Kea lies on the northwestern rim of the Cyclades, the nearest island to the Attica mainland, and quite close to Athens, making it a popular destination even for short breaks. Its capital and main town is Ioulis or Ioulidia, perched high on a hilltop inland, a customary precaution against the marauding Ottoman pirates of the Middle-Ages. Kea is essentially arid, although buffeted by strong winds that make it a favourite area for the nautical set.
There are remains of Bronze Age settlements of the Minoans and Mycenaeans. Kea was allied with Athens during the Persian Wars; it prospered during the Byzantine era, when a number of churches were built. Over the centuries it fell into the hands of the Venetians, then the Turks, and then back again. Kea was the first Cycladian Island to fight in the War of Independence. It has been largely unaffected by tourism, although its proximity to the mainland has brought in some well-heeled Athenians and their yachts, especially around Otzias, in the north of the island.
Ioulis is a small picturesque village, and is completely pedestrian – no vehicles are allowed, only the traditional donkeys. There are remnants of the Venetian fortifications, and nearby the church of Agia Paraskevi, built inside a cave. The Archaeological Museum has a great collection of artefacts from the 7th to the 2nd centuries BC, and the charming main square is lined with cafes, and often is given over to animated local festivals. Local bus services from Ioulis will take you all over the island. Korissia is a port village, with traditional whitewashed houses and colourful tile roofs. Vourkari is more touristic; it is a fishing village with lots of fine fish restaurants, and a yachting marina. Here you will find some of Kea’s best nightlife. Nearby, the Monastery of Panagia Kastriani is perched high on a rock, with great views overlooking the sea. A local monument is the Lion of Kea, a 6th century BC sculpture hewn out of living rock 6m long.
Koundouros beach, in the northwest of the island, is a popular beach lined with tavernas. Walk further along the coast to Kambi, overlooked by cliffs and lined by oak trees. The picturesque gorge of Vathirema ends at the beautiful remote beach at Lipari. Otzias beach is the best beach for windsurfing, and there are tavernas and restaurants nearby.
There are frequent ferry connections from Lavrio (half hour drive from Athens); the trip takes 1 hour. Ferries from Athens Piraeus also stop at Vourkari, taking slightly longer.