Stationed roughly halfway between the larger islands of Kos and Rhodes, the small, rugged island of Tilos offers visitors an unforgettable escape from the rigors of everyday life.
A member of the Dodecanese island chain in the southeastern Aegean Sea, Tilos has remained relatively untouched by development, with its unspoiled landscape and laid-back way of life creating a haven for travelers seeking an unstructured vacation in a natural retreat. Like its Dodecanese neighbors, Tilos features craggy limestone mountains, volcanic valleys, rich soil and coarse sand tinted red by ancient lava flows.
With fewer than 1,000 year-round residents, Tilos has a larger population of rare birds and plant species than it does humans, and yet the locals pride themselves on extending the Mediterranean spirit of filoxenia—hospitality—to the thousands of tourists arriving on its shores each year. If you’re looking for a less crowded, more free-spirited alternative to the manicured beaches of the Cyclades, consider planning a visit to Tilos.
Best Time to Visit Tilos
With its tiny local population, it’s no surprise that many of the island’s restaurants and hotels only operate for a fraction of the year. For the best selection of activities, lodging and dining, the summer high season is the ideal time to visit, although late spring and early fall offer nearly as many opportunities. The busiest months on the island are May, June and July; prices are also at their peak during this time.
Weather-wise, you can expect pleasant temperatures from April through October. Spring high temperatures average between 62 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with relatively little rainfall. Summer temperatures can be quite warm—anywhere from 85 to 100 degrees on average—with almost no precipitation. The warm weather extends into the fall, when rain picks up a bit and average temperatures range from 68 to 90 degrees.
Getting to Tilos
This tiny 25 square-mile island doesn’t have an airport, so you’ll need to catch a ferry to get there. The closest airports are on the islands of Rhodes and Kos, which receive flights from Athens and other major European cities. You can opt to take the ferry from Athens or fly to one of the closer islands and set sail from there.
Ferries from the port of Piraeus in Athens to Tilos operate roughly three times a week, but the trip is lengthy: about 17 hours each way. Taking the ferry from Kos or Rhodes is significantly less time-consuming, with these trips taking between one and two hours depending on weather conditions and the size and power of the vessel. Ferries are also available for day trips between Tilos and several of its Dodecanese neighbors, including Simi, Patmos and Leros.
Places to Stay in Tilos
- Annas Studios: With panoramic views of the port city of Livadia, the studios and apartments of Annas studios offer spacious air-conditioned accommodations for travelers seeking both comfort and convenience. All units include kitchenettes with a microwave and mini fridge as well as private bathrooms, balconies and free Wi-Fi. The hotel sits less than a quarter-mile from the beach as well as popular cafés, tavernas and shopping.
- Dream Island Hotel: The luxurious one- and two-room apartments of the Dream Island Hotel in Livadia include air conditioning, kitchen facilities and cookware, flat-screen TVs and dining areas, allowing guests to prepare their own meals as they desire. The property is surrounded by colorful gardens visible from each unit’s private balcony or terrace, and the beach is just a few steps away.
- Eristos Beach Hotel: Situated right on the sandy beaches of Eristos, this three-star hotel is just a short walk from a bus stop with transportation to port city Livadia as well as the popular tourist attraction of Megalo Chorio. The 22 studios and six larger apartments are fully equipped with air conditioning, kitchen, dining furniture and private balcony/terrace with garden or sea views. Guests will also appreciate the acclaimed on-site restaurant, sparkling pool and beach chairs and umbrellas.
- Faros: This attractive beachfront hotel features lush gardens and an excellent restaurant with waterfront views. Rooms include air conditioning, free Wi-Fi, refrigerators and private balconies overlooking Livadia Bay.
- Ilidi Rock: This hillside hotel is perched above Livadia harbor, with stairs and a rugged path leading into the main village as well as immediate access to two small beaches. Each suite, studio and apartment includes a generously-sized terrace with views of the bay, and the facility offers an onsite fitness center, snack bar, business center, game room and free Wi-Fi.
- Stefanikis Villas: The owners of these luxurious Livadia beach villas operate a full-service travel agency, making it easy to arrange car rentals, ferries and other services. Each air-conditioned villa includes two TVs (one in the living room, one in the bedroom), a fully equipped kitchen, desk with computer, fax and copy machine, daily cleaning service and lounge chairs and beach umbrellas for sunbathing in the garden
How Long to Stay in Tilos
Given its remote nature and relatively small size, activities on Tilos are limited, so if you’re the kind of traveler who loves constantly exploring and seeing new things, you’ll probably want to stay four or five days before hopping to another island or visiting the mainland. However, if you’re simply looking for a peaceful place to relax and decompress in a stunning natural setting, you could easily spend a week or more here.
Getting Around Tilos
Most of the island’s hotels—as well as the main port—are located in Livadia, but if you want to explore the rest of the island, you have several options.
- Walking: It’s possible to see much of this small, picturesque island on foot, with more than 30 miles of trails and footpaths of varying difficulty levels crisscrossing Tilos.
- Biking: Several hotels offer bicycle rentals, as do a few small rental companies in Livadia.
- Bus: The municipal bus service on Tilos is reliable and affordable, although not always on time.
- Rental car: Renting a car is the easiest way to set your own itinerary and explore the entire island; be sure to make your reservation well in advance if you’ll be visiting during the summer high season, when demand is at its peak.
