If you arrive by air, Skiathos will try to impress you even before you land. The aircraft –possibly a small one– flies for a while low, close to sea level, allowing you enough time to freak out but also take in the sparkly blue waters beneath before you finally see the runway. Skiathos belongs to Sporades (meaning “those scattered”) a small cluster of four islands in the North Aegean. These islands –Skiathos, Skopelos, Alonissos and Skiros– are the complete antithesis of the Cyclades. They have luscious green vegetation, pine forests and a different architecture, resembling the one found on the peninsula of Mount Pelio, the closest part of the mainland. In recent years, summer wildfires have reduced part of its forest to ashes but luckily nature is slowly recovering. The island never lacked tourists, but the release of the movie Mama Mia in 2008, which was in part filmed on the island, further boosted its appeal.
What to do
Skiathos gets very busy in July and August, with large number of package tourists and youngsters flooding the streets and beaches. The island lacks the variety of cultural attractions found on other islands, but there are some interesting sights you should not miss. As you approach the port of Skiathos, you will see to your left a small peninsula jutting from the mainland. This is Bourtzi, an area which once housed fortifications. In 1906 the building was turned into a school and nowadays it is used to house cultural events. Skiathos town was not always the capital. The original settlement was in a fortified castle at the north of the island which was built to defend the islanders against pirates and other attackers from 1540 to 1829. The whole area is now abandoned and most of the buildings are ruined. To get there, you can take the boat to Kastro beach and walk up the rest of the road.
The house of Alexandros Papadiamantis (Papadiamantis square, Tel: +30 24270 23843, open Tue-Sun 09:00-13:00 and 17:00-20:00) a prominent Greek writer who wrote more than 100 novels and shaped Greek literature, is situated 80 metres from the eastern port. The two-storey, well-preserved mansion was built in 1860 and today serves as a museum and a centre showcasing his work. All the objects, furniture and clothes are original and were donated by the relatives of the writer for the museum.
After a 20 minute walk from the port you will see the Monastery of Evangelistria, (Tel: +30 2470 22012) built in the 18th century. It houses an impressive number of manuscripts, religious objects and relics, as well as a cultural centre. Locals claim this is where the first Greek flag was made in 1807 (long before the official start of the War of Independence against the Ottomans).
The beaches on the island provide unexpected scenery, with pines growing close to the water, providing much needed shade. Koukounaries with its blue-green waters is the most famous beach on the island and has the usual sun loungers and umbrellas. Come early if you want to find a square of sand to lay your towel. Just behind the beach is the wetland of Koukounaries and Strofilia lagoon, an amazing natural habitat protected by the European Union. Five kilometres from town, Kanapitsa beach is less crowded and offers scuba diving. The strangely named Big Banana is filled with youngsters flirting and sunbathing, while Small Banana nearby is available for nudism. Vromolimnos is a narrow beach with clear blue waters and pines growing right behind your umbrella. It has beach bars at the back and can get very busy after noon. Northeast of the island is Lalaria, a dreamy beach with turquoise waters, surrounded by white cliffs. The only way to get there is by boat, which leaves the port daily – if the wind permits it. Aselinos is a less crowded large beach with a camping site nearby. For a bit more privacy, head to Agia Eleni and Manthraki to the west of the island.
Where to eat
Eating can be a challenge on Skiathos because many eateries inside the town serve average touristy fare. Stick to the area around Tris Ierarhes church or the old port and you should be safe from any gastronomic nightmares. Medousa (old port) is an Italian restaurant baking really good pizzas. Taverna Amfiliki (Tel: +30 24270 22839) is renowned for its seafood and good local wine. In Vromolimnos, Taverna Lia serves Greek cuisine with some international touches in an open terrace. Taverna Folia (Tel: +30 24270 23196) has tasty mezedes and casserole specialties.
After 10pm, groups of similarly dressed youngsters flood the streets looking for a cheap drink at the bar – any bar. If you’re over 30, you might prefer to go to Kentavros bar (Papadiamantis square, Tel: +30 24270 22980) which plays funk and jazz and serves decent drinks. Another decent option is Rock n’ Roll bar at the old port; it opens early for coffee and continues through the night with drinks and oldies music. To check out the clubbing scene, go to the eastern side of the town, after the marina, where you will find the classic Kahlua club. Loud techno music, guest DJs and women dancing on the bar in teeny weeny garments constitute a typical night. The other two popular nightclubs are Kavos and BBC which are packed until 6am.
