Travelling to Mykonos off season

The Greek islands are quite different than the mainland, so whenever you are visiting Athens, be sure to spend some time in the islands! I have previously visited a few islands already – Santorini, Aegina, Poros, Hydra, and this time I added Mykonos to my list! 

It is famous as a party and LGBQT island, in late autumn (November) it is very quiet and peaceful. You would like to take some pictures without other people in the shot and don’t care much for swimming? Off-season in Greece is the best time!

This time around it was a slightly different trip, a granddaughter-grandmother trip. It is a continuation to my other family trips done recently:

Taking my mom and grandmother to see famous Turkish tulips in Istanbul

And taking my brother to Texas to see his friend as a graduation present!

Practical tips

We took the direct flight from Riga to Athens using some airline miles I had accumulated, so I only had to pay taxes – 89 euros for both of us for return ticket.

Ferry: a ferry from Athens to Mykonos cost 38 euros in one direction per person. It was not possible to buy the tickets in advance, as they only showed up on the Blue Star Ferries page about 2 weeks before the trip. The ferry is large, and while I sometimes do suffer from motion sickness, I only felt a bit queasy at one point and I was reading at the time. When I stopped reading and started looking outside, I felt much better. There is a bathroom, cafes, restaurants and a few small shops on board. The regular, cheapest economy tickets will let you sit at a simple table on a simple chair, and there are tables with 2 and four seats. Higher class tickets offer semi-sleeping places. The ferry internet did not work and I was using mobile data throughout the trip -in some places at sea it didn’t work that well, so I wouldn’t count on streaming your favorite movies during the trip. The trip takes around 5 hours, and during our trip there were just two ferries a day. The ferry also stops in Tinos and Siros on the way.

Hotels: We stayed at the Harmony Boutique hotel, with breakfast, and it cost 96 euros per night, and we stay 4 nights. The hotel has a pool, but it is not heated, so we didn’t swim nor see anyone do that. When booking I had put in a special request for a fresh room – no strange smells or mold or anything like that, as my grandmother has asthma and the room we got was absolutely spectacular! We had our own terrace with a view over the main roof of the hotel, our own tea in the room.

Getting around Mykonos: when arriving to the port, if you want to go to Chora, it is the best to take the Seabus, it will only cost you 2 euro per person. In comparison, taxi is 25 euros. Off season don’t count on any taxi app working, and even season reviews suggest it is not a reliable service. Off season your best bet to move around the island will be a rental car, as you will have space to park it (in season I would not dare to do that). If you are using the bus to travel on the island, check with the driver and at the hotel, because the bus schedule on the internet and at the bus stop was wrong! Bust tickets were a couple of euros.

Trip to Delos: 20 euros per person, in winter just one ferry a day. You also need to pay entrance fee to the site. Seniors go in for free to all of the Greek museums.

Places to eat: We had a really nice place next to our hotel called Pita Wrap and Pizza. Their price list was nearly half of the other restaurant type of places, and mostly they work on delivery, but also have a few neat tables on site. We usually had a Greek salad, pita, some falafel or pizza. The drinks do cost more than at a supermarket, so you can ask the food to go and eat it in your hotel room.

Another place was Trio Bambini – ice cream and waffles. Best to take pancakes or waffles + topping rather than one of the ready sets, as it will be cheaper.

Leonidas: pita with gyros, and much cheaper than in the fancy places.

First Impressions: Mykonos in November

Docking in Mykonos, it is very lively – someone is picking people up, someone is ready to go themselves. We also see one of those massive cruise ships on the first day, but this was also the last one we saw. With every day that passes, it is getting more quiet. On the last day when we are leaving, I hear a conversation between a tourist and a local cafe owner, who are leaving for the winter, their pet in tow. 

Winter is not the time to party on Mykonos, but it is the best time for quiet walks, enjoying the empty streets and a sunset without thousands of other people pushing you for a better view.

There are about 15 thousand permanent inhabitants in Mykonos, but the annual number of visitors reaches 2 million. If you search about tourism in Mykonos, you are quite likely to come across the word “overtourism”, as it is one of the most popular Greek islands. You might hear that the islands infrastructure is not prepared for such a number of tourists, you will have to wait in line for a taxi. Well, not in November. No lines, no crowds in Little Venice or at the windmills. 

However, it is not all just perfect in winter, as off-season does bring a few challenges. Reading just two weeks old reviews for restaurants and coming there for dinner, we discover the place not simply closed, but is completely empty, as in no chairs or tables, and someone is painting the walls. The bus times are wrong everywhere. And even the all knowing Google has wrong opening hours for museum.. When we come to see the Archaeological museum, a girl greets us at the door and says – museum is closed, see, we are loading the exhibits into truck!

