Rick Steves' Favorite Greek Island Is An Off-The-Radar Escape With Unforgettable Beaches

There are so many gorgeous islands in Greece. You could visit the vibrant island of Skopelos, the bucket list island for fans of "Mamma Mia!," or Alonissos, the gorgeous Greek island that's a great alternative to overcrowded Santorini, though that's also worth a visit. You could pick any number of beautiful destinations, including the pretty-yet-packed Mykonos, or the city of Athens, which is full of ancient wonders like the Acropolis, but maybe not the most relaxing. However, when travel expert Rick Steves wants to visit his favorite Greek island, it's one that is quieter than the others, despite being a mere two-hour ferry ride from Athens. Steves' favorite spot is the island of Hydra (which you may also see written as Idra).


Hydra is a relaxing place, and popular with jetsetters who want to get away from it all. Famous fans of Hydra include composer Leonard Cohen who had a house there, as well as Maria Callas, Aristotle Onassis, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, and even the artist Picasso. However, this island isn't about fame and fortune, despite the yachts in the harbor or the old stone mansions dotting the area. Steves loves Hydra for its quiet lifestyle, its beautiful beaches, and its relaxed atmosphere. Here's everything you need to know about Hydra, Greece. 

Hydra is a quiet island with no cars

Rick Steves' favorite island is the epitome of tranquil with zero cars, donkeys for transportation, and only one major town with little villages dotted around. "On Hydra, a traffic jam is three donkeys and a fisherman," the travel connoisseur wrote on Rick Steves' Travel Blog. In fact, the donkeys do most of the labor for the island. "Other than zippy water taxis, donkeys are the only form of transportation. Slow and steady, these surefooted beasts of burden — laden with everything from sandbags and bathtubs to bottled water — climb the island's stepped lanes," Steves explained.


The water taxis, he mentioned, will take you where you need to go. You'll find them lined up on the east side of Hydra's harbor, which Steves called "one of Greece's prettiest." The small boats can take up to 10 people and you request them from a phone in the harbor for free if there aren't any available. The rate is displayed on the boat and the total depends on the destination and number of people.

To get to Hydra, take the ferry from Athens' Piraeus for about $42 each way. You'll arrive at Hydra Town's port, with its hills of whitewashed homes. Make sure to visit the Cathedral Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary founded in 1648, a former women's monastery and a place for liberation fighters to convene during the Greek War of Independence. 


The beaches of Hydra are cozy and intimate

The big draw of Hydra is its lovely beaches. There is Agios Nikolaos, which has pebbles and some sand, and is great for swimming. There are chairs and umbrellas at many of the beaches, and this one also has a beachside bar. You'll need to take a water taxi to Agios Nikolaos or do a long hike. You can also visit the closer Vlichos Beach, which is walking distance from the port. Bring water shoes as there are some pebbles in the water, and enjoy plenty of bars and tavernas.


Spilia Beach is a bit different with stone platforms which are good for diving. This is a deep spot, so you may want to skip it if you have kids with you. You can take a staircase to the shore, which goes along the bar — perfect for relaxation. If you do have kids, Kaminia Beach (also called Baby Beach) has shallow water and tiny fish swimming around. Grab some cocktails from the bar while your little ones splash. Just be careful of pricing when eating at beaches in Greece.

There are lovely hiking trails around Hydra like the Mount Eros loop. This is a 10.9-mile hike with a 2,703-foot elevation gain. It starts in Hydra Town and takes you to the summit for a view of the island and the Peloponnese coastline. Or try the Profitou Iliou Monastery 4.1-mile out and back trail with a 1,568-foot gain.