Four Days on Hydra Island, Greece: A Car-Free Happy Place

The first time I visited Hydra Island in Greece (pronounced “ee-druh”), I *tried* to have low expectations. Hydra had been on my “must visit one day” list ever since I discovered it was a car-free island. Coming from Los Angeles, a car-obsessed city where I’ve been guilty of driving to different spots in the same parking lot in large strip malls, I craved long leisurely strolls and views without parking lights, stop signs or frantic drivers cutting me off on the 405. Besides that, I didn’t know much about the island except that my mother went as a kid and thought it was “a little boring.”

Boring? I think I’m OK with boring, I told myself. Boring may be nice.

But as soon as our ferry arrived in the harbor, I knew that boring wasn’t the word I’d use describe Hydra (no offense, mom). And after four days in this beautiful pocket of Greece, I found it to be kick-off-your-shoes-pour-yourself-a-drink-and-cancel-your-reservation BLISS.

Views in Hydra island, Greece

I wouldn’t say Hydra is a paradise for all the activities to do and things to see (though there’s plenty of that, see here and here), but more so, for the exact opposite: just being feels very special.

My husband recently described our trip as “the relaxing part at the end of a day exploring museums, minus the museums.” It’s true! Hydra feels like the equivalent of an “off day” on vacation when the itineraries are scrapped and the thing to do is to do nothing. No plans? No dinner reservations booked? That’s the best way to do Hydra, IMO.

The whole island is 10 miles and there’s no major attraction like the Acropolis or the Mona Lisa, where you’ll feel regretful missing out on it for extra sleep and a snack. (There is a pharmacy that I stumbled upon while strolling late one night that was founded in 1890. Pretty cool.)

Pharmacy founded in 1890 - Hydra Island
Pharmacy founded in 1890

But wait, is it touristy? My friend, who avoids touristy places at all costs, asked me when planning her Greece trip.

Yes, I answer. But I still think you’d like it.

There’s no doubt about it: Hydra is an island with a lot of tourists, at least when I visited in September, the tail end of tourist season. At restaurants, we overheard Greek, German, Russian, and English (in a variety of accents). Hotels are sprinkled all over the place. We saw a group on a bachelorette party and another group of friends from Australia celebrating a birthday party (no big deal). BUT! Unlike other places where it often feels like the place adjusts to the tourists (enter: Santorini and Mykonos), Hydra feels so grounded in a specific way of life that you, as a tourist, adjust to Hydra.

For us, we found ourselves walking slower and stopping to sit on benches to look ahead for no reason beyond it felt right. We used our phones a lot less and enjoyed longer, later meals. I wore less makeup (and more sunscreen), comfier walking shoes and a breezy dress from a local shop three days in a row. My husband talked about fish with a fisherman we met at a cafe for an hour—and he’s never been fishing. Every day felt full but never busy and on the ferry ride to our next spot, we discussed the possibility of cutting our final stop short to squeeze one more day on Hydra, which we did.

You in? Keep reading for the scoop on Hydra Island + some answers to questions my friends have asked since our trip:

First, are there really no cars on Hydra Island in Greece?

Ok, so yes and no. By law, no cars and motorcycles are allowed — and neither are bicycles. However, this fact didn’t convince me I wouldn’t see any. But over the course of four days I was there, I really didn’t. Not one car! There are apparently garbage trucks and emergency vehicles (ambulances and fire trucks), along with multi-purpose municipality trucks, which require a specific license from the appropriate Greek Ministry in Athens. Still, they must be pretty discrete because I looked down alleyways and random corners without spotting any vehicles. Instead, I saw a lot of cats.

So how do people get around? Donkeys, boats, water taxis, and of course, their feet. Without a car, we walked everywhere, mostly on dirt paths and cobblestone streets. We used a water taxi to get to the hotel from the main harbor once, but besides that we walked everywhere. When I say everywhere, I mean we walked from the room to the beach and then the beach to the harbor to get food, watch the boats and buy an evil eye bracelet.

How to get to Hydra

Even the act of arriving on Hydra is simple. It’s only a 2-hour ferry ride from Athens (round trip should be less than 100 euros). You arrive straight to the harbor and chances are your hotel or Airbnb isn’t too far away. Perhaps you’ll use the water taxi, maybe a donkey, or you may even be close enough to walk.

Where to stay in Hydra

Our first trip we stayed at FourSeasonsHydra — all one word. And no, it’s not affiliated with the Four Seasons Hotel chain. It’s an excellent hotel with comfy beds (a rarity in Greece in my experience!), beautiful views and gorgeous grounds. We stayed in one of the rooms with a patio, highly recommend.

Even though it’s about two miles away from the harbor, they have water taxis late into the night/early the next day, so it’s easy to get around. We did miss ours once and spent an hour walking tipsily from the harbor to the hotel and it was the highlight of our trip that gave us inside jokes we still laugh about today.

But Airbnb has so many options that look amazing. And my parents booked a trip after we raved about our experience and loved this apartment-style hotel.

What to do in Hydra

Day 1: Go to the rocky beaches – bring sandals! Read by the water! Swim!

Poolside in Hydra

… eat cheese with pita and tomatoes + fries for lunch!

Food at the four seasons hotel hydra

Day 2: Walk one of the many cobblestone trails that wrap around the island!

Cobblestone walking trail Hydra, Greece

… check out the shops near the harbor! (My favorite was Eclectia.)

Eclectia shop in Hydra

Day 3: Go for a hike!

… explore one of the 300 churches!

Charming church in hydra

Day 4: Look at the boats! Enjoy a greek frappe! Take a water taxi to town for sweets! Do it all… or do none of it!

Where to Eat

One of my favorite meals in Hydra was at our hotel…. the stuffed tomatoes with roasted potatoes. Nostimo (delicious).

Stuffed tomatoes with roasted tomatoes
Stuffed tomatoes with roasted potatoes and lots of olive oil

We also took a detour from the Greek food one night and got pizza at Caprice. It was tucked on a quiet alley near Bar Amalour, one of the busiest restaurants with a very fun social vibe.

Eating Italia food at Caprice
Italian food and salads from Caprice

Other restaurants that had great energy in person and seem to get good online reviews:

  • Techne-Hydra: We really wanted to go here! Every time we walked by it had the BEST vibes. But it was raining pretty hard our last night and we couldn’t get a seat inside. So it’s at the top of our list for our next trip. 🙂
  • Papagalos: Perfect location near the harbor. It had a very fun, buzzy energy.
  • The Pirate Bar: Fun drinks with names like Pirate Zombie and Smokyrita, right in the center of the harbor.

Oh! If you want to try a local sweets, definitely try the famous amygdalota (almond sweets) from one of the gift shops.

Where to go after Hydra

For our trip, we started in Athens and then went to Naxos and Paros for about four days in each spot. Both are stunning islands that I’d visit tomorrow in a heartbeat. Next on our list: Tinos and Crete.

If you have any other questions, feel free to drop it in the comments!

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