Sifnos island is popular with Greeks because it offers no distractions beyond what Greeks enjoy the most: good company, a good beach, long conversations over coffee or dinner, and endless relaxation. It is a perfect destination if you are looking for a laid-back vacation.
- Things to Do and See
Sifnos (Σίφνος) is a small island located at the west Cyclades. It is popular with Greek vacationers who flock to it in the month of August to enjoy its reputation as inexpensive and pristine.
Sifnos is a sun-baked rocky mass that rises abruptly from the deep blue waters of the Aegean Sea. While it lacks the intimate touch of smaller islands, it also lacks the artifice of more popular destinations.
We visited Sifnos in June and never felt crowded or uncomfortable. We enjoyed the island’s rugged landscape, its unassuming little towns, and its quiet beaches.
One of the main characteristics of its architecture is the unique pottery art that decorates the gardens and chimneys. These elegant ceramic pots instill a sense of warmth in the atmosphere.
While the coast of Sifnos is typically barren, its interior is surprisingly lush (as lush as a Cycladic island could be) with vegetation that gives the landscape a soft visual appeal.
Small white isolated churches and villas allow the sunlight to bounce effortlessly off white walls before it dissipates in the humble olive groves.
Certain towns of Sifnos have developed to accommodate the tourists (like Kamares, Platys Gialos, and Vathi), while other ones, like Kastro, have remained traditional, pristine, and beautiful.
In between these two extremes, Apollonia and Faros have evolved to cater to frequent visitors without losing their traditional character.
The towns and villages of Sifnos feel sleepy during the day, but they come alive in a laid-back way when the sun goes down. Then, just about every single restaurant on the island is filled to capacity, and the main cobblestone streets are filled with meandering tourists.
At the same time, the trendy bars of Apollonia turn on the lights inviting those who ascend to stroll around its main pedestrian street.
Kamares is the main port of Sifnos. It is a relatively quiet port dominated by arriving or departing tourists who mingle around the one main street that curls around the promenade and its long sandy beach.
Besides the numerous restaurants and shops at the promenade, and the hotels further up the hill, you would be hard pressed to find any other places of interest at Kamares.
The scenery is certainly pretty with the steep mountains that hug the bay, but not spectacular. So if that’s where your hotel is, you will be going a bit of island touring every day. You can get to other parts of the islands by bus, or better yet by car or moped, both of which may be rented at the port.
Apollonia is the capital of the island and it spreads along several hill plateaus at the center of it.
It is a pretty little town with whitewashed low houses and a busy center that becomes very popular as night falls.
Most shops, restaurants, and trendy bars are located in the center of the town along a narrow pedestrian street that bustles with life once the sun goes down.
Driving inside Apollonia can be a real pain, so most everyone finds (if they are lucky) a parking spot at the outskirts of the town.
Plati Gialos is the busiest, and most popular destination of the island, mainly for its long and wide beach.
The town is a conglomerate of vacation homes of Athenians, generic rooms for rent, and hotels of every kind and size.
All this architecture is scattered over a wide area around the hills unable to establish any kind of appealing character.
A surprisingly attractive fishing village that has been transformed into a tourist town for those who seek a quiet place to spend their holiday.
It has the benefit of being close to three very nice beaches.
The one is right at the end of the tarmac at the entrance, while the second is located at the other side of the village.
The third one, Fasolou, is a beautiful little beach over the headland to the east of Faros.
A small village that has doubled in size n recent years thanks to a large hotel that was built in front of the best part of the beach.
The hotel’s architecture has tastefully conformed to the local architecture and it is spread over a wide area with small units that blend in with the village.
Artemonas is a nice little town built atop a hill on the eastern part of the island.
It was built by the Venetians and its church was built on the ruins of an ancient temple.
Kastro is by far our favorite town of the island. It is very picturesque with narrow streets that wind around white washed medieval architecture, and with a great view to the east.
The narrow pedestrian streets wind around the medieval houses leading the visitor through several archways and a wind-swept promenade high above the sea.
The view from this eastern end of the town is breathtaking, with the wide expanse of the Aegean being punctuated by the little church of the Seven Martyrs.
