Chios island, Greece is the 5th largest island in the country and is situated in the Northern Aegean sea off the coast of Turkey.
It has a fascinating, albeit sometimes tragic past with a history of relentless conflict with its neighbour as well as other invaders. There are a number of things that make Chios (pronounced “He-oss” and not to be confused with the similar-sounding Ios island in the Cyclades) quite unique and different from the other Greek Islands.
Firstly it is believed to be the birthplace of Homer, the ancient poet and writer who wrote The Iliad, the western worlds first published book.
There is also some evidence that it also may have been the birthplace of Christopher Columbus and in fact, Columbus is a popular surname on the island to this day.
It is also home to the very rare Mastic bushes, small trees which produce a resin that was used in the original chewing gum and is still used today in food, cosmetics and other things. When you drive around Chios in summer you will smell the Mastic trees and the rosemary and oregano growing wild near the road, hence the term the ‘fragrant’ island.
Chios once had a booming shipping industry but today its primary industries are mostly agricultural with citrus, olives, figs, cherries and of course, mastic being the main crops.
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When to visit Chios Island, Greece
The best times to visit Greece are April-June and September-October. The weather is mild, and most places have few crowds. High season is late June to early September, and prices will reflect that, as will the crowds, the number of cruise ships, and accommodation availability.
Summer is still great, especially for beach time and in some of the lesser known spots. The water is warm, there are blue skies every day, and there is a fun holiday atmosphere. Antiparos has a number of stunning beaches, making it a great place to be in summer when lazy lunches and dips in the sea are daily events.
Best beach and swimming weather: June to September
Best sightseeing weather: March to June and September/October
How to get to Chios,Greece
Chios is an island in the Northern Aegean sea only 7 kilometres from Turkey. It is the 5th largest of the Greek Islands and you can arrive in Chios either by plane of by sea.
Flying to Chios
There is a domestic airport on Chios known as Omiros which is serviced by the national carrier Aegean/Olympic airlines as well as Skyexpress. Connections are mostly to Athens but there are also flights to Thessaloniki and Rhodes as well as Samos and Lemnos in summer.
Ferry from Athens
The Ferry from Athens is usually run by Blue Star and takes around 8 hours so best book a cabin and get a good nights sleep. It then goes on to Lesvos which take another 3 hours.
Ferry from Lesvos to Chios
There are usually one or two ferries per day sailing between Lesvos and Chios. The trip takes around 3 hours.
Ferry from Cesme, Turkey to Chios
There are ferries connecting Chios to Athens (Piraeus & Lavrio), Kavala, Lesvos, Limnos, Samos, Ikaria and Cesme in Turkey. There are also ferries to the other islands of the Regional Unit of Chios, Oinousses and Psara.
The ferry from Cesme takes around 30 minutes and there are usually several running each day.
Where to stay in Chios
Most people visiting Chios tend to stay either in Chios Town or Karfas, a modern beach resort town about 20 minutes south of Chios Town that is still fairly quiet compared to its counterparts on some other islands. Karfas has a nice, wide beach, so it is a great spot for families in particular.
For couples: Argentikon Luxury Suites are the only 5 star hotel on Chios at time of publication. It is a restored medieval mansion built in the 16th century, set in beautiful gardens, and includes a spa, swimming pool, and every luxury amenity. They are about a 10-minute drive inland from the sea, but quite centrally located in the beautiful village of Kambos. They are often described as quite ‘magical’.
In Chios Town Chios Chandris is an iconic hotel on the harbour that is a solid choice with great views. Within the castle walls Castro Rooms are very comfortable and very charming too with a medieval style and ambience.
For something, quite budget-conscious and peaceful Emporios Bay Hotel is located in the quiet, southern fishing village of Emporios Bay with excellent tavernas and close to remote beaches.
For families and groups: Sideratos Apartments are stylish self-catering apartments on the seafront in Karfas with great sea views and just a short stroll into the village centre. Mesta Magic is located on the western side of the island in a traditional castle and provides an authentic experience the kids will never forget!
Solo: Sun Rooms are clean, comfortable rooms in Chios Town, just a two-minute stroll from the beach. It’s a safe, authentic area, and the rooms are hosted by a very friendly and helpful lady who has really gone out of her way over the years for many guests. We also like Costa Point, which is right on the harbor and have sea-view rooms and bikes to rent.
Things to do in Chios
With so much coastline there is no surprise there are many incredible beaches to visit in Chios. The most organised are on the eastern coast near Chios Town whilst there are hundreds of remote, and often deserted beaches around the island.
- Vroulidia Beach is a stunning beach at the south of the island with a small winding road which keeps tour buses at bay. There are no facilities although a taverna at the top of the hill is sometimes open.
- Glyfa Beach is wide and shallow and popular with families
- Mavra Volia ( black pebbles) Beach is also in the south but easy to get to and plenty of parking. The pebbles are jet back and the water is crystal clear.
- Agia Dinami is a gorgeous remote beach in the south west lying under a small church and near Olimpi Caves. There are no facilities.
- Emporios Beach is a small beach in the quaint fishing village of Emporios and very close to Mavra Volia. There are a number of tavernas and a very picturesque bay.
- Limnos Beach is a small organised beach on the western coast with sunbeds, facilities and tavernas as well as incredible sunsets.
- Karfas Beach is in Karfas Village which has many hotels, tavernas and cafes. It is a wide, sandy beach that is great for families with children and there are many shops and water sports to do as well.
