Perched in the eastern Aegean Sea just off the west coast of Turkey, Lesbos is Greece’s third-largest island. Its 630 square miles contain stunning and diverse ecosystems, from the flat, dry plains in the west to the dense, mountainous forests in the east and the tranquil sandy beaches on the coasts.
It’s a popular holiday destination for European travelers as well as tourists from around the world, who cherish the island for its charming villages, beautiful beaches and historic landmarks.
Best Time to Visit Lesbos
With its typical Mediterranean climate, Lesbos offers more days of sunshine than almost any other island in the Aegean Sea, making it a wonderful place to visit year-round. Each season offers its own charms, so here’s what to expect as you plan your trip:
- Summer: Like most of the Greek islands, Lesbos sees its biggest crowds during the summer high season from June to mid-September. The warmest and driest months for swimming and sunbathing are July and August; you can also expect to pay the highest prices for accommodations and travel during the summer.
- Fall: From mid-September until mid-November, the weather on Lesbos is still quite pleasant, and the summer crowds have thinned out considerably. You may experience a few rainy days, but overall temperatures will be mild.
- Winter: From December to mid-March, crowds on Lesbos are almost nonexistent and hotel prices will be at their lowest point of the year. However, the weather will be somewhat chilly, with daytime high temperatures ranging from 40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid visiting in January, when rainfall hits its peak.
- Spring: Starting in mid-March and extending through May, spring is a beautiful time to visit Lesbos, with the sea air starting to warm and flowers blooming across the island. It probably won’t be warm enough to swim, but it’s an ideal time for a visit to the island’s famed hot springs.
Getting to Lesbos
Multiple ferries run between Athens’ Piraeus port and Lesbos each week, with frequency somewhat influenced by the season of your visit. You can also catch a ferry from the port of Kavala in northern Greece as well as from several other islands, including Mykonos, Chios and Ikaria. In the summer, a ferry runs daily between Lesbos and the port of Ayvalik in Turkey; in the off-season, it may be available only one or two days per week.
Flights from Athens and Thessaloniki arrive year-round at Mytilene International Airport, located near the capital city center. During the busy summer season, flights from Heraklion, Chios, Samos and Rhodes may also be available.
Staying in Lesbos
On an island this size, it’s not surprising that Lesbos has such a wide variety of accommodations, from sprawling luxury resorts to small, quaint inns. Consider booking a stay at one of these top picks:
- Elysion: This newly-built beachfront property in Mytilene is conveniently located just minutes from the airport. Each of its deluxe rooms and suites features contemporary décor, a private balcony, free Wi-Fi, individual air conditioning controls, flat-screen TV with satellite service and a minibar. A sparkling pool and onsite restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner round out the amenities.
- Aegean Sun: Located a stone’s throw from the pebbled shores of Agios Isidoros beach, the Aegean Sun offers clean, comfortable rooms and friendly service in a modern setting. In-room perks include air conditioning, private balconies, refrigerator and satellite TV.
- Aphrodite Hotel at Vatera: This Vatera beach property is located about 30 miles north of Mytilene and features spacious rooms, studios and apartments for groups of all sizes. The hotel is a short walk to the blue flag beach of Vatera and offers a daily breakfast buffet, bicycle rentals and free use of umbrellas and beach chairs.
- Bella Vista: If you prefer to stay on the north end of the island, the 3-star Bella Vista hotel is an excellent option located in Eftalou beach near the charming town of Molivos. Each of its 37 rooms features a balcony with sea view, en suite bathroom with tub and shower and individual climate control.
- Imerti Resort and Boutique Hotel: This family-owned and operated hotel in central Lesbos is tucked away in the quiet forests of Skala Kallonis, providing a peaceful retreat from the bustling activity of Mytilene. The hotel prides itself on its eco-friendly construction and practices and is the only certified “green” hotel on the island.
How Long to Stay in Lesbos
Despite its size, Lesbos doesn’t offer the same level of organized tours, activities and nightlife as other Aegean islands like Santorini and Mykonos. If you don’t mind a relaxed, unstructured vacation spent mainly sunbathing and exploring the outdoors, you could easily spend five to seven days here, but its proximity to Turkey and other popular Greek islands make it a good candidate for inclusion in an island-hopping vacation. If this is the route you take, two or three days on Lesbos should suffice.
