First time Mykonos: top tips for your first visit to Greece's party island

Aerial of a jetty at Mykonos town.
Mykonos is known as a party island, but there's plenty more to see and do © proslgn / Shutterstock

Mykonos is the party animal of the Cycladic islands, Greece’s answer to Ibiza, with bronzed bodies thronging its beaches by day and bass lines pounding through its superclubs until dawn. But there’s more to Mykonos than the dazzling sand and insatiable revelers.

Spend a little time on Mykonos to discover the quiet charm of the Cycladic maze of Hora, the pleasure of traveling the backcountry roads and a dining scene to rival the other Greek islands.

Buildings on the shoreline behind a stony beach on Little Venice Bay in Hora, Mykonos, Greece
The picturesque Little Venice Bay in Hora, Mykonos © imagIN.gr photography / Shutterstock

Best beaches on Mykonos

Whether you’re looking for a tiny, secluded cove lapped by cerulean waters or a wide stretch of sugar-white sand covered with sun worshippers, Mykonos has a beach to suit your needs. The island boasts 25 beaches, and they’re justifiably Mykonos' biggest natural attraction. Partygoers should look no further than Paradise or Super Paradise, dominated by eponymous beach clubs. Paraga and Psarou are other favorites for beach parties. Popular with families, Elia is Mykonos’ longest sweep of white sand, while Platys Gialos and Kalafatis are particularly good for water sports.

On the north coast, Panormos and Agios Sostis receive a fraction of visitors of the southern beaches and have naturist-friendly sections. Pebbled Myrsine and Fokos' coves, reachable via rutted tracks off the northeast coast, offer seclusion and refuge from the crowds. In the southwest, Ornos bustles with dozens of seafront restaurants, while secluded Agios Ioannis is a good spot for windsurfing.

Small street lined with purple bougainvillea, shop fronts and small cafes. There are seats outside some of the cafes with people sitting and talking in Hora, Mykonos, Greece
Bougainvillea-draped Matogliani Street in Hora, famous for designer shopping © Anastasios71 / Shutterstock

Best things to do beyond Mykonos' beaches

On the west side of the island, the tiny capital Hora (aka Mykonos Town) is Mykonos’ second-biggest attraction, after the beaches. You can lose yourself for hours in the enchanting warren of narrow pedestrian streets bedecked with bougainvillea and lined with picture-perfect, tiny churches, restaurants and boutiques. The Archaeological Museum of Mykonos is well worth your while, as is the informative Aegean Maritime Museum.

The shopping in Mykonos is excellent. For art, check out Mavrogenous Street. Greek designers line Matogliani, while Little Venice is great for casual fashion, jewelry and tacky souvenirs. Hora’s other delights include an appealing open-air cinema, Cine Manto, and a smattering of quirky art galleries, such as Rarity Gallery and Art and Soul. The island’s hilly interior is dotted with small traditional villages, quite a contrast to the merry bustle of the coast. Swing by the only other settlement of any size in Mykonos, Ano Mera, and have a look at its pretty, whitewashed Tourliani Monastery, just off the taverna-lined main square.

Four white, round windmills at sunset on Mykonos, Greece
Traditional windmills, the symbol of Mykonos, at sunset © Lemonakis Antonis / Shutterstock

Best nightlife in Mykonos

During the peak months of July and August, Mykonos doesn’t sleep. Hora has several clubs, including several gay and gay-friendly venues, but it’s the beach superclubs such as Cavo Paradiso, Super Paradise and Paradise Club that attract local and international DJs every night. Beach parties kick off in the afternoon, and the action keeps going until dawn. Regular shuttle buses ferry revelers between Hora, Paradise Beach and Super Paradise Beach. Those looking for a more sedate nocturnal pastime can check out the bars in Hora – anything from champagne cocktails at the Queen of Mykonos and Galleraki or cheap shots at the Skandinavian Bar.

