Astypalaia: The quiet Greek island you’ve probably never heard of

Astypalaia: The quiet Greek island you've probably never heard of

If you’re in search for a quiet Greek island that’s non-touristy, authentic, and covered in beautiful untouched beaches and nature, Astypalaia is the Greek island that you probably haven’t heard of but have always dreamed about visiting. This Astypalaia guide highlights how to get to the island, where to eat, the best beaches, where to stay, and more.

Astypalaia (also known as Astypalea) is the Greek you probably have never heard of but have always dreaming of visiting. Despite lying in the Dodecanese islands, it more closely resembles the popular white-washed facades of the Cyclades. The beaches are turquoise and uncrowded, the landscapes are barren but so beautiful, and the food is the best I’ve ever had in the Greek islands. 

Is Astypalaia one of the last remaining hidden gems in Greece? I found Astypalaia by complete coincidence, clicking around on a map looking for Greek islands that I had never heard of. It was early August and I was determined to avoid the crowds of tourists flocking to the Greece. There wasn’t much information about Astypalaia online, and I had never heard of anyone going there. I had no idea what I was getting into.

Hours after arriving I knew it was going to be one of my favourite places I have ever travelled. And after a week, I never wanted to leave. With almost exclusively Greek tourists (and a few others in-the-know), I didn’t think non-touristy Greek islands like this still existed and I imagine that this is what is felt like to travel to more popular islands many years ago. I quickly learned that life moves slow on Astypalaia and things aren’t always convenient, but the authenticity and kindness of the island radiates. 

If you’re planning to visit this quiet Greek island gem yourself, here’s everything you need to make the most of your trip: how to get to Astypalaia, where to stay, where and what to eat, and of course, the all the best things to do.

Where to Stay on Astypalaia?

Most people opt to stay in three different areas of the island: Astypalaia Town (or Chora as the locals call it), Livadi Beach, or Analipsi. Depending the type of vacation you’re looking for, there’s different benefits of staying in each area.

Astypalaia Town | In my opinion, the best place to stay on Astypalaia is in Astypalaia Town. Here you can easily access all the island has to offer by car, while having access to the best restaurants and shops in the Chora during the evening.

We stayed at Butterfly View House and it was such a wonderful property. The spacious and incredibly clean apartments feature private patios with views overlooking the Chora. The local host family was also so warm and welcoming.

Livadi | The beach town of Livadi sits below the Chora and is home to many lovely restaurants, an organized beach, and small beach hotels. If you’re travelling with a family, or don’t have a car, staying in Livadi is a great option because you can spend your afternoons at the beach and take the short trip to the Chora in the evenings. However, if you stay in Livadi, I don’t recommend walking to the Chora. It’s a steep walk along a busy highway, which makes this walk unsafe so you need to plan accordingly.

Analipsi | Analipsi is located about 15 minutes by car away from the Chora and features a long stretch of organized beaches alongside the town. There are many lovely properties here and they tend to be a bit more affordable. We noticed a lot of families staying here, so this could be a good option if you’re travelling with kids and looking for a quiet beach town.

Astypalaia Camping | Astypalaia is well-known around Greece for it’s bohemian camping scene. This has made the island incredibly popular with young Greek tourists, and we saw lots of people camping. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, check out Astypalaia Camping.

Butterfly View House in Astypalaia
Where to stay on Astypalaia

Things to do on Astypalaia

Explore the all the things to do in Astypalaia Town (Chora)

The Astypalaia Town, or Chora, is arguable the most iconic part of the island. If you’re not staying in Chora, spending some time here is an absolute must. Here’s a few things you should do while visiting Astypalaia Town.

Explore the winding streets of the Astypalaia Chora

The Astypalaia Chora is home to steep, narrow streets of whitewashed buildings with doors painted in shades of blue that are reminiscent of many popular Cycladic islands. However, within these picturesque streets local life still very much exists and it is an amazing place to wander without a plan.

Keep in mind the streets are very steep so it’s best to explore in the evening during the summer months to avoid peak temperatures.

Astypalaia Chora
Astypalaia Chora
Eat mezze in a narrow alleyway

Head to a local taverna and sit streetside with the locals enjoy mezze, which is an assortment of small plates made for sharing with others at the table. Some of my favourite places to do this were Apanemia and Karai. 

Plakes Beach
Watch the Astypalaia sunset atop a Venetian castle

At the top of the Astypalaia Chora, you’ll find the remains of a Venetian castle dating back to 1204.It was ruled by the Venetians for over 300 years, with many modifications made throughout that time. Today, the castle sits atop the town offering incredible panoramic views of the Chora and the sea, and is easily the best spot to experience sunset on Astypalaia. 

