Of all the places we’ve traveled and seen in the last few years, Mykonos, Greece holds a very special place in our heart as one of the top of the list. It’s a unique, gorgeous island full of friendly people, great food, and a convivial atmosphere that’s second only to the quality of its sunsets. If you’re considering visiting or just need new perspective if you’ve already been there, please keep reading and comment with any suggestions you might have that could make someone’s trip more special.
The thing you need to understand about Mykonos is that it’s a summer illusion we’ve all agreed to participate in collectively. It’s an otherwise inhospitable shard of granite in the Aegean Sea that would be desolate under normal circumstances. But thanks to the heartiness of the Greek people, it becomes a thriving seasonal summer community renown the world over for its party scene. It’s a place where folks come from the mainland to escape the heat, where everyone is on “island time,” and where leisurely romantic dinners, multiple bottles of wine, and healthy hangovers are welcome — even encouraged!
Everything is imported: the electricity, the water, the tomatoes, the lamb. And it all comes at a premium; but every euro is worth it! Though recently the fallout around the Greek economic crisis has made it a much more affordable experience to have relative to U.S. Dollars.
There are two methods of reaching the island, by air or by the plentiful ferries, both of which criss-cross the dozens of Greek islands with a transit network that will make even the most seasoned traveler’s head spin.
The good news is that Mykonos is the second most-connected island (after Santorini), which makes it easier to reach. Direct flights to the island (airport code: JMK) are by far the best choice, but they can sometimes get expensive. A cheaper alternative is typically to fly into Athens, take the train to the port of Piraeus, and then take a ferry to the island. Ferries sell out in advance and the journey time ranges from 2:39 to 4:40 hours, depending on the company.
Protip: Always pay extra to reserve a premium seat on the ferry or you may be left without one!
A good approach is to take a ferry one-way, but never both-ways, as it’s a very tedious experience compared to the flights. When booking flights from the US, it’s worth trying to connect directly to the island on carriers such as British Airways or SWISS, as sometimes the cost is roughly the same. Our primary way of reaching the island over the last few years has been to book a cheap airfare to a European budget airline hub, and then switch to that budget airline to reach Mykonos. The budget airline routes change every summer, but Milan, Barcelona, Paris, Vienna, Venice, and Nice have worked nicely for us in the past.
Once you’re on the island, you will quickly be able to orient yourself. The airport is in the middle of the island (see if your hotel will pick you up, as there is always a shortage of taxis available), a bus station called Fabrikas in the main town, a smaller bus station near the “new port”, and two ports. Almost all Ferries arrive at the “new port” which is a long walk from the town, with plenty of buses ready to take your Euros in exchange for a ride to town. Most of your time in the evenings and mornings will be spent in the town, taking buses to the beaches in the afternoon.
As with most of the Greek islands, “Chora” is the Greek word for the town and is sometimes used synonymously with the name of the island. So “Mykonos”, “Mykonos Chora”, or just “Chora” all mean the same thing: the biggest town on the island. Keep this word handy when beach-hopping for when it’s time to get back to civilization!
We have a few favorite places we like to stay:
The first order of business after you arrive is to adjust to island time. The rhythm of the island can be an adjustment for overworked, Type A American as it’s a 6 or 8 hour shift later than normal for the partying crowd and 20-somethings.
A typical day looks something like this:
- Wake up at 11am, get some coffee and rally from the night before,
- Eat breakfast (at lunch time!),
- Change into beach clothes, trek to the beach of your choosing, enjoy a couple hours of sun and have a couple drinks
- Return to the Chora, shower/disco nap
- Catch the sunset over more drinks
- Have an actual dinner around 9–11pm
- Head to the clubs (people don’t show up until 1am really), and party until the sun comes up
- Rinse and repeat for as many days as your liver and stamina can handle it!
For unique things to do on your first day: take pictures at The Windmills, the Old Port, or the Church of Panagia Paraportiani. Just wander around the streets and take in the feel of old Greece and the endless narrow corridors of the town.
Don’t be *those* Americans
You’re in another country so be gracious. Learn a little of the language. And treat the place as if you were a steward of it for a short time. A little humility and manners go a long way to enhancing both your experience of the island and how the locals treat you as well as their impression of you.
Some helpful Greek phrases you should learn:
- Hello/goodbye: Γειά σου (YAH-soo)
- Good morning: Καλημέρα (kah-lee-MER-ah)
- Good afternoon/evening: Καλησπέρα (kah-lee-SPER-ah)
- Goodnight: Καληνύχτα (kah-lee-NEEKH-tah)
- Yes: Ναί (neh) ; No: όχι (OH-hee)
- Thank you: Ευχαριστώ (eff-kha-ri-STOE)
- Please / You’re welcome: Παρακαλώ (para-kah-LOE)
- How much?: Πόσο κάνει αυτό (POH-soh KAH-nee)
- Excuse me / Sorry: Συγνώμη (See-GHNO-mee)
- Do you speak English? Μιλάτε αγγλικά (Mee-LAH-teh ag-li-KAH)?
But in our experience, many of the locals speak English enough to get by. It’s more about the gesture of attempting to engage them in their own language than it is to complete a full conversation. Have fun with it!
Finally, since the party crowd is so active in Mykonos, consider going above and beyond a little bit to ensure you leave your rooms tidy for easy clean up, don’t leave trash on the beach, and just generally try to follow the golden rule of travel: leave it better than you found it.
Experience Sunset at Little Venice
Our most highly recommended thing to do is grab a table before sunset at Little Venice, enjoy some wine and light appetizers, and watch the sun sink into the ocean. It’s very special and one of a kind in all our travels.