Things to Do on Tilos
Medieval Castle of Tilos
Located north of Megalo Chorio village, the Medieval Castle of Tilos was erected by the Knights of St. John in the late Byzantine period. The castle was designed to hold the population of an entire village to protect its inhabitants from the pirates running rampant across the Aegean Sea during the Middle Ages.
Today, much of the original structure has crumbled, leaving only the external wall, a few cisterns and the ruins of the Church of Archangel Michael once contained within the castle. Still, it’s fascinating to explore the artifacts that remain, and its hilltop location makes it an outstanding site for watching the sun set. Just east of the castle, you can also tour the ruins of the Messaria fortress, another project of the Knights of Saint John dating back to the mid-14th century.
Monastery of Agios Panteleimon
At the end of the island’s only major road lies the Monastery of Saint Panteleimon in Megalo Chorio. Completed in 1480, the dome-topped church is encircled by a stone wall with a three-story defensive tower on its southeast side. Within its walls stands a mighty cypress tree planted by the monastery’s abbot in 1800 as well as a thick curtain of plane and walnut trees. The monastery proper is flanked by impressive Greek columns and adorned with religious frescoes and wood carvings. In late July of each year, the monastery hosts a three-day festival marked with food, dancing and traditional music, drawing pilgrims from around the world.
About a mile south of Megalo Chorio, Charkadio Cave was discovered in 1971 and has since been the source of several exciting excavations, including Neolithic hunting tools and pottery. The cave is most famous for its animal fossils, which include turtles, deer and an unusual species of dwarf elephant thought to have gone extinct about 4,000 years ago. Scientists theorize that the dwarf elephants evolved from larger elephants that arrived on Tilos about 6 million years earlier via a land bridge from Asia Minor; stranded by rising sea waters, the elephants gradually shrank in size due to a dwindling food supply and lack of natural predators before finally disappearing altogether.
The island’s most popular beach, Livadia is located close to the main port as well as most of its hotels and restaurants. This well-developed beach features a combination of sand and pebbles and is outfitted for tourists with lounge chairs and umbrellas.
Eristos, a more secluded beach south of Megalo Chorio, lacks commercial development but offers total tranquility and crystal-blue waters.
Located on the island’s northern tip, Agios Antonios beach is one of the longest stretches of sand on Tilos. The seabed can be deep and rocky in some places, so use caution when swimming. No facilities are available at this beach, although the fishing village of Agios Antonios is close by.
Not far from Agios Antonios is Plaka beach, notable for its fragrant eucalyptus bushes and the colorful peacocks that wander the area.
Mikro Chorio, once the island’s bustling capital city, is now known as a “ghost village.” After World War II, its roughly 800 residents gradually dispersed to Livadia, Rhodes, Athens, Australia and even America, leaving behind 220 empty residences that are now little more than bleak external walls. An abandoned watchtower once guarded the city’s inhabitants; climb to the hilltop to examine its ruins and you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of the town’s impressive organization and network of roads. The whitewashed Agia Zoni church, built in 1861, is the village’s best-preserved structure.
A second ghost village, Gera, is located in southeast Tilos not far from Livadia. The village was once the agricultural outpost of Megalo Chorio, fed by the nearby springs and rich volcanic soil; today, it stands empty just like its sister village.
Festivals and Customs
If you visit Tilos during the popular spring and summer months, you may be present for one of the island’s major festivals, most of which feature excellent food, live music and dancing. Mark your calendar with the following religious and cultural observances:
- Last Sunday of Lent: Carnival
- Easter: Resurrection of Lazarus
- July 25-27: Festival at the monastery of Αgios Panteleimon
- July 28: “Cup Dance” in the courtyard of the monastery of Agios Taxiarchis
- August 23: Festival of Panagia Kamariani and Panagia Politissa
- August 31: Festival of the Holy Belt in Μikro Chorio
Places to Eat in Tilos
- Best Breakfast: For an invigorating early meal, visit Omonoia Café behind the post office in Livadia. In addition to freshly-squeezed juices, hearty omelets and pastries, guests are treated to friendly service and shaded outdoor seating overlooking the harbor.
- Best Lunch: In Livadia’s town center, Pizzeria UP&UP serves a variety of oven-fired Italian pizzas in a laid-back setting. Pasta, sandwiches and a modest wine selection round out the menu.
- Best Dinner: For more than two decades, Armenon has been the island’s go-to for farm-to-table cuisine and fresh seafood. Local ingredients feature heavily on the Mediterranean-influenced menu, including local meats, seafood, vegetables and legumes along with herbs, honey and olive oil pressed from the fruit of the island’s own trees. Recommended dishes include seafood chowder, veal baked in parchment, braised goat and beef tenderloin ambrosia; house-made desserts like lemon pie and rich cakes provide a sweet ending to an already unforgettable meal.
Top Photo Spots in Tilos
- The pebbled shores and azure blue waters of Agios Antonios beach
- Whitewashed houses with brightly-colored accents in Megalo Chorio
- The majestic church of Agios Nikolaos in Livadia
- The vibrant colors of the peacocks roaming Plaka beach
- Abundant fruit trees heavy with lemons and pomegranates
- The craggy cliffs and wild goats of Agios Sergios beach
- Brilliant sunsets over Livadia beach
- The twinkling lights of the boats along Livadia bay after dark
Unlike some of its more glamorous distant neighbors in the Aegean Sea, Tilos has a rustic, laid-back vibe that matches its pebbled beaches and rugged landscape. If you enjoy venturing off the beaten path and prefer peaceful small towns to glitzy beach resorts, Tilos is the Greek island for you.