The nearby fishing cove named Seralia is a nice, quiet place to spend a day swimming, snorkeling or fishing. The beach itself is tiny, but the seawater is crystal clear and cool.
Things to Do and See
Sifnos is a good place for a quiet holiday.
The island does not have much in the way of attractions designed to keep visitors busy. It is genuinely a laid-back place where swimming and hiking would be at the height of any outdoor activities you will enjoy on the island.
The main reason that Sifnos is very popular with Greek visitors is because it offers no distractions beyond what Greeks really enjoy: good company, a nice beach, and long conversations over a dinner or a drink.
Go Island Hopping
Sifnos is also a good place to spend two or three relaxing days if you are on an island-hopping tour.
In fact, unless you really want to get away from it all in a small fishing cove like Seralia or Faros, any stay longer than four or five days might seem like an eternity on Sifnos.
Daily ferry schedules make it easy to visit the other islands of western Cyclades on one island-hopping tour. Most ferries that dock on Sifnos also serve the other nearby islands: Serifos, Milos, Kimolos.
If you want to hop over to the central Cyclades (Paros, Naxos, Mykonos, Santorini), you have to do a bit more work. Ferry connections with these islands are scarce from Sifnos. The nearby Serifos island might be a better ferry connection hub.
Shop for Traditional Pottery
The island has a reputation for fine pottery, so watching potters practice their craft in their ceramic shops is an attraction of its own.
You will probably regret leave the island without one of the authentic ceramic vases from Sifnos.
Visit the Medieval Kastro Town at Sunset
Kastro is a nice place to stroll, especially in the afternoon. It’s a well preserved medieval town with beautiful cobblestone streets and architecture.
Even though the sun sets beyond the hills and not on the sea, the light reflected on the medieval houses is beautiful.
Evening at Apollonia
Stroll, have dinner, and a drink (or two) in the narrow cobble stone streets, in Apollonia in the evening.
Swim at the Beaches of Sifnos
You will quiet spots to swim either at Faros, Vlyho, or Fasolou. Other nice beaches include more crowded ones, at Platis Gialos, Vathy, or Kamares.
Chrysopigi is a nice little cove with a quiet little beach and the islands most photographed church atop the headland that frames the small bay.
Visit Sifnos’ Archaeological Sites
The archaeological site of Agios Andreas (map) is perched atop a steep hill on the way to Vathy from Apollonia. The climb is steep (have plenty of water handy) but those who attempt a visit are rewarded with excellent views and an archaeological site where excavations are ongoing. A small church dedicted to Saint Andreas provides a recognizable landmark for the site along with a conspicuous sign on the side of the road.
The site is hard to reach via a rough goat path that zig-zags up the steep face of the cliff for about 427 meters. The climb is challenging and it takes about fifteen or twenty minutes to complete.
The ancient town that has been unearthed in Agios Andreas dates to the Mycenean period (1600-1000 BCE).
The town itself was built in the 13th century BCE, and it was inhabited for about one hundred years before being abandoned in the 12th century BCE.
It was once again inhabited in the Geometric era (second half of 8th c.), at the same period when the nearby town of Kastro was founded. The site was occupied with few periods of abandonment until the beginning of the 4th century BCE.
The town was naturally fortified by the steep hill that also provided good visibility for miles, and it was further protected by a double fortification wall all around. The wall was constructed in the Mycenaean era and was later repaired by the new inhabitants of the Geometric period (8th c. BCE).
Some parts of the walls exibit the massive “cyclopean” construction of the Mycenaeans. The ruins of buildings and pottery from the different eras of habitation have been unearthed, and excavations are ongoing.
An ancient wall reconstruction and numerous Roman era sarcophagi decorate the narrow streets of Kastro as testament to the town’s importance in antiquity. A small archaeological museum houses artifacts from various excavations.
The towers of Sifnos
The Syphnians built an elaborate network of watch towers in an attempt to establish a communication system that would warn against a seaborne invasion. These towers were round and tall and provided early warning through fire signals, and 55 of them have been located around the island in various states of ruin.
Near the town of Platis Gialos, at the position called “Akrotiraki”, excavations began in 1896 by Polak and are ongoing for the exploration of a prehistoric cemetary dated to the second half of the 3d millennium BCE.
