Greece (especially the islands) is definitely a Jill bucket list item, more so than mine. I was always going to make it here someday, it just was not a priority. Not the case for the bride, this one has been very high on her list, for a very long time.
So What is important to know
Language – Greece offers English language lessons starting in third grade, so almost everyone under the age of 50 will have had English in school and will know enough to communicate well. But as usual, try to learn a few Greek words, your effort will be appreciated
What is the best way to get around? – Some of the islands do have airports but when island hopping the ferries are an excellent way to get around but they are subject to regular changes and updates. So definitely do not set and forget.
When is the best time to travel to the Greek Islands? – High season for the Greek Islands are July and August but the warmer months are between mid-April to mid-October. Shoulder season will usually allow for cheaper prices and manageable crowds.
Can I drink the water? – Yes on the mainland but stick to bottled water on the majority of the islands.
Toilets – A sticking point for many, but for most of Greece the sewage system is very old. This means that toilet paper cannot be flushed and must be put into a bin by the side of the toilet.
Siesta – Be aware that stores usually close between mid-day and around 2-3 pm as Greek shop owners have their siesta. Don’t worry the shops will be open until 9 or 10pm so you won’t miss out.
Sundays – many services, restaurants, shops, grocery stores and even some markets are all generally closed on Sundays. The ones that are open may charge extra.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Greek people are generally extremely friendly, will understand that you are a tourist and will be willing to lend a hand.
Having done the long haul flight from Australia, needless to say by the time we got to Athens we were exhausted and crashed for an afternoon nap. Out for a magnificent dinner and down for an early night so that the adventure could start in earnest tomorrow.
And what a stunning day tomorrow turned out to be. We were blessed with a 23 degree day, a light breeze and crystal clear blue skies. You really could not have hoped for a better day. Our journey began with a (relatively) short Walk to the Metro Station. As luck would have it, our closest Metro stop was in front of the National Library of Greece, the University of Athens and the Academy of Athens. Three stunningly well designed and beautiful buildings in their own right.
After taking some happy snaps of the buildings we entered the Metro for our 2 stop trip to the Akropoli (Acropolis) Station. When the Metro was being built the team kept running across remnants of the old city. This was most evident at the site of the new Acropolis Museum where archaeologists uncovered layers of Athens from the Byzantine era to the Bronze Age. Most of the findings were left in situ (under plexiglass) so people could see them as they were found. Today you can see ancient sights and unearthed treasures, all while heading for your train.
Having gotten off the Metro we then had the shortest of walks (through the suburb of Plaka) to the entrance of the Acropolis. Now this took a bit of working out because terms are used interchangeably and inconsistently, but, the Acropolis is the hill that rises above Athens. On top of that hill are a bunch of pretty famous ancient buildings including the Parthenon etc.
The Acropolis was originally a fortress but has been attacked and destroyed more times than you can imagine. The most notable recorded one was in 480 BC, when the Persians attacked, burned, leveled and looted the Old Parthenon and almost every other structure at the Acropolis. A decade later, (after the Victory of Marathon in 490 BC), Pericles ordered the reconstruction of the Acropolis and the building of a temple for Athena (the Parthenon).
The big ticket items (Parthenon, Temple of Athena Nike Bastion, the Erechtheion, Peisistratus Portico, Odeon of Herodes Atticus) are pretty obvious and easy to spot, but the Greeks are terrible at signposting and naming what else is there. So I have had to research what the tourism people claim to be on and around the hill and have described them (as best I can) in my own terms, based on what we saw.
- Monument to Agrippa (a monument base)
- Temple of Athena Nike Bastion (2 and 3 are basically the main entrance once you have scaled the Acropolis)
- Peisistratus Portico (a few columns standing upright – you probably wont notice through the hoards of people and Instagrammers)
- Sacred Way (a path)
- Base of the statue of Athena Hygeia (a marble plinth)
- Precinct of Artemis Vravronia (a flat area to the right once up the hill, usually full of tour bus and cruise ship groups)
- Chalcotheke (some rocks where something used to be)
- Statue of Athena Promachos (the spot where a huge bronze statue once was)
- The Parthenon (the big ticket item – bit hard to miss, has permanently been covered in scaffolding since restoration work commenced in 1983)
- Earlier foundations of the Parthenon (pretty accurate description)
- Site of the ancient stereobate (underground structure of Greek temple)
- Roman Temple (some more rocks where something used to be)
- Heroon of Pandion (some more rocks where something used to be)
- The great altar of Athena (the location where an altar was before it was moved to Berlin in the 1800’s)
- Precinct of Zeus Polieus (some rocks)
- Flight of steps (any guesses here?)
