The town of Ermoupolis is the capital of the Cyclades, and has some very grand buildings to prove it. This is a proper working Greek town - the population of the island is around 35,000 and most people live in Ermoupoli.
There are ship yards, a lively port and a university, as well as all the jobs and business that being the capital of the Cyclades brings with it. The town isn't reliant on tourism, and unlike a lot of the smaller Cycladic islands it doesn't empty out in the winter.
It's also really beautiful, with houses climbing up two adjacent hills - one topped by a Greek orthodox church, the other by a Catholic monastry.
The small cobbled streets and many steps mean that a lot of it isn't accessible to cars, so is really pleasant to wander around. There is a lively harbour area with lots of cafes and tavernas, a gorgeous town square and a lovely place to swim at Vaporia. Everywhere you turn you get spectacular views, or beautiful neo classical buildings to admire.As well as the town of Ermoupoli, there are the delights of Ano Syros to explore. This area has a distinct and separate identity, and has the feel of a small traditional Cycladic island village. It is the maze of houses, steps and small twisting paths leading up to the Catholic monastry.
The main interest for us on Syros is Ermoupoli and Ano Syros, but there are small villages and nice sandy beaches around the island. There is some walking though the footpaths aren't as extensive or well marked as Sifnos or Andros.
We first came here in 1994, and our most recent visit was in September 2012, with another 3 or 4 visits inbetween.
We think this island is really special, and it keeps drawing us back.
Syros isn't difficult to get to. Ferries go several times a day from Pireaeus, on route to Tinos, Mykonos and Naxos. You can pay more for the quicker boats, which take around 2 hours, or go on the cheaper and slower boats which will get you there in about 4 hours.
There is a small airport on Syros, and flights go about once a day. These are a lot more expensive than the boat but only take about half an hour. The airport is a short taxi ride from Ermoupoli.
Getting around Syros
It's possible to explore southern Syros by bus. Basically the buses do a trip along the coast, taking in the main villages and beach resorts. They then turn round and come back. A bus also goes direct to Kini, with just one stop at Gallisa. The service is reasonably regular.
The buses all leave from the car park in the port, close to the ferry terminal. It's easy to spot because there are usually a couple of buses there. You buy your ticket on the bus.
A copy of the timetable is pasted up on a little kiosk by the buses, in both English and Greek.
There's also a KTEL office up a nearby side street, and we're always hopeful that this will prove to be a handy supplier of printed timetables, but this doesn't seem to be the case.
It's worth jotting down the times of the buses, as you wont find this information at any of the other stops. The timetable doesn't manage return times from anywhere except Kini, which is the final destination.
It does give the length of time between stops, so it is possible to figure out return times, but not absolutely straight forward.
Bus stops in the villages aren't necessarily marked. Sometimes it's obvious because it's where everyone else is waiting. Sometimes it isn't. On the other hand, none of the places are very big, and you are likely to see the bus in enough time to get to it where ever it stops.
None of this is a problem if you aren't on a schedule and can relax about exactly when the bus will come along. Travelling by bus can be fun, it's a good way to see the island, of getting to beaches and experiencing a bit of Greek life.
More on Ermoupoli
Town hall in the central square, Ermopouli
The best way to get to know Ermoupolis is just to explore - it's small enough to find your way around quite easily, and big enough to occupy you for as many days as you have the time and inclination.
The central square, with its marble paving and neo classical buildings is very grand. It's surrounded by cafes, and is a great place to sit and people watch. It gets very lively in the early evening, when families will come to drink coffee while the kids play football or the very popular game of sliding down the bannisters of the town hall steps.
Halvopitta, a local delicacy
Running along one side of the square is a market street, with fruit and veg, a fish stall, a bread shop and small supermarket, as well as stalls selling halvopitta, the local nougat delicacy.
Just back from the harbour there's a main shopping street with banks, clothes shops, book shops, bakeries, and really anything else you might want. One small alley just off the market street sells postcards, summer hats and tourist souveniers, but there isn't much of this.
Old building, Ermopouli
There are lots of beautiful, interesting buildings throughout Ermoupoli. Some of these are very large and grand, a legacy of the ship-building and trading wealth the island once had.
Some have been done up and are smart private homes or boutique hotels, but there are lots in varying states of dereliction and delapidation.
The photo shows one that particularly caught our eye, with a painted figure, done to look like a statue, in an alcove.
The Greek Orthodox church on the 'other' hill is an obvious destination, and the cobbled streets and steps leading up to it are fun to explore. Once you get to the top you'll have great views of the town.
It's also interesting, although less obviously scenic, to go out along the harbour, past the ferries to the ship yards and working fishing harbour.
Vaporia is a particularly beautiful area of Ermopouli. Grand houses line a large bay, their walls and stairways coming right down into the water.
