The lesser-known Kea island

Kea island, Ioulida
Ioulida

Kea island, also known as Tzia, sits in the Aegean Sea, and belongs to the Cyclades group of islands. It is one of the largest islands in the Cyclades and has always been popular with Athenians who have holiday homes there that they use on occasional weekends in the summer, and especially during the August. Its beauty has remained a secret for the rest of us, though these recent years the island is gradually getting noticed by tourists seeking new experiences in the Cyclades.

Kea island, Ioulida

Once you set your foot on the island, there are loads of beautiful beaches, archaeological sites and lovely restaurants to discover, so here’s a brief guide for Kea island with all the things you need to know before heading there.

1. Location of Kea island & Transportation

Even though it is the closest Cyclades island to Athens (2 hours by bus/car and ferry) the only ferry connection is from the town of Lavrion, since there are no boats from Piraeus (the main port of Athens) heading to Kea. There are daily routes between Lavrio and Korissia (port of Kea) and the ship takes around an hour to get to the island. If you rely on public transport, close to the port you will find buses and taxis that will bring you to your final destination. It’s the same for your transportation across the island, in case you don’t have a car. There are frequent buses between Korissia and Ioulis (capital of the island), less so to other places. You can also rent a car or a motorbike at the port (Korissia).

Kea island, Ioulida

2. Capital of Kea

Situated in the center of the island, the capital of Kea, Ioulis or Ioulida, is picturesque, and a lovely example of Cycladic hill village. Labyrinth streets (easy to get lost), staircase streets and ceramic-tile roofed houses give a strong island life vibe. Its abundant plant life consists of fig trees, oak trees, almond groves, courtyards filled with herbs, vegetable gardens and more. Full of tavernas, fashionable stores with souvenirs, and pathways, Ioulida is the great place to start exploring the island.

Kea island
Ioulida
Kea island

3. Kea has a mascot

Νo more than a few minutes across the hillside from Ioulis, a relaxed walk on an old stone road leads to Kea’s mascot, the Lion, or Lionda. Carved out of stone, it is 9 meters long and seems to have a smiling expression on its face. Recumbent as it is, the lion seems undisturbed and peaceful. The creator of this archaic sculpture remains unknown, but there are loads of myths around its history. According to mythology, Kea was once inhabited by water Nymphs, but they used to kill the women of the island. Sometime a lion appeared and drove all the Nymphs away, but then island dried out. So, the inhabitants of Kea asked Apollon’s son, Aristaeus, for help. He built a temple to Zeus and made a lot of sacrifices. This pleased Zeus and brought rain back to the island.

Kea island, Lion
The Lion of Kea

4. Kea and ancient history

Talking about sightseeing and ancient history, Kea has an Archaeological Museum and it’s quite interesting and lovely.

Kea island
Inside the Archaeological Museum of Kea

Eat well and be happy

Food is well appreciated in Kea, and it shows from the variety of delightful restaurants and tavernas. There are several great options for food throughout the island, but I prefer to share only the ones I tried.
• If you are looking for seafood, you need to visit Magazes Taverna. Located in the port (Korissia), this is one of the best restaurants on the island and has a varied menu with an emphasis on fish. The dishes are reasonably priced, and all the ingredients are fresh and coming from the island’s land. The dishes are tasteful and traditional, but with a modern twist.
• To Steki is a small traditional family run taverna and the most well-known one on the island. It is located in Ioulida, almost next to Lion bar, and has an unbeatable view. The service is friendly and the food is great. Choose this taverna for unique Greek and Mediterranean dishes, prepared with local ingredients, though make a reservation beforehand.
• To Spiti Sti Hora (The Home in Hora) is an excellent restaurant, located at the very top of Ioulida. It is right below the main road above the village that goes to Kato and Pera Meria. There is a sign right by the steps that lead down to the restaurant on your left. First things first, the view is spectacular. Then, the cuisine is traditional but has a new approach to known dishes, reminding of Athenian restaurants. Again, local materials are used in all the plates. To Spiti is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so you can choose the best time to visit. Not to be missed.

Kea Island, To Spiti sti Hora
To Spiti sti Hora

Last but not least, in the far side of Vourkari Bay, you will encounter a rather famous seafood restaurant, I Strofi tou Mimi. I didn’t have the chance to eat there, but read a lot of positive reviews. Would love to check it out next time I’m on the island.

Abundance of beautiful beaches

Kea offers impressive beaches and crystal-clear waters even to the most demanding visitors. Organized or untouched? Crowded or isolated? Kea has everything for your choice. If you are interested in sun beds and umbrellas, make a reservation in advance. Otherwise, it’s very hard to find an available one. The sun beds are charged everywhere on the island. Here are some of the beaches I visited and loved.
• Spathi seems hard to access at first, due to the dirt road, but it’s worthy. There are sunbeds and umbrellas, and lots of space if you want to lay down on your beach towel and soak in the sun.
• Koundouros is the most cosmopolitan beach on the island. In the 1970s, the region had ferry links with Lavrio and was one of the first developed areas. Even today, the region is the busiest one during high season, as there are numerous private or renting villas and country homes. The beach is clean; in fact, it is awarded with a Blue Flag by the Greek National Tourism Organization.
• Koundouraki sandy beach is small but well-organized. Almost next to Koundouros, Koundouraki serves as a less crowded option. This is the only beach offering water sports activities.

Kea island, Porto Koundouros
Kea island, Spathi
Kea island

Some other beaches that I haven’t visited, but you may want to look for are: Xyla (organized beach, close to Korissia, biggest part of the route is a dirt road), Pisses (sandy, large and organized, having a volleyball net, shadowy trees) and Otzias (the longest beach of the island – 700 m. length -, organized, seaside taverns).

Nightlife

You may consider nightlife in Kea nonexistent, though there are numerous options in Vourkari area. A row of cafes and restaurants overlooking the sea and the luxurious yachts awaits you there. If you want to dance, you should check Vinilio or Zeus Faber. In Ioulida, there is only one choice for drinks, and it’s note-worthy, the Leon bar. It has rock music and vibes, and it was the first bar on Kea. I’m in the dark for other areas with bars, so if you know anything, please leave a comment.

Kea island, Leon bar
Leon bar

Britannic sank in Kea

It may not be crucial to your holidays on the island, but on a side note I would like to mention that Titanic’s sister ship sank in the Kea on November 21, 1916. After a sudden explosion, the 296 meters long ship was gone in less than an hour. The cause of the explosion remains unknown, but it is believed that the Britannic hit a mine. In total, 1035 passengers survived the sinking while 30 lost their lives. The Britannic served as a hospital ship.

To sum up

If you are looking for an island that is close to Athens but has the feeling of an island much further away, then Kea may be the place for you. Traditional island vibes, variety of beaches, close connection to nature and delicious food combine everything you may ask for in your holidays. An enchanting destination that is developing a sophisticated form of tourism, yet at the same time maintaining a discreet cosmopolitanism.

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Thank you for being here. Take care and see you soon! – Angelina