While Sifnos was an affluent island in archaic times as evident by the elaborate “Syphnian Treasury”, which the island’s inhabitants dedicated at Delphi, recent excavations have unearthed very little of its ancient past.
Sifnos was first inhabited by Carrians and Phoenicians who called the island Akis and Meropie. The later inhabitants came from Ionia and they named the island Siphnos around 1000 BCE. The island prospered in Archaic times thanks to its gold and silver mines.
“The Samians who had fought against Polucrates, seeing that the Lacedaemonians were about to leave them in the lurch, also abandoned the campaign and sailed to Siphnos.
They were in need of money, and the Siphnians at the time were at the height of their prosperity; they were richer than any other of the island peoples, having gold and silver mines so productive that a tenth part of their output was enough to furnish a treasury at Delphi not inferior in value to the most splendid to be found there. The remainder of the yield was shared out each year amongst the islanders themselves.
When they began depositing money in their treasury at Delphi, they asked the oracle if it was possible that their present prosperity could last for any length of time, and the Priestess gave them the following answer:
‘When the council-chamber in Siphnos shines white,
And white too is the forehead of the market-place,
Then is there heed of a man of foresight to beware,
Danger threatens from a wooden host and a scarlet messenger.’”
(Herodotus, “The Histories”, translated by Aubrey De Selincourt, Penguin Books, 1954, 1972, 2003, Book 3, pp. 195, 196)
As Herodotus tells the story, the Syphnians found out what the oracle meant at a later time when the Samians arrived and demanded payment.
When the Syphnians refused, the Samians ravaged the island and killed many until they were paid 100 talents. With the money, the Samians bought the island of Hydrea and gave it to the people of Troezen before they sailed to Crete where they found the town of Cydonia (near modern Chania).
According to Herodotus, later yet in history, Sifnos, along with Seriphus, and Melos fought with the Athenians at the naval battle of Salamis.
The island enjoyed relative prosperity long after its gold and silver mines were flooded, all the way up to the Byzantine years when it suffered mightily from pirate attacks.
Subsequently it became the subject of the Duchy of Naxos after the crusaders captured Constantinople in the 13th century, and later it came under the control of the Despotic Da Coronia.
Later yet, in the 17th century, Sifnos was annexed and held by the Turks until 1821 when it joined the Greek revolution against the Ottoman occupation.
Getting to Sifnos
Sifnos does not have an airport, but it is served by daily ferries from Piraeus.
The “fast” ferries make the trip in a couple of hours, while the traditional ferries take about 5 ½ hours to reach the main port of Kamares.
Most of these ferries make several stops on the way to Sifnos or back. Other ports of call on the same route usually include the nearby islands of Kythnos, Serifos, and Milos.
We advise that you make reservations before arrival. But if you arrive at the port with no plans, the friendly travel agents and the municipal travel office at can help you locate accommodations.
A great deal of apartments and hotels have been built in Kamares, and probably it is easier to find a room there or in Platis Gialos. Smaller towns around the island are usually booked by summer time.
Best Time to Visit
Best time to visit Sifnos is late May, June, or July.
The island gets very crowded in August, so it might be hard to find accommodations if you have not booked in advance.
What, Where to Eat
For lunch some of the delicacies of Sifnos that we tried and liked included, revithokeftedes (deep fried chickpea balls), kolokythokeftedes (deep fried zucchini balls).
Also try the traditional Greek salad (horiatiki) with “mitzithra” instead of feta cheese. Mitzithra is made of the remainders of the milk once feta is set. It is therefore lighter and has a loose consistency.
For dinner, you will enjoy Revithada (chickpea soup), or pastitsada (beef cubes cooked in red sauce over thick macaroni), grilled octopus, and chicken souvlaki.
Other Sites of Interest Nearby
Sifnos can easily fit in an island hopping tour of the western Cyclades.
The islands of Kea, Kythnos, Serifos, Kimolos, and Milos are nearby, and they are usually served by the same ferries that leave Piraeus and call each port in succession.
Click here to see it on the map and to get directions in a new window.