Sofia Adventures

Welcome to Sofia!

Sofia is an intriguing city, with corners that show at various times a glint of the splendor of Vienna, the charm of Istanbul, the quirkiness of Budapest, and the brutalism of Moscow. You’ll find Roman ruins in our subway stations, medieval icons in the church basements, and Thracian relics in the former presidential palace. Yet Sofia brings all of these seemingly disparate traditions together into one magical, inspiring city.

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DISCOVER SOFIA

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How to Spend a Magical One Day in Istanbul: Mini Itinerary

How to Spend a Magical One Day in Istanbul: Mini Itinerary

Have you ever visited a city and developed an instant connection with its striking architecture, bustling streets, and amazing vibe? This article is about the city that has the potential to make one fall utterly in love with it in just 24 hours: Istanbul.

Istanbul, the most populous city of Turkey, is celebrated as one of the most favorite tourist destinations around the world, offering a tangible meaning to the phrase where “the East meets the West”: the city itself literally spans both Europe and Asia.

With a magnificent history, rich culture, compassionate people, and scrumptious cuisine, Istanbul has something for everyone.

Whether you’re planning to make the most of a long layover in Istanbul or adding a while-stop one day in Istanbul during your European tour, this brief guide brings to you to the best of Istanbul in 24 hours!

Before It Begins: At the Airport

Turkey - Istanbul - Arriving at Ataturk Airport
The old Ataturk airport, now no longer in use

I am certainly not one of those who follow a strict itinerary when traveling, but it’s best to plan a little ahead and have a rough idea about the places you would like to visit, especially when it’s a race against time.

Getting the e-visa in advance and choosing to land on the New Istanbul Airport on the European side of the city instead of Sabiha Gokcen Airport in Kurtkoy on the Asian side is an important decision. Since almost all of the touristic spots are situated on the European side, this saves on transportation costs as well as time.

Google Maps is undoubtedly a traveler’s best friend, but since one won’t always have access to Wi-Fi, buying a tourist welcome SIM card pack with several GBs of internet is a good way to begin. At the airport, you’ll find the three biggest mobile Internet providers of Turkey: Turkcell, Vodafone, and Turk Telekom. Check out their packages online and buy the cheapest one as you’re here for just a day!

Also, don’t forget to get your local currency exchanged into Turkish Liras, and if using a debit card, make sure the bank is notified of its use abroad. When taking out money from the ATM, beware of the extra ATM charges, which are deducted from your account. Make sure you have enough 5 TL, 10 TL, and 20 TL bills, as credit cards and bigger bills won’t work in the local transport systems.

Another thing to sort before you finally go out to explore Istanbul is to get your hands on the super-useful Istanbul Kart! If you don’t wish to spend all your hard-earned money on the taxi rides or get stuck in the crazy Istanbul traffic, spend 6 TL on an Istanbul Kart, load it with around 50 TL, and travel through the well-established public transportation system of the city. Keep in mind that you’ll be exploring Istanbul majorly on foot so make sure to invest in a good pair of walking shoes!

First Stop: Sultanahmet Meydani

The New Istanbul airport is situated about 49 km from the famous Sultanahmet Meydani, the heart of the old city.

Also known as the Hippodrome of Constantinople, the square is often the first stop on any Istanbul itinerary, as most of the touristic sites are situated here at a walking distance from each other.

The best way to reach here is to take the airport shuttle service, Havaist. Take the bus that reads Sultanahmet, as its final destination and it will drop you at the Hagia Sofia in just 18 TL. The tramline here connects almost every touristy place!

Kahvaltı Platter or On-The-Go Breakfast? You Decide!

Being a true foodie at heart, I would recommend starting the journey early with authentic Turkish breakfast. The options are numerous! Depending on your preference you can either choose to eat at a restaurant or grab a quick bite.

Head Southwest and then take a left to reach the Dervish Café, a 24-hour open café located at the Kabasakal Caddesi.

Here you can enjoy a spectacular view of the Blue mosque and a delicious kahvaltı platter with ekmek (Turkish bread), eggs, olives, a variety of cheese, jam, butter, honey, sausages, ham, vegetables, and a steamy cup of Çay (Turkish tea).

However, if you are planning on treating yourself with a scrumptious kofte lunch, I would suggest sticking to the on-the-go breakfast staple, simit (a Turkish roll similar to a bagel covered in sesame seeds) and a cup of çay, available everywhere on mobile carts.

Walking Down History Lane

Turkey - Istanbul - Blue Mosque - Canva

Arriving early for your one day in Istanbul will have its benefits. You can start from the magnificent Sultan Ahmed Camii, also known as the Blue Mosque.

This is the smartest way to begin as most sites and museums open at 9:00 AM, whereas the mosque with the six-minarets is open for visitors at all times (except during the five prayers).

Entering from the Hippodrome, which is at the West side of the mosque, you’ll relish the peaceful ambiance of the glorious prayer hall adorned with 20,000 blue Iznik tiles.

Turkey - Istanbul - Hagia Sofia

Walk right across the mosque and in two minutes you’ll reach the Hagia Sophia Museum – an architectural testament to the historic significance of Istanbul.

The grandiose of the chandeliers handing from the giant dome, the intricate Arabic calligraphy, well-preserved Biblical mosaics, and the beautiful paintings would surely get you some Instagrammable pictures!

As of 2020, the entrance fee is 100 TL. You can even buy the entrance tickets online by paying a little extra or invest in the Muze Kart (museum card) if you wish to visit Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum and the Istanbul Archaeological Museum for free for the whole year.

While Topkapi Palace is just 3 minutes away, I would not include it in my one-day tour, as exploring the palace alone would take half a day.

Instead, it’s best to head northwest and add the ancient Basilica Cistern to your one day in Istanbul itinerary, as it’s only a minute away and would cost you no more than 30 TL.

The eerie beauty of the underground Roman reservoir is accentuated with the dimly lit passageways and two blocks carved with Medusa’s visage. You can notice several gleaming coins thrown by the tourists inside the little water that remains in the cistern!

A Mouth Full of Köfte and Souvenir Shopping

While walking out of the Cistern, you might hear your tummy grumbling and that’s what I call the köfte-cry!

After all the sight-seeing, all you need is a hearty meal comprising of delectable Turkish meatballs doused in flavorful tomato sauce, served with pickled green peppers and crunchy ekmek bread. Match it up with a side of piyaz (Turkish bean salad) and a glass full of frothy ayran (a sour buttermilk-like drink) and you’ll be good to go!

My favorite lunchtime spot is the Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi Selim Usta, located alongside Divan Yolu. Don’t be surprised to find this multi-floor restaurant full and buzzing, as it’s as popular among tourists as among locals.

Assuming that it’s NOT a Sunday, you should next be headed towards the largest covered bazaar of the world, the Grand Bazaar.

You can either opt for a short tram ride from Sultanahmet to Beyazit or take a 10-minute walk. My vote goes to walking, as it would give you a chance to explore the eye-catching gift shops and people-watch the crowd.

The crowded narrow streets of Grand Bazaar, bustling with energy, colors, and chaos, can easily make you lose the sense of time. Someone who knows the art of haggling would have a chance of finding everything from ceramics to jewelry and from spices to rugs to crockery!

If you’re a fan of spices, pay a visit to the Mısır Çarşısı, also known as the Spice Bazaar in Fatih. But I would recommend saving some shopping for Istiklal Street!

Crossing the Galata Bridge

Sunsets in Istanbul are to die for! Don’t you believe me? Take a stroll across the Galata Bridge, spanning the Golden Horn or the inlet of the Bosphorus River.

Watching the reflection of the last of the sunrays into the twinkling river filled with ferries and fishing boats and the spectacular view of the Süleymaniye Camii from this bridge is surreal.

With an upper level lined with fishing lines and lower levels housing floating eateries, the Galata bridge takes you straight to the Beyoglyu district.

And, while you’re there, don’t forget to grab a Balik Ekmek (Fish Sandwich) from Osmanli Balikçisi.

The Panoramic View from the Galata Tower

A 10-minute walk from the Karakoy Station takes you to the skyscraping Galata Kulesi. The tower is a personal favorite as the view is like a dream!

You can go up the medieval stone tower and experience the most breathtaking panoramic view of Istanbul and its surroundings by paying an entrance fee of just 35 TL.

However, keep an eye on your wristwatch as the line to this hot tourist attraction can be pretty long!

Istiklal Caddesi – A Street Full of Music, Food, And Budget Shopping

To me, Istiklal is the street that never sleeps. In fact, it becomes alive just as the sun sets.

Lined with shops showcasing branded clothes and shoes, glittering, colorful Turkish lamps, hand-made leather products, customized t-shirts, gift items, books and stationery, fridge magnets, key chains, mugs, home décor products, musical instruments, paintings, ancient coins and maps, and what not!

Sprinkled among these shops are eateries offering Turkish fast food and cute cafes with the most amazing deserts and coffee! You can also have a look at the Madame Tussauds Istanbul on Istiklal Street for a touristy treat.

You can get a Turkish mosaic lamp perfect for your bedside table in less than 60 TL – a must buy! If planning to buy some cool and affordable clothes, drop by LC Waikiki or Koton, two popular shops on Istiklal Caddesi. You’ll find brands like Zara and Mango here as well.

Even if you’re running short on the shopping budget, you can appreciate the street musicians playing a variety of instruments and ensuring that the people have a good time.

Thanks to all the walking, you’ll have some space for the melt-in-the-mouth favorite, a potato-based fast food called Kumpir. You’ll find a couple of shops selling the best kumpirs – try them out!

In case you have a sweet tooth like me, try out the warm cheesy kunefe served with a quenelle of kaymaklı dondurma (Turkish ice cream) at MADO.

If you’re in a mood to have a more traditional dinner, walk straight to the Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrası – a restaurant by the Internet celebrity chef, CZNBurak!

