Sparkling Symi is the Best Greek Island You’ve Never Heard Of

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Symi Island Night Lights Greek Islands

Dubbed the “Jewel of the Dodecanese” most visitors to Symi are day trippers from Rhodes. Here’s why you should stay longer.

For those of us who are passionate about travel, there are many places in the world that we adore visiting. Maybe even a few special places we fall a little bit in love with.

But then there’s another level of travel experience, one that’s far rarer…

A place that just calls to your soul.

If you’ve got a minute, the exquisitely-tiny Greek island of Symi would like a word with your soul.

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you choose to book through these links, I receive a small commission, which I will undoubtedly blow on more flights (it’s a vicious cycle).  All of this internet voodoo takes place at no additional cost to you. 

Surprisingly, two months before my first visit (on Round the World 9 1/2 – Moscow to the Med) I’d never even heard of Symi island. But while trying to plan a route from Rhodes to Turkey, I happened to stumble across this little Greek island gem.

And I’m so glad that I did.

But before I get to the wonders of Symi…

Are you traveling to Greece this summer?

If you’re headed to Greece this summer this one is required reading. From entry requirements to the essentials of island-hopping, here’s every little thing you need to know:

Ultimate Greek Islands Travel Guide

Planning a trip to Greece in 2024?

From the most spectacular beaches to the tastiest treats to try, here’s everything you need to know to plan your trip to the Greek Islands!

And now, back to Symi. First things first…

Is it Symi Island or Simi Island?

While you will see Simi Greece (and even Syme Greece) in online information about the island, it’s most commonly referred to as Symi Island.

How to get from Rhodes to Turkey

There are a few direct ferries between Rhodes and the Turkish mainland, but the more common path is to arrive in Bodrum via the Greek islands of Symi and Kos. To break up the 3-ferry trip, I wanted to spend a few days on one of the two islands. But which one?

After a quick Google image search of both Symi and Kos, I had a clear winner.

Is Symi worth visiting?

I was instantly smitten with the pictures of Symi with its quaint pink and yellow, Venetian style architecture. I’d never seen a Greek island that looked like Symi and I knew right away I had to see it.

Because I had a gut feeling about Symi, I planned 4 nights on the island, longer than I devoted to anywhere else but Crete on this 30-day trip from Moscow to the Med.

Read More: Crete Greece in 5 Perfect Days

Symi Greece
Symi, Greece

How to get to Symi Island

There’s no airport on the island of Symi. So flights into neighboring Rhodes are the best way to get there. Rhodes was already on my itinerary so that part was easy.

Read More: All Roads Lead to Rhodes

The Ferry from Rhodes to Symi

Symi has frequent direct ferry service from Rhodes and the trip takes between one hour and 90 minutes depending on which ferry you book.

Tip: The absolute best site for booking ferry tickets in Greece is

Love at first sight from the ferry

We depart Rhodes right on time and cruise along the rugged Turkish coastline. An hour later, as we round one last bend into Symi’s gorgeous protected harbor, I’m speechless.

It is love at first sight.

Symi Greece
Arriving in Symi Harbor

Even the stunning online photos that drew me here have not done this small island justice.

The clear, deep sapphire waters of the harbor are surrounded by row after row of pastel-hued 18th century neoclassical mansions stacked one on top of the other climbing the side of the mountain.

The colorful facades are separated from the sea by nothing but a line of million-dollar yachts and sailboats.

I’m hooked….and more than a little shocked that after so many years of traveling the world this magical island wasn’t even a blip on my radar.

Tip: Symi easily makes my list as one of The 7 Best Greek Islands to Visit This Summer (2024).

My home away from home

I step off the ferry and quickly spot a teenage boy holding a sign with my apartment’s name, EOS Studios.

Theologis (husband of owner, Sevasti) and son are waiting and in minutes we’re up the hill and walking into my home for the next 4 nights.

He explains that Sevasti is at church and will come by later to help me with any information I need about the island. He also points out their house nearby in case I need anything before then.

The apartment is perfect. Plenty of space, a small kitchen, strong wifi, and a roomy terrace with a million-dollar view over the harbor.

