Spetses is the southernmost island in the group composing the Argo-Saronic Gulf. With less than 5,000 inhabitants in winter, it’s far from the tourist trap that some of the country’s more famous islands can become. Here are the best things to do in Spetses so you can enjoy your authentic Greek island getaway.
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A Little about the Island of Spetses
Well known in Greece for its historical legacy during the Independence war of 1821, Spetses holds a special place in the Greek imagination. Yet even though it’s very close to Athens, most foreigners have never heard of it!
The Saronic Gulf is the closest destination from Athens, for visitors with a short time, as the boats leave every couple of hours, and it is only fifty-four nautical miles from the capital city. After stopping in Poros and Hydra islands, the boat continues through to Spetses.
However, a great benefit of a visit to Spetses is that you can reach the island by sea or by car or bus through the Peloponnese.
In Ancient Greece, its name “Pityousa” related to the numerous pine trees growing on the island that still exist today. The Venetians then changed its name to “Isola de Spezzie” or “the islands of aromas”, as plenty of wild herbs grew there.
The elegant atmosphere of Spetses is striking, as soon as you disembark from the hydrofoil boat: from the luxury swimsuit shops on the left harbor side to the 5-Star Poseidonion Hotel on your right. Spetses harbor is home to wealthy Greeks and is a favorite vacation destination among the Greek elite.
It does not seek publicity, but its charming and green surroundings attract repeat visitors and celebrities alike.
Famous writers also loved and discussed the island in their works, from John Fowles (The Magus) to the Japanese novelist Murakami (A Day in the Life of a Novelist on Spetses スペッツェス島における小説家の一日).
In recent Greek history, political figures, as well as shipping tycoons, all bought properties on the island: from the former King of Greece Constantine to shipping magnate Niarchos, who bought a small island called “Spetsopoula” (the small Spetses). The island still attracts key figures of the Greek political and merchant life.
As part of a trip to Greece, in particular the Greek mainland, Spetses will add the charm of an “authentic Greek island”. In fact, while being touristy, it is still mostly home to summer villas for Athenians, Greek magnates, or Greek expatriates from the US, or Switzerland.
The Best Things to Do in Spetses
So, what are some of the best things to do on Spetses? Here are my favorites.
Enjoy a Carriage Ride along the Sea
While Hydra is a car-free island, Spetses, along the years, allowed a few cars, taxis and motorcycles to ride in the main roads. Tourists visiting from Hydra sometimes see it as a nuisance, as the noise level can rise, especially in the summertime. Let’s just say that Spetses is a lively, rattling island, rather than a quiet and laid-back one.
Aside from the vehicles, you can still find the traditional “horse-carriage” car, with beautiful well cared for horses. It is one of the top things to do in Spetses: board the horse-carriage (fees vary around €10 to 15 euros) and let yourself enjoy the scenery to a close-by beachside tavern. The authentic and unique pebble mosaics decorating the streets of Spetses echo the horseshoes’ claps.
Join the “Armata” (Bouboulina) Festival on September 8th
On the second weekend of September, every year, the “Armata” festival takes place. It is the occasion for the island, but also for many Greek people, to remember the courage of the warriors and the events that took place in 1821.
In Spetses’ harbor, the sea taxis, local wooden boats, and other sailing ships from the region participate in the commemoration. A wooden boat that is built during the year is then set on fire, serving as an effigy of the 1821 Turkish boat. The show ends with fireworks and dancing through the night.
On that night, there are many boats arriving from the Peloponnese, from Hydra, Hermione, and Porto-H,eli towns. It is safer to book a room and a boat ticket in advance on that specific weekend.
Discover a Modern Greek Heroine at Bouboulina’s Museum
Spetses was the first island to deploy the flag of the revolution in April 1821. Its historical role in the Independence war still resonates nowadays in the pebble mosaic streets around the town center.
The main character, Laskarina Bouboulina was the local heroine of the Independence war. There are many remembrance points in Spetses, from her old Mansion, turned into a museum, to Central Square.
The museum, located inside the 19th Century mansion, is officially called the Bouboulina Museum. It’s now one of the top attractions in Spetses.
Opened in 1991 by Bouboulina’s descendants, it honors the only female admiral in navy history. Many ancient furniture and paintings, as well as miniature wooden boats, help the visitors appreciate the elegant atmosphere in Bouboulina’s mansion.
Her parents originally came from Hydra, but they moved to Spetses when she was a child. During the first days of the Independence war, she gave her fortune to arm ships and took on Spetses’ men to fight the Turkish fleet.
You will find the museum in the Pevkakia area (in the Greek language: Πευκάκια).
Pay Homage at Bouboulina’s Statue
Don’t have time to visit the museum? You can still pay your respects. Bouboulina’s statue stands in the center of Spetses’s main square, near the Poseidon Hotel.
Feast on the Local Cuisine of Spetses
Each island in Greece is home to a specific dish or a local delicacy. Hydra is famous for its “amygdalota”, while Spetses is known for its “Spetsofai”, translated in English as “sausage or tender pieces of pork with Picante peppers” casserole. In order not to lose the taste of the dish, the ingredients need to be chopped in very coarse pieces.
To sample some of the specific Spetses dishes, try to book a table at “Καπελογιάννης” (Capelogiannis) a restaurant with pergola on the water, that opened in 1945.
