular trips to a cave at ASPI PETRA said to be inhabited in Neolithic times.
There are series of tiny beaches and coves on the west coast of Kos. Though the area is wild, there is a cantina on top of the cliffs behind the main beach which is known as either WAVE BEACH or SUNSET BEACH. It can be reached by taking the west road out of Kefalos past the cemetery.
North of Kefalos is LIMNIONAS which has twin beaches each side of the peninsula and a small fishing harbour.
The KAMARI Kos bay is basically the resort area for the village of Kefalos in the hills above with a 5km stretch of shingle and sand (mostly shingle) stretching almost to AGIOS STEFANOS.
The beach is packed with restaurants and bars squarely aimed at the British tourist and it's chips with everything, giant TV screens and expensive drinks.
Kamari is relatively quiet even in high summer while the cash spending youngsters are all living it up in Kardamena. Kamari beach is very much a sedate resort for the middle-aged, and nothing wrong with that if you like a quiet holiday.
The shingle shoreline turns to large stones under the sea and dips sharply so the beach is not much good for children. The best sand is found near the Club Med complex and there is good swimming and snorkeling to be had.
The offshore islet of KASTRI is said to be within wading distance but swimmers take their lives in their hands given the volume of passing ski boats, surfboards and other water traffic.
The water is crystal clear but considered to be the coldest on Kos. Many visitors prefer to be based here at night and spend the days on Bubble Beach across the bay.
The beach from Kamari stretches to AGIOS STEFANOS, a once pretty village now overtaken and overshadowed by a huge Club Med complex which has enveloped all the best sand.
At this point the island is only 1km or so wide and even the south facing beaches such as this one have little protection from the afternoon 'meltemi' winds that blow through in high summer.
On the nearby headland are the remains of a couple of well preserved triple-aisled 6th century basilicas. There are some excellent bird mosaics here but they are usually covered in gravel and dust.
Along a major stretch of the southern coast are a succession of sandy beaches, once scenic and secluded but now packed with holidaymakers.
In reality a single stretch of sand for several kilometres sheltered by a cliff backdrop they have inherited rather silly Anglicised names. There is no resort here as such and holidaymakers flock in for the day from other island resorts, especially Kefalos and Kamari.
CAMEL beach is in a small pretty bay and has fine golden sand and some interesting and dramatic wind sculpted cliffs behind. There are also rock formations in the clear water to add interest but a less interesting, if not downright ugly, cement block behind that houses the beach cantina. It is less popular than some others, probably because the access from the large car park behind is very steep. It is also a favourite with nudists, mostly Swedish and Dutch.
PARADISE beach is also known as BUBBLE beach on account of underwater volcanic vents which warm the water a degree or two. It is immensely popular, gets very crowded despite its considerable length and is fully commercialised. Sheltering cliffs, good clean sand and shallow water make it ideal for families with children, provided the youngsters don't get lost among the hundreds of sun beds. There are several cantinas to feed the hungry crowds and this is a popular day out for those staying in Kefalos and Kamari across the bay. To see the bubbles you need to snorkel out to sea a bit; you won't see anything along the shoreline.
BANANA beach is probably the cleanest beach of the lot and the most picturesque, with junipers straddling the low sand dunes behind. But it is rather small and less popular than its neighbour Paradise beach. This beach is also called LAGANDA.
More than 2km of sand is found at the much wilder SUNNY beach. The beach is long and narrow and backed by low scrub carpeted rocks. There are sun beds and cantinas but far fewer hotels around so it is tends to be much less crowded than the others.
At 3 km MAGIC, also called POLENI, is the longest, broadest and least tamed of them all. It is also the least populated, though there is still no shortage of sun beds and there are a few basic beach cantinas.
The far western end of this strip is the beach called either XEROKAMBOS beach or EXOTIC beach depending on whether you can pronounce Greek or not and is backed by an army tank and artillery range, so keep your head well down.
A generation ago, KARDAMENA, located about 30km from Kos Town and just 5km from the airport, was everything a picturesque Greek fishing village should be. Charming, friendly and famous for its fine ceramics.
Kardamena is rather different now, a heaving tourist resort of discos and burger bars that wouldn't look out of place on the Costa Brava. It is enjoying a resurgence in interest from major tour companies keen to cash in on the growing popularity.
A uniform grid of concrete closely follows the coastline and rows of bars and cafes open out onto wide sandy beaches that sweep out for around 5km either side of the Kardamena resort. The usual beach entertainment and watersports abound.
Arm in arm with the transformation has come grim-faced exploitation at every corner. Sunburned Kardamena visitors are here to be flayed by the sun and puddled with alcohol.
Kardamena bars must turn off the music at midnight but Kardamena clubs stay open to 3.30am in the week and 6am at the weekend. Names like Slammers, Bonkers and Crackers give an idea of the standard.
Street touts pester you to join foam parties and karaoke nights. Youngsters will love it to bits and, if you are in the market for a bout of singalong holiday fun, Kardamena could be just the place.
There is no end to the tavernas and restaurants but menus of moussaka and red wine have been replaced by mountains of chips, baked beans and lager, predictably high in price.
For the more sedate there are many interesting archaeological treasures to be seen, such as the Temple of Apollo, the early Christian basilicas and the Ancient Theatre. There are regular boat excursions to the volcanic islet of Nisyros and in summer there is the Kardamena White Bait Festival where the locals let their hair down with street parties.
At the eastern end of the beach is the self-contained package resort of TOLARI, now a 1,000-bed hotel complex where a village used to stand.