Iraklia is a tiny island with only 115 residents. But don’t let that fool you. What it lacks in size it makes up for in unspoiled beauty, rich history, scenic beaches, and authenticity; allowing visitors to discover what Greek island life is all about.
If you are looking to escape the city over summer and searching for a destination that is especially quiet, even during the peak tourist season, Iraklia is an ideal spot that offers peace and tranquility. One of Greece’s best-kept secrets, it’s the largest island of the Small Cyclades and here you can switch off, relax and allow yourself to be captured by its simple beauty.
Set between two popular Greek islands, Naxos and Ios, this secluded isle keeps its traditional feel even in high season. Iraklia is a perfect base for island hopping, thanks to its proximity to the rest of the Small Cyclades including Ano Koufonisi, Kato Koufonisi, Schoinoussa, Donousa, and Keros.
Just 1.5 hours by local ferry, you can reach Iraklia from Naxos via Express Skopelitis (Monday – Saturday), or via Blue Star Ferries from Naxos or from Athens (3x per week). Iraklia is connected by ferry with Naxos and all the islands of the Small Cyclades group.
What you should know before you arrive
– There are no banks and there is only one ATM.
– A couple of mini-markets and one supermarket are located in the main area.
– There is no petrol station or car hire, there are only scooters for rent.
– No camping facilities available.
– There aren’t any buses or taxis, only a minibus that goes from Agios Georgios to the village of Panagia and to Tourkopigado beach.
– There’s no pharmacy on the island but there are two clinics and a doctor on call 24/7.
– Water and electricity are available for yachts at the port.
Things to do
Hiking: Iraklia is a mountainous destination and you can enjoy the view from different points of
the island. Iraklia has eight distinct hiking trails that are popular with nature lovers. Some of the best hikes are the trails leading to Profitis Ilias and to Merichas, where you can reach one of the most picturesque points of the island.
Snorkeling: Enjoy the fabulous underwater world as the island’s coasts are home to the Mediterranean seal Monachus monachus and the marine turtle Caretta caretta.
Diving: Blessed with a rich marine life, Iraklia offers great opportunities for diving. Here you can spot the Mediterranean monk seals (mentioned above) and dolphins that frequent the island.
Bird watching: Bird lovers will be in paradise as this is where some rare species make their nest. Mericha Bay is the ideal spot as it’s surrounded by rocks 100m in height and between the cliffs you can see wild pigeons and vultures. Many people come to witness the rare and endangered species and birds.
Walking: This is the best way to get around and when the weather is right, strolling from one beach to the other or from the port to the main village is a wonderful thing to do, especially in the evening.
Things to see
-The village’s landmark is the 1919 stone-built Church of Panagia (Virgin Mary). The other big attraction is Pigi, a natural spring about 1km away that supplies water to the village. This refreshing spot also offers visitors great views of the northern part of Iraklia and all nearby Cycladic islands.
-A visit to Agios Athanassios is also a must. It’s an old village featuring stone houses built
according to traditional Cycladic architectural style and it offers a breathtaking view. The chapel of Agios Athanassios is at the entry point to the village.
-Located close to Iraklia, to the west of the island, near the bay of Vourkaria is the Cave of Saint John, which consists of a series of chambers with colourful decoration of massive stalagmites and columns in magical clusters of stalactites. The area covering the chambers is 2000 sq.m. and is considered one of the most impressive caves of the Aegean.
–The castle is located near Livadi beach, here you can find extensive information about the ancient settlement used as an offensive structure during the Hellenic period.
-From the top of Papas Hill, you can admire the magnificent view of all the adjacent islands including Ios, Paros, Antiparos, Naxos, Donousa, Ikaria, Makares, Koufonisia, Shinousa, Keros, Antikeri, Fidou, Agrilou, Amorgos, Anhydros, Anafi, Santorini, Venetiko, Avelonisia. You can also see most of the beautiful nearby beaches from here.
There are two villages on Iraklia: Agios Georgios, which also serves as the main port of the island, and Panagia, which is a mountainous village with fewer residents. Panagia is a small village with a few taverns and cafes. It stands out for its traditional architecture and the lovely churches around it. Agios Georgios is where the locals of Iraklia gather as its the largest settlement. Approaching the island from the sea, the white-washed homes with blue painted doors stand out from a distance. Here you will find a few taverns, a couple of mini-markets, and churches.
As the island is totally untouched by tourism, most beaches are unorganised and remote, meaning most also offer privacy. Some beaches can be reached on foot, while others you can only get to by private boat. Livadi beach and the port beach are the most popular places to swim on the island. You can easily walk here from the harbour and it takes about 20 minutes. Livadi features soft sand, crystal clear water that is shallow, making it ideal for families with young children. Vorini Spilia, is also worth exploring, as it’s a quiet spot, perfect for a long, relaxing day of swimming. Karvounolakos in the south of the island is a small beach between Merichas and Alimia– the colour of the sea here is breathtaking.
Eat and drink
There are roughly 15 taverns on the island, most are in the main square and all serve authentic local dishes. Our favourite for a range of freshly made seafood pasta are Akathi, Thalassa, Pera Panta, make sure you also head to Syrma taverna which serves traditional Mediterranean and Greek cuisine and try the homemade rakomelo (raki with honey). To Gialiri taverna is great for a variety of mezzedes (tapas-style dishes), while the ouzeri-café-bar, To Ypovrichio is perfect for an ouzeri style setting. For a coffee or after-dinner drink head to En Lefko or Perasma. For brunch and all-day drinks head to Speires where they serve a rich collection of high-quality wines by small winemakers from all over Greece and Surfin Bird, is an all-day bar-restaurant located on the beautiful Livadi seafront, serving great food using regional produce and homemade sweets.
Iraklian honey is famous for its golden coloured texture and unique taste because the bees here feed exclusively from thyme. Also try the wide variety of spoon-sweet preserves and marmalades made from various local fruits, as well as specialty liqueurs such as rakomelo and frangosyko (prickly pear). Cheese lovers will definitely enjoy the different types made from goat’s milk and produced on small scale by local farmers. As for a specific dish, Schinoussa fava (chickpea puree) variety, is a specialty of the island.
Where to Stay
Don’t expect 5-star luxury resorts, here it’s all about comfort, coziness, and good old-fashioned Greek hospitality. Most of the rooms are placed on the outskirts of the village towards Livadi (southeast of Agios Georgios). Some of the most popular are Maistrali, Aiolos, Villa Zografos, and for the most modern of them all check out Speires.
Agerino features a tasteful selection of handmade items such as jewellery, wood-carvings, ceramics, and Cycladic figurines.
Bratsera has a range of handmade jewellery and other small souvenirs as well as a small selection of clothes.
Thalassi stocks a unique collection of handmade jewellery selected from local manufacturers, handmade leather sandals, a variety of caftans, scarfs, hats, and various kinds of accessories. Here you can also find ceramics made by artists from Greece.
Cover Images by IN+SIGHTS GREECE © (Copyright)