Syros – the centrepiece of the Cyclades

A travel guide by Gina Lionatos

When I first visited the Cycladic island of Syros, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had decided to visit the capital of the Cyclades based on the fact that I had read and heard very little about it. I was keen to spend a few days on a Greek isle that was untarnished by tourism, somewhere with an authentic Greek feel. As soon as I jumped on the 40-minute flight from Athens, the sound of non-stop Greek chatter on the plane made me smile…

In the 19th century, Syros was one of the most important ports in the Mediterranean, and today, the island is embellished with beautiful neoclassical buildings. The town of Ermoupolis boasts impressively designed structures in muted pastel colours, skirted by the sparkling blue sea. Just East of the main town of Ermoupolis sits Vaporia – the richest district of the island, with imposing, fresco-filled mansions that overlook the Aegean Sea and have a direct view of Mykonos island. 

SWIM, EAT, REPEAT 

The morning swim is a ritual for most island-dwellers, and with over 20,000 local inhabitants (more than any other Cycladic island), you’ll find the beaches filled with locals after they enjoy their morning coffee. Hop in the car and join them for a morning swim at Santorinioi or Agathopes.

*Image courtesy of Gina Lionatos
*Image courtesy of Gina Lionatos

Galissas is the closest thing Syros has to a tourist resort. You’ll love the transparent waters, sun beds and cafes. For a more secluded swim, visit Lotos beach or head to Delfini beach for the most irresistible waters. Surprisingly, the Vaporia district makes the most of the beautiful Syros blue, with rocky platforms that sit atop the sea. Sun yourself and dive right in!

*Swimming at the Vaporia district. Image courtesy of Gina Lionatos.
*Swimming at the Vaporia district. Image courtesy of Gina Lionatos

For your post-swim lunch and the best view of the sunset, check out Allou Gialou on Kini Beach. Enjoy fresh seafood and extraordinary Greek taverna fare, while the sun meets the sparkling sea. The white Taramosalata mousse and traditional salads are must-try dishes!

*The sun goes down at Kini beach. Image courtesy of Gina Lionatos
*The sun goes down at Kini beach. Image courtesy of Gina Lionatos

A TALE OF TWO CITIES: Ermoupolis and Ano Syros

I fell in love with the neo-classical architecture of Ermoupolis town within a minute of strolling through the streets. Be sure to visit the Town Hall for a proino kafe (morning coffee) and take a side-step to the beautiful Apollon Theatre. Book-store lovers, poke your head into nearby Stathopoulos and get lost in a world of paperback for an hour or two.

The town market, located on Chios St, boasts fish caught on the island, fresh produce and local specialties like Halvadopita (halva pie) and hand-picked herbs.

When asked about their favourite eatery in town, the locals all answered with a resounding “Peri Tinos!” – you’ll love their modern take on Greek cuisine. Oneiro restaurant in Vaporia is also adored for its clever dishes and top service.

What’s a holiday without a cocktail in your hand? For serious drinks, made fun, head to Jar – a quaint little cafe bar in town. This cool, young crew of mixologists will keep you refreshed all night long as you sip out of mason jars and tiki cups.

*Town Hall in Ermoupolis. Image courtesy of Gina Lionatos
*Town Hall in Ermoupolis. Image courtesy of Gina Lionatos

Overlooking Ermoupolis is Ano Syros, built on the hill of Agios Georgios church (the centrepiece of the town), this medieval city has the look of a traditional Cycladic island in contrast to the town that it looks down upon. In the 13th century, the town was built up and walled as a protective fortress from pirates. Getting lost in the labyrinth-like lanes of Ano Syros is half the charm of this medieval town.

When visiting Ano Syros, stop at nearby Plakostroto – a rustic, hilltop taverna featuring local produce, including home-grown vegetables and their famous Goat en Papillote. All this with a sublime view!

*Ano Syros. Images courtesy of Gina Lionatos
*Ano Syros. Images courtesy of Gina Lionatos

SLEEP IN STYLE

Apollonos Street in Ermoupolis is probably the most well known street on the island, famed for the well-preserved (and some not-so-well preserved) neo-classical mansions that line the street. Xenon Apollonos guesthouse is a 19th century building, perched on the rocks right above the sea. The guesthouse has been restored exquisitely by owner/architect George Stathopoulos and makes for an unforgettable stay on Syros.

*Room with a view at Xenon Apollonos. Image courtesy of Gina Lionatos
*Room with a view at Xenon Apollonos. Image courtesy of Gina Lionatos

GETTING THERE

Catch the high-speed ferry (approx. 3 hours from Piraeus port) or take advantage of Syros airport for a short flight from Athens. Syros’ location in the centre of the Cyclades makes it an ideal base for travelling to other Cyclades islands. You’ll need your own transport to take make the most of this beautiful island so make sure you hire a car to get around.

SYROS FOR ALL SEASONS

Syros is also an island perfect for Autumn/Winter holidays, as well as Spring and Summer. This is a local’s island, so it’s vivid and full of people throughout the year, with a flourishing cultural calendar that keeps the island buzzing well past the Summer months.