My name is Nikolaos and I’m a Greek citizen who has been lucky enough to visit Symi more than 20 times now. Each trip I take there surprises me in different ways. The first thing that comes into sight when you arrive on the island is the colorful puzzle of mansions, which has been a traditional settlement since 1971. But my favorite places are the church perched on a hill and the upper village facing you. Beyond that, there are many amazing things to see and do in Symi – the best of which I will outline below.
9 Best Things To Do On Symi
1. Check Out the Panormitis Monastery
The Panormitis Monastery, located in the tiny village of Panormitis in Symi, stands as a spiritual oasis. Nestled against a backdrop of azure waters and quaint architecture, it exudes an aura of serenity. Adorned with the world’s largest baroque-style bell tower and an array of intricate frescoes, both the monastery’s exterior and interior captivates all who visit. A revered pilgrimage site dedicated to the Archangel Michael, it offers a glimpse into the spiritual heart of Symi while also being an incredibly picturesque place.
2. Take a Boat Trip to the Beaches of Symi
Despite not being the most famous island for beaches (that title usually goes to islands like Zakynthos or Milos), there are still a few stunning stretches of sand in Symi. However, the best ones are only accessible from the sea – so taking a tour, taxi boat or kayak is essential. From Ano Symi, tour companies offer journeys to breathtaking beaches. Your guide can incorporate several beach stops into one trip, making for a fun day.
3. Visit the North, Especially Saint Emilianos Church
This is another activity suited for boat trips, as the northern part of the island is quite remote. If you only have time to visit one place in the north then Saint Emilianos Church should be it. The monastery sits on a small islet via a narrow strip of land. Boasting gorgeous white walls, a spacious yard and dotted with trees – it’s no wonder that Agios Emilianos is a popular venue for weddings and baptisms. The church also makes for a spectacular photo-op for travelers as it’s surrounded by turquoise waters.
4. Hike from Pedi to Agia Marina or Saint Nicholas
These two beaches make for great hikes from Pedi – Agia Marina takes about 40 minutes while Saint Nicholas takes around 20. If you are visiting Symi in the middle of summer, I suggest leaving early in the morning and arriving back before sunset to beat the midday heat. The paths are stony and at points steep, so prepare for a decent amount of effort.
5. Walk the 500 Stone Steps from Gialos to Ano Symi
Ano Symi starts where Gialos ends and is connected by a maze of narrow streets. The colorful, neoclassical mansions here exude a sense of charm and beauty. 500 stone steps lead you from Gialos to Ano Symi – an intense climb that transports you to a hill that offers sweeping views. If you would like to do some exercise on your vacation to Symi, there is no better walk.
6. Be at the Ancient Acropolis at Sunset
Like other Dodecanese islands, Symi has a history dating back thousands of years. One example of this rich heritage is the acropolis perched on a hill above Ano Symi. During the 15th century, the Knights of Saint John built a castle over the ruins – however, this castle is barely visible today. Nonetheless, being at the acropolis at sunset is a worthwhile activity. The sunset in particular is beautiful, with its warm hues engulfing the harbor.
7. Venture to the Wild Agios Georgios Dysalona
Again, venturing to this beach requires a bit of effort but the rewards are massive: a wild beach with a 300-meter high cliff providing shade and shelter. The term “Dysalona” means “hard to access”, so you will need to organize a boat for your arrival and departure. Bathing in the clear waters in summer is an absolute dream, leaving you with special memories.
8. Try Akoumia – Donuts Made with Rice and Ouzo
No trip to Symi is complete without trying Akoumia. This sweet treat is a type of donut that originates from the island. Among other ingredients, it’s made with boiled rice and ouzo in the dough – and then deep-fried, with sugar or honey as the topping. This locally-loved food is often consumed at engagement parties, birthdays or just as a dessert after dinner.
9. Get Lost in the Alleys and Admire the Architecture
Wandering through the labyrinthine alleyways of Symi and getting lost in the timeless beauty of its architecture, is one of the island’s main highlights. Symi boasts impressive landscapes where pastel-hued buildings gracefully climb hillsides, creating a unique panorama. Every turn reveals a new delight, from cozy cafes to hidden boutiques. Immersing yourself in the island’s rich history and vibrant culture, where every step is a journey of discovery, will only make you want to come back for a second visit.
Tips for Your Visit to Symi
The people of Symi have been noble since long ago. To get to know them, travelers should sit down for a coffee in one of the cafes at Gialos – you never know where it may lead. If you can speak a bit of Greek that will help but many locals speak basic English. In terms of cuisine, the food is similar to the rest of Greece but with an emphasis on seafood. One typical dish here is Simian Shrimp, which is often recommended. If you are looking for places to eat try: Pantelis, Neraida, Bella Napoli and Panormitis Bakery.
When it comes to accommodation, the top hotel choice is Nireus. They have nice views and a delicious breakfast. Getting to Symi is easy as the island is connected by daily ferries from Rhodes and on other days directly with Piraeus. I recommend staying for longer than a day on Symi, ideally three to spend a little more time uncovering the island’s authentic side. Getting lost in the alleys, relaxing at beaches and connecting with the locals will be one of your best travel experiences to date. Have a great trip!