Floating dreamily just 24 miles north of Rhodes, the enchanting island of Symi is a miniature paradise. Tiny, tranquil and barely touched by time, it’s the perfect holiday destination if you simply want to relax and soak up the slow pace of Greek island life. Just an hour away by ferry from Rhodes (the nearest airport), its main port is Simi Town, a breathtaking little town that spills down to Yialos harbour. Above it is Chorio, the old historic quarter, while Pedi Bay sits to the south and the village of Nimborios to the north. The rugged island is blessed with numerous beautiful beaches, magical little coves of shingle or pebbles, and the water is a mesmerising blue.
Beautiful little beaches, relaxed waterfront tavernas, fabulous walks, and a vivid blue sea are the main attractions of Symi. Symi Town is the focal point of the island, set steeply overlooking the main harbour. It’s divided into two main areas: Yialos is the port area, an elegant swathe of neo-Classical buildings surrounded a horseshoe-shaped bay. Above it is Chorio, the enchanting historic quarter. There is only a handful of other villages on the island, many gathered around picturesque bays, or you could visit the monastery of Panormitis, a popular pilgrimage spot. You can take water-taxis between the little coves, most of which boast at a taverna or two along with sun loungers and parasols to rent. Above all, Symi’s greatest attraction is the deep sense of tranquility that pervades the island – you’ll succumb instantly to its magic.
Wine and Dine
Most of the restaurants on Symi serve the deliciously fresh Greek cuisine, perhaps with a sprinkling of Italian and Mediterranean dishes too. There’s lots of excellent seafood, which you can enjoy at one of the beachfront tavernas: don’t miss the local specialty, tiny shrimps which are crisply fried in olive oil and garlic and eaten whole. You’ll also find classic Greek favourites such as moussaka, stuffed courgettes and aubergines and the ubiquitous and refreshing Greek salad, a mix of tomatoes, cucumber and olives topped with local cheese. For a snack, pick up some of the heavenly freshly baked spanakopita pies from a bakery.
If you’re looking for a peaceful holiday in the sun, with a spot of paddling, perhaps some snorkelling, and lots of delicious, fresh food, then your family will adore Symi. The welcoming locals, the slow pace of life, and even the fun of heading to the beaches in a water-taxi, make a holiday with kids immensely enjoyable. The beaches are small and often pebbly, but, with some beach shoes and something comfy to lie on, they keep most families happy! The most popular beaches for families are Agios Nikolaos, which shelves gently into crystal-clear waters, and Agia Marina, which is the sandiest beach on the island. Both have tavernas and there are sun loungers and parasols for rent.
Action and Adventure
If you’re a fan of snorkelling, you’ll love Symi. The water is spectacularly clear, particularly in Agia Marina and Marathunda, and you’ll discover a mesmerising underwater landscape. There are lots of options for sailing, with boat rental and boat tours available. The island also offers some fantastic climbing, particularly at Agios Giorgios Dusalotos, where there is a famous climbing crag above a gorgeous beach. You can get there by water-taxi, or make the beautiful 8-kilometre-long hike from Pedi Bay. There are several stunning hiking routes across the forested interior of the island, which is dotted with whitewashed chapels and monasteries.
Life's a Beach
The nearest beach to Symi Town is Nos beach (also known as ‘Paradise beach’) which is small and pebbly. Pedi Bay has a string of small beaches splayed around the bay, and is the main hub for water-taxis to other beaches. Among them is Agios Nikolaos, which is particularly popular with families, thanks to its shallow, clear waters and mix of sand and shingle. Like most of the island’s small beaches, it has a taverna and a beach bar, as well as sun loungers and parasols for hire. Other options include sandy Agia Marina and Marathunda, both renowned for crystalline waters which make them perfect for snorkelling, and Nanou, a pebbly bay backed by beautiful cliffs. The old fishing village of Nimborios has a broad, pebbly beach plus a tavern.
The nightlife in Symi keeps pace with the rest of island life: slow and relaxing. You won’t find much in the way of buzzy bars and clubs, but you will find a wonderful range of beach bars and tavernas where you can linger long into the evening over drinks under a canopy of vines. Yialos is the liveliest spot on the island, particularly during the peak summer months of July and August, with a choice of atmospheric bars hugging the bay. Some offer live music or DJ sessions if you’re looking for something a little more lively. The atmospheric Symi festival, which runs from June to September, hosts outdoor concerts and other events with performers from all over Greece.
A breathtakingly beautiful island, Symi is an idyllic destination for romance, particularly if you are looking for utter peace and relaxation. Spend the day on an intimate cove soaking up the sun, slipping into the vivid blue water to cool off. Enjoy a long, languid seafood dinner under a canopy of vines, and settle into a candle-lit beach bar to watch the stars and listen to the gentle rush of waves on the beach. You could take a boat tour around the island to pick your favourite cove for a romantic picnic, or, if you enjoy walking, hike along the mountain tracks to take in the splendid views.
Symi Town is the main cultural hub of the island, and is a delightful place for a stroll. The charming harbour of Yialos is surrounded by 19th-century neo-Classical buildings, and a splendid flight of 19th-century steps, the Kali Strata, leads up to the pretty historic quarter of Chorio. The town has a couple of interesting museums: the nautical museum, which offers insight into the historic island industries of sponge-fishing and ship-building, and the fascinating museum of archaeology. At Nimborio, you can visit some Roman mosaics and catacombs. The island is dotted with pretty chapels and monasteries, although most open only on feast days. The monastery at Panormitis, which was established in the 6th century and rebuilt in the 18th century, contains some fine Byzantine frescoes. The island hosts an excellent festival of performing arts between June and September, with theatre, dance and music.