It is a birthplace of numerous poets and writers since the Greek antiquity. The island of Lesbos continues to inspire, through this cultural heritage, its natural beauty, and its easygoing lifestyle expressed by its people as a familiarity towards all its visitors.
Even though they inaccurately say it is due to the erotic element in some poems by the famous Sappho, instead of Lesbos (Λέσβος) it is popular to refer to the island by the name of its capital town of Mytilene (Μυτιλήνη). Spellings of Lesvos and Mitilini are widespread transliterations, reflecting the actual Greek pronunciation.
Of all the islands of Greece, Lesbos is only preceded in area by Crete (South) and Evvia (Centre). However, in terms of administration, the prefecture of Lesvos comprises three major islands, Lesbos, Lemnos at the northwest, and the tiny Agios Efstratios in the middle between the first two islands.
Geographically, Lesbos includes two seawater gulfs, with narrow openings both to the south, that elongate the coastline and shaping the island characteristically like a fig tree or plane tree leaf, as described by the native nobelist poet Odysseas Elytis. The landscape is different in the various regions; most striking is the contrast of the far west region, rocky with low vegetation, to the east and central parts, where olive and pine tree forests dominate. Its elevation reaches almost 1000 m at both points: the north at mount Lepetymnos and the south at mount Olympos, a name identical to the original Olympus in Thessaly.
People of Lesbos have admired culture since the ancient times, and throughout the centuries many poets, writers, philologists, painters emerged.
Two of the famous ancient classics were the poet Sappho (whose erotic poems gave rise to the word lesbian), born in Eressos and the lyric poet Alcaeus of Mytilene, an older contemporary. A glimpse of the ancient life in Lesbos is exhibited in the new Archeological Museum of Mytilene building. Bypassing some notable people before the 19th century, the naïve painter Theofilos would depict not only the lifestyle of his time, but also the ancient myths survived in the tradition; Teriade, an art critic, preserved Theofilos' work among his collection of Picasso and Matisse in his own gallery, the Teriade Museum in Varia, a suburb of Mytilene on the way south to the airport. Both museums are worth visiting.
The town of Mytilene shows architectural variety. Its expansion to the southwest suburbs is mostly of simple modern buildings; on the south way to the airport one can find a neighbourhood of old mansions, called Sourada, extended to the airport road, impossible not to be noticed; the north part called Epano Skala (meaning upper port) is the oldest, hosting one of the largest castles of the archipelago and some villas; a careful eye can notice some temples for the Muslim population that used to live in the Ottoman times. The heart of the town is the market street, Ermou street, just behind the quai. While walking on this busy street, pay a visit to the baroque-style temple of Agios Therapon, a "trademark" site of Mytilene. This variety in styles is not bounded only in Mytilene; one can notice small mansions and villas (serving as public buildings usually) scattered in the villages of the whole island.
Lesvos is quite well known for the great number of its local, traditional products. As mentioned before, Lesvos is very famous for Ouzo, as it is considered one of the places it originates from. Also, Lesvos is quite famous for its pottery. Agiasos and Mandamados are the two villages that have the biggest tradition in ceramic art. Many ceramists live and work in these villages. Some of the ceramists there are Antonia Gavve (and Demetrios Hadjigiannis. Except for ceramics, woodcraft is also very developed in Lesvos.
Towns and villages
1 Mytilene - (Μυτιλήνη) The capital of Lesvos at the east end. A busy town as it concentrates the hospital, the university, the port, the airport, the court, the prefecture and other administrative headquarters.
2 Agiasos, the picturesque village while ascending onto Olympos.
3 Eressos is a small dale town at southwest paving the way to the sandy beach, or 4 Skala Eressou, thus being mostly a summer resort. Its fame as the birthplace of Sappho attracts some lesbian (homosexual) couples, but they consist a part of the whole number of Eressos' visitors, as it is a place too beautiful to become isolated.
5 Kalloni is the second-largest town, in the centre of the island, at the north of the greater of the two gulfs (thus called "Gulf of Kalloni").
6 Mandamados, at the northeast, for the ceramic art tradition and the locally produced dairy products, as well as its monastery.
7 Mesotopos is a village at the southwest which keeps alive traditions and is famous for the "koudounatoi" men who wear sheep-bells in a springtime fest called "apokria" (Carnival).
8 Molivos, the ancient Methymna (spelled also as Mithimna), the most important destination for a visitor, because of its attractions: the Gattilusi Castle and the whole preserved traditional architecture. It is one of the two lungs of tourism in Lesvos, the other one being Eressos.
9 Plomari at the south coast in the middle of the two gulfs' openings, is the homeland of ouzo, the well-known Greek alcoholic beverage.
- 1 Petra and the beach at 2 Anaxos, almost unavoidable if you visit Molivos. The beach is facing to the north but it is crowded even when affected by the prevailing north winds. The church of Mary on a 27-metre steep volcanic hill dominates the village.
- 3 Pirgi Thermis (Πύργοι Θερμής, lit. Towers at Therme), a few kilometres north of Mytilene, for the all-day bar restaurants and the beach. The name is similar with Pyrgi (Πυργί), another village near Mytilene. A prehistoric settlement has been excavated at the area.
- 4 Skala Sykamnias, between Molivos and Mandamados, renowned for its fish tavernae and the landscape. Greeks know the place because of the chapel of Panagia Gorgona (transl. Mermaid Madonna) that became famous after the popular story of the Greek writer Stratis Myrivilis in his book.
