where to go in the Dodecanese Islands

Next up on HoneyTrek’s list of the “World’s Most Romantic & Sustainable Destinations”…The Dodecanese Islands! As a nation, Greece is majorly stepping up its eco-consciousness with a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, and this South Aegean archipelago is leading the charge! From Astypalea, who’s swapping out two-thirds of their gas-guzzling cars for EVs, to Chalki & Tilos running entirely on renewable energy, the Dodecanese Islands are keeping Mother Nature healthy and oh-so-beautiful! 

We spent three weeks exploring the islands of Rhodes, Chalki, and Karpathos. Kayaking to ancient ruins, scuba diving with schools of tuna, taking cooking classes in traditional villages, staying in 5-star Green Key hotels, we fell in love with these stunning Dodecanse islands! Though we weren’t just on holiday, we were also meeting with government officials, volunteering with nonprofits, and speaking with tourism operators on the ground to learn about their hurdles to sustainability and the solutions in the works. The Greek economy has long been tied to tourism, with the idea that more is better, but now these islands are reframing the definition of success with quality over quantity. Smart, stunning, and so much fun, these are the best Dodecanese Islands and the kind of places that deserve a traveler like you.

Where & What are the Dodecanese Islands

Set in the South Aegean Sea in southeastern Greece, the Dodecanese has 15 main islands and another 150 islets. What does the Dodecanese mean? Funny enough, Dodecanese means “the 12 islands,” but they expanded the region and didn’t change the name. Being a coveted locale at the crossroads of Asia and Africa, these isles have been inhabited since antiquity (like 1600 BCE) and occupied by a long list of global superpowers…Mycenaeans, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, and Italians! It wasn’t until the 1947 Treaty of Paris that the Dodecanese islands finally reunited with Greece.

What Are the Dodecanese Islands Known for?

Rich history, beautiful beaches, incredible biodiversity, 300+ days of sunshine, and fewer tourists, make this island group a hidden gem! The EU’s Natura 2000 conservation network has designated 22 Dodecanese areas of ecological significance. In islands like Karpathos and Tilos, rare and endemic species abound, and birds migrating between Africa and Europe roost here for months. Plus, the international Blue Flag Program that rates beaches for water quality, environmental protection, and excellence for swimmers, awarded Greece the second best in the world…with hundreds of the best Dodecanese beaches earning Blue Flags). It is a pristine and highly underrated region!

The Best Islands in the Dodecanese

To us, the idea of “the best” in travel, means that a place not only has exceptional quality, uniqueness, beauty, and the fun factor, but it is achieving that without compromising sustainability. When it comes to what to do, where to stay, and dine, we’ve put a spin on the classic “best of” lists and highlighted the most fabulous and eco-friendly activities, hotels, and restaurants. The following six islands have everything you’d want in a Dodecanese holiday and so would Mother Earth.


Rhodes Greece best of the dodecanese

We started our Greek island-hopping adventure in Rhodes, the largest island in the Dodecanese and historic capital (5,000 years and counting!). Ancient acropolises, medieval castles, Ottoman mosques, and Italian spas are surrounded by gorgeous beaches and big dreams!

The South Aegean government and TUI (one of the world’s largest tourism operators) chose the island to be their “Co-Lab,” evaluating all sectors of tourism with their think-tank of international experts and locals on the ground. We met with the Greek project lead and learned about their ambitious five-year plan to right the ship of over-tourism and create a model of sustainability for popular destinations around the world.

We were completely dazzled by this island (some even say Rhodes is the best island in Greece), and how unique each side of the isle could be. To help wrap our heads around the Dodecanese’s biggest island, know that Rhodes has three distinct sections. The northern tip is where you’ll find the old town and the densest concentration of hotels, restaurants, and things to do—all by foot. Head west, and resorts quickly fade to nature reserves, olive groves, wine country, rocky beaches, and lesser-visited historic sites. Go east and you’ll get posh resorts on fine sand, natural springs, white-washed villages, and the must-see Lindos Acropolis. The windswept southern tip is a paradise for kite-surfing and those looking to truly unplug.