Shop for local island products

If you’re looking to take a piece of Astypalaia home with you, there’s a variety of stores in the Chora to buy local products from. From shops selling handmade jewelry and home goods, to island spices and honey, make sure you save some time in your itinerary for browsing.

While driving around the island, you may notice the smell of fresh herbs because there are a variety of herbs that grow wild on the island. This means that one of the best things to buy on Astypalaia is wild herbs. I was told that each local has their own secret spot for foraging saffron that they will not disclose to anyone else. The saffron on this island has an incredibly unique taste and the locals take a lot of pride in this local staple.

I really loved Temperamento for sustainable handmade goods, as well as Karanthos for locally-sourced products like honey, tea, and spices. 

Visit the eight traditional Astypalaia windmills

The most iconic part of the Chora skyline is the eight traditional windmills that line the top of it. It’s estimated that they were built in the 18th or 19th century, and today many have been converted into small shops, and even a cosy little library.

Windmills Astypalaia

Spend your afternoons at the best Astypalaia beaches

The Astypalaia beaches are something special. I had zero expectations ahead of visiting, and they turned out to some be some of the most crystal clear, scenic spots I’ve ever swam. The diversity of beaches on Astypalaia is what makes the island so incredibly unique. Every morning you can wake up to drive to a new beach and the experience will be completely different from the days prior.

The beaches range from fine grain sand to large pebbles, and organized beach clubs to rustic hidden coves. Each beach requires different planning and expectations, but they are all worth a visit in their own unique way.

Here’s a complete rundown of some of the best Astypalaia beaches.

Kaminakia Beach

Many islanders and visitors place Kaminakia as their top beach choice and it’s easy to see why. The steep road down to Kaminakia on the southwest coast of the island requires a bit of patience and some pretty heavy-duty wheels. But the drive down rural island roads is part of the thrill that makes Kaminakia a favourite because just getting to the beach is part of the experience.

To get to Kaminakia from the main road, you’ll drive around 30 minutes down winding dirt roads and around some steep corners. The drive isn’t too bad as long as you have 4×4/AWD and although you’ll probably see many people heading down with scooters, I wouldn’t personally recommend it.

At the end of the drive you’re welcome by the most beautiful fine grain sand beach tucked into a cove of steep cliffs. There are free lounge chairs that you can use, plenty of natural shade, and the beach is home to one of the best tavernas on the entire island.

Vatses Beach

Located on the same southwest coast as Kaminakia, Vatses was a favourite for me. The drive down is on similar dirt roads but a bit easier and shorter than Kaminakia, and once you’re there you have all the amenities you need to enjoy a day at the beach.

Vatses is set inside the most dramatic cliffs that feel other worldly. It is a fine pebble beach with lounge chairs and a taverna, but there isn’t any wifi which offers a little escape from reality for a few hours. This beach is known to be a bit windy, so you’ll want to visit on a calmer day.

For those of you that are looking for a more “liberal beach,” nude bathers occupied the left side of the beach while the right side was more organized and family friendly. 

Vatses Beach
Plakes Beach

Over toward the southwest side of the island, you’ll find a small inlet called Plakes Beach which has fine pebbles and clear turquoise waters. To get down to the beach, you’ll have to walk about ten minutes down a rocky path, however the climb up and down was only moderate difficulty. This beach doesn’t have a taverna or chairs, so make sure you pack lots of sunscreen, snacks, and water. 

If you’re arriving by car, there is limited parking alongside the highway to get down to Plakes, so it’s best to go earlier in the day. If you don’t have your own vehicle, you can reach this beach by either AstyGo or public bus.

Plakes Beach
Plakes Beach
Tzanaki Beach

Heading back west, Tzanaki was a highlight for me and the only beach we returned to a second time. Located just west of Livadi, you’ll need to park alongside the road and hike down a moderately steep path to access this hidden beach, but the climb is worth it for a quiet beach day. Alternatively, it is about a 25-minute walk from Livadi if you do not have a car.

Lying along the southern coast of the island, you can see Chora sitting atop the hill in the distance making this the most idyllic swimming location. The sand is fine sound pebbles, and the beaches are small, but we were able to go in the morning and have the first beach all to ourselves for an hour or two.

Tzanaki is permitted as a nude beach, however only one of the two beaches is used this way. When you arrive, the path will lead you to the first beach where everyone was wearing swimsuits. However, if you’re more of the no-tan-line type, you can head through the first beach and over the rocks to the second beach where the nude beachgoers swim.

