The Best Things to Do in Ithaca, Greece
Vathy is the beautiful capital of Ithaca | © Hariskr / Alamy Stock Photo
Lovers of Greek mythology and Homer’s epics should make their own odyssey to Ithaca, Greece. While the island may be small, it’s rich in culture and nature and packed with things to see and do, whatever your holiday bag. There are hiking paths to utterly captivating historical sites and many beautiful beaches. So, if only encounters with Odysseus will do, here’s your inspiration.
Snorkel off Filiatro Beach
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A short drive from the capital of Ithaca, you’ll find the preternaturally blue waters of Filiatro Beach, where smooth rocks massage your feet as you walk along the water’s edge. It’s a peaceful spot that never gets too crowded, but it does attract divers and snorkelling fans, who pootle about for hours spotting brilliant starfish and swaying marine plants. There are loungers and a cafe making snacks, as well as coves only accessible by boat or swimming.
See stunning frescoes at Kathara Monastery
The smell of frankincense and myrrh tickles your nostrils as you ascend to Kathara, high in the sky with spectacular views. The monastery is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, or Panagia Kathariotissa, the patron saint of the island who is celebrated twice a year – in August and on Easter Sunday. Admire the walls of sensational iconography, including depictions of many saints. Kathara is no longer home to monks, but it’s open to the island faithful and visitors.
Bronze yourself on Gidaki Beach
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Spectacular is too mild a word to describe the marvel that is Gidaki Beach. Whether you roll up by boat from Vathy or hike the 2km (1mi) here along a dirt path, the views of shimmering blue horizons are the stuff of dream holidays. The beach is all white pebbles and stones – it was formed by millennia of landfalls. (These still occur, so don’t position yourself too close to the rock face.) With waters as clear as Evian, this is a refreshing spot on a glaringly hot day.
Drift back in time at Homer’s School & Odysseus Palace
Sign up for a guided walking tour around this unique archaeological site, and you’ll get a greater understanding of the mythology and history of Ithaca. It’s a stunning destination, with huge stones everywhere – remnants of a Mycenaean (late Bronze Age) site. The views out are idyllic – you can imagine Penelope looking seawards in anticipation of her husband’s return. There are few explanatory signs; if you don’t have a guide, you’ll really need to use your imagination.
Discover fascinating history at the Folklore and Nautical Museum of Ithaca
For a real sense of what life has been like on the island for the past few generations, wander the rooms of the Folklore and Nautical Museum of Ithaca in the capital, Vathy. They’re filled with hand-carved furniture, portraits of famous Ithacans and intriguing old photographs. Imagine the past lives of the nautical instruments, cooking utensils and vivid handicrafts preserved from the past century. Of particular interest are the old loom, the reams of embroidery and the stone mill. There are also rare, poignant photographs of the earthquake of 1953 that devastated the island.
Get remote – on a boat
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One of the best ways to explore the remote beaches, unspoilt coves and pristine waters around Ithaca is to get yourself a boat. If you’re an experienced navigator, you can rent and motor your own, exploring in blissful solitude. Failing that, you can call in a captain from Vathy or Kioni who can steer you around the island’s secrets and tell you the stories and myths of Ithaca. You’ll have spectacular views of the neighbouring islands of Kefalonia and Lefkada as you putter along.
Make an energetic splash
Ithaca is the perfect place for water sports. The waters are as clear as air and invariably calm. You’ll find plenty of kayak and jet-ski rental outlets so that you can explore by sea. Top tip: call in at the most famous beaches – Filiatro and Gidaki – and be sure to explore Manaras Cave. For the more athletic, stand-up paddleboards are available for hire, but the ultimate marine experience is scuba diving, marvelling at the clarity of the Ionian Sea and marine life.
Trek to the Cave of the Nymphs
No trip to Greece is complete without pilgrimages to places immortalised in Greek mythology. The Cave of the Nymphs (or Marmarospilia) – said to be where ancient Greeks worshipped the nymphs and where Odysseus hid his treasured gifts from the Phaeacians – is one such place. However, due to safety reasons, it’s closed to the public. Instead, stop at the entrance as you hike from Perachori to Vathy, and see artefacts from the cave in the Archaeological Museum of Vathi Ithaca.
Marvel at antiques in the Archaeological Museum of Vathi Ithaca
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Dip into this archaeological museum while wandering Vathy. It’s educational, free and air-conditioned – a pleasant escape from the heat. While small, it displays hundreds of artefacts from the Geometric period of Greek art (c. 900 to 700BCE) until the Roman era. Must-see items include the ring-shaped vase and the inscriptions dedicated to the goddess Athena found in the Cave of the Nymphs. Also, look for the ancient coins and diminutive statues.
Devour the freshest food at Kanenas
When the owners of Kanenas say they have the freshest ingredients, they mean it – watch them pluck produce straight from the soil in the garden beside your table to make your meal. During the day, aim for a shady table out back by the vegetable garden for lunch before a nap on the hammocks to help that traditional Greek meal digest. At night, join the locals in the front of the restaurant for people-watching, local gossip, fresh seafood and endless carafes of slip-down wine.