The BFH Healthy Travel Guide to Symi, Greece

Symi map 1.jpg
 Red dot marks the spot of Symi's island, in the Docadense (right next to Turkey).

Red dot marks the spot of Symi's island, in the Docadense (right next to Turkey).

Symi is Greece’s little secret. Tucked away in the Southern Dodecanese islands, North of Rhodes, and close to the coast of south-west Turkey- this little (68 square km) island is truly untouched and has a much different vibe than the hustle and bustle of more well-known islands of Greece. Symi is a hike-lovers dream; its rocky landscapes and rolling hills give you enough hiking options to last you your entire vacation (and then some). It has seemingly never-ending list of hidden coves, beaches, and swimming holes that are all off the beaten path. Because there is a certain degree of exploring involved to make your way to the beach, Symi is generally free of your typical vacationers (noise, laziness… and kids). Don’t get me wrong, you totally can vacation to Symi with the whole family- as there are also roads leading to these beaches- but cars are far and few in between, making this the perfect spot for those who like to work up a sweat before taking a swim. In the past, that might have been a turn-off for me, but Symi has completely changed the way I see “beach-front” vacations.  The hiking lover that I am, taking either a 30/ 40 minute walk (through the majestic cliff sides, covered in wild herbs and the occasional run in with a baby goat), or making a day of it and taking a 3 hour hike to the other tip of the island… has been a dream (I didn’t even know I had) come true.

I discovered Symi because my uncles, who live in Paris, bought a house here about 4 years ago. They themselves fell upon Symi by chance and absolutely fell in love with the landscape and the truly relaxed vibe. Their house (Villa Ricolas) is next to the windmills in a town called Chorio (which translates to “village”), is overlooking the harbour, and has views of one of the most magical sunsets I’ve ever seen. Having this absolute haven to retreat to is without a doubt one of the things that makes Symi to magical- which is cool for you too because they rent it out when they’re not there. 

You check out Villa Ricolas on their house manager's website HERE, or on Airbnb HERE.

If you’re looking to party hard and spend your days hungover in a pool, probably best head for Mykonos… but if hiking, exploring, epic sea food, swimming, and soaking in ancient Greek culture is your thing- better start planning your trip to Symi!

 Views of the Symi harbour.

Views of the Symi harbour.

The easiest way to travel to Symi is by flying into Rhodes (Greece), and then taking the ferry from Rhodes into Symi (about an hour if you catch the fast ferry)- it runs from Rhodes to Symi everyday. You can also fly into Athens, and take the ferry directly from the Athens main harbour (Piraeus) to Symi (ferry runs every Tuesday, Thursday, & Sunday).

Rhode’s as a whole is not very thrilling, but the harbour itself is located within the confines of the old town... which is absolutely incredible. Spending half a day on either end of your trip exploring the ruins/ museum, etc is totally worth doing. If necessary (depending on your flight/ ferry times) book yourself a night at Saint Michel which is right next to the harbour in Rhodes, where you’ll be greeted by the charming Christos- and might even snatch yourself a ride to the ferry in the morning ( +30 2241 025111). 

 

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greek 101

Hello/ Goodbye: Γειά σου  to one person: (YAH-soo) to multiple people: (YAH-sas)

Good morning: Καλημέρα (kah-lee-MER-ah)

Thank you: Ευχαριστώ (eff-kha-ri-STOE)

Please / You’re welcome: Παρακαλώ (para-kah-LOE)

Yes: Ναί (neh) 

 

 

No: όχι (OH-hee)

Excuse me / Sorry: Συγνώμη (See-GHNO-mee)

Oops!: Ωπα (OH-pa)

Water: νερό (nay-Ro)

 

The BFH Healthy Travel Guide to Symi, Greece

 

Cafés + Restaurants

Dafne Tavern in Toli: is an absolute must while your in Symi. Accessible by car via the main road or (and my genuine recommendation) by hike. Plan to spend at least half a day hanging at the beach and having a long drawn out meal at the tavern. The view is unbeatable. Epic seafood and meat from the grill, and typical Greek dishes like Imam Baildi (aka stuffed eggplant), moussaka, Greek salad, etc. I highly recommend getting the “mix bbq” as well as the grilled octopus. The food comes in masses, to leave yourself enough time to take a nap on the beach before heading back into town. (+30 697 730 6162)

 Dafne Tavern, overlooking Toli beach.