- Foundation of the Themistoclean wall (more rocks)
- The Erechtheion (the second most preserved major building on the hill)
- The old temple of Athena Polias (some more rocks where something used to be)
- Portico, probably the Arrhephorion (rocks they hope used to be something)
- Foundations of a square building (rocks they think used to be something)
- Stairway to the caves of Apollo and Pan (stairs towards some holes in the cliff that are inaccessible to visitors)
- Foundations of a building of the 5th century BC (fair description)
- Roman cistern (a drain at the bottom of the hill)
- Caves of Apollo and Pan (some holes in the cliff that are inaccessible to visitors)
- The old circular way (Peripatos) round the Acropolis (the path)
- Cave and Chapel of Panagia Spiliotissa (church in a cave)
- The Asclepeion (three pillars)
- Platform with a sacrificial pit (no idea)
- The stoa of the Asclepeion (no idea)
- Temple of Aphrodite (really not sure)
- Prehistoric habitations (nope)
- Foundation of the choregic monument of Nikias (statue base maybe?)
- The Odeon of Herodes Atticus (huge and awesome amphitheatre)
- The Stoa of Eumenes (very cool wall of arches)
- Remains of a choregic monument (statue base)
- The theatre of Dionysus (bit like 34 – but way older and more rubbly)
- Proscenium of the theatre of Dionysus (bit like 34 & 37 – tough to separate)
- Old Temple of Dionysus (got nuthen – could only find versions elsewhere – thinking rocks)
- New Temple of Dionysus (got nuthen – as above -thinking rocks)
- The Odeon of Pericles (absolutely rocks)
The first main attraction that you come across on your climb up the hill is the Theatre of Dionysos (god of wine, revels, and theater) and Odeion of Herodes Atticus. This is a 4th century BC and 17000 seat amphitheater that you pass on the way up to the Parthenon and is super impressive in anyone’s terms. However, while looking at this we heard the tour guides explaining the history of the relic while an American tourist tried to convince the Greek guide that (in your best American twang) the one they had in Denver Colorado was bigger and better.
Needless to say I had to look it up to write this and the American one was built in 1941 and is about 40% smaller – so obviously better.
The next main thing that you will come across is the Propylaea: A monumental entryway to the Acropolis that included a central building and two wings, one of which was (once) covered with elaborately painted panels. Today, this is a massive choke point as people try to get in and out of the plateau that is the Acropolis while tour guides stop for lengthy spiels and Instagrammers hunt for the perfect shot.
When you pop out the other side you re met with the main attraction, the Parthenon. In its day it is meant to have featured ornate sculptures and housed a spectacular statue of the goddess Athena. The statue (The Statue of Athena Promachos) was a colossal (almost 30 feet tall) bronze statue of Athena – who is the patron goddess of the city.
The building of the Parthenon represented the Golden Age of Athens (460 B.C. to 430 B.C.) when it was at its cultural peak. Pericles (politician and general) initiated a massive building project that lasted 50 years but he didn’t live long enough to see his Acropolis vision come true, but temple builders and architects continued working until they completed the project. The southern and northern walls were rebuilt and some of the most iconic structures were constructed.
The Erechtheion or Temple of Athena Polias is the second most prominent building on the Acropolis. It is an Ionic temple made of marble which honoured Athena and several other gods and heroes. It’s best known for its porch supported by six Caryatid (a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support) statues.
Having come down from the Acropolis, we headed (northwest) along the road past a row of really funky shops and hotels (on the left) with the Acropolis hill to our right. Much to our surprise, the park around Acropolis Hill was full of tortoises (more than 20 that we saw). This is something that we definitely did not expect.