We rented a car (love that our Allianz Travel Insurance plan automatically comes with rental car insurance!) and found it was the best way to cover this 540-square-mile isle. That said,  we were quite impressed they had bus stops at all the major sites—even in the remote parts of the island. Props to Rhodes for investing in public transport, a crucial step for any destination looking to go carbon-neutral!

Things to Do in Rhodes

Best things to do in Rhodes, Greece

The biggest island in the Dodecanese also has the largest variety of activities, from culinary experiences to epic adventures. These are our favorite eco-friendly things we did on Rhodes:

Best Hotels in Rhodes

Best Hotels in Rhodes Greece

Read our full Rhodes Travel Guide, with in-depth info on things to do, where to stay, what to eat, and essential planning info for one of the best islands in the Dodecanese.


Chalki a GR-Eco Island

Just a 75-minute ferry from Rhodes and made of craggy mountains dotted with ancient ruins, topped with a medieval castle, terraced with colorful 19th-century mansions, and fringed by beaches, Chalki has got beauty and brains. It’s the country’s first GR-Eco Island: a multinational project to make the Greek islands a model of the green economy, energy autonomy, digital innovation, and ecological mobility! 

The smallest inhabited island in the Dodecanese used to be dependent on their neighboring island of Rhodes for water and power and, with little industry, citizens could barely pay their utility bills. Then in 2013, Chalki took the first big step towards their autonomy with a desalination plant for potable water, and in 2021 they installed a solar array that fulfills all the island’s power needs, saving each household an annual average of €1,700 and collectively reducing the island’s carbon emissions by 1,800 tons per year!

How did we first hear about Chalki? We met the mayor, Aggellos Fragakis, at a tradeshow in London and the island’s comeback story totally captured our imagination. Fast-forward six months and we’re sitting at the port we saw in the presentation and clinking glasses of ouzo with that very mayor. We spent nearly two hours chatting about the current and future sustainability initiatives on the island—from harnessing wave power to retrofitting their medieval windmills. By the end of the evening, we were like old friends; so much so that the mayor gave us the keys to his electric vehicle to explore the island’s ancient civilizations, 300+ chapels, dozens of beaches, the Hospitaller castle, and their shiny new solar array.

While Chalki is 11 square miles and equipped with a good road, the island only has town, Nimporio. If this were the States, people would be building beach houses all along this stunning coastline, but instead, their population of a few hundred permanent residents is consolidated by the port, so that everything you need is within walking distance, including a strong community! (Maybe that’s why UNESCO designated Chalki an island of Peace and Friendship). That said, visitors should make the effort to explore the remote areas of the island…they’re magical!

Leave the Nimporio city limits and you will have this stunning island and all its historical sites to yourself (save for a thousand marauding sheep and goats). The municipality of Chalki also includes 13 more uninhabited islands, so make sure you get on a boat and enjoy their pristine archipelago!

Things to Do in Chalki

best activities in Chalki Greece
  • Wander The Nimporio backstreets
  • The Traditional House of Chalki Museum
  • Chorio: The Original Island Village & Hospitaller Castle
  • Kania Beach
  • Explore a few of Chalki’s 300 churches
  • Take the Windmills ridge walk
  • Boat Trip to Alimia island

Best Hotels in Chalki

where to stay in Chalki greece

On a dreary day at a London travel tradeshow, we met the mayor of Chalki, a tiny Greek island in the southern Dodecanese…Posted by HoneyTrek on Sunday, May 21, 2023


Karpathos one of the Best Islands Dodecanese, Greece

At the southeastern edge of the Dodecanese, Karpathos is still largely under the tourist radar, but visitation is growing each year. Why wouldn’t it? The island is made of rugged mountains, surrounded by 100+ gorgeous beaches, has one of the mildest winters in Europe, and is home to one of the most traditional villages left in Greece. But the good news for the preservation of Karpathos is that they’ve had time to learn from the pitfalls of Greece’s over-touristed islands.

When it comes to sustainability, north and central Karpathos are largely wilderness areas, protected under the EU Natura 2000 Network (there are so many endemic species here!) and their tourism industry is training with MEET (Mediterranean Experience of Eco-tourism) to develop their own programs, like DestiMED PLUS, to help local operators reduce the environmental and social impacts of visitors.