Dafne Tavern, overlooking Toli beach.

Tholos: is a Greek restaurant located right on the water, on the very corner of the bay as you head from the Symi harbour towards Nimborios by car (just before "paradise beach"). Reservations are an absolute must because it is one of the more popular restaurants on the island (with a view like that... it's not surprising). The food is delicious, especially the sea food. The "Symi shrimps" as an appetizer are local specialty, and an absolute must (they're the best on the island)...but everything on the menu is stellar. The mussels and the whole Dorado grilled are both incredible, the pita is still warm, and the olives that come with the table are to die for. They will likely include a big plate of fresh fruit (usually melon) for dessert, and consider adding another the Greek specialty "yogurty" (a small bowl of Greek yogurt with a compote de fruits on top) for dessert. (+30 2246 072033)

 Georgio & Maria Tavern

Georgio & Maria Tavern

Georgio & Maria Tavern: is a famous Greek tavern that draws crowds from neighbouring islands. Classic greek tavern, located in Chorio, we shared about 7 or 8 dishes (sharing tapas style is perfect here) and everything was delicious. ( +30 2246 071984)

 Zoe Tavern

Zoe Tavern

Taverna Zoe: Is just a walk up the steps (a 2 min walk) from Georgio & Maria Tavern (in Chorio), and is another classically greek restaurant with great food. You’ll dine up on the patio, with pleasant Greek music playing in the background. The Symi shrimp are an absolute must, and you can ask the lovely owner for recommendations (she speaks good English). They have lots of seafood, meat (both on the BBQ and baked in the oven), as well as many yummy entrees. (+30 2246 072520)

Mythos: One of the most popular restaurants in Symi, located right in the harbour. Your best bet here it to get the Chef's choice. They will continue to bring you epic dish after epic dish... until you can no longer physically move (or tell them to stop). Obviously you cannot modify with a chef's choice, so either throw your dietary restrictions out the window, or alternatively you can order à la carte. (+30 2246 071488)

Pantelis: Yet another stellar (and I mean, stellar) Greek restaurant. Located near the taxi stands in the second loop bay next to the main harbour. Their mussels are some of the best on the island (opt for the "saganaki mussels" for some serious epic-ness, they're baked in tomato sauce and feta), but all the sea food is extremely fresh and tasty. The calamari in pesto is the best calamari dish I've ever had, and the cold eggplant dip (called melitzanosalata) is incredible. (+30 697 726 1710)

Olive Tree Café: is a cute little café with a beautiful shaded terrance, across the street from Georgio & Maria tavern (in Chorio). Run by two lovely English women, this breakfast/ brunch style café has fresh juices, smoothies, milkshakes, salads, toasties, homemade breads, cakes, classic breakfast, and typical greek fair (yogurt, hommous, pita). They’ll also pack you a picnic in a bag (with a deposit to return the cooler bag). (+30 2246 072681)

 

The best meal I had in Symi was unfortunately not for sale. On our last night here, we were invited to feast at my uncles’ friend’s parents house in Pedi Bay… and it was truly one of the best meals of my life. Food consumption in Europe (and particularly in Greece), is not something that happens in a rush, on-the-go, or in front of a TV. It’s a communion between friends and family, and an opportunity to nourish the body and the soul. We feasted until midnight on olives and Greek salad, on zucchini and tomatoes stuffed with Greek rice and meat, on freshly caught squid and fish covered in lemon juice from lemons picked in the middle of the meal right off the tree, on the most incredible squid in ink sauce, and Symi shrimps, pita and garlic bread, and panacotta. All homemade, with love. We laughed, danced, sang… and despite eating more than I have in one sitting.. perhaps in my entire life… I woke up feeling rejuvenated, and full of love. Take the opportunity while in Symi to slow down, and channel the ancient tradition being present with your meals. The alchemy of that experience is transformative not only for how your body absorbs and stores food- but it also nourishes your spirit.


Grocery Shopping

Symi is a very small island and has most of its food (and even water) imported from Rhodes, so your food shopping options are relatively limited (the restaurants however are abundant and epic). That being said, if you do decide to stay at Villa Ricolas, you better plan to have at least a few meals at home because the outdoor kitchen overlooks the harbour and rolling hills… and the view during sunset is particularly breathtaking.

