Secret Symi: the best island in Greece?

By Jon Ryan, a Travel Professional

Read more on Symi.

Overall rating:4.4 out of 5 (based on 8 votes)
Recommended for:
Beach, Food and Drink, Romance, Budget, Mid-range, Expensive

Stunning scenery, fabulous food, the most welcoming people... and not a single replica football shirt! So don't tell anybody about the Greek island of Symi - we'll keep it to ourselves, OK?

Not heard of Symi? Good.

Just between ourselves, it's a tiny, mountainous island in the Med, an hour's ferry trip from Rhodes, which is where the nearest airport is located. At only 22 square miles in size, it manages to pack in some stunning scenery, has far more good places to eat than you can visit in a single holiday and is, without a doubt, one of the friendliest places you can ever expect to visit.

And frankly, we could end this review right there. You already have enough information: fly to Rhodes, get the Symi ferry (there are plenty), find a table with a view of the harbour or the mountains (there are zillions), call for a drink and some food. Repeat. Feel the troubles of the world begin to fade...

But on the off chance that you require more than sun, sea, food and a gentle breeze, read on.

Where to stay

Accommodation is plentiful and varied. There are no huge hotels, no concrete eyesores on Symi. The Greek Ministry of Culture has made sure of this. Determined not to allow the monstrosities that exist in other Mediterranean destinations, Symi boasts a sumptuous neoclassical look that would have brought nods of approval from the ancient Greeks who first populated the island millennia ago.

Typical are the harbourside Nireus Hotel (which, with 37 rooms, is among the biggest on the island), the small but perfect Hotel Fiona ( and the highly regarded Taxiarchis with its wonderful views over the Pedi valley. The recently completed Iapetos Village, ( ) which offers self-catering or bed and breakfast, is in a good central location, at harbour level and virtually on top of some of the best watering and feeding spots on the island. At the budget end, the small, clean rooms of the Anastasia Apartments, one of the plentiful self-catering establishments, have a shared, shaded terrace with a view over Pedi Bay and are close to a number of bars, small supermarkets and restaurants.

These and others can be found in the majority of travel agency brochures and you will struggle to find a poor opinion of any of them. Packages, flying from a number of UK airports, are probably best booked through Greek specialists Olympic Holidays ( or the Symi-based Kalodoukas Holidays, although any decent independent should be able to get you there.

For travellers wishing to make their own arrangements (and there are many of these who return year after year), there is a wide choice of privately owned villas and apartments. Best point of contact is via the exemplary Symi Visitor website (, where Wendy and Adriana will be more than happy to find something to suit your needs. The Symi Visitor website also affords the chance to ask questions on the lively noticeboard and chat page, which is inhabited by an eccentric and welcoming group of old Symi hands who will offer up-to-date information about current prices, weather and events, as well as their own experiences of the island. Another site, SymiGreece, has other links to accommodation and there is more still to be found on the Municipality of Symi site (

Exploring the island

Symi is mountainous. Do take this into account. The main town is divided into two areas, Yialos and Chorio, which are linked by the notorious Kali Strata, the `Beautiful Street` that rises some 200 metres via 380-odd steps. Yialos, the lower part of the town, is perhaps more commercial. There are a huge number of places to eat and drink, with prices ranging from a couple of Euros for the delicious gyros, a folded pita bread containing spiced meat with chips and perhaps some tzadziki (cucumber and yoghurt salad) and tomato, to such top-end establishments as Mylopetra (, Taverna Neraida, and the popular Mythos. For shopping enthusiasts, there is a plethora of tiny boutiques selling a range of clothing, ceramics and jewellery, much of it locally made. The new Symi Gallery ( is one of a number offering local and internationally acclaimed art.

Chorio, the upper town, is more traditionally Greek, and affords utterly stunning views over the harbour and the surrounding mountains. Here are more of the kafenions, the traditional bars that serve drinks and snacks, and more restaurants, including Giorgios Taverna, something of an island institution (both restaurant and owner!). Zoe’s taverna has a rooftop terrace with a splendid view (get there early) and Syllogos ( offers freshly caught lobster on some days. The Olive Tree  ( is a cheerful cafe run by a couple of English expats and supplies breakfast and a frankly sinful selection of home-made cakes as well as a varied menu. This is one of a growing number of establishments offering free wi-fi access. Here they even provide (free!) computers for you to check email and to tell friends at home that they really should be getting on the next plane to Symi...

Getting around Symi is straightforward. There are cheap taxis and a rather eccentric bus service for those who don’t wish to tackle the Kali Strata on foot, and all around Symi are a selection of good beaches of varying isolation, some of which can only be reached by boat. Boat trips and water taxis run regularly from the main harbour. Swimming is wonderful, with safe, clean, clear water, no currents and abundant marine life.

