Despite Greece’s recent financial woes, the sun-drenched island of Mykonos in the Cyclades remains THE most glamorous holiday destination in the Greek Islands for the jet-setting rich and famous, as it has been for decades.
In July and August, visiting holidaymakers (wealthy and otherwise) can reach up to 15,000 a day, disgorged from a flotilla of ferries, cruise ships, grand private yachts and floating mansions. And in keeping with the throng, prices escalate. But it doesn’t have to be a shi-shi, posing cheek-by-jowl on overcrowded beaches, keen-to-be-seen experience. With a little insight it’s easy to discover the true beauty of Mykonos. For despite the hype, the island has managed to retain its inherent tradition and charm.
Better still, visit during the off-season and experience a blissful, tranquil retreat where Mykonians revert to their relaxed, easy-going selves.
Here’s a guide to the top things to do in Mykonos.
When Swiss-French architect and town planner Le Corbusier arrived in the Cyclades in 1939 he famously said: ‘In Mykonos I discovered the quintessence of architecture: beauty, simplicity and functionality’.
The island has all the characteristics of traditional Cycladic architecture. Clusters of densely packed cube-shaped buildings, whitewashed with smooth asymmetrical corners, flat roofs, brightly coloured wooden doors and windows that lead onto balconies bursting with floral colour, snuggle together along a series of narrow lime-washed alleyways.
Chora Mykonos, Mykonos Town or simply, Chora as the locals call it, is the capital of the island and a typical Cycladic village built like an amphitheater down towards the water’s edge. It’s a charming labyrinth of twisting streets and laneways. Some say it was designed to confuse marauding pirates, including Barbarossa; others say it’s to deflect the whip-lashing winds which can batter the island.
The island’s trademark whitewashed windmills stand sentinel overlooking the town and historical Little Venice, which butts right up to the Aegean Sea.
There are many excellent historical and cultural tours that explore the traditions and landmarks on the island. A cooking workshop is also highly recommended for those interested in learning how to prepare Mykonian treats.
The history of Mykonos is a mix of Greek mythology and centuries of invasion by the Phoenicians, Romans, Venetians, Saracens and Turks.
According to mythology the island was formed from petrified bodies of giants, killed by Hercules during a fierce battle with the gods, and was named after ‘Mykonos’, a local hero who was the grandson of the god Apollo.
For historical things to do in Mykonos, there are a number of museums to explore. The Archaeological Museum of Mykonos in the Old Port of Chora was built at the turn of last century and houses exhibits from the Hellenistic period. It’s a welcome relief from the crowds and the sun, and at 2 euros entry fee it’s one of the few real bargains on the island.
Other historical sites include the Folklore Museum and the Aegean Maritime Museum. You can also combine a little relaxation with history on a tour to the famous archaeological site of Delos, a 20-minute boat ride away.
Look out for Mykonos’ official mascot – Pétros the Pelican. The original Pétros was rescued by a fisherman after a storm in 1954 and very soon became part of the local scene. When he died, locals and tourists were inconsolable, so it was decided to replace him and today in his honour, pelicans are an essential part of daily life along the waterfront. A photo with Petros is de rigueur!
If fine dining is your style then Mykonos boasts some of the finest culinary experiences anywhere in the world. But equally, the humblest taverna can be truly memorable.
‘Love at first bite’ best describes the Nammos at Psarou Beach experience. Everything from the locale to the food, the style, the atmosphere and the views is faultless. Sunset sushi and cocktails from the comfort of a sun bed are highly recommended. It all comes at a price, but as they say, ‘life tastes better at Nammos’.
At the other end of the spectrum, Kiki’s Taverna overlooking the tiny beach of Agios Sostis beach is where the locals eat. It’s rustic (electricity has only recently been installed) and expect to queue for a table (around an hour). But it’s worth the wait. The char grilled pork chops are to die for and do try the marinated gavros (white anchovies) – just heaven!
When in the town of Ano Mera, head to To Steki Tou Proedrou (the President’ s Hangout). This family-run taverna is an institution. It boasts the best ribs on the island, and yes, the patriarch of the family was once the President of Ano Mera – and it was his hangout!
