Home Destination Guides Accommodation 27th January 2020


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The tiny island of Symi, nestling close to the shores of the Turkish mainland, just north of Rhodes, is an island belonging to the Dodecanese group.  Symi is a hilly island, rising to 616 metres above sea level at its central point.  Legend has it that Symi was initially called Simia (Monkey island), when the God Prometheus was turned into a monkey and imprisoned on the island by his rival Zeus, from whom he had stolen the gift of fire.  In Greece it seems you can always rely on the Gods to pep up an island legend or two!
Legends aside, in the 18th and 19th Centuries Symi was a thickly wooded and very prosperous island. Back then, it was a major commercial centre for shipbuilding and all the island’s trees were felled to produce the timber for this trade. Turnover peaked at an amazing 500 caiques a year. However, this in turn led to the stark, rocky terrain that now dominates the island and the shipbuilders resorted to importing timber from the Turkish mainland to carry on their trade.  Following the Italian occupation after World War I, Symi was unable to import the timber it required from Turkey, commercial shipbuilding fell into decline and the wealthy merchants prospered no more. This together with the decline of the other prosperous island trade of sponge diving, at about the same time, left little room for commercial activity on the island.
However, Symi’s fortunes took an upturn in 1974 when the Turkish invasion of Cyprus made day trips from Rhodes to the Turkish mainland off limits and Symi stepped in to fill the gap.  Since those early days of tourism Symi has flourished, becoming ever more popular for both day trips and for a get-away-from-it-all break. This, despite its lack of an airport - necessitating a fairly lengthy sea transfer from Rhodes.
The Main Town -
GIALOS also known as SYMI HARBOUR,
linked with
SYMI TOWN also known as CHORIO
The only town of any size is the island’s main port and capital at Gialos, also called Symi Harbour.  In fact the town is split into 2 parts between the waterfront and harbour area and the upper part of the town is called Symi Town or Chorio.  It is only when the ferry pulls into the horseshoe-shaped harbour that you realise why Symi is such a popular choice for day trippers.  This is a lovely town full of pastel painted, noble neo-classical mansions, built by wealthy merchants when business was booming, although sadly a number of them remain empty today.  They rise majestically up the hillside along steep winding paths and literally hundreds of steps before you reach the upper part of Symi town at Chorio.
The focal point is the waterfront, lined with tavernas, restaurants, café bars and souvenir shops with a magical atmosphere at night as the lights from the shops and houses dance on the calm waters of the bay.   At the northern end of the harbour is a campanile and a statue commemorating the sponge divers where the ferries berth. The excursion boats from Rhodes arrive further along the waterfront, next to the Marina, along with the beach boats and fishing caiques. Bus and taxi stations occupy the southern side.  Other sites to look out for along the waterfront are a Trireme Relief dated 1945 and a taverna where the Dodecanese Treaty was signed at the end of WWII.   Around Gialos harbour everything is to hand - apart from a great choice of tavernas, restaurants and café bars, there are shops, mini markets, a Post Office, doctor, Banks and ATM machines, a Chemist, moped hire and even a Nautical Museum hiding behind the town’s main square.  Party goers should look elsewhere, because the nightlife on Symi is a relaxed continuation of the evening meal and although there are two discos, these are low key.  The waterfront can become very busy from midday until early evening with the arrival and departure of day trippers, therefore some consider this to be an excellent time to take a siesta!
The upper town of Chorio usually manages to avoid the masses, as the notable Kali Strata, a magnificent staircase made from 357 white marble steps, is not an easy climb in the heat of the day. However, those that do make it are rewarded with superb views.  If  you make it up the steps, be sure to take in a visit to the remains of the Castle, built by the Knights of St John, together with the Folk Museum and the base of the Tropaion - all that is left of a monument erected by the Spartans to celebrate a naval victory over the Athenians.
Most of the beaches on Symi are only accessible by boat, but there is a small sandy beach at Pedi Bay, a short bus ride to the south of Gialos, and another beach of dark sand in the little village of Emporio to the north of Gialos.  Beach boats offer a shuttle service from the harbour to some of the small beaches around the coast and some water taxis visit the tiny islet of Nimos, to the north of Gialos.  The only other destination visited by boat is the popular Panormos Bay on the south coast of Symi, which has a good beach and a fascinating monastery dedicated to the patron saint of sailors, the Archangel Michael. The monastery has superb Byzantine frescoes and ecclesiastical artefacts.
The only way to visit Symi is by boat as there is no airport on the island. Package holidays are available from some of the Greek specialist tour operators who fly their customers by charter flight from the U.K. to Rhodes and transfer them by boat to Symi.  Flying time from the U.K. to Rhodes is almost 4 hours and there can be a lengthy wait in Rhodes town for the ferry to Symi, depending on flight and ferry schedules.  Olympic Airways offer scheduled flights from the U.K. to Rhodes via Athens all year round, and the flight time is approximately 40 mins.
Symi has several daily ferry connections to Rhodes and the crossing takes approximately 1 and a half hours.  A hydrofoil also runs between Symi and Rhodes on a less frequent basis. Symi has further ferry connections to Kos, Kalymnos, Leros, Patmos, Lipsi, Tilos and Nissiros.  The route that these ferries take is usually circuitous, calling at several islands on the way before arriving at the Athens port of Piraeus.  All schedules are subject to change, timings can be affected by adverse weather conditions, and you are advised to check everything locally. 
The foregoing information was last reviewed in April 2007. Things change, and whilst we are often travelling in Greece we do rely to some extent upon others to provide updates in order to keep the site as current and accurate as possible!  If you have updates or information that you think should be included here, please mail the webmaster@aguide2greece.com  - thank you 


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