A guide to Symi island, Greece

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Guide to Symi header - Where to stay, Eat and Tips
Guide to Symi header - Where to stay, Eat and Tips

This post was originally written in June 2014.
It has been re-written and revised in APR 2019.
There will be some affiliate links throughout, meaning I will earn a small amount of commission if you choose to use them, at no cost to you.

Symi island, Greece – where is it?

Symi is about an hour and a half away by catamaran from Rhodes.  There’s no airport there as it’s a small island, so you’d fly to Rhodes – either directly from many European hubs or via Athens – and why not spend a few days whilst on Rhodes? See my Things to Do in Rhodes article and furthermore, an Insiders Guide to Visiting Athens to get the lowdown  on alternative things to do if you (hopefully) choose to stay over in Athens for a city break too.
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One thing that strikes you immediately upon chugging up to the harbour of Symi is the way the colourful Venetian and  Merchant’s houses seem to tumble haphazardly into the sea – ensuring a lot of ‘Ooohs!’ and ‘Ahhhs!’ from people on deck, prompting some tourists to forget they’re alighting there as they’re so busy taking photos.

Symi Harbour as seen from the incoming ferry
Symi Harbour as seen from the incoming ferry

The harbour –  known as Yialos – is busy and the area consists of two parts: Yialos —bustling with tavernas, activity, cafés and hubbub. A great place to people watch, and to stay in the thick of things.

Guide to the Greek Island of Symi in the Dodecanese
Guide to the Greek Island of Symi in the Dodecanese

Then there’s the Chorio—the upper town on the hillside.  It’s quieter, but also more traditional and a great place to watch and greet the locals.  This is where I stayed in a restored house – a beautiful ‘cave’ like dwelling, the Blue House: bedroom downstairs, steep wooden stairs to the living and kitchen area. It was just so, well, peaceful!  Leaving my house in the morning, I “Kali mera”d a Greek man as I walked past his open door and he called out to me:

Welcome to my island

My Little Blue House accommodation
My Little Blue House accommodation

Where to eat on Symi Island – Greece

One thing I notice about Symi: there are a lot of expats here, but not the ‘gin and tonic’ brigade. They’ve established successful business—examples include the Olive Tree Café (think a lovely tea shop and cakes with Mediterranean snacks and a to die for view) in the Hora/Upper Town.

Olive Tree Cafe - great views!
Olive Tree Cafe

And then the Secret Garden: an old house between the Hora and towards Pedhi beach.  Michalis and his Belgian wife Katya have transformed their dwelling into a courtyard cafe / bar serving breakfasts, crepes, mezes and open until – well – whenever the last person leaves, which could be 6am.

The Secret Garden
The Secret Garden

When in the Harbour, make sure you go to Pantelis Restaurant where you’ll be served the freshest seafood, possibly in all of Greece.

Fresh fish at Pantelis in Symi island - Greece
Fresh fish at Pantelis in Symi island – Greece

Where to stay on Symi island Greece

I mentioned I stayed in a small house.  Symi is smattered with old Venetian Houses that are up for rent.

I also loved the Symi Thea Hotel – a family run place with rooms in a Neoclassical building with stunning views of the harbour.

Another favourite, and more luxurious option, is the Old Markets – an old agora trading place in the harbour converted to beautiful rooms.
The same owner has also restored and built a new property around the headland called Emporio.  It’s located in Nimborio Bay and is the place to come and completely unwind.

Greek Island Guide to Symi in the Dodecanese
Greek Island Guide to Symi in the Dodecanese

Tips for Symi

  • It’s perfectly safe to leave your door unlocked (maybe not wide open, but even then I wouldn’t be surprised if it was OK).
  • Be sure to visit the Hora – maybe climb the 400 steps of the Kali Strata from the harbour to the Square  in the early morning, or early evening.
  • Water: very limited!  Freshwater is shipped in erratically, and the desalination is used in the winter.  Recycle your water as much as you can – respect the environment and your host island.
  • Pedi: Be sure to visit this beach around the other side of the island.  Hitch a lift with the locals (like I did), it’s quite safe.
  • Architecture: the architecture here is stunning – Romanesque establishments which are a relic from the Italian occupation and wealthier times.
  • Download my Greek island packing list here

All opinions expressed here are my own, despite researching for various outlets such as Telegraph and Rough Guides

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A Greek Island Guide to Symi - Where to Stay, Eat & Tips
A Greek Island Guide to Symi – Where to Stay, Eat & Tips

4 COMMENTS

  1. Exciting to be reading your posts on Rhodes and environs! We’ll be spending 5 nights on Rhodes in early October (sleeping in the Old Town too). Symi sounds lovely – it would have been nice for us to overnight in Symi. Alas, time doesn’t allow it. Hopefully a daytrip (which we hear is possible by passenger catamaran/ferry) will give us at least a taste of the island.
    Sand In My Suitcase recently posted…Grace Santorini: Swooning over forever sea viewsMy Profile

  2. What a lovely write up of Symi! Do you have accommodation details for where you stayed? The blue house looks lovely and I’d love to book it for my next visit to Symi in September.
    Many thanks !

    • I’m so glad you liked the write up – thanks Johanna. That particular accom was booked through SYMI VISITOR ACCOMMODATION http://www.symivisitor.com and as I said in my piece, they specialise in renting out local people’s houses.
      Be sure to specify your exact needs – ‘The Blue House’ had no internet, but there was a delighful little cafe with wi-fi not far away where I sipped coffee and caught up (who wants to be on the internet all day though?!)

      Be sure to mention my name – that you saw the entry in my site, but they will also know me from Rough Guides.

      Good luck Johanna!

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