For walkers, the island offers a good choice of spectacular tracks, most of which can be tackled without needing more than decent shoes, a water bottle and a determination not to be defeated by the heat – which rises above 40°C in the summer. Most routes are marked with red and blue dots painted onto cairns along the paths. Plenty of advice and guides for walkers are available (ask on the Symi Visitor chat page), and the excellent new map from SKAI ( also includes a good synopsis of the myriad attractions of Symi.

There are clubs and discos, where coruscatingly loud music is played to hoards of drunken revellers until the sun is well above the horizon.

But, thank Zeus, not a single one of them is located on Symi.

PS:Many thanks to SymiArt for the video (see below) 

This link: ...will take you to an account of my visit to Symi in 2009, posted on the SYMI VISITOR website. With more photos!

Web cam:

And for a pleasantly lyrical day-to-day account of life on Symi, try author and gallery owner James Collins' blog:

And this video is by James - many thanks!

 ...and if like Symi, you'll love the beautiful island of LESVOS:

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More information on Secret Symi: the best island in Greece?:

Jon Ryan
Traveller type:
Travel Professional
Guide rating:
Average: 4.4 (8 votes)
Total views:
First uploaded:
14 October 2009
Last updated:
5 years 1 week 4 days 10 hours 18 min 40 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Beach, Food and Drink, Romance
Budget level:
Budget, Mid-range, Expensive
Free tags / Keywords:
sun, Mediterranean, Friendly people, peace and quiet, great walks, stunning scenery

Jon recommends


Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Iapetos Village
2. Nireus Hotel, Symi Island
3. Taxiarchis Hotel In Symi
4. Fiona Hotel

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Community comments (15)

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I fell in love with this island when i went there some years ago and this review has just rekindled my passion !! Great photos too Jon !!
Keep it up !!!

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Thanks for the kind remarks, Terry.

1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

This is exactly how it is. Great.

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Thanks, Donna!

0 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Also another great Symi Site is ,great photos and blogs and links.

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1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

I can only agree with everything you say but do somehow wish that people would stop advertising our beautiful island paradise!! Can't wait to get back there

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2 of 2 people found the following comment helpful.

A concise, up to date and true report for the Symi visitor. I would re-iterate the previous comments; Symi has enough to explore and enjoy if you are looking for a little adventure, but if you just want to kick back and relax you don't feel as if you are missing too much. And at the end of the day you can always visit again, Symi is not going anywhere!
From a long standing Symi resident

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Yes, it sounds good. But which bars are worth visiting? Do they have Happy Hours? And which are the longest HHs?

I haven't visited them all, not in a single lifetime, but very few people have reported bad experiences that I've heard of. (Except hangovers...)

Maybe this question could best be answered in the Simi Visitor chatroom? Or try Facebook - quite a few Symiots to be found there.

Or just take a chance and try a visit?

1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Thanks Jon great write up and great links

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2 of 2 people found the following comment helpful.

As a resident of Symi for almost 7 years, most guides have become outdated, and the information redundant. I think this review is concise and about as up-to-date as you can get on the internet (or elsewhere for that matter)

There was a previous comment about nightlife and the lack of it mentioned in Jon's review. Too be honest it does not need a concise mention in any report. Symi in the day (and night) is all about what you want to make it. If you're looking for traditional, you'll find it. If you want some pace to your evening, you'll find it. All will be revealed on arrival believe me.

Many thanks Jon.

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0 of 2 people found the following comment helpful.

You don't say anything about nightlife and clubbing.
My favourite Greek island is Crete. There are some great places there, especially Malia which is just one long road of fun. You can hop from one bar to another, and there's nearly always a "Happy Hour" to be found in one of them, at any time of day (and most of the night!). It's great.
Is there anything like this in Symi?
I think this is the sort of thing people like to hear about in a review. It would be better if you said something about them. Without that, I can't really tell if Symi is the place for me.

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Umm, I do mention (albeit very briefly!) the clubbing scene on Symi in the last sentence:

"There are clubs and discos, where coruscatingly loud music is played to hoards of drunken revellers until the sun is well above the horizon.

But, thank Zeus, not a single one of them is located on Symi."

Symi is not for the clubbing set - but is a good place to recover!

Thanks for taking the trouble to comment, Philip.

1 of 2 people found the following comment helpful.

Everyone who goes to Symi seems to fall in love with it, and there are some useful tips in here for anyone planning a visit. Some nice photos of the island, too. In some cases you've mentioned hotels or restaurants without actually saying anything about them - it would help if you could add in some description and details. This is particularly important on the hotels, as people are unlikely to book accommodation through your guide if all they have to go on is a name.

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Thanks for the tips, Suzanne!