The restaurant is always full, but you might not have to wait if you get lucky. The food is finger-licking good, but the best part is the awesome music played by the servers with the spoons and plates to entertain the customers.

Be sure to click some pictures with the vintage tram moving along Istiklal Caddesi and with the Republic Monument in the middle of Taksim Square.

The Bosphorus Night Cruise – A Perfect End to the Perfect Day in Istanbul

The end to such a memorable journey has to be as unforgettable and I am sure you’ll cherish the Bosphorus tour for the rest of your life.

You can choose a Bosphorus tour offered by a private company (will most probably offer pick and drop as well) or choose the light-on-the-pocket, moonlight cruise on the Bosphorus offered by Şehir Hatları, Istanbul’s official ferry company.

You will have unlimited options when booking a private tour. If you haven’t had your dinner, a Bosphorus dinner cruise would probably be the best. Many cruise tours offer Turkish Night Shows with belly dancing, traditional food tastings, and live performances.

If booking the Mehtap Gezi tour by Şehir Hatları, you can save big as it will cost you just 20 TL. You can check the schedule and other information on their website.  The ferry leaves at 10:30 PM from Eminönü and takes you all the way to the Black Sea and back.

Last Words of Advice

Even though Istanbul is a dream destination throughout the year, the best time to visit the city is late spring, during May and June, as summer could get really hot and winter can be pretty cold.

When visiting mosques or other religious sites, please respect the dress code. Wear long skirts, pants, and full-sleeved shirts. Women are supposed to cover their head with a scarf as well. Also, don’t forget to check the opening hours of the places you wish to visit beforehand.

You’ll find the streets of Istanbul full of cute cats and dogs. These animals are vaccinated and are often pampered by tourists, so don’t hesitate to pet them or share a bite with them.

Turkish people are extremely compassionate and welcoming, so return the warmth by smiling and saying ‘Merhaba’ (hello in Turkish)!

So, book your trip to Istanbul and let the magical city make you fall in love with it!

Where to Stay in Istanbul

Turkey - Istanbul - Hammamhane

We have a ton of resources to help you decide where to stay in Istanbul!

Check our giant neighborhood guide and hotel recommendations, or look specifically for our favorite Sultanahmet hotels near the Blue Mosque or our favorite Bosphorus view hotels.

If you just want our quick recommendations, here are our top picks for each budget category.

Budget: For a great budget-friendly hotel, you can stay in single or double rooms at the Dreamers B&B. Colorful and cozy, the B&B boasts a fabulous location in Beyoglu, less than a kilometer from Taksim Square. You can explore all of Beyoglu from here, and then head to Sultanahmet when you’re ready to see the old city. Check pricing, reviews, and availability here.

Mid-Range: For an affordable, yet trendy boutique hotel, we recommend Peradays. It’s perfect for all Istanbul visitors, from first-timers to Istanbul veterans. The lofted rooms are generously large, so you can spread out and relax after a long day of sightseeing. They also have two cats that live here, Pera and Daisy, which you’ll be happy to greet after counting cats all day when out in the city. Check pricing, reviews, and availability here. 

Luxury: Istanbul has no shortage of fabulous hotels, but we love Hammamhane, a boutique apartment-hotel that was originally a hammam, and the sister hotel of Peradays. Built in a historic hammam (Turkish bath), the suites are spacious and luxurious. Located in the heart of Cukurcuma, the antiques district, Hammamhane is within walking distance to art galleries, design stores, antique shops, and chic cafés. Check pricing, reviews, and availability here.

What to Pack for Istanbul

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage

We have a guide of what to pack for Turkey, but here are five things you definitely want to bring with you!

The Lonely Planet Turkeya good guidebook can help you with the kinds of safety tips you need if you’re out in the city and feel a bit lost, especially if you don’t have internet or a cell signal. These also have specific neighborhood information that will help you in different parts of the city, and it’s a great supplement to blog posts like this one!

Unlocked Cell Phone: Stephanie and I both have unlocked cell phones that we bought in Europe (Stephanie uses a Samsung and I use an iPhone). This allows up to get sim cards when we travel so that we always have the internet. This has gotten us out of so many jams! If you don’t have an unlocked cell phone that can use a Turkish sim card, you can buy a cheaper unlocked phone online and bring it with you!

Pacsafe Citysafe or Other Anti-Theft Bag: This is the bag both Stephanie and I use for all our travels. It has a pouch with RFID technology so our credit cards can’t get scanned from afar, interlocking zippers to make it harder to pickpocket, and it’s roomy enough to be a perfect sightseeing day bag, yet it’s still quite stylish for all of its security features. If you’d rather bring something smaller, you can pack a money belt instead. 

Grayl Water FilterWhile the water is *technically* safe to drink in much of Turkey, I would still avoid it. If you don’t want to be buying millions of plastic water bottles, you can get a reusable water bottle that comes with a water filter so that you can stick to the tap water and reduce your plastic waste. If you’ll be traveling outside of the major tourist centers, check if the water is potable locally.

Seabands: If you get seasick easily, pack some Seabands or seasickness pills so you don’t miss out on the best parts of Turkey – being on the water! A trip to Turkey isn’t complete without a cruise or at least a quick boat trip, so make sure you’re prepared to enjoy it to the fullest!

More Turkey Travel Resources

Turkey - Istanbul - Istanbul in Winter Snow Selfie Stephanie

Headed to Turkey? We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip.

If this will be your first time traveling to Turkey, check out this guide to planning a trip to Turkey (including visa information) and this guide beautiful places to visit in Turkey. You can also check out our Balkan currency guide, which explains how the Turkish lira works and guidelines for tipping in Istanbul.

If you’re heading to Istanbul, we have you covered. Start with our essential Istanbul Travel Tips and guide to staying safe in Istanbul

We’re working on our massive things to do in Istanbul post, plus you can check out our guide to the best Instagram spots around Istanbul, tips for shopping in Istanbul, the best Turkish food to eat, how to plan an Istanbul honeymoon, and what to do in Istanbul at night.

If you will be visiting in winter, we have a special winter in Istanbul guide plus an overview of Istanbul weather in January.

If you want to be in the city for just a few days (four or less), check out our Istanbul city break guide, which breaks down the best of the city so you won’t miss anything!

Headed to Cappadocia? If you’re curious about the most Instagrammable places in Cappadocia, we’ve got you covered. We also have posts on the best things to do in Cappadocia, and how to plan a perfect 3 day Cappadocia itinerary, plus how to get to Cappadocia from Istanbul.

We have tons more Turkey and Balkans resources, and we publish new content nearly daily. Bookmark our Turkey and Balkans travel pages so you can find any new resources that come out before your trip!

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

I’m sure you’re aware that travel insurance is a good idea for traveling in Turkey (or really, any part of the world)! We have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.

While Turkey is safe to travel around, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel, so it’s better to play it safe.

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here <<

10 Crete Hidden Gems & Secret Places for Your Next Crete Adventure!

10 Crete Hidden Gems & Secret Places for Your Next Crete Adventure!

If you’re reading this article, chances are that you are preparing your next trip to Crete. Therefore, you’ve already heard about the beaches of Elafonisi, the city of Chania, and the old town of Rethymnon.

You’ve probably read about the archaeological sites, the magnificent Knossos Palace and the capital Heraklion. You may have even discovered the lesser-known east and the best things to do there. Now you’re here because you want to know a bit more. Well, you’re in the right place.

Although it’s one of the most touristic Greek spots, visited by thousands of tourists year after year, Crete is such a huge island that there are several places still unknown to those who visit often and even to locals themselves! Hidden beaches, gorges, and bizarre landscapes are not an oddity on Crete… on the contrary, they are the norm. So keep your eyes wide open. In this article, we will reveal some of those secret places of Crete that only a few know about, including my favorite hidden gems in Crete and the best offbeat places.

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Secret Crete Hidden Gems

The Best Crete Hidden Gems & Secret Spots

In no particular order…

Lake Kournas

Not many are aware that Crete is not just the perfect beach paradise of the Mediterranean. The island is also home to awe-inspiring mountain ranges, valleys, plains… and even lakes! 

And when it comes to lakes and wetlands, artificial reservoirs and several dams can be found in different areas of the island. These have been built to meet the local needs of water supply and are often filled with snow that melts from the high peaks of Crete. However, the island is also home to one natural freshwater lake of stunning beauty. Lake Kournas.

Kournas is a small village about 50 km from the center of Chania, in the western region of Crete. The village overlooks the beautiful lake which stands surrounded by fantastic green hills. Kournas is home to several natural species and a variety of birds, and it is also a great place to relax away from the most popular resorts usually crowded in summer.

On the lake, it’s possible to rent paddle boats or eat in one of the many fantastic Cretan tavernas that populate the waterfront in the area. The village is a great place where to buy Cretan ceramics and other crafts to take back home as an original souvenir.

Sfinari Beach

Everyone knows and loves the spectacular beach of Falassarna, on the western coast of the island. Falassarna is a wide bay better-known for being the hotspot on Crete when it comes to witnessing the best sunsets in the Mediterranean.

However, not far from Falassarna, on the same coast and therefore, with the same western orientation, favorable to observe those magnificent sunsets, stands Sfinari, a rather hidden pebble beach, with almost no organization, where you can spend a holiday in total isolation. 

Sfinari is not as crowded as many other beaches of west Crete, but it’s definitely a hidden place you should check out on the island.

Roman Cisterns of Aptera

Usually less-crowded than other archaeological sites, such as Knossos, Malia or Festos, Aptera is a fairly big archaeological site located in the regional unit of Chania. It’s located up on a beautiful hill facing the spectacular natural bay of Souda, one of Crete’s main ports.

Aptera, which has been occupied since the Minoan times until the Byzantine period, hides one of the best-preserved Roman aqueducts and cisterns of the island. The archaeological site is open to the public from 8.30 to 15.30, every day except Thursdays, and the entrance fee is 4€.

