Kardamena: the perfect base for exploring Kos

by EmilyJayne

Not just a place for a party, Kardamena is great for a relaxed break, good food, and with plenty of options for discovering the rest of beautiful Kos and the islands around.

I have to admit that before my holiday I was a little bit sceptical about going to Kardamena. All I’d heard about the place was of its reputation as one of the crazy resorts, full of drunken Brits – Kos’ version of Faliraki or Zante, overflowing with cheap night spots and with English as the unofficial language. Considering I wanted the complete opposite from my holiday – relaxed, with a bit of culture on the side – it might have been a bad decision. But really it’s all an exaggeration: while it’s true Kardamena does have that crazy side to it, the town has a whole lot more to offer too, if you look in the right places.

The town is a fairly small resort – one long road along the sea front, and a couple of streets stretching behind that. Despite that though, there’s no shortage of places to stay. Although everything I saw was very much on a similar basic standard – no 5 star luxury here – you can easily get a perfectly comfortable place to stay, close to the beach, for a decent price. We stayed at Kardamena Holiday Apartments, just five minutes from the waterfront (but set far enough back that we were never disturbed by the noise from the bars). These self-catered apartments are fairly well-equipped, with a decent living area, bedroom and bathrooms, and (the personal highlight), generous balconies that are great for sitting out on in the evening sunshine. The apartments have no pool, but the Cleopatra Classic Hotel just over the road offers free use of their sun loungers at its pool. The large Cleopatra hotels would be better suited for those looking for more high quality accommodation. Hotel pools are open all around the town, but the relaxed and friendly Cleopatra Classic was the best one we found - not overrun by families, and with enough space for everyone to do their own thing without disturbing anyone else, we spent whole days reading and sunbathing here.

If you prefer the real thing to the pool, then Kardamena has a vast beach stretched along the front. The beach is at its busiest in front of Kardamena’s beachside bars and restaurants, where the sun loungers for rent are often full by the afternoon – so arrive early if you want a good spot, especially during high season. The locals know that the best place to go is away from the centre where the beach quietens out – follow the road out of town, and the beach transforms from loud and hectic to chilled out and empty. It can be a bit of a trek in the heat, but take a book, drinks, and some sun cream, and you could easily pass a whole day in the sun without needing to head back to town at all.

Like all these resorts, the sea front is the life and soul of Kardamena, where many of the restaurants and bars have terraces overlooking the beautiful sea, and market stalls pop up along the harbour. The streets behind the front have more bars and tourist shops selling local themed gifts of olive oil soap and natural sea sponges, grown locally on the island Kalymnos. Although a lot of these restaurants and shops are tourist traps, it’s a case of looking hard enough to find the more authentic places – they do exist! Blue Note is one of the restaurants with a terrace with views of the harbour, but in this case the food is good enough to match up to the view. Again, heading a little further away from the centre is often a good tactic – we found some almost empty restaurants just five minutes past the central square, and ate with the locals! Further along the front, Ellie’s Carvery is popular with tourists looking for British-style food, but don’t be put off if you looking for something different – they also do some of the best versions of the Greek classic dishes such as tzatsiki and keftedes (meatballs).

Bars also compete for customers along the busy sea front, with most having a young Brit working outside to get the customers in. If you want to avoid being caught by them and pressured into their bar, The Garden is a much better choice. Being two streets from the front it doesn’t have the views, but it’s still worth a visit, for the more relaxed atmosphere. Easy to spot because of the fairy lights that cover the outside area, it’s a chilled out place for a drink – especially one of the delicious cocktails, each of which comes with a sparkler in it. Either sit outside amongst the lights and people watch those walking past, or go into the ethnic-inspired interior, and sit in one of the dark corners, lit by tealights.

It would be easy to spend a whole week in Kardamena without ever leaving, and a lot of visitors seem happy to stay in the town for their whole holiday. But if you're looking for more of an adventure then trips to around the island or to one of the nearby islands are easy to do, and well worth it too.

The best option on the island is the capital, Kos Town, only a forty-five minute bus journey away from Kardamena. Buses leave regularly from the town centre and tickets are cheap, although be warned that they can get very busy. Kos Town is famous for being the birthplace of the Father of Medicine himself, Hippocrates, and attractions include the Plane Tree where Hippocrates was reported to have taught. A road train runs from the town to the Asclepieion, the ruins of the medical centre and temple where Hippocratic medicine was taught. This place is stunning (bring your camera!), and you can see across to nearby Turkey on a good day. Students can get in free to the Asclepieion, as well as many of the town’s attractions, with a student card. Kos Town also has a beautiful harbour that stretches all along the front and is dominated by The Castle of the Knights, a huge ruined castle that is great to explore. In fact, the whole town is full of history – walk through any of the streets and you’ll see buildings that remind you of the past this place has.

As well as Kos Town, buses leave Kardamena for Mastichari (a fishing village like Kardamena, but much quieter) and Thermes (the location of the famous thermal beach). Several travel companies in Kardamena arrange trips to these places and they’re not too expensive, considering they save you the hassle of finding buses. Most companies offer boat trips to, another adventure that is heavily recommended. Everyday there are countless boat trips that run from the harbour: most go to Nissyros, the volcanic island that’s visible from Kardamena. Once in Nissyros, many visitors get onto buses to head into the volcanic crater, but don’t miss the capital Mandraki either. It’s another picture perfect setting, with its winding streets, white houses and colourful balconies, and there’s also a monastery at the top of the village.

Other boat trips run to Kalymnos to see the famous natural sponge being collected and harvested or, for the really adventurous, all the way to Turkey. The proximity of Kos to Turkey means the daily hydrofoils to Bodrum only take 15 minutes – although the 15 Euros for your Turkish visa means this isn’t a cheap day trip. It’s worth considering for the cheap shopping in the markets at Bodrum though.

So forget what you’ve heard - Kardamena has options for you, whatever you’re looking for in a holiday. There are the parties, bars and nightclubs but for those who want to avoid that then a relaxed time by the beach or the pool, or some great food is just as obtainable. And it’s so easy to explore the rest of the island, and the other islands around too. Kardamena has a reputation as Kos' version of the crazy British resort - like Faliraki or Zante, with the overflow of cheap night spots and English as the unofficial language. And while Kardamena has that side to it, the Greek island town also has a whole lot more to offer.