There’s a kind of magic to being on the island, all your worries left at home, and taking a few minutes to soak in the experience of sunset on the Mediterranean. We experienced a moving and a nice surprise on our first visit when the crowd of people all around us slowed to watch the sun dip below the horizon and then spontaneously clapped for the magnificent performance!
Little moments like that have a way of becoming special memories in a place like Mykonos where it’s easy to savor them and appreciate things that occur every day, like the inevitable sunset, which are easily glossed over back home during the heyday of normal life.
For food, you really can’t go wrong. They have the freshest Greek Salads in all types of combinations (obviously!) Fish and lamb are cheap as well as mutton, but fancier things are understandably a little more costly. You can find some amazing meals on the island. Even fresh grilled Octopus if you’re feeling adventurous! Two places we highly recommend are the Kounaelas Fish Tavern (where you can pick out your own fish before they cook it) and M-Eating (which has one of the most interesting menus I’ve seen.) Also clutch is Jimmy’s Gyro’s which is open all night and will save your life after a hard night of partying!
Quick notes on the local dishes:
- Dolmas are rice mixtures, sometimes with meat, wrapped in grape leaves and served as appetizers
- The Feta cheese is amazingly fresh and plentiful. Mykonos also has a special kind of local cheese, Kopanisti, that is worth trying but very bold in flavor. If you can find baked or grilled cheese in either of these flavors with honey, it’s to die for!
- Souvlaki is a skewer of grilled meat, usually chicken, beef, or lamb and probably the most easily accessible of Greek dishes for the American pallet
- Moussaka is an eggplant based “lasagna” that’s heavy and creamy, usually with a vegetarian option
- And their traditional dessert, Baklava, is a flaky pastry with Pistachios and honey
Gyros are really a fast-food type of sandwich as far as the Greeks are concerned and they’ll give you a little side-eye if you order one for dinner.
A note about alcohol: Stick to their domestic beers, Mythos or Alfa, as they’re the mainland Greek beer and plentiful. Corona or Budweiser are considered imports will cost you around $12 euro (or $15 dollars) a bottle!
Greek wine is generally not worth the effort in our experience, so look for imported Italian wine if or even Spanish, French, or even American if you can find it.
And the bars all stock normal liquors and restaurants sometimes serve anise-flavored local Ouzo as a aperitif.
For beaches, there are at least two we recommend: Elia and Super Paradise. The bus to Elia leaves from the New Port and will drop you off right at the beach. Elia is a quieter beach with a more mature crowd; great for a relaxing day sunning and swimming. If you stay to the right and look for the Rainbow flag you’ll find the LGBTQ-tribe on their own portion of the beach; and, like most of Europe, it’s also clothing-optional in this area. (Don’t say we didn’t warn you!)
Super Paradise, on the other hand, is a party beach. Take the bus from Fabrikas to Super Paradise and settle in for a crazy day. They have a huge club that is party-central at night and a bar/buffet during the day. There are also showers to rinse off the sea water. Up the hill to the right of Super Paradise is Jackie O’s beach bar; it’s an old bar bought by the owners of Jackie O’s down in the Chora and it has an amazing view of the beach. They also do a sunset drag show and have a really friendly vibe; totally worth having a drink or two.
The Fruit Loop (if you’re not interested in LGBTQ tips — turn back now!)
Of course Mykonos is known for it’s gay-friendly partying and bars as one of the top LGBTQ destinations in the world. There’s a rhythm to the clubbing scene here too that morphs over time as bars change. The circuit we’ve found that works well:
Hike up the hill before dusk to Elysium for a drink and drag show at sunset. To get there: go to Fabrikas, keep going to the next major intersection, turn left, then make a right about a quarter mile down past the parking lot. The road goes straight up the mountain and Elysium will be on your right about halfway up. Can’t miss it! The views from their pool area are to die for. Beware, the drinks are expensive; so all you need are one or two. It’s also one of the only proper drag shows on the island and it’s very straight friendly.
After Elysium, go back down the mountain and get a nap and/or dinner. Dinner at 11pm isn’t unusual.
Pre-party: Usually we like to start at Porta Bar. It’s a fun “disco” bar that people usually congregate early at with good dancing and lots of fun. It’s also smack in the middle of the Chora and near where you’ll be for dinner anyway.
Main party: Make your way over to Jackie O’ and Babylon for marathon partying. The later your arrive the better. Folks usually don’t show up until 1am at the earliest. These two bars are back-to-back and overlooking the harbor. The crowds show up late and party all night. They also have mini-drag shows every hour or so. It’s not unusual for people to dance a while, go outside to smoke and take a break and come back for another couple of rounds. Both clubs will be packed in the early morning and it’ll be hard to get in and out if you’re there around peak capacity. Heteros are welcome but need to know what they’re getting into!
Finish up the evening with a trip by Jimmy’s Gyros to soak up some of that alcohol and then crash out for the night!
A Day Trip to Delos
For more adventure a bit further afield, there is a ferry over to Delos for a day trip. If you’re into Greek Mythology, Delos is a treat. It’s a tiny island just a few minutes from Mykonos that was covered in ancient temples to the gods. Most all of it has fallen down now, but they are slowly preserving and documenting it all. It’s really fun to hike around the island and visit the temple ruins. If you’re really hardcore, make the mile-long hike up to the top of the mountain to the ruins of the Temple of Zeus and take in the view from the highest point on the island. There’s also a quite extensive museum with recovered statues.
An ideal trip to Mykonos is about 4–5 days. All that partying can tend to catch up with a person so you might consider transiting through another, more chill island or perhaps Athens on the way home. Leaving Mykonos is always bittersweet, but it is one of a kind, uniquely Greek, and a lot of fun if you do it right. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be back soon enough!
Enjoy. And may your time be well-spent!
Got additional tips or comments? Let us know.
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