Information about the island of Skiathos

skiathosSkiathos used to be a jet set island favoured by the rich and famous who arrived here on luxury yachts, lured by some of the Mediterranean’s best beaches.

You’ll still find a fair number of sleek yachts bobbing in the harbour and cruising the coastline but the advent of an international airport has transformed Skiathos into tour operator territory.

Most hotels here are block booked by the package holiday industry more than a year in advance so you’d be unwise to pitch up without a reservation in high season.

If you come by boat you’ll arrive at Skiathos Town on the eastern side of the island where much of the holiday accommodation and nightlife are centred. The place is awash with bars, banks, internet cafes, shops, restaurants and various other tourist paraphernalia.

Much of the old part of the town was destroyed by German bombs in WW2 but if you explore the narrow cobbled streets set back from the waterfront you’ll find the place still has its charms.

skiathos-islandWhitewashed houses with red-tiled roofs are adorned with brightly painted shutters and colourful balconies bursting with vivid bougainvillea and sweet smelling jasmine.

Skiathos is a small and compact island, just 12km long and about 6km wide, and its main claim to fame is a plethora of large, deep, sandy beaches strung right the way along its southern coastline.

Recent years have seen an explosion in tourist facilities and, nowadays, a virtually unbroken line of hotels, apartments and neon-lit tavernas flank the once rural road that runs the length of the south coast.

A ban on high rise hotels has curbed major downmarket excess but Skiathos still groans under its own weight in annual tourist numbers.

The island’s ever growing popularity has resulted in higher prices in the popular resorts and the inevitable drift to dumbed down tackiness.


historic skiathosSkiathos was first inhabited by the Pelasgians, who gave it this name because of the abundant shade offered by its trees. Of course, another point of view wants the island to be so named because of its geographical location, as it is in the shadow of Mount Athos.
After the Pelasgians, the Cretans came to the island, who brought olive and grape cultivation. The history of Skiathos has many ups and downs, it went through years of prosperity and decline, but managed to stand through the ages.

Skiathos was to fall under Athenian, Spartan as well as Macedonian rule through the ancient years. The greatest catastrophy came when Philip III sacked the island in order to prevent the invading Romans from getting the island’s riches in the 2nd century BC. Skiathos was to enjoy relative freedom both under Roman and Byzantine times until the Venetian Ghisi brothers took it over in the 13th century.

The curse of the island was the constant pirate raids during Medieval times. The people of the island moved to Kastro, and did their best to protects themselves from there. The final blow came in 1538 when the Turks invade. After defending themselves for a week, the Skiathos people could no longer resist, and the Turks stormed into Kastro, killing men, women and children.

The Turkish rule was strict, and many refugees also came from the mainland, impoverishing Skiathos almost totally. The island was finally freed in 1829. Since then it has been a peaceful place, with the exception of the Second World War when the Germans set the island on fire.

Economy and products

The inhabitants of the island are engaged in agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing, crafts and resin collection. Skyros is famous for its miniature horses, marbles and livestock products.

The most typical Scyrian craft is embroidery and it is used to decorate household clothing and Scyrian costume. The characteristic of Skyrian embroideries is the variety in themes and colors and the delicacy of the materials. The island is also famous for its art in furniture making.

The idiosyncratic Skyrian furniture can be found in the living rooms of Athens and other cities. The most famous work of Skyrian woodcarving is the Skyrian stool which looks like a miniature of a chair. Maple, wild olive, mulberry, walnut and mahogany are used for their construction

Pottery is also interesting. Skyros still produces honey, several fruits, myzithra and kefalotiri. Organized folk art workshops, such as wood carving, ceramics, basket weaving and tapestry, exist in the capital and in Gialos.

Skiathos town

skiathos-townThe main island resort of Skiathos Town bristles with tavernas, bars and nightclubs all lying within a deep double bay on the south-eastern edge of the island.

This is a busy and bustling resort where cosmopolitan harbourside bars thump to disco music and the air is punctuated with the whine of passing mopeds. Charter planes swoop in low over Skiathos Town bay to land at the nearby airport and ferries pull in regularly with arrivals from the mainland.

The background noise may not be to everyone’s taste but it’s not unpleasant to lounge the evening away in one of the busy quayside cafe watching the tourists stroll by. Or you can join the throngs of holiday shoppers cruising the Skiathos Town boutiques and trinket shops that line the traffic-free centre.

Skiathos Town has two quays split by an outcrop of rock called the Bourtzi. Dozens of cafes run the length of both harbours with the old port to the west and the new harbour to the east. Cafes in the old harbour are bigger, many of them 10 or 12 tables deep.