Richtis Gorge

Greece - Crete - A girl admiring the Richtis Gorge waterfall. It is a state protected park near Exo Mouliana, Sitia, eastern Crete. The hiking trail is about 4 km in length of easy to moderate difficulty.

Moving towards the eastern region of Lasithi, several are the off-the-beaten-track places that Crete hides. The gorge of Richtis is one of them.

Located halfway through the city of Agios Nikolaos and the port of Sitia, Richtis is a hidden small gorge that you can walk all the way until you reach its fantastic waterfall and isolated beach.

The area is covered with abundant vegetation, colorful flowers and even fresh berries that you can pick and eat on your way.

Once at the entrance of the gorge, you are welcomed by a stone ancient bridge, from there, follow the course of the small river that lands you directly on the beach of Richtis after a walk of about forty minutes.

Palm Tree Forests

Crete hosts Europe’s biggest palm tree forest at the beach of Vai, on the extreme eastern coast of the island. This unique grove of  Crete date palm is located on a very wide shore and limited by high rocky cliffs on both of its extremes. 

The beach of Vai is shallow and well-protected from the winds, which makes it a perfect destination, especially for families.

Vai, however, is not the only palm tree forest in Crete. In the region of Rethymnon, the beautiful beach of Preveli, on the southern coast of the Rethymnon prefecture is another area with abundant palm trees, this time growing on the sides of a river that ends its course on a wonderful sandy beach.

Agia Lake

We said before that Crete’s only freshwater lake is Kournas, however, there are also some artificial lakes worth a visit on the island. One of them is Agia, not far from the Omalos Plateau in the prefecture of Chania and less than half an hour from the city center.

Agia is one of the most important wetlands in the region home to one-of-a-kind biodiversity. The rich flora is characteristic of the area, while several species of birds migrate from and to Agia during the different seasons making it a fantastic natural environment, ideal for a walk in summer, or a cup of hot Greek coffee in winter, in one of the few cafeterias located right in front of the lake

Potamida

One of the weirdest sights you can witness in Crete is the odd formation of Komolithi. Located also in the region of Chania, the village of Potamida hides the small but impressive hills in the valley of river Tyflos.

These low grey mountains are surrounded by lush vegetation and have a characteristic green top while the rest of them is made of arid and dry clay.

They are easy to climb and the perfect place to see a completely different image of Crete. Those coming from Chania can reach Komolithi about 15 minutes after the detour to Elafonisi beach.

Argyropouli

The small village of Argyropouli is in the region of Rethymnon, about 27 km from the city of Rethymnon. Formerly home to the Ancient Settlement of Lappa, Argyropouli is a fantastic natural environment made of countless natural springs and waterfalls that descend from the mountains.

The area is permanently green and has pleasant temperatures, and it’s a perfect place to spend a day away from the coast. In the area, several restaurants serve grilled trout and other fish varieties that are directly picked from the ponds and coked right in front of you.

Ravdoucha

The mysterious Rodopou peninsula is the wildest and most remote area of Crete. Largely uninhabited due to its harsh landscape and lack of accessible roads, the peninsula hosts fantastic beaches that only a few people know about.

One of the lesser-known beaches in Cape Rodopou is Ravdoucha, with pristine waters and a mix of sand and dark rocks, Ravdoucha offers great shelter and isolation to spend some time in complete disconnection from the rest of the world.

The only way to reach Ravdoucha is by car or taxi (there’s no public transport reaching the area), traveling for about 35 minutes from Chania’s city center towards the west.

On the beach, there’s almost no organization, just a one to eat, and only a few rooms to rent. The best place to stay if you want to reach the area is the small village of Kolymbari, at the base of the peninsula.

Odigitrias Monastery

Remain on the same peninsula of Rodopou to visit another unique hidden spot on the island.

Crete is a land of churches and monasteries, some of them very famous, others, extremely old and abandoned, and many of them remarkable for their role in Crete’s history and yet pretty much unknown to visitors and even to locals!

Everyone floods the monasteries of Preveli and Arkadi, but not many are aware of the beautiful Odigitrias Monastery, also known as Monastery of our Lady of Gonia, less than 25 kilometers from the center of Chania. 

The religious building is on a steep hill facing the Gulf of Chania and played a key role during the Nazi occupation of Crete as the place where local groups for the resistance of Crete would gather forces and organize to fight against the Nazis.

The monastery is known also for its fortified walls and the beautiful floor of the courtyard made of small cobblestones completely surrounded by the cells of the monks.

Key Things to Pack on Your Trip to Crete

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage
 

If you’re planning a trip to Greece, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more packing tips, check out our complete Essential Crete Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Crete

– A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle. We love Lonely Planet Greece for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.

– A water bottle with a filter. While often, the tap water in Greece is drinkable, there are places where it isn’t, including some popular tourist destinations like Santorini.

We generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant!

We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.

– Motion sickness pills. Many Greek roads are winding, especially around the coast. Not to mention how choppy the ferries can be if you’re not lucky with the weather! If you have a weak stomach as we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.

– Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in Greece aren’t always well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.

 Travel safety items. We think Greece is very safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Stephanie or I use these. Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack.

It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.

Crete Travel Resources

Crete - Rethymnon - Neratze Mosque or Gazi Hussein Mosque in Mikrasiaton Square

Most people who come to Rethymnon also explore other parts of this beautiful island. Here are additional Crete travel resources to help you with your trip.

We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip. First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more. We also have a Balkan currency guide which explains how money works in Greece and local tipping customs.

Since you’ll be in Rethymnon, check out our Instagram guide to Rethymnon next, our guide to things to do in Rethymnon, and the best Rethymnon hotels.

We also have Chania, Heraklion, and Rethymnon itineraries.

If you’re still trying to work out where to go on the island, check out our guide to the best places to visit in Crete and our favorite Crete beaches.

If this will be one of your first trips to the Greek islands, check out our massive Greek Island hopping guide as well as our recommendations for where to go in Greece and when is the best time to visit. 

We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.

Don’t Travel to Crete without Travel Insurance

Finally, make sure you always travel to Crete with a valid travel insurance policy. While Rethymnon is a very safe place to travel, you want to make sure you have your possessions covered if they’re stolen and your medical bills covered if you get sick or injured.

For travel insurance, I use World NomadsI’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

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Secret Crete Hidden Gems

What to Eat in Crete: the 11 Best-Kept Secrets of the Cretan Diet

What to Eat in Crete: the 11 Best-Kept Secrets of the Cretan Diet

The island of Crete is a magnificent treasure that guards hundreds of traditions and rituals you cannot easily find anywhere else in Greece. One of these secrets is the local food.

You may be wondering what to eat in Crete. Well, the Cretan diet is a wonderful array of taste and color made of very healthy dishes that conquers everyone visiting the island. Cretan dishes are, indeed, one of the key elements you’re bound to always remember whenever you look back at your holidays on the island.

Whether you dine in a modern or high-end restaurant in Chania, or in a lost taverna in the middle of the mountains, there’s one characteristic that makes them all stand out, the complete adherence to the following main principles of the Cretan cuisine.

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What to Eat in Crete - Cretan Diet

Basic principles of the Cretan Diet 

If you want to eat like a local in Crete, here’s what you need to keep in mind.

Olive oil rigorously extra virgin

 

Blessed with more than 2 million olive trees scattered around the whole territory, Crete remains one of the world’s first producers of top quality extra virgin olive oil. These trees not only cover the local needs of oil but much of it is exported worldwide. 

Besides, Cretans are the top consumers of extra virgin olive oil in the world with more than 20 liters per person consumed yearly on the island, a huge number if compared with the 5 liters consumed yearly per person in other European countries, or the 1.7 liters used per year in a huge country such as Australia.

Olive oil is the main fat used in Cretan cuisine. It’s used to prepare salads and to season any dish you can think of, but it’s also added to bakery products and basic doughs used to cook pies, cookies, and even cakes.

Cretan Extra virgin olive oil is not only a magnificent superfood, but it is also a source of healthy fats that contribute to the control of food-related diseases such as diabetes or cholesterol. Moreover, olive oil is responsible for the unique freshness and taste that characterizes every Cretan dish.

Cretan olive oil is mainly produced from two different olive varieties, koroneiki and tsounato, known for being super resistant to the dry and hot weather of the long Cretan summers.

Fresh herbs

Herbs grow abundantly in every region of Crete. Locals usually hike the mountains to gather fresh mint, oregano, dill, thyme, sage or rosemary which never miss in any preparation. 

They are key to introduce a note of freshness and flavor to Cretan dishes, either in salads or vegetarian preparations, but also as the main condiment for meats, fish, and sauces.

Fresh herbs are also chopped and added in big quantities to vegetable pies. The famous Greek spinach pie, locally known as spanakopita, for instance, usually has a completely different taste on Crete than what you may have tried on other Greek islands.

Seasonal ingredients

Every ingredient used on the island to prepare your meal is seasonal. Cretan cuisine has a well-known reputation for its dishes full of genuine flavors.

The secret to these is achieved by using strictly what the earth gives in any given moment of the year.

For example, you cannot beat the taste of courgettes and tomatoes in summer, and that’s the only moment when you’re bound to find them at the table, and the same applies to fruit.

While the best watermelons and plums are a favorite dessert during summer, oranges and tangerines will be the fruit of choice during colder months.

Quality wine

We have already discussed in our guide to Cretan wine the importance that grapes have always had on the island, even since the Bronze Age.

As a matter of fact, Crete has been continuously producing wine since the Minoan times and it is home to a fantastic vineyard with over 12 different native varieties.

But not everything is about Cretan wonderful wineries, home-made wine is another tradition pretty much preserved on Crete, so even in a small, modest tavern in a lost village, you will probably find great local wines you’ve never tried before.

Abundant greens

There are over 20 wild greens that grow only on the island of Crete. These have made it to the local collection of dishes that are characteristic of the Cretan diets.

