Top 10 Things to do in Ikaria

Wild landscapes, diverse beaches, thermal springs, lively summer festivals in beautiful village squares, rugged mountains, and tavernas serving foods made from organic produce and local goods like goat’s cheese, honey, and meat are all part of the Ikaria experience. 

The island is known both as the ‘land of the exiles’ because this is where communists were sent to live during Greece’s Junta years and as ‘The Island Where People Forget to Die’ because of its Blue Zones reputation, is not glamorous but has managed to capture the hearts of even the most demanding travelers because of its unique appeal. 

Discover the 10 Best Things to do in Ikaria

1. Dance at the Panigiri

Insights Greece - Top 10 Things to do in Ikaria
Ikarian Panigiri

With over 100 local community dance, live music, and food festivals running between May and October, the island hosts guests from around the world at these familial and sometimes riotous events. Attending should be done with respect to the locals and their traditions, and is a way of discovering religious, cultural, and sometimes near-Pagan customs that span the ages. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to see villages and their surroundings that one wouldn’t normally visit, as well as meeting and partying with their usually warm and welcoming inhabitants. Try the local fare – usually goat meat, tomato salad, fries, local wine, and other dishes cooked by community volunteers and housewives and try to stay up ‘til dawn.

2. Visit the Thermal Springs

There are eight hot springs on the island, which have been enjoyed for their therapeutic powers (helping to ease respiratory, rheumatic, gynecological, intestinal, and even anxiety-based problems) since antiquity.  They are reputed as some of the most radium-rich waters globally and some suspect they contribute to Ikaria’s impressive health record. You’ll find them at Aghios Kirikos, Aghia Kyriaki, Lefkada, and Therma. Instead at Xylosyrtis village, you’ll find a cold water spring that’s also lauded for its health-boosting effects (especially for kidney problems) and is called ‘immortal water’.

3. Go to Seychelles

Insights Greece - Top 10 Things to do in Ikaria
Stunning Seychelles

A beach that happened by accident as the result of a building project, Seychelles (south of Aghios Kyrikas) is the island’s most famous beach because of its white limestone rocks and turquoise waters. It’ll be busy during high season so try going early in the morning if you want space! But there are many other lovely beaches to swim at around the island. Armenistis is a wide, sandy, family-friendly beach not far from several great places to eat, Nas beach is wild and where you’ll find the ruins of the Artemis Temple and a river, Prioni is a beautiful, small free beach with ebullient waters, Messakti and Evdilos beaches are organized beaches with more people and nearby cafes/tavernas. 

4. Eat like a local

A household food garden is a common thing in Ikaria, where fresh, seasonal produce is treated as a priority. With an overpopulation of goats (that actually endangers the land from being chomped up almost entirely), goat’s meat, milk, yogurt, and especially ‘kathoura’ cheese are readily available. Other popular locally-farmed products include giant courgettes, which are served with olive oil and lemon or combined with other vegetables to make briam, a sort of ratatouille. In some parts of the island, namely the port of Aghios Kyrikos and Fournoi, you’ll find restaurants serving locally-fished lobster, popularly prepared as a saucy pasta dish known as ‘astakomakaronada’. Wherever you’re staying you’re bound to find good tavernas or restaurants serving traditional dishes as well as souvlaki joints, bakeries selling cheese pies and other Greek pastries, but some of the most loved places to eat include Thea’s Restaurant, CousinA, Sto Kambi, Platanos Taverna, Rachati Stou Pouriezi, Anna’s Fish Taverna, Arodou and Krioti.

Insights Greece - Top 10 Things to do in Ikaria
Fresh flavours of Ikaria

5. Stock up on Ikarian Honey & Preserves

Good, pure honey is liquid gold for the body and soul and Ikaria makes abundant quantities. Thyme, white heather, arbutus (strawberry), pine, and reiki honey are produced by several experienced locals who have dedicated their lives to beekeeping. You’ll find local honey sold at most mini markets and local food shops αs well as online. A place that visitors shouldn’t miss for local honey, preserves, and more is the self-funded Women’s Cooperative of Raches. The hard-working, talented, and creative members concoct wonderfully delicious spoon sweets, jams, and liqueurs and offer service at tables outside their space, where you can try mouthwatering fresh pies, cakes, and ice cream with your coffee. 