The old harbour is also traffic-free, offering a pleasant evening stroll for visitors and it is here that the Skiathos island caquies pitch the display boards touting barbecue trips around Skiathos and daily jaunts to neighbouring islets.

The main Skiathos Town shopping street leads inland from the Bourtzi up the hill. Even more shops, cafes and tavernas are jammed along the narrow street, with the occasional whiff of sewage from the drains that run beneath.

Menus are uniformly pricey and meals are mediocre to poor as the volume of passing trade takes its toll on quality. Many new cafes have sprouted in the last few years as Athenian businessmen cash in on the roaring trade.

Tavernas overlooking the bay to the west tend to be the most expensive, as are the cafes that line the old harbour but none anywhere in Skiathos will be considered cheap.

Natural attractions

Skiathos has been designated a place of national value and has remarkable beaches, rich vegetation, picturesque paths, historical monuments and traditional architecture in an internationally recognized natural environment with many protected areas that every visitor should get to know.

Skiathos Forests

skiathos-forestThese are forest areas with special aesthetics, hygiene and tourist importance where the fauna, flora and their natural beauty are protected. In Greece since 1973, 19 forest areas have been designated as Aesthetic Forests. 3/2 of the island of Skiathos are forests with an area of 30 sq. km. and include all the forest areas of the island covered by halepian pine (Pinus halepensis), pine forests (Pinus pinea) and broadleaf evergreens.

The area where the Forest of Skiathos is located is a fully protected area – that is, construction activities or interventions are prohibited with few exceptions. The area includes the Koukounaria Forest as well as part of the area of the Holy Monastery of Evangelistria.

Wildlife Refuges

Wildlife Refuges are defined as “natural areas that are of particular importance as important places for the growth of wild flora or as breeding, feeding and wintering habitats for wild fauna species or as fish breeding and spawning areas or, finally, as important marine habitats” . Two areas on the island of Skiathos have been established as Wildlife Refuges: the site of Kehria (1722 acres) and the site of Koukounaries (168 acres).

Small Island Wetlands

On the island of Skiathos, the Vromolimnos wetland, with an area of 19 acres, the Elos Platanias, with an area of 30 acres, as well as Tsougrias, the wonderful island opposite the old port of Skiathos, have been designated as wetlands of absolute protection. Behind its pine forest, the lake of Strofilia is a unique habitat with rare species of birds. Be sure to visit the sea caves.

Natura 2000 areas

The European Union has enacted legislation for the protection of nature which was developed with the Natura 2000 ecological network in mind, the aim of which is to protect endangered species.

In the Municipality of Skiathos, the area “Koukounaries and the wider marine area” belongs to the Natura 2000 ecological network and covers an area of over 888 acres. This is the only Koukounaria habitat on an island in the Mediterranean. It is located in the southern part of the island and includes the forest of Strofilia, its coastal and marine zone.

The total area is bounded to the north, east and west by the road network and to the south it reaches the sea at a depth of 20 meters and its height does not exceed 1.5 meters.

Places to visit in Skiathos

Castle of Skiathos

castle of skiathosLittle has survived of Skiathos island’s past and much of what hasn’t been lost over time and through neglect has simply been botched by cement mixers. Places that are worth a visit on Skiathos include the Kastro – a fortified former capital built in the 14th century on a rock outcrop above the main town.

Skiathos Castle (Kastro) was built as a refuge from marauding pirates, notably the Barbarossa brothers, and commands a dramatic position over the sea. the Kastro used to house more than 20 churches and 300 odd homes.

Only two churches have survived the ravages of time and the several half-hearted attempts at restoration. Also remaining are part of the wall and gate of the old fort as well as a half-ruined mosque and a cannon. A wooden drawbridge has been replaced by a flight of cement steps and a house has been rebuilt.

You can get to the Kastro on foot but it is a good three-hour walk. Most take one of the excursion boats that make the trip daily from Skiathos town and drop passengers at the bottom of a long series of steps up the cliff. There is a flat beach here of shingle and stone and a ramshackle beach taverna that gets packed out as the boats arrive. Nearby, and accessible only by boat, are three sea grottos, named Galazia (Blue), Skotini (Dark) and Chalkini (Copper).

Offshore islets of Skiathos

tsougria-skiathosLying just of the coast at Skiathos Town are three uninhabited islets of Tsougria, Tsougriaki and Arkos that have become popular with day trippers, with boats leaving Skiathos Town all day in the high summer. Not only are the islets away from the crowds on the mainland they also have some very fine beaches.