Greens which are often disregarded and even considered as a worthless weed in other Mediterranean countries are central to Cretan cooking and can sometimes be served as a side dish of greens to go with your meat of choice.

The fantastic variety of wild greens used in the Cretan cuisine is a source of vitamins and taste that are of primary importance when putting the Cretan diet among the healthiest diets in the world.

Simple cooking methods


Less is more when it comes to Cretan cuisine. Simplicity is key when it comes to preferred cooking methods.

An abundant dose of extra virgin olive oil, a bunch of fresh wild herbs, some lemon juice, and some sea salt are the four key elements that are going to enhance the original flavor of the main ingredients without masking or hiding its taste and freshness

When visiting Crete, forget everything about Greek salad, gyros, or souvlaki, and instead, try some unique traditional dishes.

The following five dishes are some of the best and most authentic plates you can find on Crete. Try them all and then tell us what you think about them!

Chortopites

Green pies are one of Crete’s staples when it comes to the use of wild greens in Cretan cuisine, either in the form of Kalitsounia, small fried pies with greens and sometimes cheese inside, or shaped as bigger pies, winter and spring are the best moments to try greens in pastry due to the abundance of greens in this period.

The quantity of green pies is endless, and they vary from east to west and from region to region. Their taste is always unique since the greens are often combined with a wide variety of aromatic herbs that donate a unique fragrance and distinct flavor to each Cretan pie. 

The most common pastry used to prepare them is phyllo dough, which is made with an outstanding ancient technique and abundant olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil also adds to the final taste and healthy characteristic of every pie.

Snails

Snails are a Cretan specialty and there are over 40 different known ways in which the Cretans prepare one of their favorite dishes! Combining snails with vegetables, herbs, and xondros (ground wheat) gives excellent results and some of the best-known recipes.

Snails are a typical dish in every Cretan region and have been eaten on the island since the Minoan times. Snails have also been one of the main ingredients in times of foreign occupations, when, together with wild greens, they where the only available food for the poor.

Both ingredients were abundant and free so housewives all over Crete used their imagination to combine them in original and delicious dishes.

Nowadays, snails fried in olive oil or “Kochli boubouritsi” is one of the most popular ways of serving snails and are a great meze (small Greek dishes) component on any Cretan table.

Goat or lamb in kokkini (red) sauce

I’ve often encountered tourists on my food tour that usually ask me “Where can I try the best fish on the island?” 

It’s a common belief, in fact, that since Crete is an island, the most common food you’re supposed to try is fish. I hate to disappoint you, but although we do have fish dishes and we eat fish, Crete’s main source of meat is in the mountains and not at sea. 

Out top meats are lamb or goat cooked in several different ways. egg-lemon sauce, fried in olive oil, in white wine or with vegetables are very popular ways to find meat on Crete. Also on the spit or cooked in a delicious tomato sauce with onions and peppers.

Goat or Lamb in red sauce, as locals call it, is a typical dish to be found during the colder months, often the stew includes small whole onions that add a unique sweetness to the dish. A very tasty variation of the dish can include artichokes, beans, or okra too.

Dakos

One of the best-known Cretan appetizers is the dako, in many places also called koukouvaia. The very simple preparation is typical during the hotter months, as it is a dish that requires very little preparation and no cooking. 

The Cretan dako consists of a base of Cretan rusks, locally known as paximadia, which is a hard bread that undergoes a double baking process to last for long times. 

This hard bread is hydrated with an abundant quantity of olive oil that won’t only provide taste but that will also make the bread softer and easier to eat. 

On top, a generous quantity of fresh chopped tomato, more olive oil, oregano and a good spoonful of sour goat cheese (either myzithra or xinomyzithra, but also pichtogalo cheese, or even crumbled feta cheese can do).

Spoon sweets

When it comes to desserts, Cretans have a really sweet tooth. You won’t easily find rich chocolate cakes. Instead, the extreme sweetness is reached using abundant local thick and fragrant thyme honey, different nuts, and a spread use of cinnamon. 

In summer, though, a very common dessert on any Cretan table is a simple cot with yogurt combined with a different variety of sweet spoons made with local fruit during winter and preserved like a treasure in every Cretan home.

Sweet spoons can be made with almost any ingredient, on Crete you will easily find citrus, fig or grape spoon sweets, but also carrot spoon sweet and even walnut spoon sweet. 

The basic key to making these fantastic colorful jars is to clean and cut the fruit of choice in small pieces, make it boil for hours in a homemade syrup of water, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla, make it cool and preserve in sterile jars to condiment a dish of thick Greek yogurt and easily create a dessert out of nowhere.

Key Things to Pack on Your Trip to Crete

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage
 

If you’re planning a trip to Greece, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more packing tips, check out our complete Essential Crete Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Crete

– A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle. We love Lonely Planet Greece for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.

– A water bottle with a filter. While often, the tap water in Greece is drinkable, there are places where it isn’t, including some popular tourist destinations like Santorini.

We generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant!

We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.

– Motion sickness pills. Many Greek roads are winding, especially around the coast. Not to mention how choppy the ferries can be if you’re not lucky with the weather! If you have a weak stomach as we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.

– Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in Greece aren’t always well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.

 Travel safety items. We think Greece is very safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Stephanie or I use these. Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack.

It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.

Crete Travel Resources

Crete - Rethymnon - Neratze Mosque or Gazi Hussein Mosque in Mikrasiaton Square

Most people who come to Rethymnon also explore other parts of this beautiful island. Here are additional Crete travel resources to help you with your trip.

We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip. First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more. We also have a Balkan currency guide which explains how money works in Greece and local tipping customs.

Since you’ll be in Rethymnon, check out our Instagram guide to Rethymnon next, our guide to things to do in Rethymnon, and the best Rethymnon hotels.

We also have Chania, Heraklion, and Rethymnon itineraries.

If you’re still trying to work out where to go on the island, check out our guide to the best places to visit in Crete and our favorite Crete beaches.

If this will be one of your first trips to the Greek islands, check out our massive Greek Island hopping guide as well as our recommendations for where to go in Greece and when is the best time to visit. 

We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.

Don’t Travel to Crete without Travel Insurance

Finally, make sure you always travel to Crete with a valid travel insurance policy. While Rethymnon is a very safe place to travel, you want to make sure you have your possessions covered if they’re stolen and your medical bills covered if you get sick or injured.

For travel insurance, I use World NomadsI’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

Pin this Guide to What to Eat in Crete for Your Trip!

What to Eat in Crete - Cretan Diet

 

The Ultimate Guide to Tara National Park, Serbia’s Green Gem

The Ultimate Guide to Tara National Park, Serbia’s Green Gem

According to legend, the Serbian mountain Tara was a haunt of the Illyrian gods.

Because of the unique charm of this place, the supreme god Tar chose (and named) Tara as the place where he would build his throne. And if this place is worthy of a god, what can ordinary mortals see and experience there?

Locals proclaim Tara as the most beautiful mountain in Serbia. The competition is great, so this claim must be personally verified!

In addition to the (currently) more famous Zlatibor and Kopaonik mountains, Tara mountain has always been that modest beauty from the shadow. The one that doesn’t stand out too much, but shines at the right time. The one that has so much to offer, but does not brag about that.

That’s why Tara National Park is one of the most stunning places to visit in Serbia, and one that you should prioritize on your Serbia itinerary.


Tara National Park Has It All

If you’re coming to western Serbia, even if you are just passing through, it is worth taking a day to see (at least) part of what Tara National Park has to offer.

Honestly, one day is not enough time because Tara National Park has everything – from the magnificent viewpoints to the hidden recesses rich in flora and fauna, fairy-tale lakes, religious buildings, and many wonders of nature. However, it’s better than nothing at all!

If you think that visiting Tara National Park involves only admiring its beauty, you are wrong. Sure, you can do that, if that’s your thing. Tourists are free to go wherever they want until they don’t break the rules and behave according to where they are.

But if you are a fan of outdoor activities and adventure, the rafting on the Tara River or the Drina Regatta will be something that will exceed your expectations.


The History of Tara National Park

The point of national parks is to preserve the beauty and uniqueness of the site and its wildlife, and not allow the disturbance of the natural balance.

The aim is to eliminate the influence of modern society and maintain the purity of nature, but also to preserve the cultural and historical heritage of those areas for tourists to come and experience for themselves.

Tara National Park is one of the five national parks in Serbia, and it got that status four decades ago. The initiatives to declare this mountain a national park appeared way before that, but it seems that the government at that time didn’t have time to deal with this topic.

After the war years, Serbia’s priority was the restoration of industry and reinstatement of social order, and thus tourism was neglected. But when this country was experiencing a significant economic upswing after the end of World War II, Tara National Park got its deserved status.

What is particularly important about Tara National Park is the conservation and diversity of forests. That is why this mountain is one of the wealthiest in terms of forest areas in Europe (with over 2,000 species of plants and trees).

Some species, such as the famous Serbian Spruce (Panciceva Omorika), live only on this location. The relief of the Tara Mountain is also what makes it unique. Since some areas are inaccessible, it helps in preserving plant and animal biodiversity to a great extent.


The Natural Sights of Tara National Park

The beauty of a place like Tara National Park is impossible to describe in one text.

That is why locals, as well as travelers, left many written traces in the form of prose and poetry. Fortunately, the Serbs were not selfish, so they gladly shared Tara’s wealth and beauty with the world so some future generations could enjoy it too.

Due to its richness and diversity of tourist offerings, Tara is currently one of the most potential-rich destinations in Serbia. The ecologically preserved natural environment, the variety of mountain relief, vibrant and varied flora and fauna, and favorable climate are the advantages of this location, which makes it competitive to the nearby Zlatibor and other mountains of Serbia.