Go for a Hike 
Ikaria changes quite dramatically from one location to another – some parts are rugged, barren, and mountainous and others lush, with flowing streams, gorges, waterfalls, rivers, or pretty coasts. The island is great for walking, hiking, and climbing and there are well-organised marked routes that one can follow by getting hold of a hiking map. Explore the Natura 2000 zones (like the Ikaria On Foot Circuit, which is 25km long). Find out more on Ikaria travel websiteHiking Ikaria and Discover Ikaria. 

Insights Greece - Top 10 Things to do in Ikaria

Hang Out in the Square

Scientists have researched numerous factors that may contribute to the Ikarian people’s longevity status – from diet and radium-rich soil to exercise (field-work and farming). The aspect that is thought to have the greatest impact on living a long life, not only in Ikaria but everywhere, is thought to be community – not being lonely, as people increasingly are in today’s virtual – not to mention locked down – age. In Ikaria, throughout the year, people of all ages commune together to eat, discuss, play backgammon, cook, play music and work. There is a close-knit support system among neighbours. This can be experienced by visiting any village square in the post-sunset hours when people head out to see each other and connect. Grab a backgammon set and a cold beer and join in on the fun! 

Shop Ikarian Souvenirs 
From ‘Ikarian Evolution’ hoodies and humorous mugs relating the playful island spirit to lovely handmade jewellery and traditional décor items, there are plenty of great shopping choices at Pantelis & Ursula Kastanias’ store in Raches. Another great option for shopping for local souvenirs is Ploumi at Aghios Kyrikos port, where they sell handmade bags, wallets, mugs and other objects made with attractive materials and designs. Over the last few years, Ikaria has seen a rise in locally-created natural cosmetics, And you’ll find some of the best at Melia in Raches, including soaps, creams, lotions, and oils for the face and body as well as organic food products. 

Take a Wine Tour

Insights Greece - Top 10 Things to do in Ikaria
Traditional cooking at Afanies Winery

Another wonderful way to experience the island’s variability and beauty are by visiting its wineries and sampling wines made from local and other Greek grapes as well as food. Tsantiris Winery in northwestern Ikaria produces 100% organic wines, Afianes winery regularly hosts dinners, events such as weddings and concerts, and tastings, while Karimalis winery hosts dinners as well as a farm stay, exploration of the winemaking facilities and tastings. Make sure you call in advance to book an appointment.

Learn From Locals

Over the years, as Ikaria has become so famous in corners of the world where it was formerly completely unknown, visitors have flocked here to learn the secrets of wellbeing. To locals, the secret was naturally just being, but today they have understood that there are interesting ways to combine a visitor’s experience with education of their beautiful land’s nature and tradition. So why not combine a holiday there with a cooking class, herb gathering, and tasting, alternative healing practices? Find out more from The Egg for yoga and mindfulness, The Ikarian Centre for ceramics and crafts, Hiking Ikaria and Ikarian Footprints for herb gathering, Ikaria Dance for traditional dancing, Diane Kochilas for cooking, and Joey Brown for writing.

The Summer When Ikaria Went Quiet

What happens when the unassuming but world-famous “island of Panygiria” experiences a drastic cut in tourism? 

In this age of Covid-19 restrictions falling like hailstones on everyone’s lives, the Blue Zones island of Ikaria – as the rest of the country – was banned from organizing its annual community festivals. Drawing visitors by the thousands, these traditional events featuring live music, an abundance of local food and wine and dancing ‘til the early hours were originally designed to bring the community together and raise funds for local infrastructure.

Insights Greece - The Summer When Ikaria Went Quiet


image via skin_grocery

Ikaria annually hosts around 100 Panygiria over six months – from May to October– around the island. In+Sights Greece spoke with two longtime foreign locals who revealed the consequences of restrictions on their beloved island.

The Ikarian people, known as “Ikariotes” are known for being resilient, resourceful and self-sufficient. Despite being known for their social character and tight communities, they hold an allure to those who prefer to defy convention and strict authority. The spirit of freedom and embracement of life is one of their strongest features, but it comes from daily discipline and hard work.

