The second most popular island in Greece (to Santorini) is Mykonos, and for that reason I tend to stay clear when I can. The island is on almost every cruise ship route and every suggested itinerary for island hopping. That also means it’s crowded and expensive. The island earned its reputation as the home of the chic and fabulous dates back to the 1960s when the rich and famous “found” it and made it their playground.
I will admit, from afar the island’s harbor and its row of ancient sail-powered windmills make a peaceful, picturesque setting. The little peninsula sticking into the harbor from Mykonos town (nicknamed little Venice for building right to the water’s edge) is a jewel. The narrow streets and alley ways running through the town like white-washed canyons dotted with the bright spots of flowers dangling down from the rooftops are peaceful… that is if you avoid setting foot on the island during the high season, which runs from May through mid-September, when the island sees the bulk of its 750,000 yearly tourists.
If you visit, it will most likely be over the summer months (it does get cool in the winter) so here’s my advice:
Paradise is one of Mykonos’ best beaches (not for the prudish, it’s topless and in some cases bottomless), boasting a long stretch of soft, white sand and clear water. If you’re looking for a quiet beach, Kalafati is a good pick. You’ll have to take the bus from town to get there. If you don’t want to have to avert your eyes constantly Ornos is a good selection. The beach is family-oriented, fronted by extensive hotel development and buses run hourly from the south station between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m.
The hotel space is at a premium on the island and (like everything else) will often cost 30% more than on any other island. You may want to be in the heart of the action right in downtown, and that’s great if you don’t want to sleep at night. A friend of mine just stayed there last month and said from dusk till dawn the constant thud of club music could be heard and felt through the closed doors and windows of her room.
I recommend hotels that are just outside of the downtown area. You are in Greece, so walking is what you do (unless you have death wish and rent a scooter). The last time we were in town we stayed a family-run hotel at the top of a hill overlooking the town. It was quiet, clean and reasonably-priced and we simply found it by talking to the hawkers at the ferry dock. When you get off a ferry in Greece you will often see a line of representatives from hotels and pensions (rooms to let) armed with brochures and looking for guests. You can negotiate a price (bidding wars are not uncommon) and once you’ve agreed to stay with them they’ll give you a lift to the hotel. I have done this many times over the years and have never felt unsafe. You can also book in advance in this magical age of the Internet. Trip Advisor has some great pictures and reviews to consider.
I’m sorry, but we can’t give you a recommendation on food, because the restaurant scene is constantly changing.
The best side trip from Mykonos is to the tiny neighboring island of Delos. I love Delos. The island is a half-day trip by shuttle boat from the port near Little Venice. The island was the holiest site in the ancient Greek world and home to 20,000 people. It was covered with temples, many honoring Apollo and Artemis. No one was permitted to be born or die on the island in ancient times (but try explaining that to the many people who were slaughtered as the island was repeatedly invaded).
The Romans, in all their practicality, used the port as a commercial center as well as religious one, selling as many as 10,000 slaves a day on the docks. If you aren’t well-versed in ancient Greek history I suggest exploring the site with a guide. You can find one through many travel agencies. A good guide will point out the niches for oil-burning street lamps carved into the walls of the ancient ruins, the complex sets of drains that are remnants of a sewer system, and amazing 2,000-year-old mosaics decorating the floors of the ruins. Guides are wonderful for providing background knowledge for the beautiful pictures you’ll capture.
Warning: There is NO SHADE ON DELOS! There are NO SERVICES near the ruins! You MUST bring water with you or face dehydration, and be slathered in sunscreen or suffer severe sunburn. The island is covered in white marble and will cook you like a Dutch oven. As always, I highly recommend comfortable shoes.
Mykonos appeals to a certain kind of crowd, and don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking LGBT. I’m talking about people who like velvet rope clubs, $300 flip flops, and the concept of looking good at the beach over being practical. If you’ve been reading our blog you probably know we’re all about practicality, so it’s not our favorite Greek island destination. For us, it’s a stop-over-to-catch-the-morning-ferry kind of island, but it could be your dream destination.