We headed down in this direction because from the top you could see this incredibly impressive looking rectangular building. This turned out to be the Stoa of Attalos, a 2nd century BC shopping centre that has been renovated and re-purposed to now hold the museum of the Ancient Agora.
Opposite the Stoa was a bunch of rocks that had fallen down (pretty similar to the Roman Forum in Italy). At the end of these piles of rocks was the ancient Agora of Athens, which in simple terms is a pretty impressive bunch of pillars.
A google search of all of the stuff in the park between the Stoa and the Agora gives you another very long list of what people believe was there. Having walked it thoroughly, my description of piles of rocks still stands. Although, to be fair, there was a little church and a few statues floating around in there too.
At the bottom of the Acropolis hill is a heap of other stuff also well worth a look. On our first day we were focussed upon getting up the hill and found out later that we had missed a heap of stuff at the bottom, so we came back a couple of days later. The first bit that we hit was the Stoa of Eumenes as we had unwittingly walked above it in climbing to the Acropolis and missed it entirely. This little foray also showed us the Roman cistern (drain) that was on the big list too.
From here we headed out to see the Arch of Hadrian and around the corner a bit to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, both very cool. Also around here was the ancient (refurbished for the 2004 Olympics) Panathenian Stadium, which is the only stadium in the world built entirely from marble.
From here across to the National Gardens and the Zappeion (tried to work out what this very flash building was built/used for but got even more confused). It is pretty though.
After this, we headed up to the top of Lycabettus Hill which is the highest point in the centre of Athens. There is a funicular that will take you to the top (for 10 euros each), but to get to the funicular you have to hike the majority of the (incredibly steep) hill. If you are going to build an aid to get you up a super steep hill…why put it at the bottom…nah…lets start 2/3 of the way up.
The National Archaeological Museum in Athens was next on the list and houses some of the most important artifacts from a variety of archaeological locations around Greece from prehistory to late antiquity. That is the official spiel. The Richard version is that this is the largest IKEA store on the planet, you just keep following the yellow arrows on the floor… but despite your best efforts, you can never get out of the damn pottery section.
To be fair, there are some amazing displays here, and every pot, statue, painting and carving do tell a story. But for a heathen like me, a pot/urn/vase from Athens differs very little from one from Crete or Santorini.
Having hit the main big ticket items we only had some of the lesser ones to see and a wander of the streets. The first of these was Hadrian’s Library, closely followed by the Roman Agora.
From here the rest of our time was spent merely wandering the streets and getting a feel for the place. Eating the local foods, drinking the local beers and coffees and just generally getting into the Greek lifestyle.
The Athens of today
Chain smoking is the norm. A very different concept for Australians where smoking has basically been outlawed for about the last 20+ years. It is still alive and well in Greece. Jill and I sat in a range of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops discussing how long it had been since you could publicly smoke in Australia. All the while choking on dense cigarette fumes. We even watched our chefs smoking over the top of the open grill that they were working on.
The world is my urinal. The number of acts of public urination that we have witnessed in central Athens has been staggering. It seems like the rule is that if you need to go, just whip your cock out and let er rip. Parks and gutters are a favourite, but we have even seen a cab driver stop on the main road, in the heart of the city, and piss on his own passenger door and get back in and drive off.
Riot Police. We were not really sure what this is about. We had seen no issues or violence or even protests of any kind. But at several places throughout our neighbourhood, there were heavily armoured busses with riot police in full protective garb and weapons. They come in the morning and are there all day and well into the evenings. After a few days of this, we asked at our local giros shop, who told us that people were upset at a new metro line going through, so the police were there to protect the Metro until it was completed.
Graffiti. This is an absolute travesty, of all the places that we have ever visited (up to 58 countries and who knows how many cities) Athens is the most defaced place we have ever been. Graffiti is everywhere, spray paint has been tagged all over virtually every surface and very little (if anything) has been done to clean it off. Stunning ancient buildings made of marble have been defaced at every turn.