Why was Karpathos a secret for so long and why is word getting out? In the 1940s when Karpathos was liberated from Italian occupation, Greeks finally had the freedom to get passports. So after decades of hard times and few job opportunities on the island, upwards of 80% of Karpathians moved abroad! Many lived in Greek neighborhoods of Maryland and New Jersey, growing their wealth working in factories and running diners, and eventually saving enough for summer homes in their homeland. Spending months enjoying the beaches, incredible food, and rich traditions, their American kids naturally fell in love with the island and they have slowly been spreading the word.

As Americans, it was fascinating to chat with 80-year-old Ana, who grows her own vegetables for her restaurant in Avlona (a village of 7 people), about her time working in a coat factory in Baltimore. And we loved sharing a glass of wine with 50-year-old Minas, who grew up in Maryland dreaming of someday moving to his seemingly mythical homeland and running a guesthouse in Olympos (of which we stayed at; just look at that gorgeous image directly, above!)

With so much biodiversity, indigenous culture, and limited government resources to manage a huge island, Karpathos needs the good kind of tourists. Here are our favorite eco-friendly activities that will make YOU want to love and care for this island.

Things to Do in Karpathos

best things to do in Karpathos

Best Hotels in Karpathos

Best hotels in Karpathos Greece

Read our full Karpathos Travel Guide, with in-depth info on things to do, where to stay, what to eat, and essential planning info for one of the best islands in the Dodecanese.


Tilos energy independent island

We have to give it to the small but mighty Tilos for not just being the first energy-independent island in Greece but the whole of the Mediterranean! With the support of the EU’s “Horizon 2020” project, they developed a hybrid power station from their very own wind farm and solar array. No more rolling blackouts or relying on their neighboring islands, Tilos has hit its stride and is ready for eco-conscious visitors! Tilos boasts 400 varieties of flora and fauna and over 150 bird species, so much so that the majority of the island is protected by the EU under the Natura 2000 Network! You can easily explore the nature areas and historic sites on this 23-square-mile island in a day or two.

Things to Do in Tilos

Things to do on Tilos Island Greece
  • Livadia (the main town and beach)
  • Tilos Castle
  • Charkadio Cave’s paleontology finds (miniature elephant alert!)
  • Mikros Ghost Town and its 14th-century castle
  • Monastery of Agios Panteleimonas

Best Hotels in Tilos

where to stay in Tilos island Greece


Astypalea, Dodecanese Islnds greece

Shaped like a butterfly with a Venetian castle crowning its mountaintop, Astypalea Island has immediate intrigue. But it’s their modern ingenuity that caught our attention when met their mayor at a Sustainable Greece event.

Not waiting around for federal grants, this island partnered with Volkswagen in 2020 to become a model island of climate-neutral mobility. Swapping out 1,500 of their gas-guzzling cars for a fleet of 1,000 electric vehicles with on-demand mobility services, the island is turning a green leaf. Visitors can hop on “AstyBus,” the on-demand electric shuttle to move between the whitewashed villages, beaches, and key sites. And Astypalea isn’t just sitting pretty in their EVs and calling sustainability a day. Their latest project is a hybrid power plant to cover 80% of the energy needs of the island with renewable energy sources.

Things to Do in Astypalea

Astypalea things to do
  • Castle of Chora & its windmills
  • Monastery of St John
  • Venetian Castle
  • Archaeological Museum
  • Hike to Drakos Cave

Best Hotels in Astypalea

best hotels in astypalea


Lipsi is technically one island but its 24 islets make up this eco-paradise in the northern Dodecanese. Working hard to keep their pristine terrain in its natural state, they recently became a “no sun-bed zone,” encouraging people to stretch out and connect with the beach, rather than clutter the scenery with umbrellas and chairs (typical of Greek holiday destinations). When night falls, new solar street lights guide the way without the clutter of wires. Plastic cups and straws? Not on this island! Those have been banned since 2019…and to further reduce plastic waste, water refilling stations can be found all around.

Though the biggest news for little Lipsi? They are home to the new Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary, the first permanent and natural refuge for dolphins previously held in captivity. The Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation will be operating out of the remote and sheltered bay on the north side of Lipsi and providing a veterinary clinic and rehabilitation center for sick and injured marine animals, including seals and turtles. Let it be known this is not a tourist attraction, but programs are in the works for the visitors to learn and possibly participate in their conservation efforts.

