Hydra: A Car-Free Paradise in the Saronic Gulf

Less than two hours south of Athens, Hydra is a quaint Greek island paradise. Stroll the rocky cobbled streets of its quaint town, admire neoclassical mansions, and visit historic monasteries.

Steeped in naval tradition, Hydra offers a heady blend of authenticity and tranquility that attracts artists and musicians alike. Join us to explore this beautiful, car-free paradise in the Saronic Gulf.

It’s Not Just About the Beaches

With its quaint waterfront, picturesque hills, and azure sea, Hydra’s main port is postcard-perfect. You can walk around and take photos from several different vantage points, but the best way to really soak in the scenery is by taking a boat tour that will give you a better sense of the surrounding waters and the island’s natural beauty.

In fact, the whole island is full of scenic spots and local experiences that make your time here truly special. For example, it doesn’t get much fresher than going on a fishing trip with Captain Dimitris and eating his catch straight away for lunch. Another local experience that’s sure to make you smile is taking a guided treasure hunt walk with the kids.

The ban on cars, along with the use of donkeys for transport, helps to preserve Hydra’s distinctive atmosphere and enchantment. As you stroll through the town’s ochre streets, secluded alleyways, and shady squares, you’ll discover traditional stone mansions, charming tavernas, and chic boutique shops.

If you’re a lover of nature, hike the trails that crisscross the island and head to the highest peak for panoramic views over the sea. You’ll also find plenty of places to swim, including the one beach right in the center of town, and the more secluded beaches at Mandraki Bay and Vlychos on the island’s southwestern end.

It’s About the People

As soon as you step onto the cobblestones of Hydra’s main harbor, you realize you are in another era. Rusted old cannons stand guard at the port, and manors and captains’ houses dot the waterfront. This is an island that nurtured the revolution that won independence for Greece, and it’s full of history.

When the 20th century arrived and brought motorized transportation to most of the country, Hydra resisted, choosing instead to preserve its equine tradition. Donkeys and mules transported goods, building materials and even people, a role they continue to play today. This tradition has also created a unique culture that draws in creatives of all kinds, including Sophia Loren, who fell in love with the island while filming Boy on a Dolphin in 1957.

Hydra’s cosmopolitan character is especially prevalent during the summer, when renowned Greek and international artists flock to the island for inspiration and tranquility. The town is dotted with neoclassical mansions, buildings and museums that showcase the island’s rich heritage and culture.

For many visitors, Hydra’s best charm lies in its slow pace and timeless grace. The echo of donkey hooves on the cobblestone streets, the smell of bougainvillaea and the taste of fresh fish are just some of the things that will linger long after your departure. It is this sense of a time-stopping paradise that keeps the island mesmerized for visitors year after year.

It’s About the Food

A visit to Hydra feels like stepping back in time. You’ll encounter white-washed streets scented by fragrant jasmine, and be greeted with the rhythmic sound of hooves on cobblestones instead of blaring horns. Hydra’s ban on motorized vehicles has helped preserve its distinct atmosphere through the years. Locals get around using mules and donkeys, or a water taxi.

Take a stroll through the narrow alleyways of Kala Pigadia, the oldest quarter in town, and admire the old grocery stores and boutique hotels that still operate today. Alternatively, hike to the monastery of Prophet Elias for breathtaking views over the Saronic Gulf.

Sea lovers will find the pristine waters irresistible, and a short boat ride will take you to secluded pebble beaches lapped by the crystal blue sea. Whether you’re enjoying a cocktail at the Four Seasons Hotel overlooking the bay or savouring grilled octopus in a picturesque port, the taste of fresh seafood will linger on your tongue long after your trip has ended.

Hydra’s serene ambience has also attracted artists and musicians for decades, inspiring a rich cultural scene that is evidenced by the numerous museums and galleries in the town. The Ecclesiastical and Byzantine Museum is a great place to learn about the island’s rich religious heritage, while the DESTE Foundation—an art space in a former slaughterhouse—is the perfect spot for culture buffs.

It’s About the Culture

The enchanting allure of Hydra—a mere couple of hours away from the chaos and crowds of Athens—is a heady combination of authenticity, tranquility and undeniable charm. Getting your feet onto its ochre and cobblestone streets feels like taking a step back in time, a journey where modern noise fades and simplicity takes over.

The island’s secluded squares, narrow streets, and ban on cars ensure that it maintains its distinct personality. Here, you’ll find the quaint stone mansions of sea captains, aristocratic families, and the DESTE Foundation, a small slaughterhouse turned into a cultural space by art patron Dakis Joannou.

During its heyday in the 18th and 19th centuries, Hydra was a busy maritime hub, and the captains’ tasteful mansions that line the port are a testament to this prosperity. Today, Hydra remains a favored retreat for wealthy Athenians.

Hydra’s rich history is a large part of what makes it such a unique and special place to visit. In fact, the late renowned Canadian poet Leonard Cohen lived on the island for a while and was so inspired by its beauty that he wrote his beloved song “Bird on a Wire.”

Whether you’re here to take in the beauty of the surrounding waters or stroll around the town to soak in the culture, you’ll quickly realize that Hydra is a magical place where time seems to stand still. The soft clop-clop of donkey hooves on the cobblestone, the scent of the jasmine-filled air, and the taste of freshly-caught seafood will all make your stay on the Saronic Gulf a memorable one.