And of course, everywhere you go, there are the Instagrammers. Taking a prime position and refusing to move. Although I am starting to notice a lot of people pushing back against them. The rudeness of it all, people are now just wandering on in and standing in the Instagrammers’ shots ruining them, in order to get their own pictures.
The Greek Islands – An overview
They are split into 8 main groups that include (from North to South):
Sporades, North Aegean, Evia (Euboea), Saronic, Cyclades, Ionian, Dodecanese and Crete.
The Argosaronic islands are the ones closest to the Greek mainland around the Saronic Gulf. They tend to be the location of the wealthy holiday homes from the mainland. Argosaronic islands include: Aegina, Agistri, Hydra, Poros, Salamina, and Spetses.
The Cyclades are the most famous island group in the Aegean Sea. All up there are 33 Islands and Islets in the group and they include: Amorgos, Anafi, Andros, Antiparos, Delos, Ios, Kea, Kimolos, Kythnos, Milos, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Folegandros, Serifos, Sifnos, Sikinos, Syros, Tinos, and Thira or Santoríni. The Cyclades are famous for their distinctive architecture, the whitewashed cube-shaped houses.
Crete is the largest island in Greece, and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Dodecanese is a group of 15 larger plus 150 smaller islands in the south-eastern Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean. The group includes Agathonisi, Astypalaia, Halki, Kalymnos, Karpathos, Kasos, Kos, Leipsoi, Leros, Nisyros, Patmos, Rhodes, Symi, Tilos, and Kastellorizo.
Evia (Euboea), is one of the closest to Athens and yet it is one of the most unknown. It is the second largest island of Greece and the 6th in the Mediterranean. It is linked to the mainland by two bridges.
The Ionian Islands are off the western coastline of Central Greece in the Ionian Sea. They consist of 7 main islands and some smaller Islets. The Ionian Islands are: Cefalonia, Corfu, Cythera, Lefkos, Ithaca, Paxos, and Zante. These islands share a lot of similarities like the Venetian architecture, lush greenery and turquoise waters.
North Aegean Islands do not form a physical chain or group, but are frequently grouped together for tourist or administrative purposes. Most of them belong to Greece with a few owned by Turkey. The islands include: Agios Efstratios, Chios, Fournoi Korseon, Ikaria, Lemnos, Lesbos, Oinousses, Psara and Samos and the Turkish islands of Imbros, Tenedos and the Rabbit or Tavşan Islands.
The Sporades (meaning scattered) islands run along the east coast of Greece, northeast of Evia (Euboea). They consist of 24 islands, four of which are permanently inhabited: Alonnisos, Skiathos, Skopelos and Skyros.
The Greek archipelago has nearly 2,000 islands of varying sizes and accessibility.
Leaving Athens we hopped a ferry to the Aegean Island of Syros (about 150km SW of Athens). This will be the first of many island-hopping adventures in Greece. The Greek islands have been on Jill’s Bucket list for a long time (most particularly Mykonos and Santorini) but while we are here we will be seeing a bunch of the others.
The first of which is Syros.
Let’s start with the ferries. What an absolute delight. The first one we got on was, a 1900 passenger and car ferry taking us from the Athens port of Piraeus. The boat was doing a milk run to almost all of the islands but as we were the first stop it was pretty nice. We were in cattle class and did not spring for business but we still had large roomy seats, plenty of space, luggage rooms, cafe’s and restaurants, what more could you want or need. By all accounts there were even cabins downstairs for those doing the long haul trips to the further away islands, but we didn’t see them.
Lets not be silly here, we have all seen the photos of the Greek Islands and the images are amazing. And sadly, they actually look this way. Syros is certainly not as pretty as some of the others that regularly get featured, but it is still stunning.
Syros Island used to be one of the most significant islands in cycladic civilisation (early Bronze age). We landed off the ferry in the island’s capital Ermoupolis (named after God Hermes). Ermoupolis was the first commercial and industrial centre of Greece (in the 1800’s) mainly due to its location and deep water port.
When booking, Jill got us our own little house on the top op the hill in an area known as – Ano Syros. This is the medieval settlement of Syros and offered some stunning views over the town, ocean and the port. The official spiel says that it is a classical cycladic medieval settlement that is densely built with narrow roads, circular order and a radial street plan. I will attest to the narrow streets but would seriously question any sort of order or plan.
