Sifnos is a small Cycladic island, close to Serifos, and about an hour from Milos. It takes about 3 hours to get here on the Speed Runner ferries, and around 5 hours on the slower older ferries.
Our most recent visit was in the first two weeks of September 2010. Our first visit to Sifnos was in May 2002. Sifnos has changed surprisingly little over these 8 years - some extra building in Kamares, and the cafes have become smarter (colour co-ordinated settes and cushions seems to be the thing) but the feel of the place is basically the same.
The island is busiest in July and August, with a lot of Greek visitors as well as other Europeans. September and May or June are good months to visit. Outside those times you might find lots of places closed up and it will be very quiet.It's not a very touristy island compared to the really popular ones like Mykonos and Paros. The local population is very small, though, so the number of tourists to locals is high. Kamares in particular has the feel of a place that wouldn't really exist at all without the tourists. It's still a lovely place to be, but not surprisingly there is very little Greek life going on that isn't focused on the tourist trade.
The other thing Sifnos has going for it is the excellent tavernas. In Kamares these are beautifully situated, right along the harbour front, with gorgeous views across the bay. They are very good, traditional Greek tavernas with excellent food. They are lively at night, with Greeks and tourists.
There is some great walking on the island and some really beautiful villages. For more information about walking it is also worth looking at the very informative and nicely designed Sifnos Trails. Exploring the island is relatively easy to do with good buses going to most places reasonably regularly.
If you want more detailed information on Sifnos, Matt Barrett's site, as usual, is an excellent source of information.
We got up specially early to get the Aghios Giorgios ferry, which left at 7.30am from Pireaus. About 20 minutes out we suddenly realised that the scenery was looking a bit familiar, and that yes, we were heading back to Piraeus. The engine had a fault, and wasn't going any further. Some confusion and queuing later we'd swapped our tickets for the fast boat leaving at 12.
The new ferries are very comfortable and quick, but aren't as romantic as the older ferries. They don't have any deck area, so your only view is through the windows (if you've been lucky enough to be allocated a window seat and they are clean enough to be able to see anything through).
On the up side, you do get the cultural experience of watching Greek afternoon TV - mainly dubbed Latin American soap operas on this trip.
Kamares is the port, and where all the ferries arrive. It's a deep horseshoe, in a big bowl of a bay, surrounded by steep barren mountains. It's basically one main road, lined with tavernas and cafes, with their seating on the opposite side, looking out over the lovely bay and sea.
There are a few small general stores, a surprising number of bakers (four!), a green grocers, a few shops selling souveniers and beach gear,
a tourist agency, several shops selling Sifnos ceramics, a large church, and that's about it.
There is a cash point, but it was out of order the whole time we were there (fortunately there are several in Appolonia).
You can walk from one end of Kamares to the other and explore all the bits in between in about 20 minutes.
Across the bay is another small grouping of houses at Aghia Marina. There is a taverna, a couple of cafes and a small general store, as well as two picturesque churches, a number of rooms and a few hotels.
There are bursts of activity along the main street when boats leave and arrive. On the Friday evening we were there 2 absolutely packed boats arrived from Athens, causing congestion and chaos for a good 45 minutes as people streamed off. It turned out that there were 3 weddings over the weekend, which was why there was such a big influx.
The population of the island is only 1500, and the majority of people live in the main villages of Appollonia and Artemonas. Kamares does have a small local population, but the majority of the buildings in the village are new ones - rooms, hotels and apartments for tourists. The tourist development is low-key and sympathetic - clusters of white blocky houses that have a traditional Cycladic air.
The real appeal of Kamares, though, is not it's architecture, but the beach and the swimming.
This is wonderful. The curving sandy bay is shaded by trees, and the water is crystal clear.
It is very shallow for some way, but you don't need to swim that far out to be out of your depth.
It's a great beach for small children, but also provides good swimming if you want to be energetic and have a long swim across the bay.
There are cafes at the start of the beach, with sunbeds to rent, and another couple of cafes with sunbeds at the Aghia Marina end of the bay.
In September there were a reasonable number of people on the beach throughout the day, but it never felt crowded.
Getting around Sifnos
Sifnos has a very good bus network, and it's relatively easy to get about using the buses.
There are buses from Kamares to Appollonia once an hour for most of the day.
Some of these go on to other places, or you might have to change at Appollonia, but it is possible to visit most places on the island by bus, which is a real bonus.
There are some really beautiful and peaceful places on Sifnos, and is is well worth exploring.
This picture is of a church near Artemonas.
Sifnos has a record number of churches - almost as many as there are people.
Appollonia & Artemonas
The main Chora of Sifnos is Appollonia, about 5 kilometers away from Kamares. This a pretty village which spreads out over the hillside. There is a network of narrow streets and pathways, with pretty houses and churches. The main street climbs up the hill and has a few tavernas and cafes as well as some upmarket jewellery shops. There are several banks, a few shops, a small folk museum.
You can walk from Appollonia along pathways between houses and get to Artemonas main square in about 20 minutes. Aretemonas square has a church, a bakers, a taverna, and a couple of cafes.
The first time we visited Sifnos we stayed in Artemonas. The good things about being there are that it is very peaceful and beautiful and, if you are interested in walking, you have great access to the network of footpaths.
We can recommend Flora's rooms where we stayed in Artemonas. These are very nice rooms, and Flora, who lives close by, is very welcoming and hospitable.
There is a beautiful rocky cove where you can swim. It's about a 45 minute walk, along a very pleasant old cobbled path. It is easy to get buses to other beaches and places from the main square.
Artemonas doesn't have the 'beach resort' feel of Kamares - it's much quieter and more old-fashioned - but it doesn't have the life and activity in the evening, either.
In Appollonia a lot of the tavernas were closed in May. In early September more were open, but we didn't go up there to eat in the evenings, so don't know how lively they were.
Kastro is an old, traditional very beautiful village. There are a couple of tavernas and cafes, and a few places to stay. Just below it there is a small beach with a fish taverna or two. Out of season there may well only be one taverna open (and that not always).
You can walk from Kastro to Artemonas quite easily in about an hour, by following old paths and steps. You can also walk along the coast for about 30 minutes, to a small, beautiful rocky area where you can swim. From there there is a footpath which takes you up to Artemonas.
Places to stay
There are lots of places to stay all over Sifnos. A search on the web will give you a good idea of what's available. You can pay quite a lot for a tastefully converted windmill in Artemonas, or a smart hotel with a swimming pool in Apollonia, but there are less expensive (and less flash) places as well. Overall, though, accommodation is not particularly cheap.
In September 2010 we stayed at the Alkyonisis in Aghia Marina, Kamares. These are very nice studios or apartments, really well situated, with a view out across the bay and over Kamares. They are well equipped, clean and comfortable.We stayed in a studio, which cost us about 50 euro a night.
There was a lovely big balcony, we sat out to eat breakfast and lunch most days. There wasn't any shade in the afternoons, though, and by the afternoon it would get just too hot to sit out.
Mostly Aghia Marina is a peaceful little place, but in season there is a noisy disco-bar on the corner of the bay immediately below. It was just running on Fridays and Saturdays when we were there.
In May 2002 we stayed at Flora's rooms in Artemonas. These are very nice rooms, and Flora, who lives close by, is very welcoming and hospitable.