A mini local guide to Syros

Sunrise in Syros Greece

Syros is the place where you’d go for paperwork or to court if you live in the Cyclades. This summer I needed a break from Santorini and because of the COVID-19 situation, I was pretty free and able to travel when usually it’s no possible and I decided to visit Syros for the first time and for pleasure. Many friends had told me that it was a different place, a Cycladic island without the crowds. 

Syros is an island with a cultural aura, it is alive 12 months per year, it does not rely only on tourism like many other Cyclades, there is also a university, that’s to say that you will find here many events that you won’t see anywhere else in the Aegean. The island is very famous for its cultural festival (movies, jazz music, digital art,…).

This short gateway was one of the best surprises of my 2020! I went with high expectations: I did my research and I awaited a vibrant island with a peculiar vibe. My intention was to explore a possible future opportunity in case of leaving Santorini. I reached out on Instagram for some tips about Syros the day before leaving and received the best local tips by Emmanouela and Panos. They are from Syros but they run a stunning property in Serifos, I don’t know them (yet!) in real life but we are following and supporting each other on IG. It’s thanks to these two lovely people that I had a wonderful time in Syros.

Enjoy my mini local guide about Syros!

How to get to Syros

Getting to Syros is very easy. The island is very well connected by ferry, you can conveniently reach Syros from Athens, Santorini, Paros, Mykonos and from almost any island of the Cyclades. In Syros, there is also a small airport that connects the island to the Greek capital.
I went to Syros by ferry from Santorini but it was a rough trip. The wind was blowing around 70-80 km/h, the speed boat was literally rocking and it had to turn two times on itself before being able to land at Ermoupoli Port. It was quite scary and reminded me that time I arrived in Chania
Anyway, the arrival at the port of Syros, if not windy, is pure magic, Ermoupolis will welcome you with its allure.

Where to stay in Syros

I would recommend staying in Ermoupolis which is the main town of the island, it’s where there are all the services, tavernas, cafes, museums. I stayed in a lovely guesthouse in the heart of the town, 5 min walking distance from the port and the main square. Be aware and ready to climb a lot of stairs when in Syros, especially in Ermoupolis and Ano Syros, which is the place where I’d probably stay on a future visit. Ermoupolis and Ano Syros are the best places to stay in Syros if you’re looking to enjoy the life of the island.

What to do in Syros

Ermoupolis is the capital of the island and it’s the heart of the administration of the Cyclades. Given that you would expect a boring place, full of offices and paperwork, but wait till you see where they are hosted. It’s full of history and beauty.

Ermoupolis was founded in 1821 by refugees from Turkey, during the Greek revolution, looking for a safe place to rebuild their lives. Neoclassic and industrial buildings coexist in a very compelling landscape while you can really tell reminiscences of an Italian past too: to my eyes, Ermoupolis reminds Venice or, better, a ‘clean’ Genova (one of my favorite cities by the way).
Strolling around Ermoupolis means climbing a lot as the town is full of steps, narrow streets and buildings that rise to look for a ray of sun like sunflowers.

The heart of Ermoupolis is the main square where the Town Hall is. An astonishing neoclassical building with the signature of Ernst Ziller, a German well-known architect for other incredible buildings in Athens and Patra. The beauty of the interiors is dazzling, especially with the soft light of the morning: majestic stairs that lead upstairs to an ambience full of glare. You can go in the Town Hall and I really recommend you to do so.

On the left of the building you can visit the Syros Archaeological Museum, it’s one of the oldest in Greece: here you can admire not only finds from Syros but also from other islands like Amorgos and Kythnos. The most important finds of the museum come from Chalandriani, a settlement in the east coast of Syros, one of the most important of the Early Cycladic civilization.

Behind the Town Hall you must pay a visit to Agios Nicholaos (given my name I could not really avoid it!): an impressive church with a mystic, almost psychedelic, light and remarkable paintings. You will recognise Agios Nicholaos Church from almost everywhere given its blue dome which stands out in Ermoupolis.