The little house Jill got us involved kicking out some little old lady from her home for a few days. This is the nature of the locals cashing in on the tourist dollar I guess. After getting off the ferry we hopped a cab to the top of the hill where we me George and Angelika (the lady we were ousting). We then hiked up and down the narrow streets (mostly up and down stairs) lugging our big bags for about 700m until we got to Angelika’s house.
Angelika was small, but her house was built for a hobbit. It was a 2 storey tiny house. Downstairs was a kitchen and toilet/shower while upstairs had a bedroom and another small room with no particular purpose. The door to downstairs was a stable type door that reached up to my nipples. So to enter I needed to bend virtually fully at the waist, not just ducking.
The bedroom was tiny and the staircase between the floors was so small that neither Jill nor I could manage them. On the way down we could take the first two stairs but then needed to sit on the step and slide our bums from stair to stair as we were both too tall to traverse them effectively. This was fine unless you wanted to use the toilet during the evening. The corner of the toilet featured a huge rock that was obviously too hard to chisel out when building the house, so they just left it there. The downstairs ceiling had some lovely ancient logs that added a ton of character.
The Church of Saint George is the christian church built in the top of the hill of Ano Syros. It was originally built in 1208 but had been destroyed and rebuilt three times since.
Ano Syros was lovely but it did involve stairs, lots and lots of stairs. Every trip out of our (tiny) house was an adventure, involving a ton of stairs, a more than decent hike, and it was even worse trying to get in and out with our big bags. But up on the hill there was the odd cafe/bar/restaurant with just amazing views.
Of particular note was an eclectic little place that was about as bohemian as you could get. The food was sensational, cheap and the atmosphere was buzzing. You could barely breathe from the amount of smoke that filled the place (more than the fair share was added by the chefs as they cooked). And you were constantly harassed throughout your meal by gangs of marauding cats (at least 5 that inhabited the restaurant during opening hours).
The next day we hiked from our house back out to the road and got on the (free) bus to take us back down to the port of Ermoupolis and spent most of the day wandering around town. This is only a few km from our place and was at the bottom of the hill. It is a regular(ish) port for cruise ships so the waterfront is packed with cafes, restaurants and tourist shops.
The other side of town holds the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Nicholas (the patron saint of seafarers, is also the patron saint of Ermoupoli). Construction began in 1848 and took 22 years to complete. The church is known as Agios Nikolaos “the rich,” to distinguish it from “Agios Nikolaos of the poor” another church on Syros.
Because of the siesta that is taken in Greece we were unable ot take the bus back up to Ano Syros unless we were willing to wait until 6:45pm (we were dropped off at around 10:45am). So we did our bits and caught a taxi up the hill. This is something that we ended up having to do several times and our fare (for the identical trip) ranged from 4 to 8 euro.
On our last full day in Syros my looks got me confused once again. This has been a regular occurrence as we have travelled the world, especially once I get a bit of a tan. In Egypt they thought I was Italian and in Italy they thought I was Egyptian. In south and central america most people just assumed I was Latino and spoke Spanish to me. It even got to the point in India where people were speaking Hindi to me thinking I was local.
Well in Syros, the local politician greeted me whilst I was having a coffee at a local cafe. He handed me his promotional material and launched into a full spiel in Greek. Once I set him straight, he took his stuff back and headed to the next table. A short while later we popped into the supermarket to get some milk and the shop keeper launched into a full conversation with me while I stared blankly.
On our last evening we went to one of the little restaurants on the hill (the one with the best view) for our final Syros meal. We ordered the large platter of small things. This was like an Italian antipasto platter but with a distinctly Greet twist. Washed down with a carafe of wine and a beer we had our most expensive meal in Greece so far.
Having seen Syros and having looked at the tourist photos of our next few ports of call, I am growing a little concerned that the variety of the next few posts may be a little light on. They all seem quite similar. Stunning views, narrow streets, tons of stairs, oceans and seaside townships. Anyway, bear with us.