Visit the Fish Market
Located right in the center of town, this is an interesting stop for all visitors, but it’s an especially great Spetses activity for anyone renting a self-catering apartment. It’s also a great way to save a bit of cash on local fish.
Indulge Yourself in a Day at the Beach
If you prefer to relax and spend a day at the beach, Spetses offers many places to choose from.
A locals’ favorite is the pebble beach of Vrelos. Accessible in around 20 minutes by the regular bus, by motorcycle, or by car, it has a convenient parking area within the pine trees and gives the visitor a choice between organized beach sitting, or just sitting on the rocks.
The waters are crystal clear, and it is a great swim choice for families too, as some areas are shallow waters.
The small “cantina” snack bar next to it has refreshments, ice, and snacks.
If you do not want to go as far as Vrelos, you can also stop at the “Caiki” beach, with organized beds, umbrellas, and water sports. There are also plenty of small cafés and snacks there. It is a fairly easy walk from the town center. Horse carriages and taxis can take you there too.
Rent a Bike and Cycle Around the Island
There are various rent-a-bike places, as you walk right from the harbor. The streets in the town center are quite small and winding, but the road along the coast fairly flat, making it easy to explore on bicycle. Bring a picnic for a truly glorious day outside.
Walk along the Old Harbour
While every Greek island loves to boast about its harbor, Spetses’s harbor is truly a stunner. Enjoy a morning, afternoon, or even an evening strolling here. The walk itself is rewarding: as you turn left at the main harbor, the winding road just follows the sea and the old docks, while at night, it is a romantic spot for sunsets.
Dine at One of Spetses’s Fabulous Restaurants
After tasting the local cuisine, or a romantic cocktail on the rooftop of the Poseidonion Hotel, you can head towards the Old Harbour and choose among the numerous taverns, with pergolas right on the water.
Among the well-known restaurants, the “Orloff” is housed in an old mansion, dating back to 1802. It gives the opportunity to dine on the roof terrace and is usually opened from April to October. It is possible to walk along the old Harbour along the sea.
Another lovely place to sit down and enjoy the summer breeze is “Mourayo”, serving Greek food, and local dishes, and views on the harbor. Please always bear in mind that the fish prices in Spetses, but also in Greece in general, may be higher than in your home country. This is normal, and the same rates apply to local customers.
Explore Spetses at Night
Spetses, in comparison to Hydra, for example, has a vibrant night scene. Relying on numerous local Greek tourists, along with expats and VIPs, the nightlife spots around the Old Harbour (Palio Limani) get rolling after dark.
Since the economic crisis in Greece, Spetses’ municipality and local businesses started to shift their touristic profile, bringing customers with various interests, from regatta sailing to marathon runners, on top of the traditional touristic season visitors. This makes the Spetses nightlife scene all that much more interesting and enjoyable.
As a result, the town is vibrant, and you will surely find the perfect spot for a late drink, a summer cocktail, or live jig. Try the Stavento Club for an unforgettable night.
Arrive in Style on a Luxury Speedboat or Yacht
Who has never dreamed of arriving at a Greek island on a luxury private jet or speedboat? Well, in Spetses the dream can come true! The newly launched company Spetses Cruising can organize a VIP arrival and water limousine taxi for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Pamper Yourself at the Spa at the Grand Poseidonion
The Asian Spa Group offers organic treatments at various spas across Greece. If you can’t afford to stay at the Grand Poseidonion Hotel, you can still enjoy a visit and relax at the Asian Spa’s Spetses location in the hotel.
Enjoy Vintage Spetses at the Tweed Run Bicycle Ride
For the last 6 years, Spetses is home to delightful Tweed Run, sponsored by the Poseidonion hotel and the Hellenic Bicycle Museum, which takes place every year in October. Riding classic bicycles, while wearing the best vintage suit attire, participants to the Tweed Run bring style and elegance, once more, to Spetses.
The evening ends with a swing party and a beauty pageant!
Visit the Titania Outdoor Cinema
A nostalgic evening at the open-air, Titania Outdoor Cinema is also perfect to bring you back in time. Built in the 1960s, it used to be a family gathering spot in the summertime. In recent years, the Titania got a revamp, with Dolby Surround sound and digital projectors. But the scents of the island and the cicadas ‘humming are unchanged!
Ready to Visit Spetses?
All in all, Spetses is a genuine Greek island, where tourism booms but most sites and experiences still recall the aromas of the 20th Century. A popular spot for local Greeks tourists, Athenians, and foreigners alike, it will add an unforgettable flavor to your Greek holiday and will make you want to return again and again.
Well, where is your next stop in Greece? Will it include Spetses? We’d love to hear about it!
Want to Rent a Car for Spetses?
While not all trips to Spetses require a car, if you’re planning to drive from the mainland of Greece, a rental car may come in handy! [Just don’t drive if you’re going to be drinking, obviously — taxis exist for that reason!]
We’ve rented cars dozens of times in the Balkans through various search engines and have settled on Discover Cars as the best car rental search engine – it searches over 500 trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for car rental in Greece here.
What to Bring to Spetses
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! Septses is rather safe but is not 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
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 Spetses. 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!
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 Spetses Here!
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.