EOS Rooms Symi Greece
My home for the week at EOS Studios

I spend a few minutes unpacking, excited to be in the same place for 4 whole nights. I still haven’t made plans for the two nights after leaving Symi and I make a mental note to ask Sevasti later if the apartment is available for a 5th night.

Suitcase sufficiently unpacked, I head out to explore the magnificent harbor below.

Symi Greece Best Greek Island

A brief history of Symi Greece

Often called the “jewel of the Dodecanese,” tiny Symi was once a very prosperous island thanks to a long tradition of shipbuilding and sponge diving. The legacy of this wealth is evident in the gracious mansions and ornate churches scattered across the island.

Symi’s unique building style is maintained through a strict archaeological decree that regulates methods of construction for new buildings and restoration of old buildings.

Architecture Symi Greece
Symi’s distinct architectural style

By the mid 1900’s, Symi’s economy gradually deteriorated with the decline of the shipbuilding industry. Adding insult to injury, someone had the nerve to invent a synthetic sponge.

Many locals fled the island to find work on nearby Rhodes or further afield in Australia, Canada, and the US (I’m told Tarpon Springs, Florida is home to an unusually large concentration of Symians).

These days tourism and an influx of real estate investment from Athens and the UK are the foundation for the local economy.

There are no big resort hotels on Symi, most accommodations are similar to mine, apartments rented by locals or small B&B’s. As a result, the vast majority of tourism to the island is in the form of day trips from nearby Rhodes or Kos.

Day Trips to Symi from Rhodes

The first ferry arrives at 9:30am and between the hours of 10am and 4:00pm, the narrow lanes of Symi swell with day trip visitors.

During this mid-day occupation, most locals (and those of us who wish we were) retreat to the solitude of the hills.

The best day trip from Rhodes to Symi

If you’re staying on Rhodes and a day trip is your only chance to see lovely Symi, it’s absolutely worth doing! Even if you have to fight the mid-day crowds. This full-day trip is my top pick because it includes the Panormitis Monastery and even a quick swim at St. George Bay (on Saturdays only):

#1 Pick
Panormitis Monastery Symi Greece

Symi Island from Rhodes with transfers from Ialysos & Ixia

This 9-hour day trip from Rhodes includes round-trip ferry tickets to Symi, a stop at the Panormitis Monastery, and 3 hours to explore Symi Harbor. It also does a pass-by of lovely St. George Bay (with time for a quick swim on Saturdays only).

Escaping the day trip crowds

I take a walk around the harbor amidst the endlessly unloading ferries and quickly decide the locals have the right idea. I grab lunch, purchase a few groceries, and settle in on my lovely terrace to enjoy the view and a little peace and quiet.

Sevasti stops by mid-afternoon when she spots me out on the terrace and brings by a map and a cucumber from her garden (the first of many treats she drops off during my stay). She offers some helpful information about the island and we hit it off immediately.

She also confirms that the apartment is indeed available for the 5th night. I’m convinced this is a sign that I’m supposed to stay.

As we chat on the terrace, an orange kitty strolls by and she introduces me to Rosie, the neighborhood cat. Rosie seems to belong to no one…or perhaps she belongs to everyone, it’s hard to tell.

After the ferry containing the last horde of tourists sails out of the harbor at 4:00pm, I walk back down the hill to enjoy a bit of Symi’s “Golden Hour” – that peaceful time between when the last ferry leaves and before the taxi boats start coming back from the beaches.

Symi’s Yacht Life

The harbor area is nearly deserted except for shop owners restocking, restaurants preparing for dinner service, and yacht owners settled in on their aft decks with a martini and a mystery novel.

And speaking of yachts, Symi’s harbor is lousy with them. It’s like a whole other community down there affectionately known by the locals as the “yacht people.”

All of which begs the question…

Who are these yacht people who travel around the world on enormous luxury yachts slipping in and out of exotic ports of call?

And more importantly, why don’t I know any of them?