Next stop is the Apollon Theatre of Syros, built in between 1862-64 to satisfy the growing need of the city in its commercial and cultural boom. Constructed based on the design of the Italian architect Pietro Sambo and influenced by four Italian theatrical standards, especially La Scala of Milan, that is why the Apollon Theatre of Syros is also known as the ‘little’ Scala. Unfortunately, there was no play to attend when I was there but it’s possible to visit the Apollon Theatre (3 euro ticket entrance) which is very elegant and it’s indeed a small copy of La Scala of Milan. On the upper floor, there is also a small museum full of memorabilia of the past.

If you walk following the seafront, 15 min walking distance from the main square of Ermoupolis, you can visit the Industrial Museum: a journey into the commercial and cultural history of Syros.

After all these steps, up and down, what you’ll need is probably a bit of relaxation and there is no better place than Asteria Beach, it’s the urban beach of Ermoupolis, just below Agios Nicholaos Church. It’s not really a beach, they’re platforms on the sea with some umbrellas. It’s a very intriguing place where you will find very few tourists and, depending on the time of the day, a different type of locals. The quirk of this place is that there are lots of tiny caves fully ‘furnished’ with kitchens, chairs and all you need to spend a quiet time in front of the sea. I came here around sunset time and I regretted that I did not come back for the sunrise when the light of the sun wakes up the buildings of Ermoupolis.

Going up the stairs of Asteria Beach and following the coast on your right you will get into the Vaporia area: I highly recommend you take a walk in this neighbourhood at the sunrise when the sun lights up the facades of the beautiful buildings. From Vaporia you’ll enjoy an impressive view of Ermoupolis.

My favorite place in Syros is probably Ano Syros, the Medieval town built by the Venetians (VIII century), it’s the highest point of Ermoupolis. It’s so steep that my pedometer marked 93 floors when I arrived at the peak at the Saint George Church, probably one of the most astonishing places to watch the sunset in Syros with Ermoupolis and the port under you (and it’s the largest catholic church in Syros). Ano Syros is really a labyrinth of alleys, it reminded me a bit of Anafiotika in Athens. Arriving it’s quite a hassle but totally worth it! I came here both at sunset and sunrise and I can’t decide which one I prefer. In the late afternoon, Ano Syros brightens with lots of tavernas, cafes and shops.

If you are into archives, vintage pictures and music you should definitely visit the museum of Markos Vamvakaris, the ‘king’ of rebetika.

If you hire a car (which you should do for a couple of days) Saint Michalis must be on your route. It was one of the first settlements of Syros, today it’s an abandoned village with a gorgeous view (another excellent sunset spot) and one of the best taverns in Syros.

Poseidonia is another area you might want to visit if you have a car, it has magnificent mansions and buildings, dated 1800, which express the splendour of Syros’ history.

A very odd area I really loved is Lazareta. This place was suggested by Lefteris (head and heart behind the Santorini Archive Project), you can reach it walking through the industrial port. In Lazareta there are two very historic architectures, the Eastern telegraph company and the quarantine buildings, remarkable even if abandoned and derelict. These are actually my kind of places, those who still stand fiercely holding back the heaviness of history. I wish these could be renovated and host cultural projects.

Lefteris also gifted me a unique opportunity, to visit the moving museum/exhibition in the army base which once was an orphanage. Lefteris did his military service in Syros, in this base. He is an archaeologist and deeply interested in archives and the beautiful stories that those can tell. When he was at the base Lefteris discovered personal items and pictures in the wooden floors. The building which today is the army base once was the largest orphanage in the Mediterranean. In 1922 Greece had to face the flood of refugees from Turkey and welcomed many children, half Greek and half Armenian. The building housed 1500 girls and 1000 boys. The exhibition, curated by Lefteris himself, also presents finds (documents, letters, books,…) and daily items of the soldiers from World War II as the orphanage became a military school around 1934. It’s a small but very poignant exhibition, it was moving to see all the small rudimental toys and pictures of the orphans, a journey into another era full of pain and suffering.

Syros Beaches

Syros has lovely beaches, very quiet and almost in all of them you will find free umbrellas under which relax and enjoy a beautiful day. You won’t find here loud beach bars as in Mykonos, Santorini and Paros. As the beach is not my priority, I only visited three beaches. After visiting Poseidonia I reached on foot the beach of Finika, a very peaceful string of sand. The beach is quite short, with some trees, the water is nice and nearby you will find some tavernas, a mini market and a bakery.