 

Taxas (pronounced Taras)Is your best option is the grocer in the Symi harbour (by St. John's Cathedral) are that has the biggest selection of produce and products.

 Taxas market in the back roads of the Symi harbour

Taxas market in the back roads of the Symi harbour

 Elkousa sign, located a stone's throw from Taxas.

Elkousa sign, located a stone's throw from Taxas.

Elkousa: Just around the corner from Taxas is this little specialty shop, that has local specialties and more organic (bio) products, like nice olive oils, and Symi salt. 
There is also two or three (small) grocery stores in Chorio, which you can find by strolling the streets or asking a passerby (one of them is just down the road from Olive Café, on the right, and a larger one is just past the first grocer- you take your first right and walk about 200m). 

 Dried herbs & spices shop near the main square of the Symi harbour. 

Dried herbs & spices shop near the main square of the Symi harbour. 

There are two relatively holistic pharmacies (with natural shampoos/ conditioners, body creams, and things like arnica gel) in the Symi harbour.

There is a new bakery on the island, that also offers fresh pressed juices- right in the square in the main harbour.

Check out the Herbs & Spices shop right in the main square of the harbour for incredibly fragrant Symi dried herbs and spices.

 

 


Beaches

 Views of San Nicholas beach while hiking from Pedi Bay.

Views of San Nicholas beach while hiking from Pedi Bay.

Agios Nikolaos (St. Nicholas or St. Nick’s): is a more family friendly beach, and definitely has more hustle-and-bustle than other beaches on the island. It has an excellent tavern (classic Greek food), and you can rent loungers for 3.50€/ day. You can get there by ferry (either from Symi harbour or Pedi Bay), or catch a taxi/ bus, or walk to Pedi Bay and then walk along the gorgeous path (about 20 minutes) around the point (see “hikes” below for more info). Last ferry leaves the beach at 6:30pm.

Agia Marina: Like St. Nicholas, St. Marina is a beach located near Pedi Bay, and can be reached by foot or by water-taxi. It is on the northern side of Pedi, and boasts crystal clear blue waters- making it the perfect spot to go snorkelling. It has a tavern and a beautiful chapel.

 Nanou Bay.

Nanou Bay.

Nanou Bay: Is a big beautiful beach, that is less accessible than some other beaches- making it ideal if you want some quiet. You can reach it by taxi-boat or walk, and like many other beaches it has a taverna (for food, drinks), and loungers for hire as well. Last boat leaves for the harbour at 6:30pm. 

 Pedi Bay.

Pedi Bay.

Pedi Bay: is more of a hub to reach other beaches, although you could also swim here (there are loungers for rent), and shops including tavernas, cafés, and tourist information. I would skip the swim here (maybe grab lunch at the taverna overlooking the sea), but a quick and beautiful 20 minute walk will take you to Agios Nikolas, or you can head north to Agia Marina. 

Marathounda Beach: is accessible by car or water-taxi/ ferry boat, and is a larger beach with a newly built taverna to eat/ drink.

Nos Beach: (also known as 'town beach' or 'paradise beach') is a tiny beach front right next to the Symi harbour, accessible by turning left at the clock tour and following the road through the boatyard at Harani. This beach is definitely the busier/ touristic spot, and because it’s so small you will likely not find much peace and quiet.

 Small beach off the cliffs between the Symi harbour, and Nimborios.

Small beach off the cliffs between the Symi harbour, and Nimborios.

Nimborios: is a bay with a small pebbled beach located basically right on the road. I would skip swimming at the "beach" (although you can walk past it and find nice rocks to swim off of) I'd skip the local taverna too, which is not the best feed in Symi. However, the area is a must-see in terms of a hike (see below under “hikes” for more info), and consider going for a swim on the way back- where you can take steps down off the side of the road down to a beautiful secluded access to the sea- not too far from the Symi harbour. 

Toli Bay: is one of my favourite beaches on the island. You can access it by car or motorbike (still no ferry access), but my advice is to hike there! It’s a truly breathtaking hike along the Symi landscape, and you will definitely earn your swim, sun, and epic feed at the Dafne Tavern. The tavern has genuinely incredible food, and one of the best views in Symi (in my opinon). Since Toli is one of the most western points of the island, it’s the only place you can actually watch the sun set over the sea. The Toli tavern for sunset= heaven on earth. Sun beds at Toli are all over the beach, and free (for now…)! 