The most popular is Tsougria which lies directly south of Skiathos Town, is the biggest and also enjoys two pleasant beaches. The best one lies in a sheltered bay of shallow water, making it the one that most families with children head for.

A small beach cantina opens in the summer months for refreshments and snacks. The alternative beach is on the other side of the islet and involves a walk over the headland or a longer boat ride, though visitors must take care to avoid some underwater rocks that can make mooring a little difficult.

To the west of Tsougria is the smaller rocky islet of Tsougriaki which doesn’t have a beach although visitors often tie up for an afternoon of peaceful swimming in one of the many coves.

Northeast, and nearer the coast is the islet of Arkos. Day trip boats don’t go here so you need to rent your own but there is a small beach there with a cantina that opens during the summer.

Monasteries of Skiathos

skiathos monasteriesNo Byzantine ecclesiastical monuments survive on Skiathos. Those monuments that do survive date to the Turkish occupation of the island. Most notable are the church of Christos, in the Kastro, and the monasteries of Agios Ioannis of Parthenis, Agios Charalambos, Evangelistria (Annunciation) and Panagia Eikounistria (Holy Virgin).

Evangelistria is about five kilometres north of Skiathos town and buried in the most beautiful countryside. You can’t see the monastery until you are on top of it.

Founded in 1794 it was finished around 1806. It has a giant footnote in Greek modern history by being the place where fighters against the Turks took their oath under the first independent Greek flag. It is a cruciform Byzantine church with three domes.

Frescoes are found in the sanctuary but the monastery’s real treasure is a magnificent carved wooden iconostasis. On August 15 the ceremony of the Burial of Our Lady is performed here.

Panagia Eikounistria is the patron of Skiathos and has several frescoes including one of Agios Christofos with a face of a dog.

The monastery of Panagia Kounistra is just above Troulos and is where the holy icon of Panagia Kounistra patron of Skiathos was found. It is set in a very pretty spot, has a grape arbour and a taverna within its walls. It has a beautiful gilt wooden iconostasis decorated with vine-leaves and grapes.


skiathos-beachFamous Koukounaries Beach, backed by a beautiful lagoon and flanked by a protected pine forest, deservedly has a reputation as one of the loveliest beaches in Greece. Much-photographed Lalaria Beach, on the island’s north coast is only accessible by boat but that doesn’t deter the many tourists who come here to marvel at the limestone archways, glistening white pebbles shimmering through aquamarine water and spectacular grottoes.

If you want to escape the madding crowds and explore the island’s interior you’ll find a hikers’ paradise of hidden valleys, deserted monasteries and lonely trails where the wild birds are likely to be your only company. It’s also possible to find quiet, secluded coves if you’re prepared to stray some distance from the beaten track.

Skiathos is noted among the Greek islands for its profusion of soft sandy beaches. The whole south coast of this small island is a succession of sandy coves, most now given over to heavy commercialism.

Quiet and deserted coves are few, with the Kalamaki Peninsula offering the best chance of a day away from the crowds.

The few north coast beaches have avoided the exploitation seen in the south but they are less easy to reach.

Most of Skiathos’ golden sand beaches are strung along the island’s south coast.
Well sheltered from the northerly meltemi wind, many are set in medium sized coves and backed by pine draped hills.

They are as thick on the ground as the tourists and are all serviced by the single asphalt road that runs the length of the island.

Some beaches are backed by low rise hotels and many get overwhelmed with tourists. Most enjoy deep sand, shallow seas and the usual tourist facilities.

Where to stay

Find your accommodation in or near the town if shopping is one of your main missions because there’s a huge variety of shops to choose from – chic boutiques, tacky souvenir shops, good quality arts and crafts centres and some classy jewellers.

The coastline leading south of the town as far as the south west corner of the island is lined with hotels, villas and tavernas all trying to sate the demands of the high season hordes that pack the wonderful but crowded south coast beaches.

When to go

Skiathos has a typical Mediterranean climate. April is warm and sunny although rain in the spring months can sometimes be prolonged. May brings many fine days and wild flowers are everywhere.

June through to August sees long, sunny days and high temperatures with very little rainfall. In July and August the brisk northern meltemi wind can blow strongly, freshening the air and lowering the humidity.

Winter temperatures average a mild 11°C but the wet winters can sometimes include heavy snow showers. November to January is the wettest season with monthly rainfall an average 150mm.

Getting around Skiathos

The best way to explore the interior of Skiathos is with a car or motorbike. Regular buses run between Skiathos Town and the south coast beaches in the summer months but with your own set of wheels you’ll be able to discover secluded coves around the coastline, visit the old fortress capital of Kastro and make your way to the various monasteries dotted around the island.