- 5 Sigri, the village at the west end of the island, hosting the Natural History Museum of the Petrified Forest. The 6 Petrified Forest area is located between Sigri and Erissos.
- 7 Vatera one of the longest beaches in Greece, at the south coast.
Greek is the main language but many, especially younger people, know English as a second language. Most signs are bilingual or even English-only, but usually spelling follows a transliteration of the place is pronounced in Modern Greek, so it can be a little hard to recognize.
The island is served by Odysseas Elytis (Οδυσσέας Ελύτης) airport, named after the 20th century poet, and located in the far South-East of the island, around 8 km South of Mytilene. Flights run regularly to/from Athens, Thessaloniki, Chios, Lemnos and Crete. Internationally, the island is a popular holiday destination so is served by regular charter flights.
The island is also connected with the mainland and other islands by ship. Many major companies offer routes between Lesbos and Athens.
The main shipping company is NEL Lines. Third class tickets (no bed) is about €42 return from Athens. First class with a bed and TV cost €120. The third class bathrooms are disgusting. The trip is 11–13 hours depending on which ship you board. There are four, Agios Rafael is the slowest and Mitilini is the fastest taking 11 hours. It is a tiresome journey, so it would be better to try book on ships that depart late in the afternoon and travel by night, arriving at their destination a couple of hours after dawn. You won't miss any scenery, since the ship crosses the Aegean Sea and for hours you would only be viewing endless water.
Turyol, a leading sea transportation company in Turkey, has services between Ayvalık and Mytilini, one way adult ticket price is €20, return trip tickets are €30, (as of 2013). For vehicle transportation prices, see their website.
Jale Tur maintains a year-round ferry service between Mytilene and Ayvalık, Turkey, a city opposite Mytilene on the Aegean coast. During high season there are boats every day; outside season a few times a week (weather permitting). The crossing takes about 90 minutes. The ferry does take cars, but is fairly small. Advance reservation is recommended. Contact: Jale Tur, Atatürk Caddesi, Güzide Apt. No:5, Ayvalık, Turkey / Tzeims Aristarchou Street 1 (around the corner from Kountouriotou), Mytilene, Lesvos, Greece (both in Ayvalık and in Mytilene directly opposite the entrance/exit of the immigration/customs building on the waterfront), ☏ , , fax: , , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. €40 p.p. one way, €50 return trip; compact car €70. During high season several other companies also maintain ferry services between Mytilene and Ayvalık. This ferry is mostly used by locals to go the Bazar in Ayvalik.
Also year round ferry service to Dikili, Turkey, slightly closer then Ayvalik, €13 one way.
Local buses run on the island to the bigger villages on the island. You can buy tickets in the bus. The major bus stop and information station is in Mitilini.
Taxis are cheap and the taxi drivers are obliged to use the meter. Taxis based in Mitilini are yellow. Taxis not based in Mitilini are grey-coloured. Taxis can be used for local transportation, transfers and excursions, but also for emergencies.
A good way to see the island is to rent a car. A local, good quality and affordable car rental place, Auto Moto, can be found at the airport, and many more car rental places at and around Kountouriotou Street at Mitilini's harbourfront. Recommended if you are a confident driver! The locals drive pretty fast, but usually obey the traffic rules. The roads are generally quite good, and even the mountain roads not too challenging.
The island offers nice hiking routes between the villages. The hiking maps are available in tourist offices.
- The big beach of Vatera at the south part of the island.
- The medieval (Genovese) castle at Mytilene.
- The picturesque village of Agiasos, situated on the north-east slope of Mount Olympos.
- Pyrgi Thermis.
- The small picturesque fishing village of Skala Sykamineas at the north side of the island.
- Molyvos, a traditional, touristic village with a medieval fort on the top of a hill overlooking the area.
- The petrified forest on the Western part of the island.
- The Geological Museum in Sigri, one of the best museums in Greece.
- See the small village of Pyrgi Thermis on the east side of the island. Very friendly people, Small beach, war ruins near the beach. And also foreign university students during the whole of summer. There is also a 4-star hotel, Lesvos Inn, on the sandy beach close to the thermal baths of Pyrgi, that offers rooms from €50-100 a night and excellent service. The hotel offers Internet access and spa facilities. They speak English.
- Visit the thermal baths at Eftalou beach on the north side of the island, about 5 km from Molyvos. You can cool off from the hot water by going in the sea, and go back and forth as often as you want.
- Molyvos Visit Molivos (or Molyvos) a protected settlement, crowned by a fortress. Molyvos has the privilege to be a place - the village leads to Aegean Sea - that combines a very long and rich history among the centuries, with natural beauty.
The island offers a variety of seafood with reasonable prices.
Also the sweets of the island and the local spirit "Ouzo" are quite an experience.
Coffee is the most available drink on the island, even more than water. Prices from €1-5.
Alcohol is sold at every Coffee shop in every village or bars in the capital Mitilini near the wharf where the ferry will drop you off. Almost all major hotels serve alcohol as well. Price: €3-12.
Lesbos is famous for its ouzo.
Never take photos of military compounds/bases.
Lesvos is one of several Greek islands struggling with the arrival of thousands of refugees from nearby Turkey. In September 2015 the capital of Lesbos was hosting 17,000 refugees alone.