Mykonos and Santorini have become the two top tourist destinations of the Cyclades islands in Greece. Yet, relatively close to Mykonos there is a gem that does not share the reputation of the two islands, yet it has so much to offer.
Syros has a long history that started three millennia ago. This explains the differences in architecture and the many government buildings crammed in the capital, Ermoupoli. It also explains the museums and cultural events that take place there in the summer.
There are huge differences between the three islands. In Syros, one will find atypical for the Cyclades buildings like the City Hall, the remains of the castle in Ano Syros or the Theater Apollon. But the main difference is in the culture: Syros was never under Ottoman occupation as it was protected by the French, and there is a strong Catholic element on the island due to the Venetian influence.
Ano Syros is a medieval hilltop town that stands above the capital of Ermoupoli. The original residents chose this hard-to-reach location to protect themselves from the regular pirate raids that threatened the island. There one can find the historic Church of St. George, the sprawling and renovated Catholic complex that sits at the town’s summit.
Underneath there is Ermoupoli, the capital of Cyclades, once a key trading port in the Aegean. Ermoupoli has several museums and beautiful architecture.
The Archaeological Museum of Ermoupoli – housed in the emblematic Neoclassical town hall building, is one of the oldest museums in Greece. There is also the Ermoupoli Industrial Museum, where among other exhibits one can learn about Syros’ contribution to the world’s first electric cars.
In Ermoupoli one can see many mansions of the town’s merchants. A rich island due to its great location for trade, Syros lost its sheen during World War II and the years afterward. Yet the rich homes of the merchants remain. And now that the island is reborn, the mansions stand there, still proud and magnificent.
Many small villages hidden in coves or perched on mountaintops are practically untouched by tourism. If you rent a car and take a tour around the island, in those villages you can see how real island life is.
In the small villages, one can find incredible local dishes, made from fresh, homegrown materials. You can have great culinary delights in the capital as well, where you can find gourmet restaurants and typical Greek tavernas as well.
Syros is famous for two things: The great loukoumi of Syros and the San Michael cheese, a spicy, fruity cheese thanks to the island’s aromatic herbs the cows are fed.
Syros is also the island of festivals, with at least a dozen taking place every year. The Syros International Film Festival is very popular and takes place in venues across the island. Most of the rest are centered on the capital, such as the Syros Tango Festival, Akropoditi DanceFest, and the Festival of the Aegean.
Of course, being one of the Cyclades, Syros has plenty of beautiful beaches with crystal-clear, turquoise water. Sea lovers will have a great time at Kini, a village occupying a wide bay on the island’s west coast, with two thin strips of sandy beach.
There is also Galissas, the most popular beach on Syros. It combines the view of the blue sea and the towering mountains that curve along the bay.
Finally, Ermoupoli is famous for its great nightlife. Despite its small size, dozens of bars and restaurants are conveniently crammed close to the harbor. There you can find food and entertainment for all tastes and wallets. From small drinking joints to large trendy bars, and from upscale restaurants to small eateries, while the music varies from house to rebetiko.
Indeed, Syros is a hidden gem for many foreign visitors. Yet it has many Greek fans who try to keep it a secret so its beauties are not spoiled from overcrowding.