Places to Visit in Tara National Park

Perućac Lake – the ‘Commercial’ Part of Tara National Park

What tourists should see in Tara National Park is most dependent on what time of year they visit. For example, the Drina with the lakes of Zaovine and Perućac is an ideal destination for summertime, when you can refresh yourself on the shores of these artificial lakes.

By the Perućac Lake, right next to the Drina River, there’s an arranged tourist complex, with accommodation, swimming pools, pontoon beaches, restaurants, and entertainment – all organized as if you were at a seaside resort, perfect for a landlocked country like Serbia!

The raft-houses are my recommendation for a stay in this part of Tara National Park. On the Internet, you can easily find more information about this accommodation. These facilities are suitable for several people and have everything you need for a comfortable holiday in nature – barbecue, private boat, fishing equipment (don’t worry, they have electricity and Wi-Fi connection too).

However, if you are looking for a more typical hotel in the heart of this part of Tara National Park, you can’t go wrong with Garni Hotel Vila Drina, which has rave reviews at an affordable price.

Right next to the beach is the raft restaurant Sidro. There you can dine but also book a ride on a large tourist boat along the canyon of the Drina. If you’re enough of swimming, water sports, and Sun, find your piece of shadow in the restaurant Vrelo. Its location will amaze you – it’s right on the waterfall of small Vrelo River.  Most of the tables are placed on the terrace above the waterfall or on some of the wooden bridges across the river, which makes this environment unique.


Zaovine Lake – A Gem of Wild Beauty

If you are lucky, you can see the Zaovine Lake in its full glory.

However, note that due to the discharge of water used to generate electricity, the Zaovine Lake on the Tara often runs dry. The water level drops, and it’s not quite as much of a sight to see. But when the lake is full, it’s quite clear why this place is one of the gems of Tara National Park.

Zaovine is at a higher position than Perućac Lake, and in fact, many would say this place is more beautiful than Perućac. But as always, there are ‘different strokes for different folks!’

If you want to feel the charm of swimming in the wild beaches and lying down in the shade of pines, you are in the right place. However, depending on the water level, entering the water is not always allowed.


Red Stream Reserve – Untouched Nature and Quiet

In the central part of the Tara National Park, on the plateau called Mitrovac, is the Red Stream Nature Reserve. After heavy rainfall, this small stream of water spills over the clay deposits and becomes a stunning red. color

The Carpet Meadows site also contributes to the beauty of this area. It is moorland, a mixture of forest and vast space covered with deposits of peat. It’s kind of like a jungle,with absolutely no human influence.

It got the name ‘Carpet’ because of the softness of the surface. It bends when you step on it, just like a real carpet. There are well-defined and marked walking paths so that visitors won’t endanger this unique part of Tara National Park — be sure to stay on the paths and don’t disrupt the natural environment, especially for photos!


Rača Monastery – The Cultural Heart of Tara National Park


Tara National Park has a favorable position close to tourist destinations in the immediate vicinity: Zlatibor Mountain, Užice, Mokra Gora, and Višegrad.

These sights often call to tourists basing themselves in Tara National Park usually for one-day trips. If one thinks that Tara has nothing to offer than just beautiful landscapes, the locations listed prove otherwise, and are fantastic to liven up your trip with some cultural experiences!

But don’t give up on Tara National Park itself if you’re looking for a cultural experience. The area of ​​the National Park abounds in numerous archeological sites and cultural monuments dating from the Neolithic to modern times. Many of these digs have been researched, but some remains of the Bronze Age settlements that are still untouched.

All over the National Park, there are numerous settlements and necropolises, which found their places on the UNESCO World Heritage List. For those who prefer some more traditional values, a visit to traditional villages and shacks that are several hundred years old and learning about life before technology and the benefits of the modern world will be a real deal. A place that cultural savants should visit is the Rača Monastery, which is one of the most important centers of Serbian medieval literacy.


Active Tourism at Tara National Park


Mountain and active holidays are a great combination. And if you choose a destination like Tara, be sure you’ll spend an unforgettable vacation, whatever age you are.

But hold your horses with the outdoor activities – camping at the Park is not allowed due to the potential impact on its wildlife.


Winter Joy and Skiing

Tara is a place for all winter lovers and fans of winter sports. Although winter this year in Serbia goes without snow and with high temperatures, the ski slopes on this mountain beauty have a system of artificial snow, so keep that in mind in case future winters also lack snow!

Most beginner-friendly trails are located near the well-known Omorika Hotel. It’s quite decent accommodation at the center of National Park, but note to book in advance, as it hosts several huge seminars and retreats, so be sure to grab your spot early!


Bike and Hike

Winter passes quickly, and spring and summer are the best times to tour Tara National Park by bike. Choose among any of the 15 designated routes in the national park Tara network. And if you’re in really good shape, and want to experience this beauty in full, over 60 miles of hiking trails await you.

These traces connect Tara with other tourist destinations of western Serbia, and adventurers can choose the route according to their physical abilities, sights, and tourist attractions that they want to visit. All cycling and hiking trails have proper signaling and a large number of side canopies and benches for cyclists, walkers, and hikers to take a break.


Lookouts

Whichever path you take, some of them will inevitably lead you to one of the five viewpoints, which are a unique and attractive content of the National Park Tara. The view from above on the unprecedented and immaculately preserved nature is breathtaking.

Believe that there is no better view in Serbia than from Banjska Stena, from where one looks at neighboring Bosnia, Lake Perućac, which is the natural border of the two countries, and the Drina Canyon. Use the opportunity to take stunning photos from this lookout!


How to Get to Tara National Park from Belgrade


The Tara Nature Park is located in the westernmost part of Serbia. The distance from Belgrade is about 200km / 130 miles. However, the mileage is the not the problem, as the roads themselves are complicated (and in poor condition, to be truthful).

So, if you are traveling by car to Tara, the trip itself will be an adventure. From the direction of Belgrade, the easiest way is to take the highway to the exclusion of the city of Valjevo and follow the motorway to Bajina Bašta. That is also the main bus route, should you opt for this means of transport.

However, a personal recommendation is the way via Šabac and Loznica. It’s longer by almost a third of the main route, but you will enjoy the trip so that time will quickly pass by. From Loznica to the very entrance to the Tara National Park, you go along the Drina River. So, in short about this route – much more to see, many places to rest, and a much more comfortable trip.

If you’re not comfortable driving in Serbia, we recommend booking a guided day trip from Belgrade to Tara National Park. If you only have one day, you’ll be a bit rushed, but you can see the highlights of Tara National Park, including the House on the Drina and the main lookout point, on this well-reviewed day trip from Belgrade.

Here’s the fun fact – there is no official entrance to Tara National Park. The park management has not yet built it, so the entrance is open. The best things in life are free, right? The only entry ticket you will have to pay is if you want to visit the Red Stream – Carpet Meadows. Believe it or not, it only costs 100 dinar, or about $1 USD.

Extra Tip for Tara First-Timers: If you decide to explore the beauty of Tara National Park on your own, it would be a good idea to have a map with you. You can buy it at any info center in the park. The forests’ density and lack of orientation increase the chances of getting lost somewhere. An official map that has all necessary topographic elements can help rid you of these troubles!

Where to Stay in Tara National Park

If you want to stay in a larger hotel in the heart of Tara National Park, we strongly recommend the 4-star Omorika Hotel, located in the Crikvenica part of the park near the lake, which is optimal for ski breaks and ‘beach’ vacations!

Another popular option in this area, though a bit more expensive and more upscale with gorgeous palace-like architecture and an enormous pool, is Hotel Kvarner Palace, perfect for travelers who want a bit of affordable luxury with their nature escape.

Meanwhile, travelers on a budget who want to be near Lake Perućac should opt for the affordable boutique Garni Hotel Vila Drina, which has incredible reviews and a rock-bottom price for its gorgeous settings.

And of course, you could always stay in a picturesque houseboat accommodation for something totally unique!

What to Pack for Serbia

Serbia - Gardos - Backpack

We have a full Serbia packing list, but in case you just want the quick version, here are a few essentials you shouldn’t forget to pack!

A good guidebook: While travel blogs are great, we still think a good guidebook is always handy. Lonely Planet Western Balkans is the main guidebook we recommend for Serbia, as it covers the country well plus others in the region.

Pacsafe Citysafe or Other Anti-Theft Bag: This is the bag both Stephanie and I use. It has a pouch with RFID technology so our credit cards can’t get scanned from afar, interlocking zippers to make it harder to pickpocket, and it’s roomy enough to be a perfect sightseeing day bag. If you’d rather bring something smaller, you can pack a money belt instead. 

We feel quite safe in Belgrade, which is not overly touristic and full of pickpockets, but we wear it and suggest it all the same.

Unlocked Cell Phone: Stephanie and I both have unlocked cell phones that we bought in Europe (She uses a Samsung and I use an iPhone). This allows up to get sim cards when we travel so that we always have the internet. We wrote a guide to picking up SIM cards in Serbia, as it’s really quite simple!

Being able to pick up a Serbian SIM card is a great way to stay in touch while on the road. If you don’t have an unlocked cell phone that can use a Serbian SIM card, you can buy a cheaper unlocked phone online and bring it with you!

Travel Insurance: We recommend it for everywhere we go! We suggest World Nomads and go into more detail about why at the end of the post.

More Serbia Travel Resources

Serbia - Subotica - Selfie

If this is your first trip to Serbia, check out our guide to planning a trip to Serbia and Serbia travel advice. 

Most people also allocate some time for Belgrade – where we have tons of resources. We have this mega-guide to 101 things to do in Belgrade, the most Instagrammable spots in Belgrade, what to do in Belgrade in winter, and the best Belgrade street art. We also have a Serbian souvenir guide and Serbian wine guide if you want to do some shopping.

Headed to nearby Novi Sad? Start with our guide to the best things to do in Novi Sad and our 2-day Novi Sad itinerary. We also have a guide of the best Instagram spots in Novi Sad as well as what to do in Novi Sad in winter and how to visit the Novi Sad Christmas Market.