 Toli sunset (the only place on the island to see the sun set over the water).

Toli sunset (the only place on the island to see the sun set over the water).


Hikes/ Walks

This is truly the section that shines for Symi. This island is made for hiking and exploring. This list is not exhaustive by any means (my uncles have been coming here for 4 years and still haven’t done them all), but highlights some of my favourite ones. Note that there were massive devastating floods in Symi in 2017, and so some of these hikes bare the destruction of the floods. Unfortunately there is a wash of plastic/ litter in some areas, although for the most part they are clean and wonderful. You might consider picking up a few pieces of trash along the way and do some good for the island.

 

Kali Strata: is the Greek word for stairs, and this walk is the Symi equivalent Paris’ Champs Elysees or LA’s Rodeo Drive. This long winding road starts in the harbour hub of Yialos (at back of the town square in the south-western corner of the harbour), and works its way up around 450 steps through the hillside towards the village of Chorio. Houses range from beautiful well-kept brightly coloured 19th-century mansions, to complete classic Grecian ruins. The walk is beautiful, and the for-sale signs on certain buildings will have you rethinking your life decisions (/ wanting to sell all your belongings and move to Greece..). 

 Kali Stratas

Kali Stratas

Stairs to the Greek flag overlooking the harbour: Just before the Tsati bar in Harani bay (the second bay to the right of the Symi harbour), there are a set of steep cobble stone stairs leading up the hill, through houses- that work their way around, past the big Greek flag that overlooks the harbour, and back down into Yialos (the harbour hub). It's quite difficult to describe it much better than that, but you can't really get lost- just have a ball park idea of where you're headed, and enjoy the incredible view of Chorio and the harbour when you eventually find your way to the flag. 

 Views from the stair climb to the Greek flag, in the Symi harbour.

Views from the stair climb to the Greek flag, in the Symi harbour.

Nimbrorios: this is the first hike I did in Symi and it’s a great way to dip your toes into the islands walks. The hike begins near the harbour, with a very steep paved hill (you turn right 150 meters past the Iapetos restaurant) that leads to the Elikoni cemetery. From there, continue along the paved and cobblestoned path (approximately North) until you hit views of the ocean, at which point you start heading down the cliff side until you hit the winding road that takes you down into the town of Nimborios. Although there is a beach there, I’d skip the swim and opt to catch rays and swim in a more secret swimming hole along the walk back to town. Until this point, most of the walk isn’t accessible by car, but when you hit Nimborios (and the main road) you start heading back to town VIA the road (you turn right). This road will take you all the way back into town, but a couple of km’s before town you’ll find this view, and notice a set of steps taking you from the road all the way down to a tiny beautiful little rock beach. Sunbathe and swim before heading back into town.

 

Toli: This more lengthly hike takes you from town all the way to one of the Northwest tips of the island, a little beach front called Toli. Told is actually the only place from the island that sees the sun set over the ocean. The hike begins at the same spot that Nimborio’s hike does, but along the same path (just before you cross over to the view of Nimborios/ the sea) you’ll see a tree with TOLI and an arrow painted on it. You follow the arrow (left, up the cliffside) through a closed wooden gate, up just past the couple of small random huts), at which point you head West (walk right). Before too long, (after passing those huts) you’ll start to see red and blue spray paint on rocks making the path towards Toli (see image below). You’ll spend most of your time walking in that direction, winding through the hills (passing Nimborios from above), and passing some wired gate towards the end- head right at this point until you hit the main road near Toli. Once you hit the main road, you turn right (up hill a bit) and you'll see the Toli Tavern sign. Turning left at the sign you’ll continue on all the way to Toli (passing another big Toli Taven rock, and another couple of signs along the way back down to the beach. 

Toli literally consists of a beach (with plenty of beach chairs) and the Toli Dafne Tavern. At the Taven you can buy water + drinks, and have lunch or dinner. Sitting at the Toli Tavern patio (the only thing in Toli other than the beach) is an experience you cannot miss while in Symi, not only is the view breathtaking (you can see Turkey just across the water), but the food is epic. The hike to Toli is a decent one, so plan accordingly (bring water) and plan to spend the whole day in Toli swimming and having a meal at the Tavern before trekking home. The hike is about 2 hours long.

