Located less than 2 hours from Rhodes by ferry Symi Island is considered one of the prettiest islands in Greece. In fact, its small harbour is considered one of the most beautiful in all of Europe.
Popular with day-trippers from Rhodes and Kos it is also worth considering Symi for an overnight stay or even longer. When the sun goes down and the daytrippers leave the locals come out and enjoy their beautiful island and its authentic culture, steeped in history and intrigue.
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Where is Symi Island?
Symi is one of the Dodecanese islands, located approximately 25 miles north of Rhodes. Its nearest neighbour is Turkey which lies just across the sea.
The island of Symi itself is 22.4 square miles and is mainly made up of mountainous terrain, with beautiful valley interiors and a rocky coastline. Its main town – also called Symi – is on the northeast coast.
When to visit Symi
Tourist season on Symi runs between May all the way through early November. Visitor numbers peak in the summer months which is considered high season for the island.
Symi’s summer temperatures peak in August with highs of 34°C and barely dropping below 28°C at night. July and September are also both warm, and there’s a low chance of rain.
Shoulder season – from Easter to the beginning of June – is a great time of year to visit Symi. It’s less hot and the prices of flights and accommodation are lower. Late September is also great, particularly for hiking.
Further reading: When to visit Greece
How to get to Symi
Getting to Symi Island is fairly simple, and the ferry is the best way to do it. The schedules for the ferry vary throughout the year, however, with the summer season seeing more boats plying popular routes.
Symi has two ports for ferries to arrive and depart: Symi Town and Panormitis. From Piraeus (the main port in Athens), the journey to Symi is a long one, taking around 20 hours to complete. There are also daily ferries to and from Symi to nearby major islands such as Kos and Rhodes.
Island hopping around the region is made easy thanks to Symi’s many connections with smaller islands – Amorgos, being one of them, and Kasos and Katapola among the others.
Flights to Symi are unfortunately not possible – the island does not have an airport. Everyone arrives on the island by boat. The closest airport is on the nearby island of Rhodes. Rhodes Airport is connected by direct flights to and from Athens, Thessaloniki and Heraklion (on Crete).
The flight from Athens to Rhodes takes one hour; from there the (daily) ferry from Rhodes to Symi is an hour; this is possibly the best way to arrive at the island of Symi if you’re short on time.
Getting around Symi
The best way to get around Symi would be much like most other small islands with smaller amounts of tourist traffic. The use of scooters (mopeds), taxis and walking are all the most suffice, due to the lack of connecting roads.
Between 8am and 11pm there is a bus service that leaves each hour, going from town to Pedi and via Horio. This will cost approximately 1€.
Taxis will charge a fixed rate of 10€ to Pedi and 8€ Horio
Caiques (Converted Fishing Boats)
These cool boats take tourists to various beaches such as Nimborios, Ayios Nikolas, Nanou and Ayia Marina. The cost ranges from 15€ – 25€ depending on distance.
Car and Scooter rental
Scooters, ATVs and cars can be hired from a couple of places near the port and in Pedi as well. You can also hire small boats to skipper yourself – check out Symi Coral Rent a Boat.
It is good to keep in mind that there are only a few car roads in Symi; one that takes you to Pedi, a developing beach nearby to the town, and one to Horio, the old capital and on down to Panormitis. If you are staying a while you may only need a car for a day or two.
Further reading : Driving in Greece
Symi Hotels and Houses
Accommodation on Symi is not widespread. It’s mainly made up of small hotels and private houses for self-catering options. Most of these are located in Symi Town (which is also called Gialos), and mostly crowded around the port area.
There are some charming neoclassical villas that make up some of the accommodation options here. These include Marika’s Deluxe Rooms – an elegant villa with polished rooms close to the port – and Symi Nautilus Luxury Suites which boasts self-catering rooms in a stunning neoclassical mansion.
A new addition to the scene is the stunnning Hotel 1900, a converted 19th century neoclassical mansion right on the seafront with only 4 suites and a gorgeous rooftop deck.
It’s hard to beat The Old Markets, a gorgeous boutique hotel right in the heart of the town which was once, you guessed it, the main market on the island. Rooms here are cozy and elegant and they have a huge terrace overlooking the harbour where you can have a truly memorable drinks or breakfast. We also love Marina Studios – be sure to book a harbourview room, and Kokona Hotel too, both elegant and good value.
Just around the bay from the Gialos is the town of Pedi. This is a great alternative to the busy area around the port of Symi Town. Pedi has a beach and a natural harbour that is filled with locals’ boats and boasts a good selection of places to eat and drink – and a lot of self-catering accommodation, too.