There are numerous car and scooter hire firms along the waterfront behind the ferry harbour. You can rent cars, jeeps, motor bikes, mopeds and mountain bikes – prices vary according to the standard of vehicle and duration of the rental period but are always higher in July and August than at other times of the year.

Many firms include insurance in the rental fee so check this point before signing on the dotted line. If you’re hiring a motorbike or scooter, make sure you get a helmet included in the price.and wear it because it’s the law and there are many fatalities and serious injuries involving foreign bikers in the Greek islands every summer.

The road north from Skiathos Town takes you to the beautifully located Evangelistria Monastery, perched 450 metres above a gorge and surrounded by pines and cypresses. Ignore the airport turn-off after you leave town and continue north towards the monastery, taking your time on the drive up to it because it’s worth stopping to admire the wonderful views en route.

The 18th century monastery was once used as a hiding place for freedom fighters during the Greek War of Independence. The fighters took their pledge of “freedom or death” here and it’s said that the first Greek flag was raised at the monastery in 1807 in defiance of the Ottoman occupiers.

To reach the abandoned hilltop fortress of Kastro you can either take the dirt track leading north west of Moni Evangelistria, if you’re using a 4×4 or mountain bike, or take the paved road which leads from Skiathos Town and stops about a 30-minute walk from the island’s former capital.

The pirate-proof town, built in the 16th century to protect the islanders from seaborne invaders, is in a spectacular location on the headland and was once only accessible via a drawbridge. The fortress consisted of 300 houses and 22 churches but only three churches remain, one of which houses some elaborate frescoes and an impressive iconostasis (the screen separating the altar from the main part of the church).

The road south from Skiathos takes you down the east coast and skirts the coastline all the way to the south west tip of the island, passing several access points to the most popular beaches including beautiful but busy Koukounaries.

You might want to stop for a delicious fresh fish lunch at the waterside Trouillos Taverna before heading inland four kilometres to the deserted 17th century Kounistra Monastery. It was built on the spot where a monk reputedly found a miraculous icon of the Virgin swinging in a pine tree.

It’s a lovely trip to the monastery which contains some fine icons, though the main one is kept in Trion Ierarchon Church in Skiathos Town. If you’re visiting in November you’ll be able to see the annual procession in which the islanders bring the icon from the town to its former home in celebration of feast day in honour of the Virgin.

Skiathos transport

Car rental

There is only a single road on Skiathos and it follows the south coast snaking through or near the main south coast beach resorts. Off the main road the conditions deteriorate sharply and those heading into the hills will need a four-wheel-drive.

Skiathos buses

Skiathos has an excellent bus service from Skiathos Town to Koukounaries. Buses roll out every 15-20 minutes in the summer and they are clean and well kept but they are crammed with tourists at busy time.

Perspiring passengers concertina up the aisle and getting off requires the tactical skills of Rommel. Homeward bound passengers will stand stoically at stops watching the packed bus loads roll by until they eventually hail a taxi or start walking. The information kiosk in front of Skiathos harbour has free photocopies of bus timetables.

Skiathos taxis

Skiathos taxis abound at the airport to pick up new arrivals and there is a taxi rank on the harbour front. Fares are regulated but drivers charge extra for going off the main road and it costs more if you phone the taxi station.

How to get to Skiathos

By Air

Skiathos Airport (JSI) is the main flight destination for visitors to the Sporades islands. The airport is about 3km north of Skiathos Town and takes charter flights from all over Europe.

There are daily domestic flights from Athens (20 minutes) and there are also flights from Volos and from Thessaloniki.

Skiathos Airport has a notoriously short runway and aircraft taking off from here only carry a minimum fuel load to keep weight down and they land at nearby Thessaloniki to refuel, adding extra time on homebound journey.

There are few facilities at the airport and parking is very limited. There is no dedicated bus service to the airport and taxis can be quickly snapped up so you are advised to book ahead.

By ferry

Skiathos is well served by ferries although there is no direct service to Athens.
A daily high speed ferry goes to Agios Konstantinos on the mainland where there are buses to the capital.Ferries also run to the mainland port Volos and there are hydrofoil services to Agios Konstantinos and Volos throughout the summer.

There is a summer ferry service to Crete, calling in at Skopelos, Syros, Tinos, Paros, Naxos, Ios and Santorini.

Minoan Lines run a twice weekly route from Thessaloniki which leaves for Paros, Tinos, Mykonos, Syros and Naxos before heading to Crete.

A new service from Thessaloniki to the Sporades operated on Mondays and Fridays and there are several ferries to the neighbouring islands of Skopelos and Alonissos.