Mykonos for first-timers

Mykonos is the party animal of the Cycladic islands, Greece’s answer to Ibiza, with bronzed bodies thronging its beaches by day and basslines pounding through its superclubs until dawn. But there’s more to it than the dazzling sand, preening celebrities and insatiable revellers.

Those who spend a little time here will discover the quiet charm of the Cycladic maze of Hora, the pleasure of travelling the backcountry roads and a dining scene to rival any Greek island.

The picturesque Little Venice bay in Mykonos Town © imagIN.gr photography / ShutterstockThe picturesque Little Venice bay in Mykonos Town © imagIN.gr photography / Shutterstock

Beach life

Whether you’re looking for a tiny, secluded cove lapped at by cerulean waters, or a wide stretch of sugar-white sand covered with sunworshippers, Mykonos has a beach to suit your needs. The island boasts 25 beaches, to be precise, and they’re justifiably its biggest natural attraction. Partygoers, look no further than Paradise or Super Paradise, dominated by eponymous clubs; Paraga and Psarou are other favourites for beach parties. Elia is Mykonos’ longest sweep of white sand, popular with families, while Platys Gialos and Kalafatis are particularly good for water sports. On the north coast, Panormos and Agios Sostis receive a fraction of visitors to southern beaches and have naturist-friendly sections. Pebbled Myrsine and Fokos coves, reachable via rutted tracks off the northeast coast, offer seclusion and refuge from the crowds. In the southwest, Ornos bustles with dozens of seafront restaurants, while secluded Agios Ioannis is a good spot for windsurfing.

Paraga Beach, one of the most popular stretches of sand on Mykonos © stoyanh / ShutterstockParaga beach, one of the most popular stretches of sand on Mykonos © stoyanh / Shutterstock

Away from the beaches

On the west side of the island, the tiny capital Hora (aka Mykonos Town) is Mykonos’ second-biggest attraction, after the beaches. You can lose yourself for hours in the enchanting warren of narrow pedestrian streets bedecked with bougainvillea and lined with picture-perfect, tiny churches, restaurants and boutiques. The Archaeological Museum is well worth your while, as is the informative Aegean Maritime Museum. The shopping is excellent: for art, check out Mavrogenous street; Greek designers line Matogliani, while Little Venice is great for casual fashion, jewellery and tacky souvenirs. Hora’s other delights include an appealing open-air cinema, Cine Manto, and a smattering of quirky art galleries, such as Rarity Gallery and Art & Soul Gallery.

The island’s hilly interior is dotted with small traditional villages – quite a contrast to the merry bustle of the coast. Swing by the only other settlement of any size in Mykonos, Ano Mera, and have a look at its pretty, whitewashed Tourliani Monastery, just off the taverna-lined main square.

Matogianni street in Hora, famous for shopping and nightlife © Anastasios71 / Shutterstock

Bring on the night

During the peak months of July and August, Mykonos doesn’t sleep. There are several clubs in Hora (including several gay and gay-friendly venues), but it’s the beach superclubs such as Cavo Paradiso, Super Paradise and Paradise Club that attract local and international DJ talent on a nightly basis. Beach parties kick off in the afternoon, and the action keeps going until dawn. Regular shuttle buses ferry revellers between Hora, Paradise and Super Paradise beaches. Those looking for a more sedate nocturnal pastime can check out Hora’s couple dozen bars – anything from champagne cocktails at the Queen of Mykonos, Aigli and Galleraki to cabaret and live music at the Piano Bar or cheap shots at the Skandinavian Bar for those looking for a shortcut to oblivion.

Traditional windmills, the symbol of Mykonos, at sunset © Lemonakis Antonis / Shutterstock

What to do

Diving Mykonos has plenty of walls, caves and wrecks to entice beginners and advanced divers alike. Diving operators are based on Paradise, Lia and Kalafatis beaches; the most reputable include Mykonos Diving Center and GoDive Mykonos.

History Mykonos is the gateway to the sacred island of Delos, the mythical birthplace of Apollo and Aphrodite, a Unesco World Heritage site and one of the most important and well-preserved archaeological sites in Greece. Daily boat trips depart from the pier in Hora.

Mountain biking The island has a hilly interior, quiet backcountry roads, tranquil villages and several practically deserted beaches along the north coast. Yummy Pedals tailors guided mountain-biking tours of the island to suit your skill level.

Sunsets Prime spots for watching the greatest free show on earth include the bars of Little Venice in Hora, Kato Mili (a classic quartet of windmills on a hillock overlooking Little Venice) and Agios Ioannis beach.

Swimming Mykonos doesn’t lack for places to take the plunge – from infinity pools at top hotels and private plunge pools to 25 beautiful sandy beaches that fringe the island.

Water sports Head to the Windsurf Centre Mykonos on Kalafatis beach for lessons, or try your hand at adrenalin-packed activities such as flyboarding, wakeboarding and wakeskating with Platys Gialos Watersports on the eponymous beach.

Seafood meal with a view at a waterfront restaurant in Mykonos © Piccia Neri / Shutterstock

Where to stay

If money is no object, first-timers to Mykonos should opt for a beachfront boutique hotel with all the trappings of an upmarket Greek island property: elegant Cycladic curves, infinity pool, whitewashed interior, beamed ceilings, terraces that catch the breeze from the Aegean. Most are clustered around the beaches on the south coast, such as Platys Gialos. Standout options include Nissaki Boutique Hotel, Palladium Boutique Hotel and Branco Mykonos. Less cashed-up travellers looking to party can score sea views on a lemonade budget by staying at the Paraga Beach Hostel. Otherwise, there are numerous lodgings to suit all budgets in and around Hora, from wallet-friendly MyCocoon Hostel and Hotel Matina with a beautiful garden to the glamorous Bill & Coo Coast Suites and contemporary Semeli Hotel.

Where to eat

Mykonos has a terrific dining scene. The densest concentration of dining options is in Hora, where visitors can find anything from upmarket fusion dining represented by M-Eating and Funky Kitchen to authentic Italian at Daniele & Alessandro and traditional Greek tavernas such as Nikos Taverna and Joanna’s Nikos Place Taverna. There are plenty of dining options along Platys Gialos and Ornos beaches; in addition, pretty much every single beach on the island has at least one decent restaurant, the most renowned of which is Kiki’s Taverna above Agios Sostis beach.

When to go

Peak travel time is June to September, when hotel prices are at a record high, and the beaches, restaurants and nightclubs are packed. Shoulder season (April to early June, late September and October) is arguably a more pleasant time to visit – you get the beaches minus the crowds and the accommodation prices are lower.

In winter, it may be too cold for sunbathing and swimming, but bonuses include empty beaches and plenty of accommodation bargains. Many Mykonos residents rent out their houses in summer and return during low season, so lots of restaurants stay open year-round.

Practicalities

Throughout the year, frequent ferries connect Mykonos with Athens’ ports of Rafina and Piraeus as well as the neighbouring islands of Tinos and Andros. In high season, high-speed catamarans link Mykonos with numerous other Cycladic islands, including Santorini and Paros. Check OpenSeas for timetables.

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