To the north of Symi Town is Nimborio. This quiet village was once the ancient capital of the island, where King Nireus (as mentioned in The Odyssey) lived. Here you should check out seaside apartments such as Niriides Hotel Apartments.
Symi restaurants and food
Food to try on Syros
When it comes to eating on Symi you’re in for a treat. There are not only many traditional Greek dishes that visitors can try out here, but also a number of local specialties that you can sample.
Many of the island’s restaurants can be found in Gialos, concentrated around its picturesque harbor, but there are also many charming tavernas – often in seaside locations – scattered across the island that will serve up memorable meals.
Fresh fish and seafood is often the name of the game here, with the catch of the day served up from the boat and onto your plate in a matter of hours.
In fact, Symi’s most famous dish – “Symi shrimp” or Simiako garidaki – is quintessential island fare. Tiny shrimps found in the area are fried to delicate and sweet perfection. They’re famous across Greece and are a must try for any foodie worth their salt.
Away from seafood, there’s a lot of other deliciousness to try out, which includes dessert dishes such as misokofti. This is a type of moustalevria – a traditional Greek pudding – but done Symi style and made from ripe fragosika (the pulp of a prickly pear), corn starch and sugar.
Also falling into the sweets category is akoumia, a tasty donut-like snack that is native to the island. Veering away from traditional Greek donuts, it’s made from cooked rice, yeast, flour, and ouzo. The akoumia is then deep fried and eaten with cinnamon or honey or both. It’s usually made at special occasions, particularly new year.
Syros Taverna, Bars and Cafes
There are many places to find delicious food on Symi. Starting with the port and town, right on the water, there is the new but highly rated Petalo Restaurant, located directly on the waterfront with gorgeous views.
Ο Λύρης in the heart of town is often described as the best and freshest seafood on the island. Here you can find the signature Symi shrimp here, as well as delectable calamari, fish and more.
To the west of town, where Toli Beach is located, you will find Taverna Dafnes on the hill with an incredible view of the water. The ambience here is like no other, and the food, equally as memorable. They are also well known for their impeccable service.
Tucked away in a more secretive and private location closer to town, you can find the beautiful family-owned The Secret Garden. The food here is outstanding, as proven by the consistent reviews. It is strongly suggested to try the feta in filo pastry with honey.
For a great bar you won’t regret visiting, try EVA Bar in the heart of town. EVA is known for its creative and unique menu, as well as its delicious cocktails and atmosphere. For a relaxing coffee or drink and a swim in the water, Giala Beach Bar, an 11-minute drive from town is the perfect spot.
Things to do on Symi
Symi is an idyllic holiday destination. Lapped by crystal clear waters, the island boasts an abundance of nature to explore, as well as interesting architecture to enjoy. Walking around its storied streets, you’ll see historic buildings and charming churches, and have the chance to sample local cuisine in down-to-earth tavernas.
It may not be as busy or fancy as Mykonos or Santorini, Symi can hold its own in sheer authenticity. Here are some of the best things to do on Symi:
You can kick off your beach odyssey of Symi at Agios Emilianos Beach. Named after the nearby chapel, this is a beautiful spot in the western part of the island. However, it takes some effort to get to, as it can only be reached by boat – but this equally makes it perfect for a secluded, desert island feel.
In the east of Symi you’ll find Agios Georgios Disalonas Beach. Backed by an enormous 300-meter cliff, this pebble beach is a stunner. It too can only be reached by boat or a short hike along a path, so make sure you come prepared if you’re walking there.
Agios Nikolaos Beach is one of Symi’s only sandy beaches. This one is also located in the east of the island and is a very popular spot for beachgoers who want to spend the entire day lounging around on the sand. It’s well organized and comes with sunbeds and umbrellas, but there are also pine trees for shade.
Located over in Pedi – in the north of the bay – is Agia Marina Beach. An idyllic location, here you can find a charming local taverna to indulge in freshly caught seafood while you look out over the glistening waters. Pedi’s main (Pedi Beach) is partly organized with umbrellas and sunbeds, and makes for a family-friendly spot to spend the day – it also has a couple of eateries along the shoreline.
Just south of Pedi is Nanou Beach. This pebbly beach also has its own taverna, which not only serves food and drink, but also provides beachgoers with umbrellas and sunbeds. It’s also a good snorkeling spot, so bring your mask along for aquatic adventures.
In western Symi there’s Agios Vasilios beach. Its pebbly shoreline is a peaceful place to spend the day or late afternoon, as it’s a great spot to watch the sunset. There isn’t much in the way of facilities or amenities, so come fully prepared with everything you’ll need.