What to do on Mykonos

  • Diving: Mykonos has plenty of walls, caves and wrecks to entice beginners and advanced divers alike. Diving operators are based on Paradise Beach, Lia Beach and Kalafatis Beach. The most reputable outfits include Mykonos Diving Center and GoDive Mykonos.
  • Historical sites: Mykonos is the gateway to the sacred island of Delos, the mythical birthplace of Apollo and Aphrodite, a Unesco World Heritage site and one of the most important and well-preserved archaeological sites in Greece. Daily boat trips depart from the pier in Hora.
  • Mountain biking: Mykonos island has a hilly interior, quiet backcountry roads, tranquil villages and several practically deserted beaches along the north coast. Yummy Pedals tailors guided mountain-biking tours of the island to suit your skill level.
  • Sunset watching: Prime spots for watching the greatest free show on earth include the bars of Little Venice in Hora, Kato Mili (a classic quartet of windmills on a hillock overlooking Little Venice) and Agios Ioannis beach.
  • Swimming: Mykonos doesn’t lack places to take a plunge, from infinity pools at top hotels and private plunge pools to 25 beautiful sandy beaches that fringe the island.
  • Water sports: Head to the Windsurf Centre Mykonos on Kalafatis Beach for lessons, or try your hand at adrenaline-packed activities such as flyboarding, wakeboarding and wakeskating with Platys Gialos Watersports on the eponymous beach.
View of the pool at Grace Hotel in Mykonos, Greece
Mykonos has accommodations to suit all budgets © Adrienne Pitts / Lonely Planet

Where to stay on Mykonos

If money is no object, first-timers to Mykonos should opt for a beachfront boutique hotel with all the trappings of an upmarket Greek island property: elegant Cycladic curves, infinity pool, whitewashed interior, beamed ceilings, terraces that catch the breeze from the Aegean. Most are clustered around the beaches on the south coast, such as Platys Gialos. Standout options include Nissaki, Palladium and Branco Mykonos. Travelers on a budget and looking to party can score sea views by staying at the Paraga Beach Hostel. Otherwise, numerous accommodations suit all budgets in and around Hora, from wallet-friendly MyCocoon Hostel and Hotel Matina with a beautiful garden to the glamorous Bill & Coo Coast Suites and contemporary Semeli Hotel.

A plate of seafood at a restaurant on Mykonos, Greece
Seafood meal with a view at a waterfront restaurant on Mykonos © Piccia Neri / Shutterstock

Where to eat on Mykonos

Mykonos has a terrific dining scene. The densest concentration of dining options is in Hora, where visitors can find anything from upmarket fusion dining represented by M-Eating and Funky Kitchen to traditional Greek tavernas such as Joanna’s Nikos Place. You can find plenty of options along Platys Gialos Beach and Ornos Beach. Pretty much every single beach on Mykonos island has at least one decent restaurant, the most renowned of which is Kiki’s Taverna above Agios Sostis beach.

When to go to Mykonos

Peak travel time to Mykonos is June to September, so hotel prices are at their highest, and the beaches, restaurants and nightclubs are packed. Shoulder season (April to early June, late September and October) is arguably a more pleasant time to visit. You get the beaches minus the crowds, and accommodation prices are lower. In winter, it may be too cold for sunbathing and swimming, but bonuses include empty beaches and plenty of bargain accommodations. Many Mykonos residents rent out their houses in summer and return during low season, so lots of restaurants stay open year-round.

Visitors walking around Mykonos Harbor on a sunny day
Catch a ferry to Mykonos in the shoulder season to avoid the crowds © Adrienne Pitts / Lonely Planet

How to get to Mykonos

Throughout the year, frequent ferries connect Mykonos with Athens’ ports of Rafina and Piraeus, as well as the neighboring islands of Tinos and Andros. In high season, high-speed catamarans link Mykonos with numerous other Cycladic islands, including Santorini and Paros. Check OpenSeas for timetables. Mykonos Airport has year-round flights to Athens and Thessaloniki, as well as to European destinations during high and shoulder seasons. It’s easy to rent a car, moped or ATV from one of Mykonos’ many rental companies, and bus services around the island are reasonably frequent.

This article was originally published in October 2017.

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