Things to do in Lipsi

Lipsi Island, one of the best in the Dodecanese
  • Platis Gialos Beach
  • White Islands Beach
  • Aegean Marine Sanctuary
  • Church of Koimisis tis Theotokou
  • Rena 5-Island Tour

Best Hotels in Lipsi

Tilos hotels

Go Enjoy Greece’s Most Sustainable Islands

Rhodes Island Dodecanese Greece

Which Dodecanese islands impressed you the most? Read our full article on Rhodes and Karpathos (coming soon!) to dive deeper into your travel planning. We hope this article has inspired you to think beyond Greece’s most popular islands and support the place working hard to do right by their communities and the planet. We found them to be less touristy and beautiful inside and out! Sustainable travel for the win!

A huge thank you to our sponsor Allianz Travel Insurance for believing in the importance of sustainable travel and supporting eco-minded content creators like us!

travel insurance for slovenia


  1. I never knew there were so many islands within the Dodecanese! I actually visited Rhodes many years ago but had no idea, it’s very fascinating to learn this. I’m impressed with all of them and their ethos for sustainability. But I’d love to visit Chalki and Astypalea; I was hooked by their sustainable efforts plus they both look beautiful!

    1. Rhodes gets all the attention (it’s well deserved) but fantastic islands are as little as an hour away by ferry! Love what the Dodecanese are doing for sustainability too 🙂

  2. We have travelling around the Greek Islands on our travel wish list. Your visit to the islands of Dodecanese Greece introduced some new islands for us to consider. With over 300 days of sunshine, we would be in our happy place at any time of year. We will certainly have to make sure to plan enough time to enjoy all that Rhodes has to offer. And to check out Dodecanese and see how the smallest island in the chain is different. Amazing to think there are 300 churches on this small island! We will hope to visit Karpathos before it becomes more popular and crowded. Each island seems so different. I can see why you took the time to explore so many.

    1. The weather here is incredible! It isn’t quite swimming weather until June but in May it is pure sunshine and you’ll have the beaches to yourself. September is suppposed to be the best of all worlds. So glad Chalki caught your eye, we fell in love with that little island!

  3. Great post, full of useful information. I haven’t been to any of those islands. So a return trip to Greece is definitely on the cards.

  4. Those islands look so amazing. I did have Rhodes on my list but you got me hooked to others. I loved Chalki in particular. Seems less touristy and very cute too. Karpathos is indeed a well kept secret. It has some interesting history and ruins that I know I would enjoy. Thanks for all the tips.

    1. Chalki for a week would be bliss! It’s so charming and chill, plus the people are so sweet! Combo that with Rhodes and you’d have action meets relaxation for an authentic Greek experience.

  5. It seems fantastic to explore these beautiful beaches! Chalki Island seems to be really stunning. Each island offers exciting activities and gorgeous views, making this the perfect vacation destination for friends and family. Greece and these lovely, sustainable islands are on my bucket list; I can’t wait to go there!

  6. Ah your post brought me back to our visit to Rhodes old town. I was very impressed with how well maintained the medieval area is. The other islands part of the Dodecanese sounds really interesting too and worth to consider paying a visit to especially Chalki!

  7. I have visited Greece for the first time last year and I got a taste of what the islands have to offer. I would love to return and explore more, and the Dodecanese islands seem exactly what I am looking for: beautiful places with history, amazing food, and little to no crowds. I would love to explore Astypalea, I have heard about it before at travel fairs. Tilos looks very intriguing, looking at the photos I wouldn’t guess that it’s a Greek island.

    1. Greece has too many fabulous islands to all be crowding the same ones. You’ll find very few tourists on Tilos and Aystapalea and Karpathos is the best kept secret!

  8. Wow! So many beautiful and unique islands in Greece! I appreciate your highlighting the best of them to help us choose which ones to visit. I love the white washed buildings, and exploring the museums and churches would certainly be a highlight, as well as swimming in the beautiful water. Astypalea is stunning, and would probably be my first choice.

    1. Greece does have so many fantastic islands, and some of the best are neatly in the Dodecanese. Astypalea is so dreamy…hope you get there soon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.