The picture-perfect Cycladic island that’s been getting increasingly more popular in recent years is famous for its turquoise beaches, whitewashed towns with bougainvillea flowers, and sizzling nightlife scene. Often referred to as the island of youth, Ios attracts young and hip visitors who come to dance until dawn on the sandy beach clubs where international DJs play their tunes, but Ios has developed a softer, more polished side in recent years as well.
Although highly revered as the party capital of Greece, it has plenty to offer for those looking to enjoy a more slow-paced holiday. Although it is only 17 kilometers long and 8 kilometers wide, what it lacks in size, it makes up for in ravishing beauty.
And after long days of practicing the art of dolce far niente on the white sand beaches, you can enjoy endless strolls through sleepy villages. You’ll come across everything from traditional tavernas where old men play tavli while munching on delicious local cheeses, jazz bars where ouzo is used as a substitute for water, and trendy eateries serving detox juices for the hungover twenty year olds who can’t exactly happened last night. An island full of contrasts, Ios (referred to as Nio by the locals) is a place of unique beauty that will have you spellbound minutes after arrival. Named after violets who are commonly found in the wild fields and valleys, this Cycladic jewel is also a great place to explore the rich cultural heritage of Hellada.
Thanks to a protected natural harbor, the island has played an important role in Greek history since prehistoric times. Remnants from the early Bronze Age were found on the archeological site near Skarkos hill, and dozens of crucial excavation points are scattered across the island.
The history of the island is intertwined with Homer’s work since, according to the legend, the author of Iliad and Odyssey chose this azure island as his final resting place. His presumed grave is located near Plakotos beach and is one of the main attractions of Ios.
Whether you’re looking to let your hair down and sip on cocktails in one of the hip nightclubs dotted along the coast or are more interested in simply cruising through the sparkly Aegean seas and exploring picturesque villages with ancient windmills, this Cycladic island won’t let you down.
Discover a new glittery blue beach every day, dine with the locals and try the famous Xinotiri goat and sheep milk cheese, roam around the Venetian castle and enjoy the splendor of this island that will leave you eager to stay a few extra days.
Best towns to visit in Ios
Days on the island are mainly spent on the dreamy beaches, but the scenic villages won’t let you down either. Out of the 2024 residents of the island, almost 1800 live in the capital - the rest are just sleepy villages that are nonetheless beautiful to explore.
The main town and the largest settlement on the island are the windmill-studded Chora. Despite the large influx of tourists in the peak summer season, the village has managed to retain its authentic charms and is often regarded as one of the most beautiful spots in the Cycladic archipelago. Built amphitheatrical on the ruins of an ancient polis, exploring Chora will require some physical fitness, as the village is perched high up on the valley and can only be reached by stairs - there are no roads to make the task less tasking.
Just at the entrance, you’ll notice twelve well-preserved windmills, now used as residential houses, surrounded by fragrant gardens, that bear testimony to the rich history of Chora.
Once you’re there, you’ll be afforded panoramic views of the blue gulf, especially if you take the extra effort to visit the Panagia Gremniotissa church. There are 24 churches in town, but this one is considered to be the prettiest - its name literally translates to “Virgin of the Cliff,” as the church is built on the tallest point of Chora. As you walk around town, you’ll find typical Cycladic architecture and flat-roofed whitewashed houses with blue shutters and doors. To learn more about the prehistoric customs and traditions, visit the Archeological Museum.
Located inside an elegant neoclassical mansion, the museum has a comprehensive collection of artifacts excavated throughout the 20th century in the ancient town of Ios. With impressive statues that date back to the third and second millennia BC, the exhibition is a true treat for history enthusiasts. If you’re intrigued by the collection, visit the Skarkos locality found between the village and main port, where you’ll be able to see the network of elaborate streets used in the Bronze Age, as well as well preserved houses and squares.
Named after the Nobel-awarded modern poet, Odysseas Elytis Theatre is the cultural center of the village that hosts several musical concerts, shows, and performances each summer. Even though it was built in a classic Doric style, the theatre is actually relatively new - the construction was finished in 1997.