Vathi Beach

Vathi is an isolated town located on the northeast side of Astypalaia and home to one of the most remote beaches on the island. Getting here requires 4×4/AWD and your own vehicle, and once you arrive the town you’ll find a small bay that with waters that look like turquoise lagoon. The colour quite literally looks like someone has heavily applied a saturation filter. 

There isn’t an obvious place to swim at Vathi so we opted to stay on shore, but there were some a few spots where we saw people taking a dip. If you’re looking for the most surreal place to swim, Vathi is it.

Vathi Beach
Liminaki Beach

Often coined the island’s most romantic beach, Liminaki is special. Located on the east side of the island by Maltezana, this very tiny cove is idyllic for swim. If you’re heading to experience the magic of Liminaki, the best time to go is early in the morning because only a few people can fit on this beach and it fills up quickly.

You can also access Liminaki by public bus or AstyGo, so having your own transportation isn’t needed.

Steno Beach

Steno is located on the east side of the island and is a fine grain sand beach with lots of natural shade. In my opinion, Steno doesn’t feel as special as many of the other beaches on Astypalaia, but it’s still very nice and easy to get to because it doesn’t involve having your own car or any long hikes, and the setup is incredibly family-friendly. 

On Steno, you can rent an umbrella and chairs for a reasonable price (we paid only €4 for two chairs), and grab food and drinks at the lovely family-owned taverna on the beach.

Livadi Beach

The beach town of Livadi is located below Chora and has many tavernas, loungers, and other amenities. The sand is fine pebbles, the water is clear and clean, and the views of the Chora can’t be beat. 

If you’re looking for an organized beach day, most tavernas rent our beach chairs for only €10 for a pair including a parasol. It may not be the most unique swimming location, but it is accessible for everyone and perfect for families. It’s also a great option if you just want to sit and relax and order a few beachside drinks.

Take a VIP boat tour to hidden Astypalaia beaches

If you’re spending a few days on the island, taking an Astypalaia boat tour is a must to really experience everything that makes this island so special. Since the island is mostly uninhabited, there are many caves, swimming coves, and islands that are only accessible by boat. Taking a boat tour allows you to experience the white sand beaches and clear waters of Kounoupa and Koutsomitis. Seeing the gradient of blue and green hues in these waters is like nothing I’ve ever experienced, and swimming here without anyone else around felt totally surreal. It feels like you’re in a completely untouched part of the world. 

We opted to take our boat tour with Astypalaia VIP Yachting because they only allow 12 people onboard, allowing for a quieter and more personalized experience compared to other overcrowded boats. They took us to Kounoupa and Koutsomitis, as well as the Red Rock to go swimming in the caves, and to other untouched swimming spots. 

Boat tour Astypalaia
Boat tour Astypalaia

Explore the desert landscapes of Vathi

Located on the deserted north-east side of Astypalaia, Vathi feels like you’ve entered a whole other world. As you drive along the last bit of paved road toward the Vathi valley, you’ll notice the landscapes dramatically change to a closely resemble a desert. In the middle of the valley atop a hill sits a beautiful white church with a blue dome surrounded by crystal-clear turquoise waters.

If you have an off-road capable vehicle, you can continue along the dirt road toward Exo Vathi, a tiny fisherman’s town. At first sight, it may appear that no one lives there. But the village is actually home to Galini Taverna where you get have a traditional home-cooked meal alongside the harbour. Unfortunately, we missed out on this experience because we arrived in Exo Vathi too early and the sign said the taverna opened at 2pm. 

Either way, the slow dirt road drive is absolutely worth it to see the dramatic landscapes of the area.

Vathi

Take an off-road trip across the island

The best way to deeply explore Astypalaia is off-road. While many of Astypalaia’s beaches, churches, and other landmarks are accessible by foot, some of the best ones require a bit more planning.

If you want to explore the depths of the island, having the right vehicle is a must – either a car with 4×4/AWD car or an ATV. This will allow you to make steep climb down to two of the best beaches, Vatses and Kaminakia, as well as drive along the rough dirt road out to Vathi.

Once you’ve secured an appropriate off-road vehicle, the best thing is to just grab a map from your rental agency and drive east to west. Along the way you’ll come across churches, other ancient landmarks, and maybe even a secret swimming spot or two.

Enjoy fresh seafood by the sea

As a mostly self-sustained island, you can imagine that one of the best things to eat on Astypalaia is seafood. I have eaten some of the best fresh seafood of my life on this island, and really can recommend just speaking with the staff about what they have available that’s fresh that day when ordering.

