That Sex on the Beach cocktail ordered at a posh Super Paradise club may be the most expensive drink you’ve ever had, but not everything you do on Mykonos has to cause sticker shock – unless you want it to.
The island has a range of fun activities that cost nothing. Whether you’re hitting the sand at the many beaches (it’s the loungers, gear, parking, and, yes, drinks, that cost), taking in the sights, visiting a museum, exploring a church or strolling the unmissable main town of Hora, you can forget about spending even a euro. When you’re away from the beach (it happens!), the following activities are all free.
Get lost in Hora
Hora (also known as Mykonos Town) has an ancient center that’s a tangle of too-cute-for-words white-washed lanes and passages. All are framed by magenta bougainvillea, and a new surprise awaits around every blind corner: the shops offer endless enticements, and little squares are lined with people-watching cafes you’ll find impossible to pass by. The Little Venice quarter dates to the 17th century and exudes an intoxicating charm, even on a busy August day. Blissful and aimless, lose yourself in the labyrinth of streets.
A centuries-old church that looks like a dazzling white mound of sugar, Hora’s Panagia Paraportiani has a stone exterior dating to the 15th century that never ceases to beguile. Although it's often locked, it’s always worth checking to see if the four interlinked chapels on the ground level (plus one above) are open, so you can see the richly decorated interiors festooned with icons.
Mykonos Folklore Museum
See what life was like on Mykonos before tourism upended traditional lifestyles at this folklore museum, housed in an 18th-century sea captain’s house. Seven rooms of historic artifacts are well-labeled and engagingly presented. The kitchen has menus for religious and family feasts.
The history at the Mykonos Folklore Museum jumps ahead a century at this affiliated museum, which preserves a 19th-century home in the heart of Hora. Even if you just pause on a chair on the front porch while you watch the passing parade of harried tourists, you’ll enjoy this cute little house.
Stroll to the Windmills
Close to sunset you’ll have plenty of company at these seven windmills (in varying states of repair) on a small knoll near Hora’s Little Venice. Selfies are the order of the day as visitors try for the perfect angle that includes the symbols of the island. Even if the sun is high in the sky, there are superb views of the yachts and ferries in the port with the blue Aegean beyond.
The windmills date to the 16th century when they were used for milling the once-bountiful local wheat crop, and there are more than a dozen in the hills around Hora as well, so you can go rogue and skip sunset at the famous ones close to town and discover your own vantage point at a less-visited location.
Rotating exhibitions from April to October are the draw at Rarity Gallery, a small gallery that displays works by top artists and photographers. It’s in the heart of Hora and is a quick stroll from anywhere in the town. Nearby, you’ll find a dozen more galleries with works of varying quality, all free for browsing.
The second-largest village on Mykonos is not big, but the beauty of Ano Mera’s inland setting is outside. The central square is lined with cafés that may inspire you to cancel the rest of your plans for the day, read a book and watch the world stroll by. In contrast to Hora, you’ll see more residents than tourists here, going about their business amidst the stout old white-washed buildings. Just west of the center, Tourliani Monastery looks like a castle and dates to the 16th century. The tiny museum is worth a look, even if it’s just to get a whiff of the air scented by centuries of incense burning. Many buses serving the beaches on the southeast coast pass through Ano Mera daily.
You can spend the better part of a day hiking between the famous beaches of the south coast, but for something less ambitious, try the superb beach walk between Platys Gialos Beach and Paradise beach. Right on the water, this easy stroll will take an hour nonstop, but just try to resist pausing for the sweeping Aegean views featuring Paros and Naxos in the distance. Along the way are myriad cafes, tavernas and Paraga beach.
Spot a pelican
Windmills and pelicans are the symbols of Mykonos, and you’ll see images of both repeated in myriad formats (a T-shirt sporting stoic pelicans in front of a windmill is a local kitsch classic; add bonus points if it also depicts sunset). An evolving cast of the ungainly fish-gulping birds has lurked around the port for decades, starring in tourist photos and growing to extraordinary size on the ceaseless handouts. They remain temperamental, though, and it’s never a good idea to get too close. Note that pelicans aren’t native to Mykonos, but like tourists, they just keep turning up on the island – stories about how they get to Mykonos are many, and sometimes even true.
Reachable via an energetic hike from Hora, this somewhat isolated 19th-century lighthouse is also easily reached with your own wheels. The views north to Tinos are superb. Have a picnic here and stop off for a swim at nearby Agios Stefanos Beach.
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