Updated: 10th February 2019
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The volcanic island of Nisyros in Greece turned out to be one of my most unexpected discoveries of 2018. I didn’t know I was going to Greece until I got invited there, on a second date, after meeting someone at Edinburgh Festivals two weeks before. A little tipsy, and always keen to explore somewhere new, I dutifully booked a flight to Kos island and headed off on a Greek escapade. Sadly, the romance never blossomed, but I did replace it with a new lover: Nisyros Island.
Nisyros Island might be one of the best off the beaten path gems in Europe; while Santorini, another volcanic Island nearby is overrun with tourists to the point I don’t think I’ll ever be able to visit. By comparison, Nisyros is nearly deserted.
The small island is unique in that it is all a volcano, and around the edge, charming whitewashed villages with signature blue frames play home to close-knit communities. In the middle of the island, you’ll find the space like landscape where the crater of this active volcano bubbles away, and you can take your adventurous ass right down into it, sulphur fumes and all.
For many, Nisyros Island is a day trip, usually from Kardamena, a small resort town in Kos where I was spending the week. On a side note, Kardamena was a lot nicer than I expected having envisioned tourist-trap style restaurants and an overflow of boozy nightclubs, it actually proved to be a really lovely place for a relaxing, switch-off with not much to do but eat and chill.
For those who want to experience a little more of Nisyros Island, then I’d recommend staying for a few nights. There are a few different villages around the edge you could then explore at your own pace, but even just taking some downtime on the black sand and rock beaches, or reading a book with a Greek coffee along the waterfront, is a holiday enough.
Nisyros Island struck me as somewhere an artist would come to paint, or a writer would come to craft their words, it had ‘that’ vibe, whatever that may be, and it felt the perfect place to escape the tourist crowds that descend on Greece, even during my peak August visit.
Things to do on Nisyros Volcanic Island
Thanks to the location of the island in the Aegean Sea, volcanic activity is a common occurrence around here. Thus, it’s no surprise that the highlight of a visit to Nisyros might centre around this. But here, this little gem of the Dodecanese islands has some other treats up its sleeve, so there are some different ways to enjoy your travels to Nisyros island.
Marvel at the Monastery
The most impressive sight on the island for me was the 14th-century Panagia Spiliani Monastery which is housed mainly into a cave on the rockface of the island.
Looking down on the village of Mandraki, you can climb the nearly 300 stairs to the monastery and admire the views of the island, before heading inside the duo of churches with their whitewashed exterior.
At ground level, the courtyard of the monastery is home to some nice, well-shaded cafes, and behind the monastery, you can continue to a black rock beach with aggressive waves.
Meander through Mandraki village
The main village of the island is Mandraki, which is home to the port as well. As such, this is likely going to be the busiest of the villages and certainly seemed home to the most accommodation options.
That said, even in August it wasn’t exactly overflowing, and it was easy to find empty tables with excellent views to enjoy a coffee at.
The village indeed isn’t large, but a maze of small alleyways with scooters slowly passing by kittens lounging in the sun, provides ample photographic opportunities. This very much feels like Greece from years gone by, with plastic chairs outside blue framed doors, and little staircase leading up to porches.
Breezy beers on the waterfront
The waterfront of Mandraki has a few bars and restaurants running along it, and with the salty breeze of the ocean hair, and the occasional spray from the crashing waves, it’s a relaxing and therapeutic place to enjoy a local beer, coffee or of course, delicious Greek meal.
My happiest moments on Nisyros were spent here, reading a book, enjoying a coffee and listing to the waves and seagulls overhead. There is no abundance of night-clubs or heavy hitting venues here, so you can truly soak up the Greek charm in a mostly tourist free atmosphere.
Venture to the other villages
A trio of other communities make up the inhabited parts of Nisyros, and each one provides a similar, yet slightly different vibe.
The whitewashed buildings and blue plant pots are consistent, but the villages of Pali, Emporios and Nikia are well worth venturing to if you have more than a day on the island. Nikia is likely the best to head to as it offers some great views looking down on the volcanic crater.
Take a thermal spa dip
Thanks to the volcanic makeup of the island, hot springs are another big draw to Nisyros and thanks to the relaxed and remote location, it would make for an ideal wellness retreat. I can only imagine these healing thermal spas are another reason the island was, and still is, so popular with artists and creatives.
Brave the black rock beaches
Being a volcano, many of the beaches here are black rocks and, with not much else around, the waves come crashing in hand.
That isn’t to say there aren’t more sheltered, sand beaches to relax on, but the wild ways of the rocky shores made for another perfect place to settle in with a book and unplug my headphones, opting instead to have the crashing sounds of mother nature distract me from the modern world.
Hike the island’s paths
Nisyros is a dream for hikers, with plenty of well-trodden paths to explore between the villages and more remote natural wonders. I didn’t have time to undertake any myself, but the small tourism office at the port has a map detailing some of the more popular routes.
Take a boat trip to Giali
Between Nisyros and Kos, you’ll find the island of Giali, another volcanic island which has a unique makeup of pumice and lava domes. It is still used as a pumice mine, but you can venture here on a boat trip, although I opted not to as first-hand reports hadn’t made it sound worth the time investment.
Visit the volcanic crater
Saving the most obvious to last, no visit to Nisyros island would be complete without venturing into the volcanic crater itself.
The active volcano hasn’t erupted in well over one hundred years, and here you can walk around the rim and take in the almost space-like scenery, before taking the short walk down into the crater.
Buses regularly ply the drive from the main port to the crater, especially during the late morning and early afternoon hours that bring the day trippers here from nearby Kos. There isn’t much in the centre, other than a cafe which provides some shade and snacks to visitors waiting to be shuttled back to the villages.
If you head to the village of Nikia, you’ll find some great viewpoints looking down to the centre, but also the Volcano Museum which provides some facts and context into Nisyros.
Need to know: Nisyros Island
A few tips and insights to make planning your visit to Nisyros a little easier but as always, remember to find your own discoveries too!
Where to stay on Nisyros on a budget: Wild camping in Greece seems to vary from region to region, and although I could not find a definitive answer, it appears on Nisyros it is allowed, although I can’t confirm this 100%.
For those looking for a cheap bed on Nisyros though, the Haritos Hotel offers twin/doubles out of season for around €30 a night with a swimming pool and location close to the port to minimalise transfer costs.
Where to stay on Nisyros like a baller: The Old Traditional House is also located close to the port, but this delightful private apartment provides a more intimate and personal place to use as a base while exploring the island.
In general, it seems there is limited accommodation in Nisyros, so booking in advance is highly recommended.
How to get to Nisyros: I took a boat from Kos Island, and the port/resort town fo Kardamena. Kos airport is served by international flights, including from the UK, and domestic flights from within Greece. Other smaller ports offer seasonal boat connections to Nisyros.
Accessibility on Nisyros Island: Nisyros Island appeared to me to not be the most accessible friendly destination in the world, but buses to go to the rim of the volcanic crater although on my coach there were stairs to board. In the village by the port, the roads and paths were mainly even. This website dedicated to Greece lists a variety of websites focused on accessible travel.