The weather will also be a bit colder that even a few weeks earlier. It is still very warm for those of us living in the North, and water is still warm – around 20C, which is more than I can say for our own sea at home in the summer. But some days are so windy that we don’t take off our jackets. And the cab driver does tells us on the day of arrival – seems you came on the day when they switched off the summer!

Historic Sights in Mykonos – Little Venice, Kato Myloi, churches

For our first walk on the island we decide to simply walk around. Bright white houses, blue windows and doors, and white-blue Greek flags everywhere. It also seems that wherever you stop, you will see at least two churches, more like small chapels. In Mykonos city alone (known also as Chora), there are 60 of them! And the entire island has from 600 to 800, so roughly speaking, one per family! Many have been built for deceased family members, and often with a view to the sea – to ensure safe return of family members. I notice a church that looks slightly different than the others, it is Panagia Paraportiani, a complex consisting of 5 churches! Four are on the ground, and one is on the roof, and has become the postcard view of Mykonos. The building begun in 1425, but was only finished in the 17th century.

We just keep on walking, turning left and right randomly, and then suddenly we find ourselves in one of the most well known places on the island – the Little Venice, a place where the waves are washing against the buildings and it reminds people of Venice. During the 16th and 17th century this place was used for loading goods quickly, as the pirates attacked ships frequently. Now these houses host restaurants and bars. On the opposite side we see the other postcard view of the island – famous windmills on the windy side. Now the island has 16 of them remaining, 7 are in the city and 5 on this hill, called Kato Myloi. Venetians used to build such windmills from the 16th to the 20th century, but then it was no longer economically viable. Now one of these mills is a museum, and this is one of the main tourist spots on the island, as well as the most recognizable view. 

Day trips from Mykonos: Delos & the archaeological site

Greek myths say that Apollo, the twin brother of Artemis, the protector of muses and arts, and the god of light, was born on Delos. Delos is reachable in about 30 minutes from Mykonos on a ferry. At first when reading about Delos, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to visit it all, as having spent a few days in Athens I felt like I had enough of ruins. However, reading a few detailed blog posts about it and finding out it is considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites in all of Greece, I decided that one day can be spent here as well.

There is just one ferry a day during the off season, at 10:00, and it leaves at 13:00. The ticket costs 20 euros, and you also have to pay to enter the site, so it doesn’t come cheap. One benefit – seniors in Greece don’t have to pay an entrance fee to any of the museums! One of the disadvantages of the winter season is also the time of the ferry – some of the routes on Delos would require 5 h to complete, so we clearly didn’t have enough time!

Currently Delos has only 14 permanent inhabitants, but 90 BCE this 5 km long and 1300m wide island had 30 000 inhabitants! It was mostly a religious site, but also important for trade – estimates suggest that annually this port had about 750 000 tons of goods traded through it. Every four years in May the Delian festival was organized here, and it was as important as the Olympic games!

Since 7 BCE this island has been uninhabited and it has helped preserve the heritage in a very good condition. Even more so, the island somehow was unnoticed by Greek historic object traders, as well as no one has tried to “preserve” the objects that in other places in Greece led to even faster deterioration. Since 1990 the island is part of the UNESCO world heritage list.

I had read that there can be significant lines at the entrance to the museum, and as soon as the ferry docks, you have to rush out to the ticket booth. When ferry is coming close, I am ready to jump and run! There weren’t too many people there on the day of our visit, but I probably still saved about 10 minutes of time. In season, ferries from Naxos, Paros and Mykonos arrive at the same time, so you can really get stuck and waste a lot of precious time waiting to get a ticket!

At the entrance we get a map of the site, and some recommend heading straight to the museum. I decide we will just follow the regular route up the hill. Looking at the tiny rooms people used to live in, I wonder – are the houses renovated or is this exactly what remains? On some of the walls I see what looks like cement. At one of the mosaic exhibits I see a local guide and I ask her, turns out, the houses are exactly as they are, without any renovation, and the “cement” is what remains from wall plaster. These houses are over 2000 years old! But, turns out that the mosaic is not fully authentic – the most important middle part is a copy, the original is in the museum. Same with Naxos lions, the present from Naxians, originals are in the museum, and in the place of those replicas have been placed, as the wind and other nature forces had started to degrade the sculptures. 