 Catching rays at the far end of St. Nik's beach.

Catching rays at the far end of St. Nik's beach.

Agios Nikolaos: (also known as San Nicholas or St. Nicks) this is less of a hike, and more of a stroll. It’ll take you about 25 minutes from the town of Pedi Bay, but of course you can extend the walk by walking from Symi harbour itself along the road (there's actually a back way through olive vineyards.. but it's difficult to describe the access point). You can also just take a bus to Pedi Bay (it leaves from the harbour every hour on the hour), and then head towards the point, where you’ll see a gate and a fading sign written “San Nikola”. From there you literally follow the path, which will wind you across the cliffside (covered in wild oregano and thyme), and eventually take you down a set of steps down to the beach. There is a classic Greek tavern on the beach (delicious seafood), and day beds are rentable for 3.50€ for the day. This beach can be quite busy, and the walk to the actual town is pretty average (mostly along a non-scenic route), so I suggest taking the bus to-and-from the little town, and plan to spend maybe a couple of hours lounging in the sun before having lunch at the tavern. It’s also possible to take a ferry boat to this beach, but if you do- make sure to carve out some time to do this little walk. The views are stunning.

St. Agios Emilianos: You could do this trek in-and-out (walking there, and back), but we hiked there and took a boat back from the tip into the harbour. To do this you need to co-ordinate with a private boat charter, that will pick you up from the point (we also opted to have a BBQ on board the boat). The hike is a solid 3.5 hours from town (just over 11kms), and although it’s not insanely difficult- it is definitely not kid friendly. There are steeper uphill parts, but more than anything more wobbly-rocks downhill bits, as well as some walking along cliff sides (not ideal if you have vertigo either). That being said, the hike is absolutely gorgeous, and will have you zig-zagging across wild thyme and oregano fields, past ruins and multiple little classically Greek churches in the middle of nowhere. Part of the hike actually takes you through a pine forrest, which feels like you're in the French Alps. The final destination (if you're doing the one way) is a beautiful white chapel, technically on its own little island, called (of course) St. Agios Emilianos.

If you’re coming from the Symi harbour, you’ll want to make your way up the Kali Stratas until you hit the common square of Chorio (which means village), you walk towards the ruins in the direction of Old Chorio. Asking for directions to get to “Old Chorio” is simple enough. The hike begins at a house thats half painted blue, half stone (see picture below), so you have to make your way through the (beautiful) back alleys of the town to get up there; there are little red spray painted dots to follow (actually the entire hike all the way to the end) but to navigate the village, find this blue/ stone house before ascending into Old Chorio, and keep it in mind as you decide to turn left or right through the village (basically, never head downhill, and take streets that head in the direction of the house). 

From the house, you walk up a steep set of stairs, you’ll keep walking and eventually hit more of a path, and another steep hill before finally hitting the actual road. At the road, you'll see a sign to Toli, and another sign (slightly knocked over) pointing up the hill (see pic below). Follow the sign and head upwards, until you hit a fork in the road. At this fork you should go left (although right will also let you pass, if the church is open- otherwise you’ll have to double back and take left). From there you’ll eventually hit a rock with a big red arrow- and unsurprisingly, head that way. At this point the walk starts to go a big rogue, and you have to keep an open eye for red dots.

As you follow the dots you'll pass through a small forrest, that turns back into a hillside, and eventually reach ruins (see pic below). When facing the ruins, you'll look left and notice a path heading into a denser forrest. You take that path and then continue to follow the red dots. Your next landmark is the white chapel, and from there you'll have a clear view of your final destination (St. Emilianos chapel off n the distance. As you start to head downhill, you tend to ver right, and you'll eventually have worked your weave your way all the way down to almost sea level. Make sure you don't head all the way down to the first beach (st. emissions is in, as you can see, the second cove)- and so you actually head back up the final hill towards a chapel on the hill. If you hit the gated area (down by the first cove)- you've gone too far. From there you'll see a cobblestone path leading down to the bay, and straight to St. Emilianos. 

