Despite Greece’s recent financial woes, the sun-drenched Greek island of Mykonos in the Cyclades remains a popular holiday destination for the jet-setting rich and famous – just as it has been for decades.
In July and August, visiting holidaymakers (wealthy or otherwise) are disgorged from a flotilla of ferries, cruise ships and private yachts, and can number up to 15,000 a day. If you’re one of them, you could be forgiven for thinking that a visit to Mykonos is nothing more than an overcrowded, overpriced, keen-to-be-seen experience. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even with the endless hype, the island somehow manages to retain its inherent tradition and charm. With just a little insight and planning you can discover its true beauty, in spite of the crowds.
The best idea is to visit during the shoulders or off-season. Mykonians revert to their relaxed, easy-going selves, and you’ll experience a truly sublime retreat.
Enjoy this Mykonos travel guide.
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’s urban centres incorporate all the charming characteristics of traditional Cycladic architecture: white-washed cube-shaped buildings with smooth asymmetrical corners, flat roofs, brightly coloured wooden doors and windows that lead onto balconies bursting with floral colour. Homes, shops restaurants and cafes snuggle together along narrow lime-washed alleyways.
Chora Mykonos (or simply ‘Chora’ as the locals call it) is the capital of the island, and is laid out like an amphitheater, cascading down to the water’s edge. It’s a labyrinth of twisting streets and small laneways. Some say it was designed to confuse marauding pirates, while others suggest the layout disperses the whip-lashing winds that can batter the island in winter.
The town’s seven famous whitewashed windmills (some dating back to the 16th century) stand sentinel on a rocky outcrop just up from Little Venice – the iconic dining area that butts right up against the Aegean Sea.
There are many excellent historical and cultural tours that explore both the town and the wider island’s rich traditions and must-see landmarks.
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 that were slain by Hercules during a fierce battle with the gods. The island was named after ‘Mykonos’ – a local hero and the grandson of the god Apollo.
For historical things to do in Mykonos, there are a number of excellent 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 provides welcome relief from the crowds and the sun, and at 2 euros to enter, 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 history and a bit of relaxation on a guided tour of the famous Delos archaeological site. It’s located on the island of Delos – a 20-minute boat ride from Mykonos.
Look out for Mykonos’ official mascot – Pétros the Pelican. The original Pétros was rescued by a fisherman after a storm in 1954 and quickly became part of the local community. The locals were inconsolable when he died, so it was decided that a replacement should be found. Today, pelicans are a familiar sight along the picturesque waterfront.
If posh nosh is your style, Mykonos boasts some of the finest culinary experiences anywhere in the world.
Equally, the humblest taverna by the seafront can provide a truly magical meal.
To push the boat out for a special occasion, book a table at Nammos Restaurant by the Sea. Located at Psarou Beach, the food, service, and atmosphere here are all faultless. It comes at a price, but as the restaurant says: ‘life tastes better at Nammos’.
At the other end of the dining spectrum, Kiki’s Taverna at tiny Agios Sostis beach is where the locals love to eat. It’s rustic (electricity has only recently been installed) and you should expect to queue for around an hour for a table. Trust me, it’s worth the wait. The chargrilled pork chops are to die for, and do try the marinated gavros (white anchovies). Heaven!
When in the town of Ano Mera, head to To Steki Tou Proedrou (the President’ s Hangout). This family run taverna is a local 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 some of the island’s gastronomic specialties during your stay. They include Kopanisti – a soft cheese seasoned with pepper, and Amigdalota – small almond meal cakes.
A cooking class is a great way to take the tastes of the island home with you.
Mykonos has plenty to offer dedicated shopaholics.
There are several well known fashion chain stores and luxury labels that have a presence on the island, and local designers are plentiful. You can also shop for leather goods, jewellery, handmade accessories, and arts and crafts.
Chora offers the widest retail selection. Lose yourself in glamorous Matoyiánni Street, which is packed with boutiques, quaint cafes, restaurants and bars.
Don’t leave the island without a pair of handmade leather sandals from Mykonos Sandals in Little Venice. Their leather goods are famous the world over.
Mykonos’ extensive range of recreational activities could keep you on the go for months.
Alternatively, you can decide to do nothing at all – and that could easily take up months as well!
Adrenalin junkies can choose from windsurfing and sailing (it’s not called the ‘island of the winds’ for nothing!), jet skiing, kayaking and parasailing. More sedate holidaymakers are likely to be found doing a wine tasting at Mykonos Vioma Organic Farm, pedalling around the island with Yummy Pedals, or playing tennis, mini golf or beach volleyball.
If all that sounds way too much like hard work, there’s always the beach. Beach-life on Mykonos is all about going with the flow. Apart from being a gay mecca, the island is popular with nudists. Naturists mingle freely with clad swimmers on many of the beaches. The hugely popular party beaches of Paradise and Super Paradise pulsate with music day and night throughout summer.
There are quieter, family friendly beaches. Head to the southern reaches of the island, where you’ll find gems like Agios Sostis, Ornos and Platis Gialos. For really remote beaches, head north to Tigani, Frangia and Fokos. These are completely undeveloped and you can enjoy the island’s natural beauty in its purest form.
Dance the night away at one of the island’s many bars and nightclubs, including the super popular Jackie O’ Bar in the heart of Chora (which features nightly drag shows), the Jackie O‘Beach Club and Restaurant in Super Paradise Bay, and Astra in the Three Wells district in Chora. Top DJs from Athens often play at Astra in summer.
The shady Cine Manto Gardens in the heart of Chora are home to Cine Manto – Mykonos’ charming open-air cinema. There’s a nightly screening at 8.30, which costs 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 with a local guide. You’ll pick up lots of dining recommendations along the way.
Enjoy a breathtaking Mykonian sunset from the water, along with wonderful views of Little Venice and Mykonos’ Old Town. Snacks and drinks are included.
Explore the picturesque Mykonos countryside on this five-hour hiking tour. You’ll visit small family farms and taste fresh local produce. Have your camera with you to capture the incredible ocean vistas.
This is a unique opportunity to learn about organic farming on Mykonos. Visit the Mykonian Farm, lend a helping hand on a farm project, and enjoy a traditional barbecue dinner.
Set sail towards the rustic south coast of Mykonos on this full-day cruise on a traditional kaiki. You’ll visit Frangias beach for swimming, snorkelling and a picnic lunch, and stop off at popular Paradise Beach during the return journey.
Do you have any tips to add to our Mykonos travel guide? 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.
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