Things to Do in Lesbos
Unlike some of its more developed neighbors, Lesbos has managed to preserve a largely traditional feel, with quaint fishing villages, rustic beaches and ancient castles among the key attractions on this sprawling island. Depending on the length of your stay, you’ll want to include some or all of the following on your itinerary:
Castle of Molyvos
Built in the mid-13th century on top of a tree-lined hill, the Castle of Molyvos is a multilevel structure featuring imposing walls, coats of arms and other decorative elements. The castle was renovated several times over the centuries and still bears the influences of Turkish and Italian invaders in its design. The castle is open to the public daily and hosts concerts, lectures and other cultural events during the summer months.
Medieval Castle of Mytilene
This highly-fortified castle is believed to have been constructed by the Byzantines in the 5th century to defend the city from the pirates that roamed the Mediterranean. Like the Castle of Molyvos, this castle was renovated by Ottoman and Genovese conquerors.
Located on the western side of the island, the Petrified Forest of Lesbos was formed 20 million years ago when a massive volcanic eruption blanketed the region in lava and ash. At more than 100 square miles, it is believed to be the largest petrified forest in the world, with fossilized trunks and roots up to 50 feet long and 10 feet in diameter dotting the sandy landscape.
World of Ouzo Museum
Tour the World of Ouzo Museum in Isidoros Arvanitis, where one of the most famous brands of Greece’s national beverage is produced. Visitors will witness the distillery process from raw ingredients to bottling and see a collection of ouzo artifacts and antique distillery equipment.
Lesbos Archaeological Museum
Located in the capital city of Mytilene, this two-building complex houses artifacts from excavations throughout the island, including fragments of ancient temples, statues, coins, jewelry and more.
This picturesque structure is perched atop the highest peak in the Ordimnos Mountain Range, overlooking the village of Andissa. Founded in 800 A.D., the main structure was erected three centuries later and survived repeated raids by the Ottomans.
Inside the monastery, visitors can examine several large Byzantine icons as well as jewel-studded crosses, historic manuscripts and other interesting relics.
Caves of Lesbos
Roughly 200 caves are scattered around the island of Lesbos, many of which have never been explored. Ancient pottery and other artifacts have been discovered in the largest cave, Magaras, which is near Mytilene and is thought to have been used as a primitive worship site.
The cave of Agios Ioannis in Thermi features two marble-lined corridors, and several ancient tombs have been discovered inside. Other notable caves include the cave of Agios Vartholomeos in Taxiarches and the Cave of Glastra in Agiassos.
The beaches of Lesbos are the island’s crown jewels, with some offering bustling crowds and organized activities and others providing secluded retreats.
- Agios Isidoros Beach: This pebbled beach about 25 miles southeast of Mytilene is famous for its clear blue waters and pristine setting. It’s a popular destination for snorkeling and diving, thanks to unusual underwater rock formations and thriving sea life.
- Mytilene Beach: This structured beach near the port features shallow waters and plenty of beach chairs and umbrellas, making it a perfect location for swimming and sunbathing. It’s convenient to many hotels and restaurants and a good choice for families.
- Petra Beach: About 35 miles northwest of Mytilene, Petra Beach is a well-known tourist resort with amenities like umbrellas, beach chairs, showers and changing rooms, as well as a few nearby taverns and cafes.
- Molyvos Beach: This beach on the north end of the island has been awarded the European Union’s Blue Flag designation for its pristine waters, making it an ideal location for snorkeling and diving as well as other water sports.
- Vatera Beach: This vast, picturesque beach is about 30 miles southwest of Mytilene and features fine, golden sand and crystal-clear waters that have earned it the Blue Flag every year for decades.
- Eftalou Beach: About 40 miles northwest of Mytilene, Eftalou is known for the natural springs that line the pebbled beachfront; dozens of hotels, restaurants and other amenities are located nearby.
Getting Around Lesbos
Given the size of the island, you’ll want to give serious thought to your transportation options as you plan your trip.
- Renting a car will give you the most flexibility and freedom to explore Lesbos, and many travelers consider it well worth the cost.
- Taxis and private transfers are available through most of the hotels on the island, although the costs can add up quickly. If you plan to spend most of your trip in Mytilene or one of the other larger cities, this might be a reasonable option.
- Lesbos has a relatively robust public transportation system, which is an inexpensive way to get around, but it may mean spending much of your vacation sitting on a bus or waiting for one to arrive.
If you’re looking for a rustic, relaxed destination among the Greek islands, it’s hard to go wrong with a visit to Lesbos. Its sandy beaches, lush olive groves and rolling hills will appeal to nature lovers, while history buffs will enjoy exploring its historic castles and ancient caves.
Whether you’re building an island-hopping itinerary or are looking for a singular holiday retreat, don’t miss out on this somewhat underrated Aegean gem.