The best accommodation is found outside the main town. Budget: Koukounaries Camping (Tel: +30 24270 49250) is a clean, organised camping area where all youngsters reside. Mandraki Village (close to Koukounaries beach, Tel: +30 24270 49301, www.mandraki-skiathos.gr) is a luxury hotel with views over the beach, pools and beautiful gardens. Bourtzi hotel (8 Moraitou street, Tel: +30 24270 21304, www.hotelbourtzi.gr) has beautiful modern rooms, restaurant and pool. At the main town, Hotel Akti (Tel: +30 24270 22024) is strategically located at the port.
There are many daily ferry services connecting Skiathos to Volos, Agios Konstantinos and Thessaloniki. By air, the island is served by local and some international airlines. For ferry and airline websites check the Getting to and from the islands section.
What to do
The capital and main port, Ermoupoli, is the administrative centre of the South Aegean region and is spread out from the port to the nearby hills. The Catholic neighbourhood of Ano Syros is nestled to the left of the hill and the Orthodox neighbourhood of Vrodado to the right. The name means the city of Hermes, the ancient Greek god who protected commerce, travellers and thieves. Platia Miaouli, the central square of Ermoupolis, is surrounded by shops and cafés, restored neoclassical buildings, trees and flocks of pigeons flying overhead. At one side stands the majestic town hall, the work of German architect Ernst Ziller, who designed, among others, the Presidential Mansion in Athens. The same building also houses the small Archaeological Museum (separate entrance on the west side, Tel: +30 22810 88487, open Tue-Sun 08:30-15:00) which presents a collection of artefacts excavated in the area of Halandriani, as well as Roman and Hellenistic sculptures and vases. Walking around town you will see Apollon Theatre (Vardaki square), built in 1862-1864 on designs made by French architect Chabeau. At the edge of Ermoupolis stand the chimneys and cranes of the town’s old industrial centre which housed the old ship yards. Three of these buildings form the Industrial Museum (Tel: +30 22810 81243, 84762) housing a collection of 20 machines, components and other objects that testify to the city’s industrial heritage. Further up the hill from Ermoupolis is Vaporia, an affluent part of town where the old mansions of Greek ship magnates dominate with their huge doors and marble floors.
The prettiest quarter is Ano Syros which has a completely different architecture from Ermoupolis. Built in the 13th century to protect the Venetian population, its houses form a residential fortress with the Catholic Cathedral of Agios Georgios dominating the village. The majestic view of the port from the Cathedral is worth the huffing and puffing you will endure from the countless stairs leading to it. The village is steeped in its medieval past, with narrow alleys and archways leading you to small squares, pretty flowered yards and meandering alleys where kids play all day. The highlights of the village include the Monastery of the Capuchins built in 1653 and further up the alley the Monastery of the Jesuits. Ano Syros is also the home of the prominent Greek musician and rebetiko composer Markos Vamvakaris who wrote Frangosyriani. His museum (Tel: +30 22813 60914, open daily from 11:00-14:00 and from 19:00-22:00) showcases pictures and personal objects donated by his relatives as well as original manuscripts of his songs.
The beaches of Syros may not be as impressive as in other islands but they are also less noisy, with clean blue waters. The most popular are the long sandy Galissas, the fishing village of Kini, busy Agathopes filled with sun loungers and thatched umbrellas, the sheltered bay of Vari and Azolimnos. To enjoy more privacy and reach beaches you have to take one of the boats that leave daily from Ermoupoli or rent a car. Armeos is a nudist beach found just a few minutes’ walk from Galissas, while one kilometre from Agathopes is the quiet beach of Komito. On your way to Kini, you will see a sign leading you to Lotos beach, filled with tamarisks for ample shade. Other crowd-less options include the mid-sized beaches of Grammata in the northwest, Varvarousa and Aetos. Between Azolimnos and Vari are the hidden beaches of Santorini and Fabrica. At the southwestern part of the island, Finikas beach has a few umbrellas and trees to hide from the sun as well as a cement platform on one end which serves as a playing ground for teenagers. From Finikas beach you can also reach the small, sandy Kokkini Paralia.