If you love guided tours, here are eleven great Belgrade tours to pick from. If you want to get out of the city for a day, here are our guide to Belgrade day trips and what you should know before renting a car in Serbia. We also have lists of our favorite places to visit in Serbia and the best Serbian towns and cities if you need more day trip inspiration. 

We have tons more Serbia and Balkans resources, and we publish new content nearly daily. Bookmark our Serbia and Balkans travel pages so you can find any new resources that come out before your trip!

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

If you’re planning a trip to Serbia, it’s a good idea to travel with a valid travel insurance policy, so that you will be covered in case of an emergency. Travel insurance covers you in case of theft or an accident, which can save your trip if there’s an incident, or cancellation or trip interruption.

For travel insurance, I use World NomadsI’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

>>Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.<<

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Want to see the best of Serbian nature? Tara National Park is one of the best places to visit in Serbia for exquisite landscapes, photography potential, hiking, biking, skiing, and adventuring. Read this guide to visiting Tara National Park in Serbia, how to visit as a day trip from Belgrade, and why this Serbia nature escape is a must on your Serbia bucket list!
13 Compelling Things to Do in Niksic, Montenegro

13 Compelling Things to Do in Niksic, Montenegro

In case you want to take a breather from crossing the must-see tourist attractions around Montenegro off your list and relax on your trip a little bit, then Niksic is the right place to go.

Located right in the middle of the country, Niksic acts like as a crossroads between the northern part on one side and the Boka Bay (on which Kotor sits) on the southern side.

Only about an hour’s drive away from the capital city of Podgorica and about 20 minutes away from Ostrog Monastery, Niksic is more than often stop where travelers choose to slow things down and experience the ordinary everyday life of a Montenegrin.

Its rich cultural heritage with various museums and monuments testify to this area’s long and storied past, and it’s yet another reason why everyone should pay a visit to this little laid-back town.

While Niksic is the second-largest city in Montenegro, it has a population of merely 70,000 people, creating a quiet and charming vibe. The city offers plenty of excursion sites near lakes, mountains, and charming rivers.

When the sun goes down, Niksic is known throughout Montenegro to be the so-called ‘town of beer and rock & roll’, and it has a pretty vibrant nightlife with numerous bars and pubs to mingle with locals while sipping the famous Niksicko beer, of course!


The Best Things to Do in Niksic, Montenegro

Wander down the city’s main promenade

The main promenade that goes out from the main square is the center of all events in Niksic.

Stroll down the main walking area filled with cafes, bars, pubs, the abundance of stores and shopping centers, all around the renewed Main Square, in order to get a better understanding of life in Montenegro away from the main tourist attractions.

Regardless of the time of the day, businesses along the promenade will always be full of people sipping the third (or fourth…) coffee of the day, flipping through the newspapers, or enjoying a beer after a long workday. Montenegrins like to take it easy and slowly, and it may take foreigners by surprise how laidback and unhurried life can be around here.

In the middle of the main city’s square, you’ll surely notice a 10-meter-tall Monument to King Nikola, the only Montenegrin king and the founder of modern Niksic, after it was liberated from the Ottoman Empire in 1877.

The statue of the national hero Ljubo Cupic is also located on the main town’s square and represents a symbol of the fight against fascism in Montenegro.


Size up history at the king’s palace

An imposing building of what used to be the residence of the late King Nikola and the royal family was built in 1900 and then later transformed into a Heritage Museum in 1951.

Located within the town’s center and beside the main park, it’s hard to miss this striking building of the enormous cultural and historical significance.

The museum showcases archaeological, ethnological and historical collections testifying Montenegrin long and turbulent history.

Besides the museum, there is also an Art Gallery frequently having various Montenegro-themed art installations at the display, as well as the library. To enter the premises of the palace, you’ll have to pay 2.50 euro for the ticket.


Climb your way up to the grandiose cathedral

Right next to the Heritage Museum stands St. Basil of Ostrog Orthodox Cathedral, a memorial temple dedicated to the fallen Montenegrin and Herzegovinian heroes who died fighting against the Ottoman Empire.

Situated on the top of the pine-covered hill, this 34-meter-tall temple certainly is one of the most awe-inspiring buildings in Niksic.

Made exactly 120 years ago, the temple is equally magnificent both inside and out. Giant chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and the delicate iconostasis painted in a realistic manner add to the cultural importance and beauty of this unique Orthodox Christian temple.


Hike up the Trebjesa hill

In the vicinity of the town’s center stands the natural trademark of Niksic, Trebjesa hill.

The hill is the most popular place for doing sports, exercising, hiking or just taking an unrushed afternoon walk before or after the sun goes down. If you want to stay fit while on the road, Trebjesa hill is where you need to be heading.

On the top of the hill, there is also a hotel with a beautiful terrace placed under the tall pine trees, as well as the observation point with the view extending all the way through the Niksic plain. 

It will obviously take some effort getting up the hill, but it will, needless to say, be worth it as you can compensate the lost calories with the taste of the exquisite national cuisine and breathtaking view!


See the odd but beautiful Communist Partizan Monument

With their peculiar design and distinctive construction, the Yugoslav-era socialist-realist monuments (spomeniks) attract the attention of admirers all around the world.

One of those is placed right under the Trebjesa hill at the end of the walking trail, on the same spot where Italian fascists murdered 32 local soldiers.

This magnificent construction is dedicated to all the individuals who lost their lives during the Second World War fighting for freedom against fascism. For more details, read here.


Work your way up to the imposing fortress settlement

Rising above the town’s main boulevard, Bedem Fortress is one of the must-see places when stopping by Niksic.

Erected by the Ottomans after they conquered the town on the remains of what used to be Romanic Gothic cathedral, nowadays the fortress is regarded as a state-protected national historical monument of extensive cultural importance.

Bedem Fortress attests to this area’s long and often turbulent past, and passing through the ancient walls and towers feels like reliving ancient history all over again.

Aside from being an observation point from which the entire town is visible, the fortress also regularly hosts various cultural events such as live concerts, performances, poetry nights, and more.

The most popular event held between the walls of the fortress is the music festival called Bedem Fest, taking place in August each year. With a 10-year-old tradition, the festival has brought many musicians and artists from all around the Balkans, promoting unity and peace as the main ideas of this festival.


Take the advantage of the town’s oasis

One of Niksic’s main draws is its incredibly beautiful lakes and their surroundings, and it’s no surprise that one of the local favorite things to do in Niksic is get out and enjoy the nearby scenery.

Krupac Lake is the locals’ favorite getaway location. A short drive from the town’s center will bring you to the charming artificial lake, initially created for the producing electricity.

Today, the lake is used for various activities — whether you want to hang loose and sip a cup of coffee or pint of beer in a romantic ambiance of the pine forest around the lake, do some jogging, or even embark on a water sports adventure like kayaking, this lake provides it all! Its sand beach, bar, restaurant, and crystal clear water are the real paradise for the locals searching to cool off.

There are also water polo and swimming schools available, as well as equipment for trying out different water sports. On the other side of the dam, locals usually gather under the shade of the tall trees for barbecuing or spending some quality Montenegrin-style leisure time relaxing in nature.

Each August, the area behind the dam hosts one of the most popular alternative music festivals in Montenegro called Lake Fest. Gorgeous nature combined with the sounds of the best regional music stars creates a special experience and adds to the list of reasons to visit Niksic!


Check out Jaguar’s lake of choice

On your way towards the seaside, you’ll notice Slano Lake, another artificial lake surrounded with steep, rocky terrain and wild nature.

Far less touristy than Krupac Lake and with far fewer amenities available around it, Slano Lake still offers the breathtaking sunsets and the opportunity to experience unspoiled, wild nature of Montenegro.

The fact that the British automobile giant Jaguar chose Slano Lake for testing and promoting their first SUV car model, F-Pace, undoubtedly speaks about the beauty and uniqueness of this place!

The sights of copious mountains and hills, as well as several tiny islets making up this lake, make taking some jaw-dropping photographs here almost mandatory.


Witness a 150,000-year-long history

Potentially one of the most significant archeological sites in all of Europe is located 30 kilometers away from downtown Niksic.

Red Rock Cave and archeological site (Crvena Stijena in Montenegrin) testifies to the life of first early human societies dating back up to 150,000 years in the past.

The archeological findings of Red Rock will give visitors the opportunity to fathom the idea of life and development of civilizations through Middle Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic as well as the Bronze Ages.


Swing by a 120-year-old brewery

It’s is quite impossible for beer lovers not to try Niksicko beer while staying in Montenegro — so visiting the brewery where it’s made is one of the best things to do in Niksic for beer fans!

Since 1896 when the production first started, Niksicko beer has been the trademark of Montenegro. Besides being the Montenegrins’ favorite, it been well known and enjoyed all around Balkans ever since. Large quantities of Niksicko beer are nowadays exported to France, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and England.

If wondering about the process of top-notch beer production, you can drop by the Trebjesa brewery, located only a few hundred meters away from the downtown area, and see for yourself where the magic happens.

Trying some high-quality beers and being able to experience its creation firsthand is every beer enthusiast’s dream come true. You should check out the Trebjesa brewery website to request a guided visit beforehand.


Have a drink at Propaganda Bar

One thing that Niksic has no lack of are most definitely bars, pubs, and cafes! With an abundance of places for enjoying that first-morning espresso or third mug of a beer, there is a pretty big variety to choose from.

The place that stands out for its uniqueness, quirkiness, and distinctive cultural concept is Propaganda Bar. Positioned right behind King Nikola’s monument, with a charming, colorful veranda overlooking the entire main square, Propaganda Bar is known to be one of the locals’ favorite spots to hang out in all of Niksic.

What sets this place apart is the variety of events, such as movie screenings and live gigs with both aspiring local musicians as well as musicians from all over the world. Also, this place is known for great coffee, alcoholic beverages, and a rather exceptional choice of cocktails.