Some of them are crumbling with ruined terraces and fallen arches and some carefully restored. The blue dome of St Nicholas church dominates.
On the right there is a small cafe, 'Sta Vaporia', with a pretty terrace, shaded by olive trees and with gorgeous views.
Below the church are ancient walls and archways, leading you down to the town beach.
As you walk down the stairway, a small pebbly cove comes into view, and several concrete jetties with step ladders to access the water.
This is a gorgeous place to swim, with deep blue sparkling clear water and amazing views of Vaporia's Venice-like buildings.
In season there is a beach bar at the far end, and rows of sun-beds lined up under light dapply shade. The quieter and more local part of the beach is the pebble cove, and the jetty immediately close to it.
There's not much shade here, and my preferred option is to swim, then retire to the cafe terrace for an iced coffee in the shade, looking out over the bay. Even when the beach bar was busy this cafe was quiet and peaceful and the prefect spot to read or write postcards or just soak up the view.
There are a couple of smart hotels in restored neo-classical buildings behind the beach, and a few rooms to let scattered about.
If you are interested in discovering other swimming places in Ermopouli, try walking further round the coast from Vaporia, away from Ermopouli, where there is another stony cove, accessible via a steep footpath below some of the apartment blocks.You could also check out the small pebbley beach just behind the Hotel Hermes, on the jetty in the main harbour.
Local women can be seen taken a dip in the harbour itself, right at the end of this jetty. This has the advantage of being more sheltered - both Vaporia and the beach by the Hotel Hermes can get choppy and more difficult to negotiate when the summer winds blow up.
Ano Syros is wonderful!
A maze of medieval alleyways, steps and arches wind their way up and down the hillside, topped by a dramatic Catholic monastry. Don't miss out on coming here if you are in Syros.
It takes about 30 minutes to walk up to Ano Syros from the main square, all of it uphill. If that feels too much you can pick up a taxi from the rank on the harbour front. In September 2012 this cost 3 euros to the Kamara gate.
There are 3 entrances you can drive up to - Kamara, Pano Terma and Portara.
Kamara takes you roughly half-way up, and is the main entrance, with a cafe, periptero and chemist clustered round a small square.
Occasionally you'll find a small truck selling fruit and vegetables. Local kids make the most of the only flat area in Ano Syros, and ride bikes or kick a football about.
An ancient archway and yet more steps take you from the square on to the main street, where you'll find a couple of tavernas, a general store, one or two tourist shops, the town hall, and a cafe.
In July and August there are several bars and tavernas up here, though out of season this dwindles to two tavernas, and don't expect to find them open during the daytime. Take a look at our restaurant page for more about the tavernas.
At one time Ano Syros was the main settlement, with a large and thriving community. That has changed, and there are far fewer inhabitants now, although it still has a very local and Greek feel (perhaps especially out of the main season).
Despite the school on the lower slopes of Ano Syros, the average age is noticeably older than in Ermopouli, and people speak less English. A few of the houses have become holiday homes, but for the moment these haven't overnumbered the local population.
There are no cars in Ano Syros - it is all narrow cobbled lanes and steps. If residents need heavy objects or building materials transported to their homes they hire donkeys. You might come across the donkeys either working up and down the cobbled alleys, or resting in the valley behind Ano Syros.
The atmosphere here is quieter and more old-fashioned than in Ermopouli, which feels a positive metropolis in comparison. When we stayed here for 2 weeks in September 2012 we were soon recognised and warmly greeted in the tavernas and general store, and it was easy to pretend we were real locals. There is lots to explore, with every corner you turn revealing picturesque houses or stunning views.
Places to stay
Last time we were in Syros we discovered Frini's apartment and can throughly recommend it.
It is one of the few places you can stay in Ano Syros, and is in an amazing old house, built right into the rock of the hill. Inside it is modern, comfortable, bright and airy with great views. You are perfectly placed for exploring the streets and tavernas of Ano Syros.
Frini and her mother, Andriana, live in the upstairs half of the house, and are very welcoming and generous in their hospitality. Andriana had stocked the fridge with fruit preserves, olives and tomatoes as well as homemade cherry liqueur and biscuits - all of it delicious.
It is a great place to stay if you want to experience Greek hospitality at its best.
There is a big range of accomodation in Ermopouli, with modern hotels, rooms and apartments. Some of the gorgeous neo-classical buildings have been converted into smart hotels.
People offering rooms to rent, in Ermopouli and beach resorts around the island, still come out to meet the boats, so it's not absolutely essential to have booked in advance.We've stayed several times at the Paradise Rooms, which are close to the main square. These are reasonably priced, clean and comfortable rooms, run efficiently by a friendly family. They have a very nice roof terrace with views of Ano Syros and Ermopouli.