One of the most famous beaches is Kini: this is also considered one of the most touristy spots of the island. It was a bit of a disappointment as I did not find anything interesting in this place which is described as a fishermen’ village, I could not feel that local vibe I’d expected. I think it’s a beach with a very bland personality. But there was a reason why I came here and it was to reach another beach, Delfini. You can reach Delfini by car too, but the trail on the cliff is much more charming. It’s a 45 min walk but you have to be very careful because it’s literally overhanging the sea, it’s worth it for the nature and the smell of sage which will accompany you during the path. Delfini Beach is a narrow strip with crystal clear waters, it’s a famous nudist beach, there is also a small cafe which I did not visit though.

Where to eat in Syros

Now, let’s talk about serious things, food! I was not blown away by the food in Syros but I found some places which I really recommend and where I’d go back (I will soon hopefully!).

In Ermoupolis I had breakfast in the most classic cafe of Syros, Elleniko Cafenio, overseeing the Town Hall. Near the Elleniko Cafe there is also a lovely shop, Korres, selling traditional products (loukoumia and halvadopites). Here I bought some of my yummy gifts for my friends in Santorini. I had two light lunches at the Corner Cafe’, near the Town Hall: fresh pites, sandwiches, salads, smoothies, tasty vegan options.
If you are looking for something sweet you can head off to Plastico Gallery, I had the best lemonade and meet wonderful people. Plastico is also a gallery showing contemporary young artists and they often run cultural events, check them out if you are in Ermoupolis. I really enjoyed the vibe of Kuchico for a drink and Django for a very chilly chocolate ice cream. 

If you are in Ano Syros, the taverna Apano Chora, in the square and near the Vamvakaris Museum, has good honest food (and prices) and a stunning view of the port. As I am vegan I tried their tomato balls, a bit sceptical, but they were very tasty and different from the Santorinian ones. And I have to confess I had the best fava at Maison de Meze, always in Ano Syros! Maison de Meze is a deli which sells traditional products (most of them homemade by a young couple) and also serves food and drinks. The fava came with caramelised onions, mint and pomegranate, it was a blast! I also tried the prickly pear juice which was very refreshing. When I entered the shop it was playing PJ Harvey, then Madeleine Peyroux so it was clearly my place! I then cleaned out their shelves and brought back to Santorini a lot of their homemade products. Next to Maison de Meze there is a small souvlatzidiko (no name sorry) that serves a very delicious vegan kebab pita too!

When I went to Saint Michalis I had a memorable dinner at Plakostroto at the sunset. They have rich and savoury salads and the best marathokeftedes.
In Kini, after coming back from Delfini, I had a lovely lunch at Allou Giallou staring at the waves: they have a very good chickpeas soup!

Personal thoughts on Syros

I had planned to stay only four days but I changed my ticket and stayed five and I could have stayed more. I loved the vibe of Ermoupolis, it’s like a small town on the seaside. The bars, restaurants, shops are more like the ones you will find in Athens, totally different from the ones we have in Santorini. I’d say a bit more cosmopolitan. Life here is ‘normal’, 12 months per year, it’s not focused on tourism, so the attitude of everyone is very different. I spoke to a lot of people, just approaching them and asking questions about the quality of life of Syros and they were all very friendly and helpful. I found it weird that no one asked me ‘Where are you from?’, as they usually do in Santorini when they catch my Italian accent. What I didn’t like so much about Syros is that, apart from Ermoupolis and Ano Syros, there aren’t other villages, they are more areas inhabited, this is the reason why I missed a bit the island life vibe.

I never felt a tourist, I actually felt like a local. This is because thanks to Emmanouela and Manos’ tips, I met Chiara and Spyros of Plastico Gallery, who introduced me to Samu e Laura and Gogo. Since day 1 they made me feel home and part of their community, inviting me at music nights at Lautari, driving me around the island to unknown places, inviting me to other friends’ places. And if you think about it, it’s odd: I met new people through people I (still) don’t know. It’s the first time in years that I am looking forward to going back to a place and to see my new friends, hopefully this winter!

©One Quarter Greek – Nicoletta Barbata

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