It’s there, somewhere, in the Northern Aegean: an island laden with mythology, culture and natural wonders. Lesbos – also spelt Lesvos and sometimes called Mytilene – blows people away when finally they get here. The islanders are famous for their warmth and hospitality – more often than not, they’ll derail your plans for the day – delightfully – in their enthusiasm to show you Mytilene. Here are the best things to see and do in Lesbos. Try them all.
Time-honoured cobblestone streets lined with shops, cafes and art galleries make Molyvos a don’t-miss part of your holiday. It’s the most-visited city in Lesbos for a good reason. Beyond the natural beauty, it’s a stronghold of enquiring minds, creative residents and discerning travellers. Every ouzeri and cafe seems to be an epicentre of great philosophical debate. Ascend to the Castle of Mythimna for a history lesson of your own so you can join the discussions.
Legend holds the hot springs of Lesbos were a gift from Hephaestus, the god of fire. There are five notable sources across the island, welling up from deep within the earth, the water temperature reaching a scalding 40C (104F). Rich in minerals, it is said to heal ailments as diverse as rheumatoid arthritis, cirrhosis of the liver and joint pain, among many complaints. For the ultimate relaxation and healing, head to the baths in Polychnitou or Thermi.
One of the most unique places you can visit in all of Greece is the petrified forest of western Lesbos. The fossilised trees are more than 20 million years old and provide insight into what the vegetation, flora and fauna would have been like in prehistoric times. Volcanic activity all those aeons ago stopped this forest where it grew, under a layer of lava. There are more than 40 identifiable species in this protected area. To contemplate them is simply remarkable.
The world’s most famous ouzo brand comes from Plomari in Lesbos – you can smell the fine aromatic ingredients before you even set foot inside. The distillery has been making the anise-flavoured favourite since 1894, and the formula remains a closely guarded secret. Come and join the great tour, which engages all your senses while revealing the history behind Greece’s most famous tipple. Of course, the tour ends with tots of this mighty drink. Opa!
One of Lesbos’s larger strands, Petra Beach, has all the facilities you need for a day by the sea. The parasols are owned by the relevant cafes and restaurants and are yours to use free of charge when you buy something to eat and drink. The water is sparklingly clean, and the sand is easy on the soles, composed of tiny, grainy pebbles. This is the perfect place to come and relax, staying to catch the sunset and sip a dusk cocktail composed of locally made Plomari ouzo.
This architectural masterpiece evolved over centuries. The Byzantine castle you see today may have been built on an ancient acropolis. Parts of it were likely destroyed during the Roman era, while the lower sections were modified during the period of Ottoman occupation – and now house a Turkish bath. The whole thing is pretty big and takes time to see in full. But there are incredible, hypnotic views of the blue Aegean Sea below to drink in while you explore.
For decades the Prodromou family has been making fine handcrafted products out of olive wood in the small village of Pamfila, just beyond Mytilene. They’ll jump at the chance to show you the workshop, where everything is made. There’s something for everyone in the showroom, from olive-wood jewellery to cooking utensils to children’s toys. All products are honed from Lesbos timber, and if you’re after a gift or a souvenir, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Welcome to one of the oldest archaeological sites on Lesbos, well worth pulling over for as it’s easy to find while driving between Molyvos and Mytilene. Little remains of what was once a place of worship for the goddess of beauty and love, Aphrodite, yet the grounds are peaceful. Seize the opportunity to switch off and meditate for an hour or two – perhaps on the fascinating myths about the deity, which (top tip) we recommend you read up on beforehand.
Take the plunge and explore the Aegean from a different perspective. Black Rock Dive Centre, the most trusted in Lesbos, prides itself on its well-deserved reputation for professionalism and safety. All levels catered for – to get you comfortable in your gear, practice takes place in a large pool. Once you’re ready to get in, it’s all aboard for the boat hop out to some pretty fantastic dive spots. You might glimpse silvery sea bream, shards of ancient pottery, even a shipwreck.
To explore more of Greece, check out the best boutique hotels in Santorini and the best hotels in Astypalea. These are bookable with Culture Trip. During your stay, explore the 11 best things to do in Zakynthos, and relax on the 9 best beaches near Athens. Make sure you also have a drink at one of the best restaurants in Syros to sample some delicious Greek cuisine.
This is an updated rewrite of an article by Chrisa Theodoraki.
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