Symi – The Jewel of the Dodecanese Islands

Symi (aka Simi) – the enchanting harbour town of this Dodecanese island – is like a postcard come to life. With neoclassical mansions perched on terraces and outdoor stairs linking different levels of the village, it’s truly spellbinding.

On the far end of the island stands the monastery dedicated to Archangel Michael. Here, locals sweep the floors and believe that if they don’t do it, they won’t receive a blessing from the angel.


Until a little over a century ago Symi was one of the richest islands in the Dodecanese thanks to its sponge diving and ship building industries. It’s still a beautiful island with lots of history. You can easily spot signs of its past as you walk around the harbour and town – look for inscriptions above doors and neoclassical mansions which were built by wealthy Symiot sea sponge merchants who travelled all over Europe during the late 18th and early 19th centuries (some of them have been converted into museums).

The Greek War of Independence was in full swing when these buildings came up, but by 1775 Symi already had an Ottoman overseer on the island, paid for by the islanders themselves. In the end of course the war ended in 1829 and the modern Greek state was created.

At its peak, Symi was a wealthy island with many trades, including boat-building and wine production besides sponge fishing and shipbuilding. The locals also became known for their wood-carving and icon-painting skills, and a number of schools were established of great repute.

In later years the prosperity started to wane as sailing ships were replaced by motor ones, the island’s heyday was over and World War II prompted a massive wave of migration for Symiots abroad. But the island remained in the hands of the Turkish administration until 1943 when it changed to the British and finally in 1947 it became part of the Greek nation.


Symi is an island of elegance, with the pristine neo Classical houses that crown the hilltops rising like sets from a Marcello Mastroianni film. And the natural landscape is just as picturesque, with a jagged coastline of steep cliffs and narrow creeks. This makes Symi a paradise for ramblers.

The best place to explore the beaches is by hiring one of the colourful caiques that leave from the port, and they’ll take you to several of the island’s most stunning bays. They’ll also stop at the secluded cove of Disalonas, where the beach is backed by a 300m-high cliff and the waters are crystal clear.

Other beaches worth visiting include Panormitis, with its monastery and a beautiful sandy beach; and Marathounta, which is the last stop on the taxi boat run. The emerald crystal waters of this gorgeous bay are breathtaking and there is a taverna if you want to dine, as well as accommodation options.

While you’re out and about, be sure to grab a coffee or a drink at any of the cafes that line the waterfront. The Porte Cafe Bar is a great option for a quick snack and coffee, and there’s also the Perantzada cafe that serves tasty crepes and cocktails. If you’re looking for a hearty meal, try Taverna Haris in the town centre, which has delicious octopus, seafood, and courgette fritters.


The picturesque harbor town of Symi evokes oohs and aahs from ferry passengers before they even disembark. The neoclassical architecture is a reminder of the island’s past as a sponge diving and shipbuilding hub.

Symi’s gastronomic scene is as diverse as its history. From dining in a sophisticated hotel restaurant to whacking at a homemade terracotta pot with a hammer for sublimely roasted goat, there is something to suit everyone’s taste.

Many of the tavernas are known for serving delicious seafood dishes and locally caught fish. Manos, a waterfront eatery, has a reputation for being the best fresh fish spot on the island. Its menu includes succulent mussels, grilled octopus and king prawns, and a range of grills.

Taverna Haris is another highly acclaimed seafood eatery in the city center of Symi. It serves mouth-watering octopus and shrimp with salads, courgette fritters, and feta baked in the oven.

The Pedi Museum is a great place to learn more about Symi’s fascinating past. Its neoclassical building houses an impressive collection of artifacts that tell the story of the island’s rich culture. The museum is a must-see for history buffs visiting the city.


Symi does not have a huge selection of hotels and holiday accommodation partly because it’s more often visited as a day trip from the larger neighbouring island of Rhodes. A shortage of fresh water, a decree restricting modern construction and the harsh summer heat have also kept the island’s population small and quiet.

However, there are plenty of lovely apartments, villas and houses to choose from. Many are decorated in an elegant style and some feature a pool and a rooftop terrace with stunning views of the harbour and surrounding mountains. The Old Markets Hotel is a beautiful example of this and has been restored to provide a luxurious stay in a classical building. There is a roof terrace bar where you can sip a drink and there’s even a spa where you can enjoy a massage or beauty treatment.

If you prefer to be right next to the water, then consider renting a gorgeous sea-front apartment in Pedi. This small village has developed along a gorgeous little beach and has a number of restaurants that offer grilled seafood and other traditional dishes. From here it’s easy to explore Chora and the other historic parts of the island.

There are a handful of cafes along the waterfront where you can get a freddo espresso and people-watch as you wait for your ferry or take in the spectacular scenery. Porte Cafe Bar is a nice option with a cute design while Perantzada Coffee, Snacks and Cocktails is a popular spot that’s frequented by yachties who dock their boats for a few days or weeks at a time.