For a fresh seafood lunch by the sea, I can really recommend the Livadi and Analipsi areas. Both feature seaside tavernas where you can take a break from swimming and enjoy freshly caught seafood with a view.

My absolute favourite spots for fresh seafood were Astropelos in Livadi and Astifagia in Shinontas. 

Eat at the best restaurants on Astypalaia

Of all the Greek islands I’ve travelled to, the food on Astypalaia may just be my favourite. The food was so local and fresh, affordable, and authentically prepared. Since the island is mostly off-the-radar to international tourists, I’d imagine you could walk into virtually any taverna or restaurant and get a great, high-quality meal. 

It is worth noting that most places on Astypalaia do not take reservations. Since most of the tourists on the island were Greek when I visited, I found that restaurants would begin to get busy just before 9pm. So, if you want to guarantee a table, you should arrive around 8:30pm.

Here’s a few of my favourite Astypalaia restaurants. I have included the Greek translation for a couple of them, because they are only searchable on Google in Greek, and the signs on the front are also generally in Greek which can make it a bit more tricky to find them.

Karai | One of the best spots for a sunset dinner on Astypalaia, Karai is a hotspot on the island. Sitting atop the Chora with views over the sea, you can enjoy affordable classic mezze options on the terrace, or alongside the road. Karai is a hotspot so getting there early is a must. On some nights, Karai has live classic Greek music so keep an eye out for signs advertising the dates nearby the restaurant. 

Apanemia | An evening favourite for me, at Apanemia you sit in a hidden Chora alleyway on a wobbly barstool with cats running around and enjoy classic mezze and wine by the litre. 

Antikastro | This seaside restaurant is said to serve the best food on the island, and while I haven’t eaten everywhere on the island it was definitely the best food I ate. They source sustainable ingredients from local farms to make dishes traditional to the island like marinated goat, saffron and cheese stuffed pasta, and incredible salads. A reservation 1-2 days in advance is recommended here.

Ageri (Αγερι) | Another favourite for both visitors and locals, if you want to sit at one of the tavernas overlooking the island’s iconic windmills, Ageri is the place to do it. Visit to taste classic local recipes including local meats, potatoes, and fresh salads.

Astropelos | There are plenty of tavernas lining Livadi beach but if you’re only going to eat at one of them, then eat at Astropelos. We had lunch here twice and it was some of the most high-quality food we had on the island. This is a great place to go for whole grilled fish. We had grilled bass and it was the best fish I’ve ever had, but I’d just ask them for a list of whatever they have fresh that day. I also enjoyed an incredible cuttlefish ink risotto here.

Astifagia | Located in Shinontas, this is a great place to enjoy a seafood lunch by the sea while you’re out exploring the eastern beaches. The staff was welcoming and warm, and the food was unique.

Argo | Another trendy spot in Chora or grab drinks, mezze, or lunch. We had a fantastic lunch at Argo.

Portokali | If you want to have breakfast, Portokali sits alongside the sea in the port of Astypalaia and has really great yogurt bowls, fresh juices, and amazing coffee.

Traditional Café (Παραδοσιακό Καφενείο) | A popular spot with locals, the terrace at this spot is always busy with young visitors enjoying drinks and mezze. If you’re looking for a snack I really loved the dolmades here, and it’s a fun spot to grab a beer. 

Athelas Cocktail Bar | For one of the best sunset views in Chora and incredibly innovative cocktails, head to Athelas. You won’t get a traditional cocktail menu here, but instead well thought out and imaginative cocktails using local ingredients and fun Greek liquors. We loved it so much we had a pre-dinner drink here almost every night.

Karai Astypalaia
Athelas Cocktail Bar

Hike in Astypalaia

Astypalaia is a great destination for hikers, specifically in the off-season when temperatures are a bit cooler. Since most of the island in uninhabited and inaccessible by road, getting to really experience the depths of the islands can only be done by foot.

The island is home to caves that feature incredible stalactite formations and can only be reached by footpath, including Drakos Cave (Cave of the Dragon) and other caves near Vatses. Another beautiful beach that is only accessible by foot is Agios Ioannis Beach, which requires a steep 45-minute hike to reach.

We didn’t do any long hikes on Astypalaia because the temperatures were too warm in August, but for hiking details I’d recommend reading this guide. 

Try local Astypalaian food

With 15,000-20,000 animals and producing on this quiet Greek island, there’s no shortage of locally-sourced and sustainable food options on Astypalaia. Here’s some local food I recommend trying on Astypalaia:

Yellow cookies | These traditional cookies are baked around Easter time with fermented milk and wild saffron and stored all year to be enjoyed. A bit spicy in taste, you’ll be able to find them in bakeries all over the island. 