 

Below I’ll share a series of pictures of key points along the way.

Another website has made their own set of directions to St. Emilianos, before venturing out on your own: I suggest you also give them a read-over HERE.

 

Note: if you plan on getting picked up by a boat instead of making the trek back, make sure you have a cellphone in case of emergency. The friends we did this hike/ trip with had once planned to get picked up by a boat that never showed up. They live on the island and so easily rang another boat service- but this could be dangerous if you make your way there and then no one shows up (especially if you only planned enough water for one way). There is no actual harbour at the end of the hike (just a dock), so there likely won’t be any people there to help you out if you get stuck. A reliable boat service is Diagoras (book it by calling the captain, Fotis, at 6943148237; or just find the boat hanging out in the harbour). They had an incredible BBQ ready for us when we got to the last church at the very end of the walk, where we ate on the boat and made a few pit stops to swim on the way back to the island (about 40€ per head). 


Sightseeing

Sightseeing in Symi is a great way to get some exercise in, because the multitude of ruins, churches, and museums require quite the decent walk. Kali Stratas (mentioned above) are themselves some hectic stairs (good luck running up them under the Greek sun..)! Note that although shops and museums have “opening hours”… best not completely rely on them, as they are often closed without warning. Low expectations = less disappointment. 

 Views of Symi windmills from Old Chorio.

Views of Symi windmills from Old Chorio.

The Windmills (or milos): are located at the top of the Kali Stratas steps, and bear an incredible view of the Symi Port (you can even see Turkey in the distance). Many of them are in complete ruins, and they are very beautiful. 

The Nautical Museum: located in Symi harbour (at the back of the Town Square, with canons outside). “Open” Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 2pm.

Constantinos and Eleni Church: on the southern slopes of the Vigla along the Panormitis road.

 Monastery of the Archangel Michael at Panormitis.

Monastery of the Archangel Michael at Panormitis.

Monastery of the Archangel Michael at Panormitis: Symi’s most famous monastery.

Monastery of Michael Roukouniotis: 14th-century monastery that used to house monks.

The Clock Tower: stands at the entrance of the Symi harbour since 1881

Holy Church of Panagia Lemonitissa: towers over Gialos, and is an incredible beautiful white traditional structure.

 

Other

Symi Wellbeing Centre (The Eu Znv Wellbeing Centre): “provides alternative, transformative methods of health and healing for the mind, body and spirit”; they offer massage, reiki, meditation, yoga, pilates, retreats, and other services. You can check out their website HERE.

Symi Yoga Retreat: offers yoga retreats and holistic holidays on Symi. You can check out their website HERE.

 View of the Symi harbour

View of the Symi harbour

 Symi cats hanging along the Kali Stratas

Symi cats hanging along the Kali Stratas


Transport in Symi

Your options on Symi are bus, taxi, water taxi, private boat hire, and car or moped rental.

 Symi bus schedule.

Symi bus schedule.

The bus shuttle is very reliable in Symi, it runs hourly from the harbour to the village, and down to Pedi Bay until 11pm. Buses leave from (and taxis also wait) at the right-hand side of the harbour. There are only about 5 taxis on the island, so it is not uncommon to have no available taxis (particularly in high tourist season). The bus leaves (fairly promptly) from Symi harbour on the hour, and leaves from Pedi Bay on the half hour. 

You can rent cars and mopeds both in Symi harbour and in Pedi Bay. 

Water taxis (ferry-type boat) are available to all beaches that are also accessible by car/ foot. They leave in the morning from the Symi harbour (check down there for times). The last ferry boat generally leaves those beaches back to the harbour at 6:30pm. 

Many beaches on Symi are completely off-the-grid, and unaccessible by car or even by foot. Renting a boat for the day (that includes a delicious Greek BBQ) is pretty much a non-negotiable when in Symi. We had a fantastic experience with Fotis, on the Diagoras, and I couldn’t recommend his day-trip more. We took the boat only one way since we did the amazing Agios Emilianos hike there, and were greeted at the end of our hike with a fantastic lunch, and then made another few stops at secret swimming holes before returning to the Symi harbour. Round-trip + lunch runs about 40€ per person.


That's it folks! I hope this guide inspired you to plan your next sunny (and active!) escape to the magical island of Symi.