Reiner Juring, a German who built his permanent home on the northern Aegean island in 2010, says “Ikaria is still very much as I got to know Greece in the ‘70s-‘80s. There’s Insights Greece - The Summer When Ikaria Went Quietrelatively little tourism and there’s a strong sense of solidarity among the residents (via neighborhood help, initiatives). Agriculture plays a major role and “old wisdom” – about horticulture, cattle breeding, herbalism, natural remedies, cooking winemaking, honey harvesting and olive oil production – still presides. The landscapes are still mostly virginal, with wonderful, mainly restored old footpaths and farm paths.”

When I ask Juring about what difference the Panygiri ban made to the island this year, he says “Unfortunately, over the decades the actual scope of this custom was degraded. In the high season of July and August the Panygiria often become extremely crowded with mostly tourists, both Greek and foreign. As a result, the local spirit of communion is diluted, as are the traditions themselves, like the Ikarian Dance that many tourists don’t know how to follow properly, thus preventing the older locals in particular from moving on an over-crowded dance floor. Also, some tourists bring their own food and wine/beers/drinks which contradicts the old traditions. One of the main scopes of these Insights Greece - The Summer When Ikaria Went Quietevents is to raise money to create local infrastructure like roads, schools, hospitals, renovations in churches and so on.” Interestingly, Juring says, this year there were far fewer tourists on the island from April – August, which offered a breather of sorts to the locals.

“There were some positive effects such as: less traffic, cleaner beaches and streets, a quieter atmosphere in the squares and in the taverns and kafeneions. Many Ikariotes found time to focus on work during the lockdown months that they would otherwise not have been able to do. As for the ban on Panygiria, neighbours got together in several villages (without the live music and dancing), one or two goats were slaughtered and people sat together in smaller groups. According to many Ikariotes, it was “like it used to be” and everyone found it very pleasant.”

However, and very importantly, he adds that the ban on the festivals has taken its toll on both the local economy and the landscape: “The meat (mostly goat meat) the rest of the food and the wine sold at Panygiria are usually obtained from local residents. So this year these people couldn’t generate their annual income. Also, every year a few hundred goats are slaughtered for the Panygiria. Without these in 2020 these goats will unfortunately contribute to the further destruction of the forest, as there are some irresponsible goatherds who don’t keep their animals fenced in as prescribed but let them roam around destroying nature. This destruction has already been documented and there are also some organizations trying to contain the damage.”

“Ikarians have a strong sense of self-sufficiency, a robust and communal spirit that honours solidarity and a tradition in each home of owning a goat, or a few chickens and growing a food garden,” says Ursula Kastanias, who moved to Ikaria in 1986 from her native Switzerland and married a local man, with whom she runs the charming ΠU giftshop in Raches village. “But with such a huge reduction in tourism other areas of our livelihood have been hit, because maybe we have potatoes and meat from our back yard but you can’t pay bills with those,” she says.

For many years, Kastania has been running the very successful German language blog Ursula’s Ikaria, through which she has managed to raise 25,000-30,000 euros from foreign donations to help her local community in Raches mountain village. “Through the site, in which I write about Ikaria, I’ve raised money for heating in schools, the local hospital, the fire brigade and the Sports Association. These are all ways to improve local life, because already things are tough here. With the situation now, we have no idea yet what the real consequences will be – will have to see what we are faced with in winter.”

One can’t help but feel that Ikaria’s people will find a way to survive this crisis too, although that does not mean that they will suffer, as will people globally whose economic means of survivcal have been drastically or completely shut down. Still, their community spirit remains enviable in a world where individuals today are very much left to their completely solitary devices. Panygiria or not, the Ikarian people continue to live out their well-kept secret for longevity, or so I hope.


Insights Greece - The Summer When Ikaria Went QuietReiner Juring is the Editor of the Pure Places Website which presents German-speaking tourists with the natural and pure locations to visit around Greece. He also works as a freelance Proofreader for several German publishers.

You can find Ursula Kastanias’ store ΠU on Facebook: The store sells handmade jewellery made by her daughter and original T-shirts designed by her son as well as several other locally made items and products, all of which can be ordered online via their Facebook Page.