Visiting the volcanic island of Nisyros, a lesser known gem in Greece
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.