Located in the Dodecanese, Symi island is known for its colourful picture-perfect town, ranked a national monument for Greek architecture.
Symi boasts natural beauty- with its secluded coves (scattered throughout the island) enchanting beaches (accessible by boat); and in contrast to its rocky coastline, the interior of the island is forested with cypresses and conifers- making it a stunning destination.
After a recent trip to this breathtaking island, here are my tips on the Best Things to do in Symi!
1. Get lost in Symi’s main town
Start by the harbour, named Gialos, where pastel-coloured Venetian mansions beautifully fill the town. When you think that you have seen it all, climb up several steps (450 to be exact) at Kali Strata in order to reach the Chorio, the village-like old part of town. If you are not a fan of exercise, there’s a five-minute bus that leaves every hour but you’ll miss the magic of admiring the charming houses on your way up and the picture-perfect view of Symi. At the top, there is the Kastro, which used to be an ancient acropolis and its old walls became part of the castle built there by the Knights of the Order of St John in 1407. Make sure you are there in time to enjoy the sunset from this spot.
2. Hop on a boat tour around the island
A daily cruise around Symi is a great way to see all the secluded beaches and coves. The traditional boat, POSEIDON, offers daily cruises from the Gialos. Captain John, the owner, (lately along with his son Thodoris) has been touring around the island for the last 20 years and knows all the hidden beauties. He is also a great chef, as he is also preparing the menu during the tour. It departs from the port at 10:30 a.m. and returns at 17:30 p.m. The itinerary depends on the weather but normally you will be able to swim to the majestic beaches of St. Georgios, St. Vasilios, and Fokospilia. Inside this cave, there is a hidden beach where you can swim and (if you are lucky) see the seals that live there. The buffet is served at Seskli island on tables under the trees.
3. Meet Mr. Takis Psarros, a local artisan
You won’t notice anything different from the outside, since you will see a typical store, full of leather goods in the town’s main port. But look closer. Inside the shop, you will find Mr. Psarros working on his amazing leather artwork. His designs are truly unique but the most extraordinary part is the procedure. Millions of burnt dots on leather; and countless hours of creation compose the solitary work of art that is created by the talented pyrographist. He is the only artist in Greece who designs pieces using the method of skin pyrography. Mr. Psarros holds a Guinness World Record for the largest pyrographic “Poseidon and Amphitrite” with 11.000.00 dots, which required two years’ worth of work.
4. Visit the Monastery of Panormitis
It may seem like an Italian town filled with mansions boasting magnificent sea-views from their balconies but in reality, it’s a holy Monastery of the 18th Century, dedicated to the Archangel Michael. Set against a stunning backdrop of pine-covered mountainsides, the monastery welcomes the ferries by a loud bell sound- as they arrive and depart. You can also admire the wonderful chandeliers and the silver-leafed representation of Archangel Michael, Patron Saint of Symi, and protector of sailors. There is also a small museum and if you climb some steps, you can see the cells where the monks live and where many pilgrims choose to stay.
5. Enjoy delicious dishes at Haritomeni while enjoying the sunset
Haritomeni restaurant is perfectly positioned in Upper Symi, an ideal spot to watch the sunset. Head there in the evening before the sun is about to set and sit on the terrace. Besides the stunning view of Symi harbour, the food here is absolutely delicious, even the simplest dishes taste amazing at this family-run tavern that serves traditional Greek dishes using the freshest local produce available.
6. Buy a Sea Sponge
The inhabitants of Symi were the first Greeks to work as sponge divers. They were the pioneers who also taught other islanders how to dive, process, and trade the sponges. That’s why many international travellers who visited Greece in the Middle Ages believed that sponges only came from Symi. We visited Dinos Sponge Centre, the oldest sponge shop of Symi (since 1939), and met Mr. Dinos and his son, who explained to us many things regarding natural sea sponges that are animals and not plants as most people believe. We chose the appropriate sea sponges for our body and face for loofah use, bath time, and exfoliation- as they have top-notch exfoliating, circulation-boosting, radiance-enhancing abilities.
7. Enjoy life at the beach
If you want to stay in Gialos, Nos beach is the perfect deal. A small piece of paradise that offers sun loungers, parasols, a shower, and a café -restaurant. A few kilometers away, you will find Gyala beach with a canteen that serves the tastiest country potatoes. Nimporio is another small beach, in the nearby bay, with sun loungers and a tavern; access is by boat or by road. Nanou is a picturesque pebble beach in a green landscape with cypresses, hidden behind high hills and crystal-clear water. Marathounda is a narrow bay with many goats running around. Agios Nikolaos is a popular beach with sand and pebbles and natural shade. The best beaches are Agios Vasilios, Agios Georgios, Dysalonas where the cliffs drop steeply behind the beach with its deep blue waters. The 300-metre high, vertical rock that stands behind this beach creates a majestic landscape. Don’t miss Agia Marina. Take a taxi boat (we took Pan. Ypakoi boat) it has a new restaurant and a small island straight opposite the beach with a church, that you can reach by swimming.
8. Eat at Manos Fish Restaurant
This taverna is a unique experience thanks to its owner. Mr. Manos is some kind of entertainer for his clients, along with his parrot Markos. He will narrate stories of glorious nights at his taverna with celebrities who sing and dance until the morning. The photos outside the bathroom are the evidence. The seafood here is another experience! Don’t forget to taste “symiako garidaki” (small shrimp of Symi).
9. Have a drink at Symi’s main town or along the port
You will spot them during your stroll around the picturesque alleys of Symi Town, and visit them at night. The bars with a great atmosphere in Symi include Tsati, Achinos, Vapori, Charani, Los and Yaghta. They won’t disappoint.
10. Admire 1900 Hotel
We met the architect Dimitris Zografos, who decided to restore the old house of the Mastoriadis family and convert it into a boutique hotel, under the name “1900 Hotel”. Mastoriadis was the person who brought the first autonomous diving suit (“scafandro” in Greek) to Greece and Symi. Dimitris Zografos tried, through careful and thoughtful restoration, to keep its heritage alive. The house has been left merely intact. The main rooms of the house have been seamlessly transformed into four elegant suites (1901, 1902, 1903 and 1904), steeped in history.
How to get there
Ferries depart from Piraeus port about three times a week and arrive at Symi after approximately 20 hours. It might be more convenient for you to reach Rhodes by plane (a one-hour trip from Athens) and then travel to Symi by ferry from Rhodes (the ferries are almost daily). Symi is also connected by ferry with Kalymnos, Patmos, Leros and Tilos.
Where to stay
Limani Life: Right on the promenade of the port, an old mansion has been transformed into six comfortable, minimalist aesthetic rooms in pastel colours and nautical touches.
The Old Markets: Housed in a restored building in the old market of Symi, just 400m from the port. Highlight the breakfast served on the terrace with majestic views.
Iapetos Village Hotel: Colorful houses, a tropical garden and a pool with stone arches, this hotel is like a tiny village of a children’s fairytale.
Where to eat in Symi
Manos Fish restaurant for fresh fish. Bella Napoli Trattoria Italiana, for pasta and pizza. Charitomeni restaurant for a delicious meal with a sunset view. Taverna restaurant International, a traditional Greek taverna. Pantelis, a great gastronomic destination. O Tholos for great food by the sea.
Many thanks to Deputy Mayor Mr. Nikitas Gryllis and the Mayor Mr. Lefteris Papakalodoukas for making this press trip happen!
*Images by Polina Paraskevopoulou ©