Do you really need any more reasons to come by and check this place out firsthand?


Feel the funky vibes at Floyd

Only a block away from Propaganda Bar, you’ll run into a comfortable yet quite bold and intriguing bar named Floyd.

Despite being in the heart of the downtown, its enclosed terrace under the dense branches of the chestnut trees will give you the impression of being far away from the city center. Bright purple walls covered with eccentric drawings will seem like a call to come inside and check this place out.

Among the main reasons why the youth of Niksic opts for Floyd Bar is certainly a great choice of music: ranging from diverse funk, disco, and techno music, here the most prominent local DJs play the nightly tracks, giving a rhythm to the crowd dancing the night away.


Check out the impressive Emperor’s Bridge

Assembled in 1894, the Emperor’s Bridge was among the most architecturally valuable constructions in Montenegro at the time of its creation and is an essential thing to see in Niksic.

Aside from its architectural importance, this bridge symbolizes Montenegrin fight for freedom from almost five centuries of Ottoman rule.

Today rather forgotten, the Emperor’s Bridge has a quite impressive construction of 18 spans extending over the area of 270 meters. Each of the bridge’s pillars has one gold coin inside, as the king Nikola I ordered during the construction of the bridge.

This remarkable, bridge represents one of the most significant historical monuments in the entire country and it definitely deserves being on every traveler’s itinerary.

Where to Stay in Niksic

Budget: For an affordable double room at approximately $30 USD a night, you’ll enjoy the well-reviewed Aparthotel Koliba, with beautiful surroundings on the outskirts of Niksic, 10 kilometers from the city – a perfect place to stay if you have a car and are planning on visiting nearby Ostrog Monastery as well. Breakfast is included, and there is a tasty restaurant on-site serving traditional Montenegrin classics.

>> Read reviews, see photos, and book your stay here

Boutique: For a room smack-dab in the center of Niksic at a mid-range price, look no further than Garni Hotel Atrium. Garni is a trusted small hotel chain with fabulous hotels in Montenegro and Serbia, offering gorgeous boutique-quality accommodations at a budget price; it’s one of our favorite small chains in the region, as you get a lot of bang for your buck, and the reviews for this one in Niksic are fabulous.

>> Read reviews, see photos, and book your stay here

What to Bring with You to Montenegro

Kotor - Montenegro - island church with trees

If you’re planning a trip to Montenegro, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more, check out our complete Montenegro packing list. 

– A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle. We recommend the Lonely Planet Western Balkans which includes Montenegro but also Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo, and Serbia. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.

– A water bottle with a filter. While generally, the tap water in cities and towns in Montenegro is drinkable, especially in touristic towns such as in Kotor, Budva, and Zabljak, we generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter regardless.

It’ll help to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant! We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.

– Motion sickness pills. Montenegrin bus and car rides can be winding and cause motion sickness! If you have a weak stomach as we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.

– Water shoes: While some beaches in Montenegro is sandy, many more beaches in Montenegro are rather pebbly. Pebble beaches are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the pebble seafloor is what creates that gorgeous deep turquoise-colored water that is hard to beat, as the lack of sand means you have incredibly clear water. However, on the other hand, pebble beaches and rocky shores can be downright painful!

Our friend recently cut his foot on a rocky beach in Croatia; had he been wearing water shoes, he’d have avoided such unpleasantness! We suggest these unisex water shoes. They’re not sexy, but they will make your trips to the beach far more pleasant!

 Travel safety items. We think Montenegro is very safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Stephanie or I use these.

Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack. It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.

Read more: Essential Montenegro Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Montenegro

More Montenegro Travel Resources

Montenegro - woman in winter clothes taking photo at harbor

We are in the process of writing up all of our Montenegro city guides, but for now, you can check out our 1-week Montenegro itinerary and our Montenegro packing list.

We also have a guide on things to do in Budva and things to do in Ulcinj.

Also visiting Kotor? Check out where to stay in Kotor and our Kotor Instagram and photography guide. 

We also have a post on the best places to visit in Montenegro to help inspire you before your trip, as well as a post on the best Montenegrin beaches to visit in the summer!

If this will be one of your first trips in the Balkans, check out our massive list of things to know before traveling the Balkans as well as our Balkan busroad trip, and itinerary guides. 

Finally, if you’ll be headed to Montenegro as part of a larger trip around the Balkans, check out our Balkan currency guide which explains how money and tipping work in the different countries here.

We publish new content nearly every day! Bookmark our pages on Montenegro and the Balkans so that you don’t miss out on any new info or resources that we publish before your trip!

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

Finally, make sure you always travel to Montenegro with a valid travel insurance policy. Montenegro is a very safe place to travel, but accidents or theft can easily ruin your trip if you don’t have the travel insurance coverage to recover the losses!

For travel insurance, we use World Nomads. We’ve been happy customers of theirs for almost three years, and we’re happy to refer them to anyone we meet.

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here <<

17 Sublime Things to Do in Hydra for a Glamorous Getaway

17 Sublime Things to Do in Hydra for a Glamorous Getaway

Hydra is a popular place to visit for travelers who will be spending some time on the Greek mainland. This Saronic island is one of the closest islands near Athens, and you can visit as part of an organized Greek island day trip or you can visit on your own. Once here, these are the best things to do in Hyrda, plus a few Hyrda travel tips!

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Things to Do in Hydra

An Introduction to Hydra

Hydra, a small rocky island, is only a two-hour boat ride from Athens. Once in Piraeus harbor, it is easy to catch a “Flying Cat”, or hydrofoil, to the prettiest island of all. The Saronic Gulf is the closest destination from Athens, for visitors short of time, as the boats leave every couple of hours in the summertime.

Greece - Hydra - Hydra Island

Voted as one of the 20 Greek Islands to visit in 2020, by CNN Traveller, and many other travel magazines, it is a safe choice to enjoy your time in Greece.

What Sets Hydra Apart from Other Greek Islands?

Hydra - Greece - Horses

Its central charm lies in the fact that there are no cars allowed on the island. Also, there are no motorcycle or bicycles. Unbelievable, right, in the 21st century?

Well, this is why so many celebrities and artists have come to live here, and still continue to settle down on Hydra: David Gilmour, Mika, and Adam Cohen, are some the modern artists you may meet on a sweet summer night.

Hydra’s fame started though much earlier: in 1956, its discovery for the main public is due to the movie shooting “ A boy and a Dolphin”, starring Alan Lad, and Sophia Loren.

The scenery since then has not changed much. In fact, strict architecture codes have kept most of the buildings intact. Between 1956, and 2020, very few houses were built, and the narrow paved streets echo with the past.

What’s It Like to Travel to Hydra?

Greece - Hydra - Harbor

Hydra counts around 3,000 inhabitants year-round, but in the summertime, this number can double. Villages on the islands are located on the front side, while the back of the island is wild. There are no major roads crossing the island.

It has remained nearly unchanged for centuries, even while being so close to busy Athens. It is famous around Greece for its history and cultural heritage.

While it is quite easy to find accommodations during the off-season (from November to March), the island gets quickly busy from April onward. It is always best to book a room prior to your visit in the summer.

The Best Things to Do in Hydra

So, once you disembark, what are the top things to do in Hydra?

People Watch while Sipping Greek Coffee

Greece - Hydra - A beautiful wild, stray cat resting on a green wicker chair at a cafe or taverna, on the enchanting Greek Island of Hydra.

Regardless of how long you will be on Hydra, this is a must-do. There are so many coffee places to choose from on this small island, but some of them are local favorites while others are beloved by the expats who come here!

A sure bet is the cafe Isalos right near the boat disembarkation. Another great option is The Pirate Bar on the opposite corner of the harbor.

The Pirate, formerly owned by Menelaus “the Pirate,” is now a local favorite with owners Takis & Wendy being popular island fixtures. You can have brunch, lunch, or cocktails here, depending on the hour. Many Greek locals, sailors, fishermen, but even celebrities come here to enjoy its atmosphere and famously warm welcome. 

See the Gorgeous Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin 

Greece - Hydra - Detail from the courtyard of the cathedral of Hydra town, Hydra island, Greece.

If you’ve never explored an Orthodox Church before, you’re in for a real treat! Located underneath the clocktower, it’s hard to miss this important island landmark.

The original church dated back to the seventeenth century, but the current structure was built in the nineteenth to replace the previously destroyed one. 

Set aside some time to visit the Ecclesiastical Museum which is on-site. The museum houses beautiful Orthodox icons from the Cathedral and island’s history, along with some important relics.  This part of the cathedral used to be home to the island’s prison.

Entry to the church is free, and it costs four Euros to visit the museum. 

Climb to the Prophet Elias Monastery

Greece - Hydra - View during a hike to the top of Mount Eros at Hydra island, Greece

One of the most popular hikes in Hydra is to go up to Profit Ilias Monastery and continue on to the Mount Eros, the highest point of the island. Panoramic views reward all who climbed. If you are not fit enough to walk up, you can also decide to go with a horse and your own personal guide.

A well-known guide is Harriet and her horses. British Born and Hydra educated, Harriet speaks both English and Greek, and she is one of the most popular guides on the island. 

Other horse owners can also arrange trips to the top, and you may be able to negotiate a good price if you are going as a group of six or more. Some tourists like to see the sunset from Mount Eros, but sunrise is also a favorite.

Should you decide to go on foot and won’t have data, you can find some detailed GPS maps at the local newspaper agency.

Enjoy the Miaoulis Festival on the last weekend of June

One of the major events in Hydra’s local life is the Miaoulis Festival, which takes place every year on the last weekend of June. It commemorates the Independence War against Turkey and the victory of Admiral Miaoulis against the Turkish Navy in 1821.

The show starts on Saturday evening and is best viewed from the “Spillia” rocky beach. It is a naval reconstitution of the battle, with an explosion of a replica ship, and fireworks.