Mykonos is one of the most famous Greek islands and has become widely known as the Ibiza of Greece. It gained a world reputation through the 1960s as a summer resort for hippies, artists, and the wealthy. Since then, it has also become a welcoming destination for the LGBTQ+ community. And this bit is clearly obvious.
Mykonos is full of traditional cube houses that have been whitewashed (typically with blue trim). Talking to the lady who ran our villas she advised that the island has a normal population of 11,500. During the day at least one cruise ship and any number of ferries arrive swelling this number to about 3 times that. She then told us that during peak season (July and August) that there are generally around 400,000 on the island each day.
Having taken a 40 minute ferry ride from Syros, we checked in and crashed for a bit as Jill was not feeling entirely well and after a nap we headed into the town. This involved about a 1200m walk downhill and we were right in the middle of everything. the first thing that you run across is a tiny beach in the heart of town (Chora) jammed with wildly inappropriately dressed people.
Probably a good time to pause and reflect upon some of the fashion choices that have become evident since our arrival in Greece. The first and most notable item is the track suit. Greek men happily sport these at every opportunity. The women however have taken it to another level with the revival of the velour tracksuit. These are worn with pride, usually 2 sizes smaller than they should be and in varying degrees of see through.
The next is the seemingly apparent lack of mirrors within houses anymore. Surely this is the case as there is no way some of these people would leave the house looking like they do, if they owned a mirror. Jill has now banned me from passing comment anymore.
Lastly, I am not sure where in the world has the highest concentration of botox and fillers, but this place must be a contender. The number of duck lipped women that we passed in an hour was simply astounding. Add to that the LGBTQ+ community of vain men and the place is awash with plastic people (as Jill likes to call them). And finally the current trend of having the biggest blackest eyelashes has left a whole generation with huge black caterpillars on their faces.
After the beach you hit the town centre proper. This is stunningly pretty but is a mass of tourist shops and (hugely) overpriced restaurants. They look amazing and are right on the water and certainly make the most of the beautiful weather with outdoor seating. But the prices are obscene for what you get. By way of example, the giros that we had been buying in Athens and Syros for 3.5 euro has now leapt to 15 euro. The real food was exorbitant.
The streets are narrow, the shops are funky and generally the vibe is good. Some of the tour groups off the cruise ships can be a bit ignorant but in shoulder season it was all still pretty manageable. Heading down and around past the old port you come to a quieter section which is the home of the Church of Panagia Paraportiani. It is located at the entrance of the Kastro neighborhood, right by the sea. The interesting thing about this is that it is actually five small churches, built on top of or next to the other.
From here you keep walking around the corner and hit a maze of restaurants running right along the water. Once you have zig-zagged your way to the other end you will find that you have just passed through the Little Venice of Mykonos. The tourist spiel tells you that it is one of the most romantic places on the island, replete with elegant and gorgeous old houses situated precariously on the edge of the land. All I found was a mass of humanity trying to squeeze past each other on a tiny alley between restaurant patrons. Once you get to the end, if you turn around, you do actually get to see the 6-8 houses on the water.
The construction of the Little Venice neighborhood is estimated to have taken place from the 13th to the mid-18th century. During that timeframe, the island was under Venetian rule.
As you pop out past the mass of people you come upon the island’s official trademark – the traditional windmills. They stand on a hill overlooking the harbour and can be seen from most places around town. There are 16 windmills on Mykonos, seven of these are on the hill near town. For the most part, they were built in the 16th century by the Venetians.
By this time you have ticked all of the tourist boxes (around town at least) and you are about an hour into your trip. There are a few other things around to see (such as the town Hall, and Museums – Agricultural, Archaeological, Folklore and Nautical) but from here on it is about wandering the streets or heading out of town to some of the beaches.
Having hit the main tourist spots, we stopped for a meal. Our last meal in Syros had been our most expensive in Greece so far. Our first meal in Mykonos blew that out of the water by adding about another 50% on top of that bill. And we had chosen one of the more reasonably priced restaurants in the back streets and not one of the ones on the water. The meal itself was lovely, but the tourist markup was massive.
