When people mention the Greek islands, Santorini sunsets and Mykonos beach clubs instantly come to mind – an exalted (but actually quite hectic) portrait of summer fun.

Those in the know seek out a slice of Greek bliss without the crowds, and one of your best bets lies in lovely little Syros. The administrative capital of the Cyclades group, it is also one of its smallest and most laidback islands.

As the ferry pulls into the port, Syros reveals its resplendent pastel-hued neoclassical homes cascading down the Ermoupoli hill illuminated in the Aegean sun. With a rich history and culture influenced by past rulers and boasting two busy towns (one founded by Catholics, another Orthodox) the sophisticated landscape of Syros offers many surprises.

Beach of Galissas in Syros island, Greece against a clear blue sky. Galissas is one of the few sand beaches in Syros island
Galissas is one of several sandy beaches on Syros island in Greece © Pnik / Getty Images

Best beaches in Syros

Of course, any trip to a Greek island calls up the question of beaches. Despite its relatively small size, Syros boasts several sandy, pretty beaches, which is actually not always a given in Greece. 

Galissas is perhaps the best beach, its crystal blue waters nestled in a sheltered cove on the western coast of Syros, and it’s popular with families. Tuck into something delicious at Iliovasilema as the sun sets (that’s what its name means) across the sea.

Kini is another top option – spreading broadly, with an array of beachfront properties and arguably one of the island’s top seafood restaurants, Allou Yialou. Finikas Beach is the second-largest stretch of sand on the island, also a serious contender, though it gets crowded in summer.

Delfini Beach is pebbled rather than sandy and is a quieter alternative than some of the more popular spots. Next, where to go when you’ve had enough of sand and sun?

Syros in the low season

While the relaxing beaches and quaint villages are at their busiest during the summer, Syros thrives year-round. The capital, Ermoupoli (or Hermoupolis), remains true to its roots as a commercial and political center. 

Originally, it came into existence during the Greek War of Independence in the 1820s with the arrival of a wave of refugees from other Greek islands such as Chios, Psara and Crete.

The new residents transformed the town into a major trading center connecting the east to the west, and contributed their skills to the cultural boom that followed. Schools, printing presses and museums rapidly emerged. Thanks to the rise of the bourgeoisie and flourishing arts, the “City of Hermes” (fittingly named after the Greek god of trade) grew like a glowing amphitheater with neoclassical buildings, crayon-colored mansions and striking churches. Aspects of these various cultures remain in, for example, the cuisine.

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Explore Ermoupoli

Wander the lanes of the capital to shop in original handicraft stores and peruse the businesses keeping the wheel of commerce turning in the Cyclades. The monumental Town Hall on the sweeping, cafe-dotted Plateia Miaouli and the blue-domed Agios Nikolaos Church stand out as some of its most iconic sights today. And don’t miss a stroll of the wealthy sea captains’ houses perched on rocks in the Vaporia district.

A Greek Orthodox Chapel at sunset on Ano Syros, Syros, Cyclades, Greece
A small church in the hills overlooking Ermoupolis on Syros © imageBROKER RF / Getty Images

Top of the world in Ano Syros

Ermopouli was founded as an extension to the already existing medieval Ano Syros settlement. The district stretches magnificently along the top of the Ermoupoli hill and is crowned by the grand Agios Georgios Cathedral. Built by the Venetians in the 13th century as a fortified citadel with narrow streets, marble steps and a circular order, Ano Syros is a maze of alleys to get delightfully lost in. All around, the friendliest felines will pose for you (there’s even a dedicated NGO catering to the roaming cats of Syros). For the best sunset shots head to the summit, where panoramic views of Syros and the neighboring islands seduce further.

Soak up Cycladic culture

A Cycladic pioneer for its artistic contributions, the island has much more to offer than the typical beach vacation formula. 

Apollon Theater for the best venue in the Cyclades

Built in the 19th century as a smaller version of the famed La Scala in Milan, the Apollon Theater is one of Syros’ most important landmarks and a symbol of its cultural prosperity, where impressive performances still take place. Every year, the theater hosts a series of events including Animasyros, a festival of animation, as well as the Festival of the Aegean with a superb classical music line-up.

Markos Vamvakaris Museum for music lovers

Traditional Greek music aficionados should visit the Markos Vamvakaris Museum, celebrating the famous rembetika (Greek blues) musician born here. Simply known as Markos (step aside Madonna, Prince and Beyonce!) he had a colorful life and is seen as the father of Greek rembetika. His haunting bouzouki playing and singing are hallmarks of traditional Greek music.

Assorted greek food platter with souvlaki, rice, pita and dolmades
Chicken

Food, glorious food

Part of Syros’ claim to fame is its blending of cuisines from all over the Aegean, so when it comes to food, Syros doesn’t disappoint. Gastronomic temptations stretch from morning till midnight, and with a plethora of high concept restaurants and traditional Greek tavernas, prepare to have some of the best meals in the Cyclades. One fine spot is Kouzina, a fail-safe restaurant in the capital featuring the best Syros has to offer.

The island entices with a bit of everything: fish comes fresh and plentiful, while delicious gyros and souvlakis are ever-present. Its specialty foods include Syros’ loukoumi (prepared from water, starch and sugar only), which are similar to the Turkish delight that was brought over in the 19th century by immigrants from Chios. It is famous thanks to the local water which has a tinge of saltiness and it’s still laboriously mixed by hand and boiled in copper cauldrons.

Wild herbs that grow across the island – such as fennel, thyme and sage – feature as well, so fennel pie is another delicacy to seek out. Don’t leave Syros without a sip of tsipouro, the strong raki-like spirit made from pomace (remnants from the wine press).

Costs, safety and timing for your Syros trip

As a result of the commercial activities on the island, there are plenty of hotels and restaurants, but the prices are lower than on the more touristically oriented islands. 

It’s also a safe place to travel, like most Greek islands, with little crime to speak of beyond the odd petty grifter. The sea stays warm until October, so take advantage of the quieter seasons in spring and fall if you’d like to further avoid crowds.

Ermoupoli town on Syros island in Greece with sailing boats docked in the bay
The busy port of Ermoupoli is the main gateway to Syros Island © Milan Gonda / Shutterstock

How to reach Syros by sea

To get to Syros, catch one of the daily ferries from Piraeus, the main port of Athens. It’s a 2.5-hour boat ride by high-speed ferry, or a four-hour journey by traditional ferry – you can also take a car on the ferry. Ferries also serve the mainland ports of Lavrio and Rafina (which is close to Athens airport) and take about 1.5 hours.

Being the administrative center of the Cyclades, Syros is well connected by boat with scores of other islands in the Aegean Sea – for example, Mykonos, Tinos and Paros are only an hour away. In general, frequencies and routes expand drastically in high season and can diminish to a couple of times a week in winter. Always check ahead (on a site like Openseas) and in high season reserve a ticket.

There is also a small airport on Syros with flights serving Athens, and occasionally Thessaloniki, which can be handy if you are short on time and seeking to connect directly from those cities’ airports.

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This article was first published Feb 6, 2018 and updated Jan 28, 2022.

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