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Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 07 January, 2023
Expert travel writer: Rachel Howard

With its neoclassical harbour lined with pastel-coloured mansions, little Symi instantly makes a big impression. The grand houses are a legacy of the island’s 19th-century heyday as a major player in the sponge and spice trade.

Today, the small population makes a decent living from the ritzy yachts moored alongside al fresco fish restaurants, as well as Greek pilgrims who flock to the magnificent monastery of Panormitis.

Beyond the lively people-watching along the port, far-flung Symi is also a place for romance and relaxation: its craggy coastline conceals pristine beaches accessible only by sea or on foot.

Orientation

Giant yachts and gleaming wooden gulets line Yialos, the horseshoe harbour at the heart of the action.

Chorio, the sleepier upper town, is accessible via Kali Strata, a steep, stepped path. It offers a glimpse of bygone Greece with its faded 18th-century mansions and narrow stone archways, and is ideal for a lazy wander. At the pinnacle is Symi’s ancient acropolis, with vertiginous views of the harbour.

Nimborio to the north and Pedi to the south are quaint seaside hamlets with cute tavernas. In contrast to the rocky coast, the centre of the island is thick with cypress forests.

At the southern tip is Panormitis Monastery, a magnet for Orthodox pilgrims.

Food & Drink

Fresh fish and seafood abound on Symi, but the island does not have the gourmet dining scene of other islands. Humble taverna staples are best enjoyed at the seaside shacks on the island’s handful of isolated beaches.

Try some Symiakes garides (Symiot baby shrimps), famous throughout Greece. Deep-fried and eaten whole, they make an addictive accompaniment to ice-cold ouzo.

Also see our round-up of traditional Greek foods to try in Greece for some culinary delights you will no doubt come across while you’re there.

Other worthwhile experiences in this destination if you have the time or the interest

Boat tours on the Agios Nicolaos
Experience

Boat tours on the Agios Nicolaos

Symi, Greek Islands, Greece

Local Symi travel specialist Kalodoukas arrange excursions aboard the Agios Nicolaos, a beautiful wooden caique. The fare includes a buffet lunch.

Best for ages: 8+ | £35

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Chorio

Symi, Greek Islands, Greece

Wander amidst Chorio’s faded 18th-century mansions and stone archways for a glimpse of bygone Greece.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

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Marathounda Tavern
Experience

Marathounda Tavern

Symi, Greek Islands, Greece

Located in wind-protected Marathounda Bay in the southeast corner of the island, this authentic beach-side taverna serves up excellent home-cooked Greek food. Dine on the terrace overlooking the pebbly beach and idyllic-blue water, then relax on sunbeds after. Just beware the inquisitive local goats. Access by road or water taxi.

Best for ages: 4+ | Free

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exterior of Monastery of Archangel Michael Panormitis, Symi island, Greece
Experience

Panormitis Monastery

Symi, Greek Islands, Greece

The only road on Symi ends at this vast, waterfront monastery, a popular site for Greek pilgrims and day-trippers from Rhodes. Visit in the late afternoon, when the day-trippers have departed, and you can admire the icons and frescoes in peace. There’s a snack bar, bakery and gift shop on site.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

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Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

Hotel Aliki

Symi, Greek Islands, Greece

A waterfront landmark brimming with local character and an unbeatable location for people and boat watching.

Official star rating:

Limani Life

Symi, Greek Islands, Greece

With just six smart, contemporary rooms right on Symi’s picturesque port, this intimate, welcoming hotel is incredibly central and convenient.

Official star rating:

The Old Markets

Symi, Greek Islands, Greece

Boutique bolthole combining heritage charm and contemporary chic, with show-stopping harbour views from the terrace and suites.

Official star rating:

When to go

Unlike most small Greek islands, the tourist season lasts for seven months (April to October), as Symi has an unusually warm climate. The whole island shuts up shop between November and March.

It gets terribly hot – and terribly crowded – in July and August, when prices are highest. For more temperate weather, better deals and beaches to yourself, the best time to visit is late spring (May-early June) or late summer (late Sept-Oct).

 

Getting there and away

There’s no airport on Symi, one of the Dodecanese islands in the southeast Aegean. Fly to Rhodes (45 minutes from Athens; also serviced by international charter flights from May to October). From Rhodes Airport it’s a 20-minute bus or taxi ride to Mandraki Harbour, where ferries or hydrofoils (1.5hrs/1hr) depart for Symi.

The infrequent ferry from Piraeus to Symi takes an agonising 19 hours. Ferries from Piraeus to Rhodes take 12-18 hours.

Getting around

There are very few roads on Symi. It’s possible to hire a car or scooter in Yialos or Pedi, but most attractions are accessible by boat or on foot.

Away from the harbour, there’s little development. Footpaths through pine and cypress pass hidden monasteries with panoramic views.

There’s an hourly Yialos–Chorio–Pedi bus service and a daily service to Panormitis Monastery. The island has a few taxis, on the right-hand side of the harbour.