The Dodecanese island of Halki is one of Greece’s smallest inhabited islands, located west of Rhodes. What the island lacks in size, it makes up for in heart.
Recognised by UNESCO as the Island of Peace and Friendship, Halki is a traditional island with beautiful Italianate houses, clear aquamarine waters, picturesque monasteries and churches, and a spectacular high-mountain spine with stunning views over the sparkling blue Aegean and neighbouring islands.
Free from the trappings of mass tourism, Halki is a special place. To find out more, read on for our ultimate guide to Halki.
A Brief History of Halki
Our knowledge of Halki’s history is relatively sparse. According to Greek mythology, its first inhabitants were the Titans, while its name comes from the Greek, halkos, meaning copper, as the metal was produced here in ancient times.
There are signs of settlement from the Pelasgians, Caraes and Phoenicians, but Halki’s fortunes mostly depended on neighbouring Rhodes. It suffered successive invasions from the Arabs, Venetians, Genovese, Turks, and Italians, while marauding pirates pushed the island’s inhabitants to live inland.
By the early 19th century, most people had moved to the harbour, Emborio, as the threat from pirates receded. Throughout the 19th century under Turkish and Italian rule, the island flourished as a centre for sponge fishing, until resources ran dry and people began moving away.
In 1948, the island became part of Greece, by which time its population had reduced from 3,000 to a few hundred.
Villages in Halki
The elegant town of Emborio rises like an amphitheatre from the harbour, its colourful neoclassical houses forming a picturesque backdrop. Also known as Niborio or Halki Town, it’s the only settlement and the hub of tourist activity, though its laid-back atmosphere is a far cry from nearby Rhodes.
Quaint and traditional, this charming town has a sprinkling of tavernas, cafes, a silent imposing stone clock tower, a neoclassical town hall, and is backed by a row of three windmills.
There are several places where you can plunge into the water for a swim, including many of our exclusive waterfront villas.
Abandoned Village of Horio
The medieval village of Horio sits on a hill beneath the imposing castle. This inland village, once capital of the island and home to approximately 3,000 people, was gradually abandoned during the 19th century.
Today it lies in ruins and is an atmospheric place for a wander, with traces of stone houses and an old school. The church of Panagia is home to wonderful frescoes and is a hive of activity on 14 and 15 August as people celebrate the festival of the Virgin Mary.
Beaches in Halki
The sand and pebble beach at Pondamos is Halki’s main beach, situated a short walk from Emborio. Its sheltered shoreline is great for kids and there’s a taverna serving food and drink, with sunbeds and umbrellas for hire.
The small, rocky beach of Ftenagia is a 15-minute walk south of Emborio. With small, smooth pebbles and clear turquoise waters, it’s a beautiful spot to relax and has good facilities with a taverna, and sunbeds and umbrellas for hire.
A pebbled beach on the east of the island, Kania is reached via a 30-minute walk or by bus or car. It’s an organised beach with a taverna, sunbeds and umbrellas.
Yiali is a small pebbly beach on the south of the island, accessed via a winding path from Horio. It’s a tranquil spot with cliffs providing some much-needed shade, but there are no facilities and currents can make swimming difficult.
A patch of barren land juts out to the south of Horio, attached to Halki via a small peninsula, Trahia. A 30-minute difficult walk from the old town, there’s a little beach along both sides with safe, sheltered waters that are excellent for swimming and snorkelling.
Things to Do in Halki
High on a rocky outcrop above Horio is the medieval Castle of the Knights of St. John, known as Kastro. This 14th century castle protected the island and its people from invaders, and was ideal for spotting approaching ships.
While the castle lies in ruins, its impressive walls are testament to its strength and it dominates the northeast of the island.
Follow the paved path to the top for panoramic views.
Monastery of Panormitis
The tiny deserted Byzantine monastery of St Panormitis sits on a hill above Horio. It’s undergone extensive renovation in recent years and is well worth the climb to see the traditional Dodecanese pebbled courtyard, its star-studded vaulted roof, and mesmerising views of the eastern side of Halki and its beaches including Pondamos.
Monastery of St John
The Monastery of St John (Agios Ioannis Alargas) is a sacred spot on the west of the island, accessible via minibus or a two-hour walk from Emborio. There’s a small church with beautiful icons, and a shaded courtyard with an ancient pine tree. Visitors can spend a night in one of the monk’s cells off the courtyard to experience this serene atmosphere overnight.
Pilgrims flock here on 28 and 29 August for the island’s biggest feast in honour of Saint John, considered the patron saint of sponge divers.
The Island of Alimia
The tiny island of Alimia has a long, interesting history. Its sheltered bays were used in ancient times as safe anchorage for a Rhodian fleet, and a medieval castle dominated the highest peak. The small bay served as a naval submarine yard during the Italian rule. It’s been abandoned since the 1960s and is a protected settlement. Local boats will make excursions from Emborio so you can explore the island and swim in its clear, calm waters.
Getting to Halki
The closest airport to Halki is on neighbouring Rhodes. This busy airport handles domestic flights from Athens and direct flights from many European countries. There are a number of ferries from Rhodes, taking between 45 to 90 minutes.
If you book your holiday to Halki with Nissia Holidays, our local representatives can arrange for onward transport between the airport and Halki.
Halki has a typical southern Mediterranean climate, meaning it’s gorgeous in the shoulder seasons with April, May, September and October seeing few rainy days with an ideal climate for walking.
Temperatures heat up in June, when the island is perfect for lazy beach days.
Where to Stay in Halki
To find out more about our range of Halki villas and apartments, see our Halki accommodation page.
For a creative twist to your Halki holiday, join our popular painting holidays with Margaret Wiles.
For more information on Halki or to book a holiday, contact Nissia Holidays on 01455 289421 or email us: email@example.com.