The most important museums on Chios are the Archaeological Museum, which has extensive Neolithic, Mycenaean and Roman exhibits, the Byzantine Museum, housed in the Mecidiye Mosque on Vounakiou Square, and the Maritime Museum which houses paintings, ship replicas and navigational instruments from the islands Naval history.
The Citrus Museum is also quite fascinating and gives good insight into one of the primary industries on the island and the Koraes Public Library has an impressive collection of around 250,000 books and is one of Greece’s oldest libraries.
Historic buildings & Churches
Enclosed within the 9th and 10th-century walls of the fortified town is the district known as Chios Castle, a settlement that today still has a population of around 640 residents. Enter the main gate, Porta Maggiore and you will soon see a restored 15th-century mansion, Giustiniani Mansion, that is also a museum.
Another key landmark is Agios Georgios Church which includes the Madrasa, a restored Ottoman-era seminary.
The Ottoman Baths, Bayrakli Mosque and the Ottoman Cemetery off the main square are other prominent Ottoman monuments.
Nea Moni Monastery was built in the 11th century and is a beautiful example of Byzantine architecture and has some of the best-preserved mosaics in Greece. There is also a fascinating archaeological site next door and a small but very interesting museum. This monastery is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site on the strength of the mosaics alone.
Medieval Villages of Chios
There are a number of fascinating villages on Chios that date back to medieval times. Some are still inhabited today.
Located around 25 kilometres from Chios Town Pyrgi ( pronounced ” Per-yee”) is the largest medieval village in Chios and most will say the prettiest.
Often called ‘The Painted Village’ every house is decorated in intricate paintings and etchings, painstakingly done by hand. The houses date back to the 13th and 14th century and the decorative work dates back to 1665 and were initiated by a Cretan painter called Antonios Domestichos.
A lot of the designs are done in black and white with a little blue, grey and brown thrown in. They are known as ‘xysts’ and are similar to what you may see in a Genovese village in Italy. This is likely due to the fact that Chios was under Frankish occupation at the time Pyrgi was settled.
Today more than 1200 people live in Pyrgi and there is a lovely big shady square where you will find old men happily drinking coffee and playing backgammon each day. Most of the residents are employed in the making of Mastica or other agriculture.
There is an impressive Byzantine church hidden in the backstreets as well as 3 lovely Greek Orthodox churches worth seeing too.
A fascinating and sad site, important to visit for a deep insight into Greek history.
This village is located in the north of the island which is quite mountainous and the villages are not as old or as fortified as those in the south. It is often referred to as the ‘Mystras of Chios’.
Anavatos is situated some 450 meters above the sea and was difficult for enemies to penetrate with sheer cliffs on each side. At one point it was home to several thousand people in 400 homes.
The village was abandoned after the Massacre of Chios in 1822 during the Greek War of Independence.
Today it remains an important monument and reminder of the island, and indeed Greece’s history and is of significant value to the people of Chios.
There are a number of fascinating caves in Greece that you can visit and they are a great activity to do on a hot day.
The Cave of Olympi is located close to Pyrgi and Mesta medieval villages in the southern part of the island and is 100 metres above the sea. It is a fairly small cave but has quite incredible stalagmites and stalactites – some of the best in Greece.
One of the most incredible things about Olympi Cave is that it is still active today with new and unusual stalactites forming slowly. Some are called Eccentrites which form horizontally and are very rare!
Open May to November (not Mondays) 11:00 – 18:00
You can also visit caves at Agio Galas which is located an hour northwest of Volissos. Here you will find an interesting museum next to a lovely shady stream and the caves which are home to a couple of small churches, one of which is thought to be dripping the Virgin Mary’s milk from its cloudy walls.
Day Trips from Chios
The nearby island of Oinousses is a wonderful place to visit and there is no better way than on a private sailing boat. Deserted beaches and sea caves, a BBQ lunch and a visit to the quaint port of Lagada is a great way to spend some quality time on Chios.
Visit Turkey from Chios
You can catch the public ferry over to Cesme in Turkey from Chios Town. The trip takes around 30 minutes. Cesme is a lively resort town with many hotels, restuarants, shops and several marina’s.
Don’t forget to check if you have any Visa requirements first!
You can check Ferry timetables HERE.
Further reading: A vacation in Turkey and Greece – a complete itinerary
Chios restaurants, cafes and bars
Hotzas is situated in Chios Town and is renowned on the island, and its courtyard is surrounded by olive, walnut, and lemon trees. The Chef and owner is one of the islands culinary experts.
Near Agios Isidoros is Oz Bay with a great beach bar and retro food van. The same people have Oz Cocktail Bar in Chios Town.
Nearby is the lovely fishing village of Lagada where Nostos is one of the best on the island. Ano Kardamyla is in a hilltop village near Lagada which has a lovely town square with huge plane trees, and it is where you will find Geragides. Be sure to order the goat in tomato sauce!
In Emporios in the south, we had the best calamari ever! When we arrived we saw a man cleaning freshly caught squid by the sea. We watched him for a while and sat at a table at his waterfront taverna, Neptune, a few minutes later we were eating the calamari with a great Greek salad. It doesn’t get much fresher than that!
In Chios Town we found the better tavernas were in the southern part of the port. You will find To Vounaki, The Pastards and the wonderful dessert cafe, Ahni & Kanela all in a row. In the backstreets, of course, are where the locals go and To Kechrimpari is one of the most popular.
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