Make sure you try the island’s gastronomic trademarks, including Kopanisti – a soft cheese seasoned with pepper, and Amigdalota – small almond meal cakes with rosewater and castor sugar. Sensational!
Mykonos has something for everyone when it comes to shopping.
Choose from designer labels (the island has 177 fashion stores to be exact), leather goods, jewellery, handmade accessories, art galleries and local arts and crafts.
Chora boasts the best shopping streets on the island. It’s a maze-like hive of activity. Get deliciously lost in the very glamorous Matoyiánni Street with its famous brand named stores, quaint cafes, restaurants and bars.
Don’t leave the island without a pair of handmade leather sandals from Mykonos Sandals in Little Venice. First opened in 1948, these leather goods are famous the world over.
The question here is how long do you have, because Mykonos offers enough leisure activities to keep you busy for months. Alternatively, you can do nothing at all, and that could easily take up months as well!
For adrenalin junkies, choose from windsurfing and sailing (it’s not called the ‘island of the winds’ for nothing!) to jet skiing, kayaking and sea parachuting. For the more sedate visitor, apart from the obvious swimming and sun bathing, there’s wine tasting at Mykonos Vioma Organic Farm, bike riding around the island with Yummy Pedals, as well as tennis, mini golf and beach volleyball.
Beach-life on Mykonos is all about going with the flow. Apart from being a gay mecca since the 1970s, it’s also popular with nudists and here naturists bathe with clad swimmers on many of the beaches. The hugely popular party beaches of Paradise and Super Paradise pulsate with people, parties and music all day and all night throughout summer.
For quieter beaches head to the southern reaches of the island to the gems of Agios Sostis, Ornos and Platis Gialos. For really remote beaches, head north to Tigani, Frangia and Fokos. These are undeveloped and you can enjoy the island in its purest form.
Dance the night away at one of the many bars and nightclubs, including the super popular Jackie O’ Bar in the heart of Mykonos Town (whose motto ‘from sunset to sunrise in style’ doesn’t disappoint and includes nightly drag shows), the Jackie O‘Beach Club and Restaurant in Super Paradise Bay, and Astra in the Three Wells district in Mykonos Town – which attracts Athens’ top DJs in summer.
Cine Manto Gardens in the heart of the Chora offers a cool retreat with its palm trees, cacti and towering pines. It also houses Cine Manto – Mykonos’ charming open-air cinema, which features nightly screenings at 8.30 for a mere 9 euros. The excellent (and very reasonably priced) Cine Manto Café Restaurant is open all day.
Five tours we love
Orientate yourself to the winding streets of Mykonos Town on this three-hour walking tour accompanied by a local guide. You’ll pick up lots of dining recommendations along the way.
Enjoy a breathtaking Mykonian sunset from the water. Set sail to Delos island while enjoying the wonderful views of Little Venice and the Old Town of Mykonos.
Explore the picturesque Mykonos hillsides and country lanes on this hiking tour. You’ll get a local’s perspective of the island, visiting small family-run farms and tasting the freshest of produce. Have your camera ready to capture the stunning ocean vistas.
This is a unique opportunity to learn more about organic farming on Mykonos. Visit the Mykonian Farm, lend a helping hand, and enjoy an authentic traditional barbecue dinner.
Set sail towards the rustic south coast of Mykonos on this full-day cruise on a traditional kaiki. Visit Frangias beach for swimming, snorkelling and a picnic lunch. On the return journey, stop off at Paradise Beach and join the party.
Do you have any tips for things to do in Mykonos? We would love to hear from you. Please send us a message.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Sydney-based journalist Francesca Muir fell into photography while living on the island of Crete in the late 1980s. Living with that Greek blue is a writer and photographer’s dream, so it came naturally to combine the two. Francesca has written and photographed for Living Postcards, Crete Travel, Politismosmuseum, Stigmez, Athens News, TV Soap, Soap World, Gourmet Traveller, Vogue Entertaining, Vogue Living, ITA, Way to Go, Travel Abroad, Sun-Herald & Sunday Age magazines. She lives to breathe Mediterranean air, peppered with wild thyme and oregano, swim in azure seas and bathe in that Greek light which has mesmerised so many for so long. In 2018 Francesca is joining The Cape Club and taking small groups to Crete (and other islands) to show them why she calls it her spiritual home.