The average water temperature on Mykonos ranges from 16C to 25C (60F to 77F), depending on the time of year, but reaches about 27C (80F) in August.
The majority of beaches on Mykonos are private. This does not mean that they are secluded but rather that you have to pay to use them. Being Australian the beaches pale by comparison to what we are used to (a common complaint) but they can still be nice nonetheless. We did not go beach hopping but for the sake of the blog I have included some of the more popular ones from the tourist spiels (most notably from www.mykonosbeachesguide.com).
Agio Stefanos – the closest major beach to the port, it offers shallow waters and romantic sunset views. Because of its central and wind-protected location, it can often be crowded with people of all ages, who relax as the ships go by.
Elia – is the largest beach on the island and nudity is common. It’s known as Mykonos’ “gay beach,” but it attracts all kinds of people. Much of it is taken over by umbrellas and sunbeds, but there’s a small section for those who prefer to lie in the sand.
Kalafatis – Popular among windsurfers and families, this is the beach for you if you enjoy water sports or are traveling with the kids.
Ornos – the most family-friendly beach in Mykonos and one of the trendiest for young people and couples. It’s a frequent stop for boats and yachts, and has many places to eat and drink.
Paradise is the famous party beach, filled places to eat, drink, and shop. Once a popular gay destination, it’s now largely straight, as the gay crowds currently prefer Elia.
Paraga – a party atmosphere during the day, it’s relatively quiet at night. The right side is more secluded and tends to attract naturists.
Psarou – this small beach is known to have some of the clearest waters and best sand in Mykonos, and for being a spot for celebrity sightings!
And the beach that they rated the highest was Platys Gialos. The tourist spiel claims that is is: Beautiful and with crystal-clear waters, Platys Gialos (sometimes spelled Platis Yialos) is the best beach in Mykonos. It’s a convenient starting point to discover other beaches, on foot or on an hourly water taxi, and home to some of the best hotels on the island, located right by the sand and facing the sea. It has restaurants and bars serving meals and drinks throughout the day. This is not a party beach, but it has a lively atmosphere. Parasols and loungers cover most of the sand, and the shallow water is perfect for refreshing swims.
Mykonos is a world for the vacuous, those that want to see celebrities (who regularly visit) and be seen by all. It was too touristy, too expensive, too full of drunk teenagers and too plastic for us. If we are brutally honest, neither Jill nor I really enjoyed Mykonos. While it is nice to be able to say that we have been here, I do not see a time when either of us would choose to come back.
That said, we do see the attraction and if you wanted to kick back and chill out, our hotel was ideal. Stunning views, relatively quiet, super friendly. It was just the inevitable forays into the tourism central that would keep us away. Our last day in town was spent kicking back at the hotel and generally just enjoying the view and the laid-back lifestyle.
Our time on Syros (ignoring the stairs) was much more enjoyable
Getting here was a 50 minute ferry ride from Mykonos (which was delayed multiple times). The ferry itself was great, a speedy catamaran with comfortable seats.
A side note here is that virtually every ferry that we have booked has had numerous changes (of either ship or time). Because of this, the original seat allocation may as well be thrown in the bin before you even start. They will find you a couple of spare seats and sit you down. This is fine if there are just 2 of you, but becomes a nightmare for large groups who want to sit together.
Paros became famous for its white marble called ‘Parian marble’. This is a fine-grained semi translucent pure-white and entirely flawless marble and was mainly quarried here during the classical era (500-336BC).
This marble was used in both architecture and sculpture. Some of the masterpieces of ancient Greek sculpture were made with this pure white, translucent material. Notably these include (L-R): The statues of Hermes by Praxiteles, Venus de Milo (i.e. Aphrodite of Milos), Nike [Winged Victory] of Samothrace, and the Caryatids, (the pillars holding up the patio of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis).
As soon as we arrived on Paros, I knew that I would love this place. It had all of the beauty of Mykonos (without the huge prices and plastic people) and Syros (without the stairs). We settled into our hotel and went for a late afternoon stroll, which turned into a few beers watching the sunset. And followed onto a dinner on the waterfront promenade.