There are beaches close to the capital too. The family friendly Nimborio Beach is one of them and is a popular spot that’s well equipped with amenities. Its turquoise waters can easily be reached on foot or by car. Even closer to Gialos (right near the clock tower) is Nos Beach which is often very busy.
Elsewhere, Panormitis Beach – near the monastery of the same name – is a long, sandy beach without any facilities. Due to this, it’s quiet, which makes unwinding in its picturesque setting that much more rewarding.
Agias Georgios Dysalona Beach
Things to do on Symi
Monuments and museums of Symi
Monastery of Panormitis
Situated in the town of Panormitis just southwest of Gialos, the Monastery of Panormitis is an important religious spot on the island.
This monastery, dedicated to the Archangel Michael, is thought to have existed since the 14th century. It was rebuilt in 1783 and stands today as the second-largest monastery in the Dodecanese Island group.
Sitting at the very top of Gialos, the remains of the Venetian Castle – thought to have been built in the 14th century – overlooks the harbor. You can see why it was a good place to build a castle.
Previously, this was a Byzantine castle, the ruins of which can still be seen today; the emblem of the Knights of Saint John is still visible over the entrance to the castle.
Monastery of Roukouniotis
Built by the Knights of Saint John in the 15th century, the fortress-like Monastery of Roukouniotis was constructed on the remains of an ancient temple.
This white-washed building has two places of worship inside, complete with centuries-old murals painted on the walls. Make sure to look out for the ancient cypress tree just outside the entrance to the monastery.
Byzantine Wine Presses
The island of Symi has long been a producer of wine, and growing and making wines is a traditional activity that occurs to this day. Wine presses dating back to the Byzantine era have been discovered on the island.
You can see these presses – constructed from large circular stones with divots in the middle for pressing the grapes by foot – in the Kourkouliotis area. Simply follow the path from the Monastery of Megalos Sotiras.
For more ruins, head to Ano Symi – or the oldest part of the town – for this mysterious stone relic. It’s a circular structure, thought to be an ancient tomb or burial mound. Some believe it’s the Tomb of King Nireus. To reach it requires a hike up 500 steps, but the views are worth it.
Museums of Symi
Symi Nautical Museum
Being an island in the Aegean, the sea has understandably had a large impact in the history of Symi. You can learn all about the ancient and not so ancient maritime history of the island at the Symi Nautical Museum.
Opening up its doors in 1983 in a neoclassical building in Symi Town, it exhibits maps, models, and tools that have long been used in ship-building and sailing. The museum also details the sponge fishing heritage of the island.
Another of Symi’s museums that is housed in an old neoclassical mansion, today this building plays host to three separate collections: Archaeological, Byzantine, and folklore.
The first collection details findings from various excavations that have taken place on Symi, with artefacts including pottery and coins. The Byzantine part features manuscripts and icons, while the folklore section boasts traditional costumes and everyday items.
Nature and outdoors
Thanks to its rugged, mountainous landscape, the island of Symi has some amazing landscapes to soak up and explore.
This is best enjoyed by hiking the many trails that criss-cross the island. For the best time of year to hike on Symi, try autumn as this is when the sweltering temperatures of summer would have dropped.
One particularly beautiful hike leads from Horio to Agia Marina. This 4.8-mile hike around the coastline can take around half a day to complete and provides beautiful views of the Aegean Sea along the way.
Not all of Symi’s natural treasures are above the water’s surface: some of them require a voyage under the sea. Those without scuba diving qualifications or experience can simply don a snorkel mask and explore around the rocks and cave of the island.
Symi does however have a long diving history – thanks to its history of diving for natural sponges. Diving allows visitors to see shipwrecks, caverns, and reefs hidden in the depths surrounding the island.
Taking a boat trip is something that must be done on Symi. Whether you’re catching a boat to see one of the island’s secluded beaches, or hopping over to another island for the day, the maritime history of Symi is something that is a must when you’re here.
Events on Symi
Easter is of course a large event on Symi, particularly around Holy Week. This is quite a solemn affair, however, and if you’re visiting at this time of year you can expect to hear church bells and see processions.
One of the island’s largest religious celebrations takes place on November 8th. This is the feast of the Archangel Michael which draws in pilgrims from far and wide who come to visit the Monastery of Archangel Michael in Panormitis. Fittingly, Michael is the patron of fishermen.
There are also a few non-religious festivals to put in your calendar when visiting Symi.
The main one is the Symi Festival. It’s been taking place every year since 1995 and is celebrated from July through September. Expect open-air concerts with Greek musicians, dancing and theatrical events. There are no tickets and anyone can spectate.
Symi also holds its own International Film Festival, which also takes place at the same time of year as the Symi Festival. You can catch films from local filmmakers and from further afield, too