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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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.
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?
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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!).
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
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.
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.
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.
Pin This Guide to the Best Things to Do in Hydra!
Stephanie has been living in and traveling around the Balkans for the past three years. She’s written for National Geographic Online, appeared on CNN Arabic and in the New York Times, and ridden more Balkan buses than is good for a person.