You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to gorgeous Greek islands, but here’s why we think Syros should be the next stop on your island-hopping hit list.
Small, pretty and easy to reach from Athens, Syros, the capital of the Cyclades, is a hidden gem in the Aegean Sea. Safe, affordable and less well known than many of the bigger, billboard-fronting Greek islands, it’s perfect for a low-key family holiday or a solo trip. From its rich history to its dazzling beaches and fantastic food scene, it has all the essential ingredients for an unforgettable experience.
Home to wonderful neoclassical mansions, imposing marble streets, magnificent monuments, squares and churches – as well as the glorious maritime legacy as one of the most important shipping centres in Europe – Ermoupoli is often described as the most elegant town in the Aegean. Stroll into the centre and you’ll inevitably find yourself in Miaouli Square, surrounded by palm trees, with the aroma of coffee wafting over from the nearby cafes.
The southern end of Syros is where you’ll find the majority of its best beaches, such as Paralia Varis, and all of them can easily reached by bus or taxi from Ermoupoli – ideal if you’re planning on bringing a boozy picnic. Our favourite beach on the island is Galissas, for its warm, shallow waters, the buzzy bars lined up along the top and the sunset-facing views across the water. For somewhere more secluded, check out pebbly, clothing-optional Armeos Beach, just round the corner.
A traditional urban musical style also known as the Greek blues, rebetiko music is popular all over Greece, but is elevated to iconic status in Syros, as this is the birthplace of Márkos Vamvakáris, a famous rebetiko composer. The music is so popular here that the island holds the Syros Rebetiko Festival every year. If you miss it, it’s not hard to find an authentic place to watch great Greek bouzouki players and rebetiko singers perform. Just follow the music!
Syros is a paradise for adventurous foodies looking to educate their taste buds. Among the specialities you’ll find on the island are San Michali cheese, which has a unique spicy flavour similar to Italian parmesan; sweet graviera cheese; and kopanisti, a spicy, peppery cream cheese. There are also amazing sweets such as nougat pie (halvadopita) and the delicate loukoumi, a sweet made with water, starch and sugar in a delicate and long process; flavours include almond, rose, mastic, walnut, bergamot and pistachio.
In the 19th century, great architects from Italy, Greece and Germany flocked to the island to design buildings for the Syros elite. It gave birth to the niche neoclassical architectural style you’ll see here: two- or three-storey stone buildings, generally clad externally and internally in butter-coloured marble, and featuring columns, statues and wooden doors. One of the finest examples is the Town Hall in Miaouli Square.
There are awesome natural landscapes on the island. Among them is Apano Meria, a rural mountain settlement scattered with a few old farms and sprinkled with fragrant fennel and thyme bushes. Then there are the picturesque villages of Mitakas, Chartiana and Saint Michael; or you can explore Vari, the oldest village in Syros, only minutes from the capital. Here you’ll find Goulandris Tower, which you can climb to take in heart-stopping panoramic views.
Greek hospitality is legendary, and is a trait that the citizens of Syros will take pleasure in reaffirming. In addition, English is spoken almost everywhere, and in the rare circumstances where there’s a language barrier, you can guarantee a heartfelt effort will be made. Syros residents are generally laid-back, fun-loving and generous. It’s an overused term in hospitality, but, genuinely, you only need ask.
Syros is about three and a half hours from Piraeus (Athens) by ferry, with three sailings a day, so it couldn’t be easier to make your way here. For onward island-hopping holidays, Mykonos is just a half-hour hop across the water, while glitzy Santorini is less than two hours to the south via high-speed ferry.