The Greek island of Hydra, a ferry ride from Athens or other communities along the Peloponnese coast, has banned all wheels on the island. The result is a walkers’ paradise. Hydra is a jumping-off sport to visit other islands in the Aegean Sea’s Saronic group. The name Hydra comes from ancient Greek meaning water.
The island is famous for its picturesque architecture; most of the mansions have been turned into museums which you can visit. Walk the many paths crisscrossing this small island (10 miles long) to view the many gorgeous ocean views and the old monasteries. Get lost in the alleyways and admire the many bougainvillea which dot these passageways. Drop back down into Hydra Town (or Hydra Port) and visit the Museum of Historical Archives at the port. Among the interesting exhibits are paintings, manuscripts from the revolutionary period, ship models, and rare books. At the end of the day, join into the vibrant nightlife the island offers.
Hydra Island appears to have been, and continues to be, a mecca for the religious. There are six monasteries and 300 churches on the island (with a lot of bells ringing). An ecclesiastical museum is housed at the Church of the Assumption. This church in typical Greek white color was established in 1643 and has a bell tower made of pure marble. It serves as Hydra’s cathedral. Rivaling the religious are the Merchant Marine Academy, the first in Greece. There are many bastions or cannons surrounding the port, a reminder of its tumultuous 18th century.
No Wheels on Hydra Island
In 1960, the island banned wheels of any kind—cars, trucks, bicycles, motorcycles, even baby strollers—to protect the cobblestone streets which are too narrow and steep. Exempt are garbage trucks and ambulances. Instead of any motorized vehicles, residents and visitors are limited to water taxis, mules, donkeys, and horses for traversing the island. This has produced mixed feelings from those who need wheels to operate their business. There are those who are in favor of protecting the environment and the charming nature of the town. Whichever the opinion, the town fathers are resolved to keep the ban in place.
Since there are no wheels on the island, the best activities are hiking and swimming. The island is hilly with many trails lending beautiful seascapes and leading to some of the several hundred monasteries and chapels. The Greek Orthodox churches dominate the island.
Hydra Island contains other small villages or settlements besides Hydra Town (see https://www.hydradirect.com/town-villages-hydra). Discover their beaches, which you may reach by foot or water taxi. You will find restaurants at these spots. Other beaches are scattered along the island’s shore, perfect for privacy. Scuba diving and deep diving are popular sports on Hydra since there are reefs and underwater caves to explore.
Shop and Play
You should not miss shopping at Rafalia’s Pharmacy, the oldest in Greece run by the same family. The pharmacy opened in 1890 in one of the old mansions. Here you will discover various beauty products such as soaps, lotions and cologne using old traditional recipes from Greek formulas. Perhaps you can visit their mansion next door. When you get hungry, there are numerous restaurants catering to tourists and residents alike.
The residents of Hydra like to party. They have festivals throughout the year. These can include folk dancing, fishing, boat races, exhibits, and/or lectures. Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter are three days of religious festivities topped off with fireworks.
Famous People on Hydra
Hydra has a population slightly less than 2,000. Many famous people have lived here over the years including Canadian song writer Leonard Cohen and singer-actress Melina Mercouri. Author Henry Miller’s most-hailed book, The Colossus of Maroussi, an impressionist travelogue, is set on Hydra. At least 11 films have been made on Hydra. Two of the most famous are Boy on a Dolphin (1957) starring Sophia Loren, and Phaedra (1962) starring Melina Mercouri and Anthony Perkins.
Hydra is the gem of the Saronic group of islands. It is both chic and bohemian. Don’t let the No Wheels on Hydra discourage you. You can enjoy the beaches, mansions, churches, museums, and restaurants, as well as rustic outdoor hiking or ambling the back streets and pathways. There is much to experience, see, and do on this island, so you will not want to leave. Should you leave, throw some coins into the harbor. The superstition—which has proven true for some—is if you don’t throw those coins into the water, you will never return to the island. Take heed.
Fact: Hydra may also have been named for the 9-headed serpent in Greek mythology
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