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Updated: 10th February 2021
The volcanic island of Nisyros in Greece was one of my most unexpected and unplanned trips of the year. I didn’t even 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 – especially only having visited Athens previously – I dutifully booked a flight to the island of Kos and headed off on a Greek escapade.
Sadly, the romance never blossomed, but I did replace it with a new lover: Nisyros Island.
Now one of my favourite off-the-beaten-path gems in Europe, this small and sulphurous island was much sleepier than some of its more famous neighbours. You only need to look at a Crete, Mykonos or Santorini travel guide these days to know that the big ‘bucket list’ isles are crowded, so if you’re seeking a more serene experience, a somewhat less popular island like Nisyros might be just the ticket.
But it’s not just fewer crowds that make this rocky island so special. No, it’s the various calderas that gurgle in its heart. Around the edge, alluring whitewashed villages with those 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 yes, 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 spent the week. However, for those who want to experience a little more of Nisyros Island, then I’d recommend staying for a few nights on this unique and beautiful island.
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 like the perfect place to escape the tourist crowds that descend on Greece, even during my peak August visit. However long you plan to spend here, here’s what you should know, alongside how to get to Nisyros from other places in Greece.
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 in 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 will likely be the busiest of the villages and certainly seems 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 a 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 nightclubs 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, each providing 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 trail
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 with 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 Stefanos volcanic crater itself, the largest on the island.
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 reduce transfer costs.
When to visit Nisyros: It’s a fantastic destination from spring through autumn, but to avoid peak summer, I’d suggest this as one of the best places to visit in April in Europe.
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 of 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 various websites focused on accessible travel.