Paros is one of the bigger of the Cycladic islands and it offers the same narrow streets, bougainvillea covered buildings, seaside promenades, cafes, restaurants and beaches as most of the other more famous islands of the region.
Parikia is the capital town and main port of Paros, as well as the centre of commercial and cultural life (and our home for the next few days).
There are no big resorts here. Your only option is staying at a smaller family-owned type hotel. We somehow managed to get the one that takes tour buses of 18-25 year olds doing the Greek islands tour. This meant that every 2 days a new busload of around 50 noisy millennials would turn up. On average about 30 of that 50 were Aussie girls. The early pool infestation was loud and noisy in the afternoons, but they all headed out to the promenade for sunset and partied into the evening. Our next real interaction was the next morning when we heard the moaning as they dealt with their hangovers.
Given the size of the island, the next day we chose to hire a car and see all the extra bits that were tough to reach. This was new for us as usually we just wander around or hire motorcycles or scooters. Add to this it was a left hand drive, driving on the right, mad-ass Greek drivers, a 1 litre Peugeot with no power, no ability to read Greek and no real idea where we were going. So that was us – and off we went.
Our first major stop was the town of Lefkes where we wandered the small narrow streets until we found ourselves at the main church of Agia Triada (Holy Trinity), built in 1830. We did stop at a tiny (any guesses?) blue and white church along the way.
From here we found ourselves at a local winery where Jill proceeded to sample the wares. Given that I was driving and I had enough going on I chose not to partake. But the wines were nice and the setting was very nice indeed.
We saw the church of Agios Ioannis (Saint John) Detis (built in the 17th century). It was very nice, but when in Greece the sight of a whitewashed church with a blue domed roof is a dime a dozen and you pass one every 10 minutes or so on the road. A few more stops saw us checking in at Lageri Beach, Santa Maria Beach and driving through millionaires row (on the other side of the island) where there are some truly stunning villas (obviously holiday homes for the rich and famous). The most striking thing that we saw was the quality of the stonework that was in place all around the island. Masonry in Greece is not a dying art and is alive and well.
Just across the way from Paros is the island of Antiparos. This had me imagining some evil twin scenario where one had turned and had become evil. In fact, it is one of those Greek islands that had managed to stay off the radar. I say had because several years ago the actor Tom Hanks bought a block of land and built a villa. Since then, he and a range of other “A-listers” have been regularly visiting. According to locals, he has done a lot of good (improving hospitals etc) but the prices have gone up 400% since he arrived. So now many of the Antiparos locals live on Paros and catch the ferry over to run their businesses.
After a half day of driving (only about 120km), we had circumnavigated the island, including some off-roading (in our 1 litre monster) to the choice photo spots. And we had seen all the bits there was to see. Long story short, this place is amazing.
The next day we hopped on the local the bus and headed to the town of Naousa. This is the more popular town about 9km up the road. Well we soon worked out where all the vacuous people had gone to. This is a really pretty tourist town whose streets are awash with Instagrammers all posing for their shots. You could see why though, the streets were pristine and it was set up for the tourists. Oh, and there were ducks.
One of the more amusing sights was when two groups of Instagrammers met and everyone needed shots of the same location. Oh, the Mexican standoff that ensued. The other thing that I have learned on this trip is the VERY different demands that are placed on boyfriends in 2023. No longer is being a loving and supportive partner enough, now you must have done a photography course and be patient enough to take endless photos of your girlfriend’s back while she peers over her own shoulder back towards you.
On the tourism front, there is a small Venetian Castle that was built in the 15th century perched on the end of the old port and the blue-domed chapel of St. Nikolas. You can walk across a tiny causeway (about 60cm wide) to the castle, but must navigate the crashing waves and vicious winds in doing so.
From here we headed back to Parikia and figured that we had better check out the tourist spots where we were staying as all we had really done was enjoy the food, cafes, restaurants, and the promenade. So we saw the Monastery of Panagia Ekatontapiliani (the Virgin Mary of the Hundred Doors), the Pamegiston Taksiarxon (another blue-domed, whitewashed church), another windmill, and the (very unimpressive) Frankish castle (built in 1260 by the Venetians).