Now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988, wandering through the Old Town’s cobbled streets is like stepping into an open-air museum. Wondering where to start? Here’s the 5 top historical sites you shouldn’t miss on your Greece holidays.
1. Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights
The most imposing building in Rhodes Town was built by the Knights of St. John in the 14th century. Its original purpose was to serve as the Grand Master’s residence and the order’s administrative centre. And did you know some of the colossal granite cannonballs used for invasions are still on display today?
Of the 158 rooms, 26 are open to the public, including the Grand Reception Hall and the Grand Master’s chambers. The furniture on display dates from the 16th and 17th centuries. When walking around don’t just look up, look down as well, as the floors are decorated with spectacular mosaics. Many of them illustrate characters from Greek mythology such as Medusa, Thalia and Polyhymnia. These impressive pieces weren’t originally installed in the palace or even on the island of Rhodes. In fact, they were transferred from various historic buildings in Kos during the 1930s, when the palace became a holiday home for Mussolini.
Top tip: In 2022 an adult ticket for the Palace was €8, but you can pay an extra €2 to upgrade to a multi-attraction ticket. This additionally includes admission to the Archeological Museum, Decorative Arts Collection and Our Lady of the Castle. While you may not have time to visit all four attractions, the extra €2 is excellent value even if you’re only planning a flying visit to the Archaeological Museum.
2. Archaeological Museum
The museum is a relatively new addition to Rhodes Old Town, opening in 1914. You’ll notice the building is significantly older than that though. This is because the artefacts are housed in a former hospital, built by the Order of St. John between 1440 and 1489.
If you don’t want to pay for admission, you can still take a sneaky look at the inner courtyard. It’s guarded by a lion but don’t worry it won’t chase you off, as it’s made of stone! Inside there’s examples of mosaic flooring and burial finds from the 300s BC. The statues are slightly newer - one of Venus is only from the first century BC. Back outside there’s a reconstructed burial site from 1700 BC. So if you want to find out about the history of the Dodecanese Islands before the knights arrived, this is the place for you.
Top tip: There are a number of free admission days throughout the year. They include 18th April (International Monuments Day), 18th May (International Museums Day), and the last weekend in September (European Heritage Days). You can also enjoy free admission on most Public Holidays, but do note museums are closed on New Year's Day, Labour Day (1st May), Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
3. Old Town Walls
Depending which gate you enter the Old Town, you might feel like you’ve just passed under an arch or just gone through a tunnel. This is because in places they are a whopping 12m thick! Despite the Ottomans first attempt to take Rhodes in 1480 being unsuccessful, an earthquake followed. This meant the walls no longer offered protection against invasions, leaving the Palace of The Grand Master vulnerable. The solution the knights came up with was to rebuild them, much thicker than before. Don’t miss the Gate d’Amboise, this grand structure is the gate nearest the palace.
Top tip: It’s possible to walk around the top of the walls, for a small admission charge, but be aware it’s a 4km circuit with stairs and you’ll be in full sunlight. So don’t forget your sun cream, hat and bottle of water.
4. Street of The Knights
The inclined medieval street leading to the palace is known as the Street of The Knights. You’ll notice there’s flags belonging to different nations, flying on different buildings. That’s not due to foreign countries basing their embassies here. It’s because the order of the Knights of St. John included members originally from England, Germany, Italy and four regions that make up modern day France. Each of these seven places have their own inn on the street, which were constructed in the 1500s and have been well preserved.
Top tip: At the top of the hill you can pose for a photo with the armour of a knight. There’s no charge but donations are used to feed the cats you’ll see wandering the streets.
5. The Windmills of Mandraki & Fortress of St. Nicholas
These stone tower medieval windmills were used to grind corn, before it was exported from the harbour by ship. Originally there were 18 in the area but now only three remain. They were constructed in the 14th century, but they got upgraded a century later when they additionally served as fortifications. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to go inside them but you can get close enough to admire the hard work that went into their construction and restoration.
Just beyond the windmills stands the site of the military harbour, guarded by a tower built in the 1460s. Following the siege in 1480 the Grand Master d'Aubusson ordered for a bastion to be built around the base, transforming the tower into the Fortress of St. Nicholas.
If you book a holiday in Rhodes, the Old Town is a must-see. Over half the island is less than an hours’ drive from it, so even if you choose a hotel in the shadow of Lindos Acropolis you are within easy reach of the magnificent walled town. And if you don't want to rely on public transport you can always take advantage of our convenient car hire options
About the author
Edmund Myerscough loves exploring new destinations. His favourite holiday, so far, was a trip to the Balkans that included Dubrovnik, Mostar and Kotor.