The main port of the island is a picture-perfect blue and white village of Ormos. Situated in a large natural harbor, the scenic village offers a laid-back atmosphere ideal for relaxing and unwinding. Built amphitheatrical around a blue bay, Ormos oozes an elegant aura that makes it a popular destination for honeymooners and couples. The whitewashed houses and waterfront promenade make for a lovely stroll on balmy afternoons, and nearby you’ll find several historic sites that tell the story of the island’s importance through the centuries. One of the best protected harbors in the Cycladic archipelago is home to the pearly white 17th century church of Agia Irini which is one of the greatest in land attractions on Ios. The oldest church in the area, Aghios Giorgios, is located minutes from the port and gives insight into the early medieval heritage of the region.
Best Beaches in Ios
Expect to be spoiled with options when choosing where to more for the day to enjoy swimming in the glittery Aegean seas. Although small, this Cycladic island has dozens of dreamy beaches, some of which are considered to be the prettiest ones in Greece.
An oasis that could easily be mistaken for a Caribbean luxury getaway, Mylopotas is a sandy Blue flag beach just minutes away from the main town. With soft sugar cane sand and translucent water, it is perhaps the most popular beach on the island. Mylopotas is divided into two areas, one with lively bars and taverns that offer complimentary parasols and sunbeds, and an unorganized section where you can escape the crowds and enjoy some peace and quiet far from crowds. And to top the almost overwhelming beauty, the alluring beach is also home to the Museum of Modern Art, where you can see contemporary pieces from Poland, Haiti, and Greece in a lovely neoclassical mansion.
A sublime white sandy beach on the south coast of the island, Manganari attracts visitors with its tranquil blue seas, long stretches of fine soft golden, and great wind protection. Thanks to its remoteness, the beach is far quieter than Mylopotas yet offers an almost identical environment. Because of the calmness of the water, this beach is a great option for those traveling with kids. The more adventurous charterer might want to explore Never Bay nearby, a quiet cove that is famously difficult to reach but offers the most dazzling blue seas you’ve ever come across.
If you’re looking for a quiet, secluded beach to escape the everyday hustle and bustle, make sure to visit the divine Papa Beach. Surrounded by fertile hills, this hidden cove has glittery pristine seas and fine toasty sand yet is often completely empty and thus perfect for a relaxing beach day.
Surrender to the stillness of nature on this Eden-like sandy beach. Surrounded by mountainous hills, Psathi offers unique scenery and a tranquil ambiance. The beach is also great for those who want to test out their luxury charter yacht’s water toys, thanks to strong Meltemi winds.
Best restaurants on Ios
Ios has a bustling social scene with trendy bars and upscale eateries. Surrender to the temptations of traditional Greek cuisine, or dine with youngsters in the hip and trendy restaurants found in the main town and popular beaches.
Taste of Joy
If you have a special occasion in mind and are looking to celebrate with gourmet dishes in a chic environment, book a table at this sophisticated restaurant in Koumpara. Taste of Joy is not only a powerhouse of fine dining in Ios, and it stands out by the lavish interior and incomparable views from the terrace that overlooks the bay.
A traditional tavern in the main town that enjoys cult status, Sainis Taverna is a must-visit spot with an authentic vibe and delicious traditional dishes. Try to book ahead as it can get quite busy in the summer, and make sure to order the kleftiko lamb that’s simply out of this world.
When visiting Mylopotas, book a lunch at this stylish beach restaurant offering traditional meals upgraded with gourmet ingredients. The beef with truffled mashed potatoes is a perfect example of their culinary philosophy, and the extensive wine list will accentuate the heavenly flavors of their artful dishes.
Hellenic Ios Social
Come for a filling Insta-worthy brunch in this up-and-coming Chora eaterie. With healthy smoothies, peach french toast, and plenty of vegan and gluten-free options, Hellenic is one of the best restaurants in Ios and a popular choice for many bronzed elites who come to recharge after a hazy night of partying.