Yacht Symi Greece
The yachting life in Symi

After my stroll past Yacht Row, I return to the center of the harbor where I spot a sign advertising a full-day “Circle Island” boat tour aboard Poseidon. The tour makes stops at many of Symi’s best beaches and the Panormitis Monastery. It sounds like the perfect way to spend a day.

At the desk, I meet Yiannis, the Poseidon’s skipper, who explains the itinerary for the trip, books my reservation for tomorrow, and tells me to come back at 10:00am.

The price is very reasonable and the trip sounds like a terrific way to see more of the island since many of the beaches are only accessible by boat.

Symi’s Taxi Boats

Next to the Poseidon desk, there are several others for Symi’s taxi boat service. The boats run at fixed schedules for a set price and each counter has a sign listing its destination and scheduled departures.

The taxi boats are a very convenient way to get around the island and I file that idea away for another day.

The Poseidon Circle Island Trip

I awake the next morning to sunny skies and can’t wait to get out on the water and see more of Symi.

Unfortunately, when I arrive at the dock, Yiannis says that although the trip is still going, high winds on the eastern side of the island mean the waves are too rough to visit the Panormitis Monastery.

Darn it.

He reduces the price accordingly and it’s still a great day for exploring the western side of the island. But it looks like I’ll need to find another way to get to Panormitis before the week is out.

Poseidon Circle Island Symi Greece
The Poseidon near Nanou Bay

The revised plan for the day calls for extended stays at the stops on the western side of the island. First up, a deserted cove near Nanou Bay where we have the option to swim from the boat or take a hike up the hill to a little church at the top.

I opt for the hike and the views from the church are fantastic. Next, we head on toward the island of Seskli just off the southern coast of Symi.

Symi’s lucky residents

As we cruise along the island’s rugged coastline, I get acquainted with some of my fellow passengers. I’m surprised to discover that most aren’t tourists at all but Symi residents. Many are retired British couples who own property on Symi and either live here full-time or part-time.

Each new person I meet has a similar story, they came to Symi on holiday years ago and simply fell in love. The luckiest of them bought property back in the 80’s or 90’s when the real estate market was soft.

These days, you won’t get that lucky. If you want a second home on Symi, it’ll cost you.

As we chat, I casually mention that I’m a travel blogger and suddenly they all seem a bit more guarded. Concerned, perhaps, that I might expose their Symi secret to the world.

I, of course, can completely understand why they might want to keep this little island all to themselves. It’s bad enough they already have to share it with the world every day from 10am – 4pm.

Agios Georgious Beach

At Seskli the crew prepares a delicious BBQ lunch for us while we lounge on the beach and swim in the sparkling turquoise sea.

Our final stop is my favorite, Agios Georgious Beach (also known as St. George Bay). Backed by a dramatic cliff making it completely inaccessible by land, this perfect little sliver of sand is lapped by cerulean waters dotted with a handful of sailboats and yachts.

Sailboat Agios Georgios Symi Greece
Sailboat anchored in Agios Georgios

As we approach the beach from the sea it feels like we’ve drifted onto a movie set, almost too spectacular to be real.

Several of my fellow passengers take advantage of our mooring in the bay to leap off the top of the boat into the inviting Aegean Sea below. I decide to pass on the flying leap but do enjoy a nice swim. The water is still pretty cold this time of year so let’s just say it’s a refreshing swim!

From there, we head back toward town. It was a simply perfect day.

Tip: If you want to visit St George Bay from Rhodes, this Fast Boat to Symi with a swimming stop at St George’s Bay is the perfect way to do it. While the Rhodes to Symi day trip I mentioned above stops here for a quick swim on Saturdays, this trip stops here daily in addition to free time in town (it just doesn’t include Panormitis).

If you’re a diver, you can also check out the local dive operation Blue Lagoon Divers. I didn’t have time to do this personally when I was on the island but they have terrific reviews and Symi is an amazing place to explore the underwater world.

Back at the apartment that evening, Sevasti stops by to see how my day was and deliver a delicious piece of homemade cheesecake. I’m comfortably settling into the role of coddled house guest with all these treats!

Another day in paradise

The next day I have work to do.

