Hydra: The perfect alternative to Greek island tourist trap Santorini

Hydra is an incredible island to holiday on and the perfect alternative to Santorini or Mykonos.
Hydra is the Greek island you should holiday to. Photo credit: Newshub.

Everyone knows about Santorini.

The picturesque island is one of Greece's most popular destinations, welcoming several million tourists a year - so many that officials are now battling to curb visitor numbers.

Thanks to its status as one of the world's most Instagramable travel hotspots, cruise ships arrive on Santorini's shores each day in their droves, teeming with tourists expecting a Mediterranean paradise.

But Santorini's popularity is a pitfall. The 15,000 locals are easily outnumbered; the constant throng of tourists stripping the island of its charm and driving accommodation and food prices sky-high.

Fortunately, there are about 200 other inhabited Greek islands, many of them sharing Santorini's best features - white-washed houses, cobbled streets, cerulean water - and at a fraction of the price.

Among many deserving candidates, there's one that stands out above all - here's why Hydra should be top of your European travel bucket list.

Natural beauty without the price tag

Hydra brims with quaint houses, rural farms, picturesque azure-blue swimming spots and majestic, gamboge mountains rising up from its centre.

Its most populous area, the port town, is a charming place encircled by cliffs and playing host to a cluster of good-quality restaurants, bars, markets and shops.

Cliffs and mountains of Hydra, Greece.
Cliffs and mountains of Hydra. Photo credit: Newshub.

Full disclosure: it still isn't super cheap to stay here.

But it's certainly a lot cheaper than the likes of the better-known, Cycladic islands like Santorini and Mykonos - and given Greece's floundering economy, it remains significantly cheaper than many other destinations in Europe.

The view of Hydra's port town, Greece.
Hydra port. Photo credit: Newshub.

If you visit outside of the summer months - in May or September, for instance - it's still warm, but the prices will be lower to draw in tourists. The same can't be said for Santorini, which remains popular with tourists even in winter.

Convenient location

Hydra sits in an enviable spot in the Myrtoan Sea, just a 90-minute Flying Cat ride from Piraeus Port in Athens, where most travellers fly into.

This makes it a much more convenient option than Santorini, which takes anywhere between four and eight hours on a ferry from the capital.

Its position in the Saronic Gulf also puts it in close proximity to a number of other beautiful islands that make great day-trip destinations.

Poros, Greece.
Poros. Photo credit: Newshub.

Among these are Poros, known for its relaxed atmosphere, authentic tavernas and terracotta-roofed homes, along with Spetses, a glitzy island known for fine dining, impressive yachts and glamorous mansions.

Hydra's also just south of a chunk of Greek mainland known as the Peloponnese, which shares the island's casual vibe and stunning beaches but has fewer tourists.

Car-free and animal-abundant

The charm of Hydra is no accident, and while it's difficult to capture what makes it such a nice place to be, there are a couple of reasons for its superiority to other islands.

One of these is the total absence of vehicles anywhere on the island; cars and motorbikes are banned, and even construction companies rely on mules to transfer building materials.

Horses and donkeys on Hydra.
Four-legged friends on Hydra. Photo credit: Newshub.

But people do need to get around, and Hydra's challenging topography means you can't always do this on foot. To solve this problem, locals breed donkeys, horses and mules to carry tourists and their suitcases to their accomodation for a fee.

And it's not just donkeys. Like many Greek islands, stray cats roam freely on the streets. Rather than being seen as pests, felines are prized by locals for both their cuteness and rodent-catching abilities, and fed well for their efforts.

Dazzling hikes

You'll be hard-pressed to find a view in all of Greece that compares to that of Hydra's port town at sunrise from the track down the hill near Moni Agias Triadas.

Hydra's port town as seen from the track down the hill near Moni Agias Triadas.
Hydra's port town as seen from the hiking track. Photo credit: Newshub.

If you're a seasoned tramper, and not afraid of an hour-long walk before dawn, then this is a must-see - and it's easy to convert into a longer tramp of about two to three hours that'll take you past Mandraki Beach in the island's east.

Hydra is a quiet island with few museums or archaeological sites, but it does have hundreds of stunning churches and monasteries, as well as sun-scorched hillsides and myriad incredible swimming spots.

Hydra ocean swimming spots.
Just two of the several amazing Hydra swimming spots. Photo credit: Newshub.

There are about five main trails around the island, ranging from an hour in length to about five hours, so it can be a good day's activity for the outdoorsy types.

And the lack of cars means many won't bother to explore the southern side of the island; you'll have many of the trails leading you in that direction to yourself.

Hiking in Hydra, Greece.
What it's like hiking on Hydra. Photo credit: Newshub.

Tourist-friendly but authentically Greek


Hydra's proximity to the mainland makes it a more affordable holiday destination for Greek residents, who are totally priced out of Santorini and other islands like it.

But it's increasingly popular with tourists, too - especially Brits, Europeans and Australians - giving it a lovely, cosmopolitan feel.

Indeed, the locals (known as Hydriots) love foreign visitors, as the island is increasingly dependent on tourism - and also because they are a naturally gregarious people.

Sunbathers on a beach on the Greek island Hydra.
Hanging out in Hydra. Photo credit: Newshub.

Even for the more shy among us, it's difficult to go out to dinner and not find yourself on the receiving end of a spiel about food or Greece from a passionate waiter or restaurant owner.

Speaking of, if you're passionate about foodm make sure you pay a visit to Gitoniko's Taverna for top-quality traditional Greek fare, and to Kremmidi for cheap but delicious souvlaki and gyros.

Hydra eateries.
Hydra eateries. Photo credit: Newshub.

You may not have heard of Hydra, but I highly recommend you add it to the list of places you have to travel to.