A music concert follows, and during the whole week, many dance and musical events also take place. It is a wonderful time of the year to visit Hydra, as temperatures are still bearable, and crowds are mostly Greek.

Relax with a Day at the Beach

Hydra - Greece - Beach

You probably didn’t come all the way to Greece to skip out on the beautiful beaches. There are several to choose from, and you can pick what’s near your accommodations or get adventurous and try out a few from around the island. 

Indulge Your Sweet Tooth and Try the Local Amygdalota

Greece - Hydra - Pastry Shop

From the word amygdalo in Greek, which means almonds, the amygdalotas of Hydra are famous all around Greece.

These sweet almonds macaroons are unique to the island, which originated from the pastry shop called Tsangaris. Located in a small lane off the main harbor, the recipe came from the family’s great grandmother and is still secretly kept by the great-grandson.

You can also try them also at Flora’s Anemone bakery. This is the local delicacy not to miss!

Take a Walking Tour of Hydra Villiage

Greece - Hydra - Shop

The town of Hyrda is small, but it is packed with interesting sites to see. You’re sure to miss some if you try to do everything on your own. Hire a guide through your accommodations or go on the tour with your cruise so that you get to see all of the main village’s most important sites. 

Explore Mandraki by Foot or by Sea

While Hydra is both the name of the island and the main village’s name, there are also a few other settlements, accessible by foot or by sea taxi.

You can walk to Mandraki Beach settlement and Beach resort, within around 30 minutes. It is a 2 kilometer-walk, which is easy enough in winter but can be hot in summer.

By sea taxi, it costs around 15 euros, but you will get there in 5 minutes. In Mandraki, you can find a man-made sandy beach, a small marina, with wooden boats, a typical tavern, and some houses to rent. There are no supermarkets or shops, so you need to take some water along with you, when you go there.

Visit the Villiage of Kamini

Kamini is another village, accessible on the left side of the island. It became famous in the 1960s, for Greek visitors, through black and white movies filmed there.

Kamini is a charming fishing village, with its own personality. While in the summertime, it is now filled with tourists and rented houses, in springtime it is an exceptional place to visit.

Wildflowers are everywhere! At Easter time, the tiny harbor welcomes the Greek Orthodox Good Friday procession. The religious icon is taken into the sea, carried by eight local men. 

Kamini is an easy walk if you are in good shape, but there are steps on the way. If you prefer, you can board a water taxi from the main harbor to take you there.

See Tiny Vlychos on the Far Side of the Island

Finally, Vlychos is the last village to visit. By foot, it can be reached within one hour, following the seaside, while the mountain trail takes you inside the village.

Vlychos is a bit abandoned during the winter months, with few people living there full time. It is mostly a summer settlement, with hotels, small bed & breakfast, and villas to rent.

Cruise on a Boat Ride Around the Island

Being on an island this gorgeous makes you want to get out and explore the water. You can do this by traveling on the water taxis to the other parts of the island, or arrange for your own private boat tour around Hydra.

Enjoy Some Romance at the Sunset Viewpoint 

Hyrda is not Greece’s most famous sunset spot, but it will not disappoint!. If you are do not want to deal with the crowds at Oia, in Santorini, or Little Venice in Mykonos, then Hydra is the perfect spot for a romantic sunset, a cocktail, a dinner or even a wedding spot.

Personally, I find the very best place in Hydra, and in Greece, to have a cocktail with a view is at the Hydronetta bar. A long-time favorite of locals and tourists alike, it comes alive from April to October.

While in the morning you can taste Greek yogurt and breakfast there, the best hour is Happy Hour for sunset.

With its tables and chairs facing the sea all the way out to Dokos and Spetses islands and the Peloponnese hills, you can see the sun going down in the Mediterranean while listening to the best music and sipping any cocktail of your choice. Service is always friendly, professional, and well-priced.

Go Beyond Greek Food with the Local Fusion Cuisine

If you are also into enjoying the local gastronomic scene, there are plenty of choices!

Since 2015, various places opened, bringing “fusion Greek food” to Hydra. If you are staying around the harbor side, you may try the Omilos seafront restaurant. This is a modern, sleek, fusion food place, which opened in the former Lagoudera building.

While it is open for lunch with a reasonably priced set menu, the best time to go is for sunset. The main terrace overlooks the waves, and you will be able to taste fine seafood or meat dishes while admiring the view.

Enjoy a Glimpse into Mid-Century Glamor

Hydra was so famous in the 1970s with the likes of Onassis, Kennedy’s, Elizabeth Taylor, Melina Mercouri, or The Beatles visiting during the summer months.

While the old Lagoudera where they would meet has long since closed, locals still talk about it, and the building itself was renovated in 2010, opening under the name of Omilos. It still a place where Greek maritime tycoons gather at times of festivals or celebrations.

The nostalgic atmosphere is everywhere, with older people telling you tales of Sophia Loren living on Hydra for six months to shoot the movie Boy and the Dolphin.

Pay Homage to Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen’s fans love to gather on Hydra, walking up the steps to find the house he bought here in the 1960s.

While Leonard Cohen’s House now belongs to his children, Adam and Lorca, and his grandson, tourists make the pilgrimage to see the grey door, at the top of the “Donkey Shit Lane” as the locals call it.

There are more than 400 steps to get there, a lane that used to be filled with donkeys carrying merchandise to the upper houses. The house does not have any specific signs, but sometimes a few fresh flowers or a note left by a music lover.

On Hydra, both locals and international fans collected funds to build a “Leonard Cohen” Bench. In 2017, the municipality installed the bench on the paved road to Kamini village. It overlooks the sea, in a beautiful location, and sometimes is a meeting point for friends.

If you still want more, you can join the Leonard Cohen’s Informal Festival held in June, every two years.

More than one hundred and fifty people gather from around the world to sing along, and remember the poet, writer, and artist, who composed Bird on a Wire in Hydra.

Enjoy Hydra at Night with Some Traditional Music

Listening to traditional songs, played by locals is not to be missed! 

Bouzouki is the local Greek music instrument, which is kind of a cross between a guitar and a lyre. Many locals play this instrument, usually passed on from father to son or through a local teacher.

A couple of traditional taverns have them play, not only in the summer, but also for local traditional events, such as carnival, Tchikno Pempdi (clean Monday), Easter Sunday, or specific name days. You might meet “Fanassis,” “Dimitri,” or “Giorgos,” while you travel to Hydra.

Visit During October to Celebrate the Rebetiko Festival

Another option to listen and dance to Greek songs is during the Rebetiko Festival.

Every year, in October, the Rebetiko Music Festival takes place in Hydra. Rebetiko is a specific form of traditional music, created with bouzouki and baklama (the small bouzouki). The musicians gather informally in a few taverns, and one night formally at the Douskos Tavern called Xeri Elia.

Back in the 1950s, Rebetiko music had been forbidden, as they were seen as somewhat counter-cultural and were not welcomed by powerful politicians. However, nowadays, Rebetiko is fully legal, and part of the Greek cultural heritage.

If you listen to the informal music, you can have a bite in one of the taverns. However, if you decide to join the formal event on Saturday night, you will need to book in advance, and it is a set menu for everyone.

Ready to Visit Hydra?

You can find in Hydra all you need, from full relaxation and meditation spots to celebrity sightings in the summer. From hiking and yoga retreats to the latest Greek fusion food trends, Hydra is a posh, yet authentic, gem in the middle of the Saronic Gulf. 

Greece - Hydra - A waterfront of the town of Hydra, Hydra island

Hyrda might be a pocket-sized destination, but you can experience the breadth of Greek culture and island life right here!

Have you been yet or is Hydra calling? Let us know!

What to Bring to Hydra

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage

If you’re planning a trip to Greece, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more packing tips, check out our complete Greece packing list.

– A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle. We love Lonely Planet Greece for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.

– A water bottle with a filter. While often, the tap water in Greece is drinkable, there are places where it isn’t, including some popular tourist destinations like Santorini and Mykonos.

We generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant!

We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.

– Motion sickness pills. Very necessary if you’ll be taking a ferry or boat! The ferries in the Mediterranean can be quite choppy. If you have a weak stomach as we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.

 Travel safety items. We think Greece is very safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Hyrda is rather safe but is nowhere is immune from pickpockets, so be cautious (this goes double if you plan to go to Athens – the metro is notorious for its pickpockets, and a travel blogger friend of ours got his phone stolen on it!).

Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Stephanie or I use these. Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack.

It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.

More Greece Travel Resources

Greece - Hydra - Stephanie leaving Hydra on an Island Cruise

Leaving Hydra by boat and heading to Aegina

Headed to Greece? We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip. First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more. Next, you’ll want to read our all-season Greece packing list.

If you are still trying to figure out your Greece itinerary, check out our guides on where to go in Greece, the best places for island hopping in Greece, and when is the best time to visit. 

Many people combine a trip to Athens with a trip to Hydra. Check out our Athens Instagram guide, the best Athens day trips, and our complete Athens hotel guide. We also have Athens safety tips so your trip can be hassle-free. We are currently working on our mega-post of things to do in Athens as well as our itineraries, so stay tuned! 

If you’ll be on Hydra for a few days, you may want to combine your time with a day trip to Spetses. Here’s our guide to what to do on Spetses.

If you’ll be on Mykonos, we have our Mykonos Instagram guide and our Mykonos itinerary, as well as our favorite Mykonos beaches!

We also have guides to several other Greek islands, including ThassosIosZakynthos, and more on the way!

We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.

Finally, Make Sure You Come to Greece with Travel Insurance!

I’m sure you’re aware that it’s a good idea to have travel insurance for traveling in Greece, the Balkans, or anywhere in the world!

We have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.  While Greece is safe, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel like theft or injury, so it’s better to play it safe.

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here <<

Pin This Guide to the Best Things to Do in Hydra!

Things to Do in Hydra

Planning a trip to Sofia? Check out our best free trip planning resources