My next planned stop on this trip is Ephesus, Turkey and I have two nights open to get there from Symi. However, traveling between the two is a somewhat convoluted affair involving multiple ferries and buses.

Read More: Ephesus with Ease

I can get as far as Bodrum, Turkey in one day with a stopover in Kos which leaves me with the next day to go from Bodrum to Ephesus.

Sevasti recommends a travel agency called Symi Tours and they book my ferry from Symi to Kos for Thursday morning. They aren’t able to book the connecting ferry to Bodrum since it’s operated by a Turkish ferry company but assure me I’ll have no problem booking it once I arrive in Kos.

Read More: A Travel Day from Kos to Bodrum

Symi Greece
My Symi office view

Once that’s settled, I happily confirm to Sevasti that I’ll be spending a 5th night. Feeling pretty productive already, and now with an extra day to spare, I spend the rest of the day catching up on some writing.

Have I mentioned my Symi office has a pretty great view?

Dinner in the harbor caps off a perfectly lovely day.

Second time’s the charm at Panormitis…sort of

After striking out with the Panormitis monastery on the boat trip, by Day 4 I’m determined to get there.

The Symi Tours office has a direct bus to Panormitis. But unfortunately, it doesn’t run again until Friday, the day after I leave. However, they tell me the local bus goes every day at 2:00pm and then returns at 3:30pm. Perfect!

When Sevasti calls to confirm the bus times for me she also discovers there is a 7:00am bus to Panormitis. This sounds like an even better plan to beat the ferry crowds at the monastery.

The next morning I hop on the 7:00am bus for the 30-minute ride across the mountainous interior of the island. As we make our descent I get my first look at the magnificent Panormitis Monastery.

A miscalculation on bus times

As I step off the bus, I ask the driver what time the bus returns to town. Since the 2:00pm bus returns at 3:30pm I assume the morning bus does something similar. But I neglected to ask before I boarded (rookie mistake).

To my dismay, the driver replies “3:30pm.”

While it’s a lovely monastery, 8 hours to explore it seems like overkill.

My only other option is to snap a few pictures quickly and get right back on the bus back to town. That doesn’t seem like a good option either so I decide to stick it out and sightsee a little in the area.

Symi’s Panormitis Monastery

Dedicated to Archangel Michael, the patron saint of seafaring Greeks, the Panormitis Monastery is considered one of the most beautiful in the Aegean Sea.

Panormitis Monastery Symi Greece
Symi’s Panormitis Monastery

Its most spectacular features are the bell tower, the mosaic floor, and the Saint’s icon. Thousands of pilgrims visit the monastery every year to honor the icon of the Saint. And, of course, they are often joined by thousands more tourists.

But Panormitis is more than just Symi’s number one tourist attraction. You can actually rent a room here if you’re looking for true peace and quiet on your holiday. A monk’s cell goes for about $10 a night.

I decide to file that under “quaint” and stick with my lovely apartment in town.

Marathounda Beach

After exhausting my monastery experience in about two hours, I take a walk over to the nearest beach, Marathounda. I know taxi boats take people to and from this beach from town each day. Maybe I can catch one of those back to town earlier than 3:30pm.

The walk is about two miles down the main road. It’s uphill, then downhill, then uphill again but it isn’t too bad on a beautiful day. And since I haven’t seen many of Symi’s beaches this is a good chance for a little quality beach time.

It’s 10:00am by the time I emerge onto the pebbly beach and I’m slightly surprised to see it totally deserted. The beach chairs are stacked up, the lone tavern is closed and there’s not a soul in sight. Not exactly like the busy beaches of Mykonos I’m used to.

Read More: The Meaning of Mykonos: The Island that Inspired a Lifetime of Wanderlust

In fact, the only signs of life on Marathounda at this hour are the goats. And there are lots of them.

Goats Marathounda Beach Symi Greece
Goats coming up the path at Marathounda Beach while I was taking pictures

But the beach is pretty so I wander around taking a few photos. Unintentionally striking fear into the goats who scatter in poorly thought-out directions as I crunch along the pebbles.

