The Best Things to See and Do on Symi Island, Greece

Symis Neoclassical harbour of pastel-coloured buildings welcomes you to the low-key, charming Greek island
Symi's Neoclassical harbour of pastel-coloured buildings welcomes you to the low-key, charming Greek island | © freeartist / Alamy
Ethel Dilouambaka

The small Greek island of Symi may be dwarfed by neighbouring Rhodes, but its low-key charm is exactly its appeal. With no airport, you’re welcomed by boat at the Neoclassical harbour of pastel-coloured buildings. Beyond the town, you’ll find coastal hikes, coves ideal for swimming and historic sights, from the elegant Panormitis monastery to castle ruins.

Explore the Main Town

Historical Landmark, Architectural Landmark

© Ian Woolcock/ Alamy

Symi’s main town is divided into two parts. First you’ll see the harbour, Gialos, where pastel-coloured Venetian mansions are arranged in a vertiginous style. Then there’s Chorio, the village-like old part of town up 450 steps, some painted cobalt blue (some reach it by donkey – or there’s a five-minute bus that leaves every hour). The Olive Tree Café at the top of the steps is an ideal incentive to push on, thanks to its sweeping views across the bay.

Visit the Monastery of the Archangel Michael Panormitis

Monastery

© Frantic/ Alamy

The monastery of the Archangel Michael Panormitis has the look of an Italian luxury resort, with its white-painted columns and balconies that all face the sea. Indeed, you can book a room – as the monks who live here on occasion rent out unused cells for a small fee. Dating back to the 18th century, it sits in the village of Panormitis, on a peaceful spot between pine-strewn hills and an empty beach.

Enjoy the view from the Kastro

Building

© Ian Goodrick / Alamy

Built in 1407 by the Knights of the Order of Saint John, the Kastro (castle) was designed to protect the island against pirate raids – and it did its job well before finally falling to the Ottomans in 1522. Although only ruins are left, its strategic vantage point on a hill above the harbour means the view is worth the hike. Beyond the town is a scene of what the knights would have surveyed, the rocky headlands sloping into a sapphire sea.

See Live Music and Dance at the Symi Festival

Natural Feature

© Johner Images / Alamy

Between July and September, Symi defies its size by going big on the performing arts. Its annual festival features live music, interactive dance, theatre and book fairs, as well as the Symi International Film Festival, where anyone can watch movies screened outdoors for free. The activity mainly centres around the harbour square in Gialos, where you can often see traditional Greek music performances. A full schedule of events is posted at the square.

Sunbathe and Swim at St Nicholas Beach

Natural Feature

© Simon Dux / Alamy

Although Symi is known as a mountainous island, it’s not short on fantastic beaches either – as long as you don’t mind a bit of shingle. St Nicholas Beach, a short walk from the village of Pedi, is lapped by inviting turquoise water that’s cosseted by a rocky bay. Tamarisk trees provide shade on the shore, or you can hire a sun bed and umbrella. And when you’re craving a cold beer, slope off to the decked terrace of the beachside café-bar.

Hike the Symian Coastline

Natural Feature

© David Elliott / Alamy

Come to Symi in the spring or autumn, when the weather is slightly cooler, and take to its hiking trails. A beautiful half-day route is Horio to Agia Marina, 7.7km (4.8mi) there and back, with a moderate elevation (216m/709ft). Much of it traces the coastline, along a peninsula at the island’s north-east, so you can’t get too lost – leaving you to enjoy the views of the Aegean Sea.

Take a Day Trip to Rhodes

Natural Feature

© Chris Rout / Alamy

Symi’s close proximity to Rhodes – 60-90 minutes by ferry – means hopping between the two is an easy day excursion. Rhodes’ Old Town, with its Ottoman and Venetian architectural styles, is one of the most atmospheric settlements in Greece. Sometimes called the Island of the Knights, Rhodes’ storybook-like castle captures the majesty of that era of knights and kings. When it’s time to recharge, head to the characterful taverna To Megiston, and fill up on traditional moussaka.

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