Ferries from the port of Kymi on Greece’s east coast will take you to the fashionable, low-key island of Skyros – the largest of the Sporades. Relatively untouched by international tourists, the island is a mixture of secluded shimmering bays, laid-back towns and fascinating traditions. For those looking for a tranquil yet invigorating break, Skyros has an eclectic mix of things to do.
Skyros’ Mount Olympus isn’t the Mount Olympus – otherwise known as Mountain of the Gods – on mainland Greece. But with a bird’s-eye view of the Aegean Sea from its summit, this mountain in northern Skyros is worth visiting. Follow a circular route from the main town Hora through peaceful pine forests and up towards the peak. The entire trail is 12.7km (7.9mi) and takes five hours – but if you want a shorter trip, halve the hike by turning back to Hora after you’ve hit the summit.
The Monastery of Saint George, tucked away within the walls of the Byzantine Castle above Skyros Town, was damaged in a 2001 earthquake but reopened to visitors in 2015. Spend the afternoon wandering around the monastery’s whitewashed buildings and paved courtyards, lined with exotic plants in big ceramic pots, before heading inside the Saint George church, where you can marvel at the valuable frescos and exquisite religious paintings. Don’t miss epic views of the town and ocean from the west-side balcony.
This Byzantine Castle sits at the highest point of Skyros Town. While only a fraction of the original fortifications remains, you can begin to imagine the stone castle in its former glory. From its walls, take in vistas of whitewashed box-shaped houses, golden beaches and the Aegean Sea. You can also dip into the Saint George Monastery, located within the castle walls, as you learn about some of Skyros’ most important history and snap photos from the epic viewpoints.
Skyros’ mountains are home to a rare breed of short ponies, treasured by locals. There’s a strict look but don’t touch policy with the Skyros ponies – instead visitors are encouraged to ride regular horses at the Appaloosa Horse Club, in the island’s northern hills. Explore the island’s wilderness on horseback, cantering over breezy hilltops, or sign up for the three-hour excursion to the beach – where you can gallop at golden hour before dismounting for a swim.
Kalogria Beach, in the Kyra Panagia bay on Skyros’ northwest coast, is an idyllic spot, designed for whiling away hours under the sun. Get there in good time to nab a comfortable sunbed, complete with a straw umbrella, and make use of the changing cabins if needs be. Break from the rays only to feast on fresh Greek salads and pink wine from the Cooknara Beach Bar, a short way back from the beach.
Fascinated by folklore? Head to this museum, spread across the Faltaits family’s sprawling 19th-century mansion, which unravels mythology, folklore and lifestyle from various periods of Skyros’ long history. The multi-level labyrinth, just below Brooke Square in Skyros Town, showcases traditional local costumes, antique furniture, weapons, cooking pots, manuscripts, rare books and old photographs. Time it right and you can watch plays and concerts from the stone amphitheatre that’s still in action. Stop by the gift shop to pick up vibrant fabrics, bespoke ceramics and colourful prints.
Escape the scorching heat by wandering through this fascinating courtyard museum, which displays artefacts from the Early Helladic to the Roman occupation. The museum offers English-language leaflets, so you can read up on the island’s rich history as you cruise between glass cabinets full of Mycenaean pottery, Skyros jewellery and artefacts from the Bronze Age excavation at Palamari. You’ll be transported back in time with a recreation of a traditional Skyrian house interior with all its everyday tools and furniture.
In the middle of Skyros Town stands a statue of British World War I poet Rupert Brooke, who died on a navy ship moored off the island in 1915. You can visit his remote hilltop grave in the south, but there’s also an impressive bronze statue in the paved area of Skyros Town called Brooke Square. The monument overlooks the sweeping coastline and whitewashed local houses, and is best photographed when glowing in twilight light.
Every year over the last two weeks of February, locals dress in goat masks, hairy jackets and belts ladened with dozens of copper bells – and dance through the streets of Skyros Town. It is attended by few in-the-know foreigners, meaning it’s a truly unique opportunity to witness an authentic local ritual. Join the thongs of party-goers and strangely attired figures, clanking their bells in the light of blazing red flares.
There are plenty of reasons why you should visit Skyros, and not just for the best hotels that you can book through Culture Trip. Alternatively, head to Athens and see some historical sites, before trying some authentic Greek cuisine and booking a stay at a boutique hotel.
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