Closer to the Turkish coast than it is to Athens, the island of Symi is in the southern Dodecanese. As you approach by boat – there’s no airport here – the first thing you’ll notice are the colourfully painted, neoclassical houses which front the harbour. Refreshingly free of tourist traps, there are plenty of bars and tavernas waiting to offer refreshment after a wander around Symi – here’s our pick of the best.
Vapori is that rare thing – a hard-partying bar in Symi. The crowd-pleasing RnB playlist hasn’t been updated since 2000, but that’s precisely its appeal. The cocktails, too, go down easily – expect tropical takes on classics such as daiquiris and mojitos, not to be confused with the resident dog named Mojito. Nights out here often last into the wee hours, as dancing patrons spill out into the streets of Gialos.
Leave the tie at home – this wine and champagne bar is a casual affair, despite a premium selection of tipples and a stellar location right on Symi Harbour. Crumbly Grecian columns and vaulted ceilings make for a convivial atmosphere, where local people mingle with tourists. Not a wine fan? Not to worry – the beer is cold and the excellent cocktails are two-for-one during happy hour.
After climbing the steep steps up to Chorio, the upper town, you deserve a break under the vines at Lefteris Kafenion to judge for yourself if – as they claim – they really do make the best mojitos on the island. It’s a friendly, family-run spot, and all drinks are served with meze that focus on healthy ingredients as opposed to the usual crisps and nuts. Lovely at any time of day or night.
With its location right on pebbly Pedi Beach, Katsaras is a great place to lounge, swim, and find an excuse to make a long, lazy lunch drag on until sunset. Grilled seafood and other meze favorites are served on a convivial deck built out into the bay, but you can quite easily spend the day in a recliner sipping spritzes, alternated with dips in the cooling water.
As close to the water’s edge as it’s possible to get without being submerged, Tsati Bar in Gialos is a fun, photogenic place to while away an hour or three. Sit on the cushion-covered brick wall, or grab a chair. Frozen margaritas and daiquiris go down easily, but ask owner Michail to make something really exciting for you and he’s sure to come up with an unexpectedly creative concoction.
A traditional taverna in a side street just back from Gialos harbour, this is the place to eat while you drink, with food so tasty that you’re likely to stay longer than you’d planned. From meze – such as marinated anchovies, stuffed vine leaves and crispy calamari – to hearty grilled meats, O Lyris is made for lingering and sipping ouzo and Greek wines, as you say hello to the friendly ginger-and-white cat who’s a regular fixture.
Hidden among stone walls, hanging grape vines and bougainvillea blossoms, it’s a steep climb to reach the Secret Garden – but once you find a shady seat in the courtyard and have a cold drink in your hand, you’ll appreciate having made the effort. Live music features on the menu a couple of nights a week in summer, and the home-cooked food is the perfect accompaniment.
There are plenty of things to see and do in Symi, but if you wanted to explore further out there are some great restaurants and hotels in Rhodes. In addition, the island of Kos offers many different hotel options that are bookable through Culture Trip, and a range of attractions.
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