It is very windy, and we are glad we brought jackets. It is still a beautiful sunny day and you will need your sunglasses, but I wouldn’t call it a pleasantly warm day. We stay away from the wind in the amphitheater that used to fit 6500 viewers and the plays would last for several days! Then we continue on, walking higher, where we see more temples, mosaics and houses. Suddenly we notice how all ground is covered in small pink flowers! As we pay attention to flowers, we also hear someone working in the distance – it still is one of the most important sites in Greece for archaeological discovery. 

Soon we realize that we have spent so much time in this “beginning” part of the site that we don’t have too much time to explore the rest, and the ferry is in little over an hour! So we rush to the museum. As we reach it, we see a woman with a bunch of cats, and of course, we get stuck here, stroking them. Cats are such an integral part of the Greek islands! You can buy calendars and postcards with their pictures here. In other Greek islands, such as Siros, you can even find volunteer work to take care of cats and stay with people who own the shelter! Turns out there are people who look for homes abroad for these cats. You can see that the cats have been neutered, a special mark has been made on the ear, but some do look very, very young, so it must have not been done too long ago. At least all of them look very healthy!

Museum is supposed to be one of the most interesting places on the island, but probably we could have used a guide here. Half of the exhibit is in French the other has very minimal amount of information in English. Many of the original works are really pretty, especially the jewelry, and well preserved as well, but it is clear the museum isn’t very well funded and doesn’t come close to more well known Greek museums in Athens.

Soon we head to the ferry, meeting a Lithuanian American lady who lives in Chicago, and comes to the Greek islands every year. She also comes to Lithuania and has plans to visit Latvia, so we spent some time discussing the most beautiful places in Latvia. 

When it is time to go back to Mykonos, the sea is becoming more restless by the minute. But looking at the personnel on the ferry, who don’t seem to be bothered the least, I understand that this must be ok then. Luckily, I don’t get sick, but the ride is bumpy enough so I certainly wouldn’t have been able to read. 

When we arrive in Mykonos, it is even more deserted than in the morning. A few people sit in cafes, and most of the shops are closed. Even the talisman of the island, Pelican Peter, is all by himself.

Ano Mera – sightseeing outside of Mykonos Chora

When we board one of the three buses of the day to Ano Mera town, there is only one more couple sitting next to us in the bus. Sunday morning, and we don’t see anyone else in the city. It takes us about 30 minutes to reach Ano Mera and we head to the first place of interest – monastery. The town has three noteworthy places, two monasteries (Paleokastro and Panagia Tourliani) and Gyzi ruins. One of the monasteries is a bit outside of the town, but still worth the walk, as there are beautiful views on the way – beaches in the distances, cacti, and white houses everywhere. From Ano Mera I mostly enjoy the little chapel we come across walking to the monastery, it is all overgrown with cacti in the garden. It is locked from the outside, so I simply open the lock and enter.

When we return to the main square, the town has come to life after the Sunday church. Ladies all dressed in black, families having lunch, kids playing football. We finally find a free table and order some Greek salad, the chunks of cheese are bit, there are plenty of olives and onions. So tasty!

After finishing the meal, we have to hurry up, as we don’t have too much time remaining till the next bus and if we don’t have to wait another three hours until the last bus, we must move. We quickly buy some locally produced snacks in the store, and are surprised by how empty the shelves are here. But as always, if you want a chocolate, don’t get it in the souvenir store, buy one at the supermarket!

Armenistis lighthouse

I see beautiful postcards in several places with an incredibly beautiful lighthouse and purplish hills in the background. Turns out, it is Armenistis lighthouse. Built in 1891, after a British ship sunk in 1887 and 11 people died. The lighthouse got an award in Paris international exhibit at the time for the special light mechanism installed in it.

Unfortunately the only way to get to the lighthouse is by taxi. It is only 6.5 km away from the hotel but up the hill, and the bus that would take us 4 km closer, doesn’t operate in the winter. The hotel manager recommends we rent a car, but we don’t feel like driving, and good thing we don’t, as the roads to the lighthouse are in bad shape. We agree with our taxi driver that he will wait for us while we explore the lighthouse and drive us back after. All for the hefty 50 euro price tag!!!

The lighthouse is spectacular, and we are very lucky with the weather – there is no wind, which is unusual for this place. A few people are there, enjoying the sunset, and listening to loud music from their cellphones. Makes one wonder, why bother going in nature if you just blast your own music for everyone…

In Conclusion

When we are leaving, the hotel manager says we should come back in season, to see the real Mykonos. Music, parties? No, thank you! The best Mykonos for us was the quiet one, where most of the loud people are gone and we enjoy a more local taste of the place. A cat crosses the street, and flower petals are dancing in the wind. All the benches are free oat the beach, and all the visitors at a restaurant are local. Off season in Mykonos is amazing!

 


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