Mykonos and Santorini have become the two top tourist destinations of the Cyclades islands in Greece. Relatively close to Mykonos there is a gem that does not share the reputation of the two islands, but has so much to offer.
Syros has a long history that began three millennia ago. This explains the differences in architecture and the many government buildings in the capital, Ermoupoli. It also explains the wealth of museums and cultural events that take place there in the summer.
There are huge differences between the three islands. On Syros, one will find the City Hall, the remains of the castle in Ano Syros and the Theater Apollon — all buildings that are atypical of Cyclades architecture.
But the main difference here is in the culture: Syros had French, Venetian, and Ottoman influences. The island came under Ottoman rule in 1522, but it was awarded substantial religious, economic, and cultural freedom. Specifically, the island’s large Catholic population came under French and Roman protection after the Ottomans made an agreement to that effect with the French and the Holy See.
Ano Syros is a medieval hilltop town that stands above the capital of Ermoupoli. The original residents chose this hard-to-reach location to protect themselves from the regularly-occurring pirate raids that threatened the island. There, one can find the historic Church of St. George, the sprawling Catholic edifice that sits at the town’s summit.
The capital of the Cyclades
Just under that area is Ermoupoli, the capital of the Cyclades, which was once a key trading port in the Aegean. Ermoupoli has several museums and beautiful architecture all around.
The Archaeological Museum of Ermoupoli – housed in the iconic Neoclassical town hall building, is one of the oldest museums in Greece. There is also the Ermoupoli Industrial Museum, where among other exhibits one can learn about Syros’ contribution to the world’s first electric cars.
In Ermoupoli one can see many mansions which once belonged to the town’s merchants. A wealthy island due to its great location for trade, Syros lost much of its sheen during World War II and the years afterward. Yet the rich homes of the merchants remain. And now that the island has been reborn once again, the mansions stand there, still proud and magnificent.
Many small villages hidden in Syros’ coves or perched on its mountaintops have been practically untouched by tourism. If you rent a car and take a tour around the island, you can see authentic island life in those villages.
In these small villages, one can find incredible local dishes, made from fresh, homegrown ingredients. You can also sample great culinary delights in the capital, where you can find gourmet restaurants alongside typical Greek tavernas.
Syros is most famous for two foods: the great loukoumi of Syros and the San Michael cheese, a cheese with a spicy, fruity taste thanks to the island’s aromatic herbs that its cows are fed.
The island of festivals
Syros is also the island of festivals, with at least a dozen taking place every year. The Syros International Film Festival is very popular and takes place in venues across the island. Most of the rest are centered on the capital, such as the Syros Tango Festival, Akropoditi DanceFest, and the Festival of the Aegean.
Of course, being one of the Cyclades, Syros has plenty of beautiful beaches with crystal-clear, turquoise waters. Sea lovers will have a great time at Kini, a village occupying a wide bay on the island’s west coast, with two thin strips of sandy beach.
There is also Galissas, the most popular beach on Syros. It combines the view of the blue sea and the towering mountains that curve along the bay.
Finally, Ermoupoli is famous for its great nightlife. Despite its small size, dozens of bars and restaurants are conveniently situated close to the harbor. There you can find food and entertainment for all tastes and wallets. From small drinking joints to large trendy bars, from upscale restaurants to small eateries, Syros has it all. The music varies all the way from house to rebetiko.
Indeed, Syros is a hidden gem for many foreign visitors. Yet it has many Greek fans who try to keep it a secret so its beauties are not spoiled from overcrowding.