The Italian influences are evident in the local gastronomy. There are plenty of Italian restaurants around the island and some Italian elements have been incorporated in local recipes. You wouldn’t think of eating at a restaurant located smack in the middle of the port, but Amvix (26, Akti Papagou street, Tel: +30 22810 83989) is an exception. Amvix is an Italian restaurant housed in an old distillery and makes excellent pizzas and pasta. To complete your dive into Italian cuisine, near Amvix is the Italian-owned gelateria Daidadi (Platia Papagou, Tel: +30 22810 85953) serving fresh ice cream with interesting names like imperial fig, Cuban chocolate and honeymoon. For traditional Aegean specialties like beef with plums head to Arhodariki (8 Emmanouil Roidi street, Tel: +30 22810 86771, 85946). Right across Apollon theatre is the lovely courtyard of To Oniro (Platia Theatrou, Tel: +30 22810 79416) a modern, chic restaurant and bar offering Mediterranean dishes made with local ingredients. In Ano Syros, a wooden gate leads to To Plakostroto (area of San Mihalis, Tel: +30 6973 980248), a simple taverna full of charm, with panoramic views of the Grammata bay and large-size portions of oven cooked specials. At the waterfront of Kini village, find Thio tzitzikia sta almirikia (Tel: +30 22810 71151) where you can enjoy the sunset eating seafood and fresh salads. Also in Kini is the white veranda of Allou Yialou (Tel: +30 22810 71196, open from 12:30) whose menu includes seafood, fresh fish and local specialties. No meal is complete without a dessert and that’s why you should continue your evening at Stis Ninetas (Ermoupoli, 13 Emmanouil Roidi street, near OTE building, Tel: + 30 22810 87119) who makes her own cakes and cream pies. For a complete picture of Syros’s culinary world, try the local loukoumia (Turkish delights) and halvathopita (a flat type of pie with nougat) found in every bakery in town and also the cheeses San Mihali and kopanisti.
Nightlife in Syros is centred on Miaouli square and the seafront of Ermoupolis. Mammo wine & food bar (38a, Akti Petrou Ralli, Tel: +30 22810 76416) is a narrow venue on the waterfront serving food and drinks later in the evening. Baba bar (1, Milou street) is a mainstream cocktail bar in central Ermoupoli. In the picturesque Ano Syros, go to Kafepotion, a quiet coffee shop offering desserts and doubles as a bar in the evening with incredible views over the port. For a quiet night out, the beautiful Pallas cinema (Tel: +30 22810 82313) plays mainstream films with Greek subtitles every night.
Ipatia Guesthouse (3, Babagiotou street, Ermoupoli, Tel: +30 22810 83575) overlooks the bay and has beautiful spacious rooms, Lila Guesthouse (Ano Syros, www.guesthouse.gr) is a beautiful restored mansion with tall ceilings in a quiet area, Ethrion (Ermoupoli, Tel: +30 22810 89066, www.ethrion.gr) offers clean, pretty apartments just 10 metres from the port. Syrou Melathron (5, Babagiotou, Vaporia, Tel: +22810 86495) is a luxury hotel housed in a 19th century mansion.
There are many direct, daily ferry services connecting Piraeus and Lavrio port with Syros. Check the “Getting to and from the islands” section for ferry websites.
Diogenis Hotel Syros
Platia Papagou, Ermoupoli, Tel: +30 22810 86301, www.diogenishotel.com
The hotel Diogenis was built in the 19th century and is a characteristic example of architecture that prevailed in Syros at the time, with obvious neoclassical Venetian influences. In the winter of 2013 the hotel was completely renovated to combine its neoclassical architecture with a minimalist décor. The result is a superb 4 star boutique hotel, which strives to offer the best possible services to its guests.
Miaouli square, Syros, Tel: +30 22810 83734
A friendly all-day venue which offers some of the best coffee in the Cyclades. In the afternoon it turns into an atmospheric bar with rock, soul, funk and mainstream music. The cocktails here are really good.