Reasons Why You Should Visit Lesbos, Greece
Visit the island of Lesbos for rich local culture, plenty of hiking routes and some truly stunning beaches | © NAPA / Alamy Stock Photo
Beyond the tourist honeypots where sun and sea are the main attraction, Lesbos, Greece oozes history and culture for arty, alternative visitors. Among celebrated former residents, such as the Nobel Prize poet Elytis, painter Theophilos and – most famously – the ancient Greek poet, Sappho. Of course, you can laze away the days bronzing on sensational beaches, or drinking coffee in idyllic squares, but this unique island wants you to live a little, whether you’re into birdwatching, hiking or museum-going.
The Greek Island of Culture
Art Gallery, Museum
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In the capital Mytilini, the Theofilos Museum is a treasure trove of one artist’s legacy – with more than 80 paintings inspired by folk art, history and mythology. It was founded by Mytilenian publisher and art critic Stratis Eleftheriades, aka Teriade, whose influence on Greek art led to his own museum: the Teriade Library-Museum in Varia. See works from his vast archives as well as notable 20th-century works by giants Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.
Scuba Divers Love It
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With deep, clear waters, Lesbos has long drawn scuba divers. Lesvos Scuba Centre at Charmida Beach has 18 years of experience and a range of PADI-certified programmes. You can try a beginners’ course in the afternoon, book a three-day full certification, or choose one of the advanced open-water courses. If you’re really keen they offer excursions to more than 30 dive sites – from shipwrecks and caves to reef exploration trips.
Birdwatchers Have Plenty to Spot
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Spring and autumn lure twitchers to witness migrating birds en route to Africa. The Kalloni Gulf wetlands rank among the best places to spot many of the 300 native and transitory species – among them are curlew, wood sandpiper, Kentish plover and citrine wagtail. Indigenous types include the red-breasted nuthatch – often found nesting in pine trees in early spring. For expert information, contact Eleni Galinou, who specialises in birdwatching and photography tours.
Home to One of the World’s Only Two Petrified Forests
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At Sigri on the west coast, the Natural History Museum sets out the island’s unique geological history, along with fossils and insights into the origins of the petrified forest. The Petrified Forest Parks contain the fossilised remains of rare trees formed by volcanic activity, more than 20 million years ago. Along marked trails, discover the remains of one of only two petrified forests in the world. Top tip: do the museum first to get a feel for the sights before heading to the parks.
Great for Hiking and Cycling
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Lesbos is an Eden for hiking and cycling. Coastal trails and inland hikes cover unforgettable terrain – with views of over-dense forests down to a dramatic coast. Well-maintained circular and point-to-point hikes are mapped by Lesvos Trails, ranging from short routes through olive groves around Plomari town to Mount Lepeymnosis and its rugged terrain. For experienced mountain cyclists, the 50km (31mi) route from Erissos along the Lava Trail will thrill. Get your bike rental from Molyvos Bikes.
One of Greece’s Most Striking Beaches is Here
AR95CP GREECE, Northeastern Aegean Islands, LESVOS (Mytilini), Vatera: View of Lesvos South Coast | © Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo
To pretty much guarantee your own private place in paradise, look no further than Vatera beach. At 7km (4.3mi) in length, this pebble-and-sand strand simply cannot become crowded – even in the peak weeks of August. The main stretch can be found at the village of Vartera – with a sprinkling of tavernas in which to while away the hours over beers. This unravels outwards to more peaceful spots, further along, the beautiful coastline. With clear shallow waters, it’s perfect for families.
The Cafe Culture is Very Inviting
Restaurant, Greek, $$$
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On Lesbos – with its quiet villages and tree-lined squares – nothing beats idling in a cafe for slowing down and revelling in island traditions. Your coffee will be made in – and poured from – a long-handled briki pot and will be irresistible: thick and potent and sweetened with gum from mastic trees, which imparts the unique local flavour. For gentle immersion into the island’s rich history, visit the beautifully preserved Kafeneion O Ermis – a meeting place in Mytilini since the 1800s.
The Architecture is Unusual for the Greek Islands
Building, Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
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It’s a big island, which explains the variety of architectural styles: from Mytilini’s neoclassical mansions to mountain villages dominated by greystone houses and coastal settlements of pastel homes with terracotta roofs. Don’t miss the sahnisia-style dwellings with their protruding wooden windows. For Byzantine currents, visit the 13th-century Castle of Molyvos – or Mithimna – looming above the village in gothic splendour. The views out are idyllic at sunset.
The Own Island-Made Ouzo is Lovely
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With more than 20 distilleries, Lesvos is the home of ouzo. Distinctly aniseedy, the zero-waste byproduct of winemaking blends ingenuity with tradition. Try a tot in any traditional taverna – best with local mezes, such as sardeles pastes (fresh raw sardine) or gouna (sun-dried spiced mackerel). For an insight into the process, visit the Museum of Ouzo in Plomari: a taste experience at the distillery of Isidoros Arvanitis – one of the island’s largest, established in 1894.
These recommendations were updated on September 30, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.