A beach all to myself

Satisfied with my photo shoot, I decide to stop stressing out the poor skittish goats. So I unstack a lounge chair, pop open the striped umbrella above it, and settle in for a little quality time with my book. Thank goodness I threw my iPad into my bag this morning.

I mean, really, where else in the Greek Islands can you have a whole beach to yourself?

Around 10:30am the family that runs the local tavern arrives to open for the day. They seem just as surprised to see me as the goats were. Apparently, no one typically arrives at this beach before noon-ish.

During the next hour, a handful of other beach-goers arrive by car and settle into nearby chairs. But still no sign of any taxi boats. Over lunch at the taverna, I inquire about the taxi boats. I learn they aren’t running today because of the waves.

Just my luck.

They offer to call me a real taxi (there are a few on the island). It will cost about 30 euro but by this time it’s already after 1:00pm. I figure I can manage the walk back to Panormitis and just catch the bus.

When I arrive back at the apartment, Sevasti stops by to bring me some local cheese and honey (I love this woman). When I share my bus experience she is surprised. She had no idea the morning bus doesn’t return on the same schedule as the afternoon bus.

This makes me feel slightly less stupid.

Symi Greece
Back in town in time for dinner

But regardless of the excessive time spent on the other side of the island, it was a pretty fantastic day overall.

An experience that is uniquely Symi, you might say.

An attempt at sunset

On my first day in Symi, I asked Sevasti if there were any good spots in town for watching the sunset. I love a good sunset and like any good Greek Island Symi must have a few prime sunset spots.

Read More: How to Plan the Perfect Santorini Honeymoon (on a budget!)

Since Symi’s mountainous harbor faces north, it’s not the best for sunset viewing. Toli Beach, she says, on the western side of the island, is the best spot. There’s no boat or bus service to Toli but there is a road if you have a car.

Amazingly, she and her husband offer to take me on my final night on the island (did I mention she’s the best?).

Symi Harbor Symi Greece
Views over the harbor from Symi village

That morning I take a walk up the hill (way up the hill) to the village of Symi, high above the harbor. The views are magnificent from up there and I spend some time wandering down various side streets looking for even better views.

That evening, Sevasti picks me up and we’re off for Toli Beach. Unfortunately, the weather still isn’t cooperating. Dark clouds towards the west threaten to quell our sunset experience.

Symi Greece
With Sevasti and Theologis

But a great time is had by all despite the fact that the sun remains stubbornly buried behind the clouds. It doesn’t matter. It’s so nice of Sevasti and Theologis to drive me across the tiny island just for the chance to see a sunset.

By 9:00pm I’m back in my room. Sadly, it’s time to pack up to catch the ferry to Kos tomorrow morning. I don’t want to leave Symi but I have a pretty ambitious week ahead in Turkey.

But if there’s one thing I do know for sure about Symi Island Greece, it’s that I’ll be back. Sooner, rather than later (and hopefully on a yacht!).

Next stop, a ferry to Kos and onward to Turkey for my long-anticipated visit to Cappadocia!!

Read More: 6 Awe-Inspiring Things You Have to See to Believe in Cappadocia

Looking for more fabulous places to visit in Greece?

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  1. Johanna White says:

    Wow! I just love your blog. Thank you for all the helpful information. I can’t wait for our turn to go to Symi next year and visit Panormitis. Actually we we will probably just follow what you did.
    Also been following your blog for Rhodes and Crete – where we will stay in Chania. I was having trouble deciding which are to stay in and you helped clarify our decision.

    1. I’m so glad it was helpful! I had trouble finding good information online about Crete so we had to wing it a bit but I think we made some great finds. You will just love Symi!!

  2. We just took a boat over from Datca to Symi. We arrived at 11 am in a neighboring harbor, took a taxi to the monastery, then parked the boat at the main harbor next to the luxury yachts at 6PM. Dinner at Mano’s, then the boat left at 7am. I did not have a chance to explore the steep back streets so thank you for sharing your story!

    1. You’re so welcome! Sounds like a fantastic day. I wish I’d had time to visit Datca while I was in the neighborhood!

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