Hlori | This is a soft local cheese produced directly on the island and it was one of my favourite things I ate the entire trip.

Wild spices | There are a variety of spices that grow wild across the island, like thyme, sage, and saffron. In fact, while driving around you sometimes can smell these herbs in the air. 

Local honey | Local honey made on the island is fantastic and has its own unique flavour. You’ll find it on plenty of desserts such as melomakarona and loukoumades, but it’s also delicious simply on top of yogurt.

Saffron pasta | You wouldn’t expect pasta to be a local Greek dish but it is actually quite common on Astypalaia and the affron and cheese-stuff ravioli is such a highlight.

Pougia (cheese pies) | Stuffed with a variety of soft locally-made cheeses and topped with a drizzle of honey, there’s a variety of stuffed pies to try. My personal favourite was the version stuffed with cinnamon and local cheese.

Dolmades | Stuffed grape leaves are a mezze staple on Astypalaia and you can find different meat and varieties across the island.

How long should you spend on Astypalaia?

Since Astypalaia isn’t as accessible as many other Greek islands, I wouldn’t recommend this island as a quick stopover on an island-hopping itinerary. Astypalaia is best travelled slowly, taking time to settle in and staying awhile to really appreciate what makes this island so special.

We stayed a week on Astypalaia and I could have stayed much longer and still had plenty to do. I’d recommend a minimum of five days on Astypalaia. But keep in mind that during high season, many properties require a minimum one-week stay.

Best time to visit Astypalaia

Since Astypalaia doesn’t have the same problem with over-tourism as many other Greek islands, you can really enjoy this island without too many crowds all summer long.

May-June and September-October is much more affordable and better for hiking because it isn’t so hot. 

In July and especially in August the temperatures often exceed 30 degrees Celsius, and you’ll see a peak in tourists. Prices will be a lot higher during these months and it can be difficult to secure rental cars and accommodations, so you should plan the details of your trip months in advance.

How to get to Astypalaia?

By Flight

The island has a small airport with only a few flights a week direct Athens to Astypalaia flight and it takes about one hour. However, you cannot fly to Astypalaia from any other countries.

If you’re short on time, flying from Athens is a good option but it can be expensive and Greek island flights have been known to be a bit inconvenient. 

By Ferry

Kos to Astypalaia Ferry

The closest island to Astypalaia is Kos, which has an international airport and direct flights from many European destinations. From Kos, you can take a 1h30 high-speed ferry. It is important to check the ferry schedule before booking your flights because depending on the season, the ferry between Kos and Astypalaia only departs a few days a week. 

Athens to Astypalaia Ferry

If you’re arriving in Athens, you can also take the ferry from Athens down to Astypalaia, which typically takes about 9 hours.  

How to get around Astypalaia?

There are a variety of ways to get around Astypalaia, but in order to explore this quiet Greek island properly, having your own transportation is a must. We had a three-day car rental during our one-week stay, and I wish we had it for at least four days because it was a bit inconvenient without a car. However, if you’re unable to rent your own vehicle, there’s a few other transportation options.

Renting a Car on Astypalaia

There are a variety of car rental agencies that you can contact on the island to rent a car. Renting a car is a good option if you want to conveniently explore the island and is necessary if you want to explore many of the island’s remote beaches. 4×4/AWD is highly recommended.

Expect to pay about €100 per day in the high season, and as low as €50 in the shoulder season. It may sound pricey, but I would budget for a car for at least 3-4 days if you want to explore the island.

ATV or Scooter

If you don’t want to rent a car, ATV and scooter rentals are a bit easier to secure and more affordable. You can confidently get to most locations on the island with both these options, but I would proceed with caution driving down to Kaminakia on scooter. 

AstyGO Ride Share

Astypalaia has their own electric-powered ride share fleet called AstyGO that you can take to get to many places on the island. We used AstyGO on the days that we didn’t have a rental car to get to Tzanaki and Livadi, and the app worked well. However, you can expect potentially long wait times for pick up and it doesn’t take you to remote beaches.

If you’re looking to explore the island a bit and are travelling on a budget, this is an affordable option costing just €10/person/day for unlimited rides. You can download the AstyMOVE app for more information.

Public bus

There is a public bus that travels back-and-forth east-to-west along the main roads. Similar to AstyGO, you can only get a limited number with places by bus but it is an easy and affordable way to get around.

Planning a trip to Greece soon?
Read some of my other Greek island guides!

Astypalaia - the hidden Greek island