Why you should go beyond the tourist hotspots in magical Mykonos

The sunsets on Mykonos are always spectacular. Image by Toni Atkinson

When I tell people I live in Mykonos they immediately imagine my days are spent basking in the sun at one of the many luxurious beach clubs, and my evenings dancing on tables and bars.

While I do indulge in those fabulous things sometimes, I’ve discovered if you scratch the surface a little bit, there’s a side of Mykonos that’s just as indulgent in other ways. It’s not all whitewashed buildings, churches and partying, although all those things are there in abundance to enhance the Mykonos experience.

Tourism has looked very different in the last 12 months with scores of restrictions being implemented just before the season, however resilient Mykonians managed to ensure those lucky travellers who did make their way here were still able to appreciate much of what the island normally offers. On the other hand, the general environment also encouraged people to explore more organic experiences.

No matter when you visit Mykonos, my first piece of advice would be to rent a car, scooter, or quad bike for at least a few days. Mykonos is only 85.5 square kilometres and easy to navigate with the help of GPS. This way you’ll be able to discover the many different characteristics the island has to offer, in your own time.

Mykonos, Greece, Cyclades, Greek Islands

An easy and very beautiful hike is from Elia beach to Agrari beach. Image by Toni Atkinson

I’m an avid hiker, and even after years of heading into the hills, I still get really excited by the landscape and mind-blowing views. Hiking from beach to beach and discovering semi-private little coves is one way of getting a feel for the wonderfully imposing granite landscape.  Just throw a pair of walking shoes, and a snorkel and goggles in your beach bag and head into the fields.  You’ll normally find a path worn by goats or humans along even the more developed coastline.  A great, easy and very beautiful hike is from Elia beach to Agrari beach.  As you reach the top of Agrari, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view of the beach which is home to a little church that flies a huge Greek flag on its terrace.  Or, if you head even higher between Elia and Agrari you’ll be blessed with heavenly views and might be lucky enough to find a castle-like rock formation with its own cave, and, maybe even a herd of roaming goats.
The highest point on the island is home to a sweet little church, with panoramic views of Mykonos.  A hike up to Profit Ilias, above Panormos  isn’t for the faint-hearted, but it’s most definitely worth the effort.  Pack a few snacks and sit on the church terrace for a while to take in the serene energy.
There are countless options to get a feel for the island from the water, depending on your taste and budget, but one of my favourite ways for a fun and more authentic experience, is to do a kayaking tour.  I tried this for the first time last summer and immediately wanted to buy a kayak so I could explore the crystal clear waters all year round.  I did a tour near Agios Sostis beach, where there are a few secret caves and wonderful little coves to visit.  We even stopped to pick sea salt from the rocks.  Mykonos Kayak Tours have a range of different options, including bespoke tours, and you don’t need to be a real adventurer or experienced kayaker.

Mykonos, Greece, Greek Islands, Mykonos Kayak Tours

Kayaking around Agios Sostis beach with Mykonos Kayak Tours. Image by Toni Atkinson

Mykonos Kayak Tours have a range of different options. Image by Toni AtkinsonAnother perfect way to enhance a day on the water is to take one of Mykonos Sea Transfer’s old converted fishing boats, called caïques, which run a daily schedule along the southern beaches.  You can hop on and off for a swim or lunch at some of the island’s most beautiful and famous beaches, or just stop off for a few drinks at some of the many beach clubs along the way.  You can also hire the boats privately with a captain, and go to the uninhabited historical islands of Delos or Rhenia for the day.  The last time I did this with a group of friends we took yoga and aqua aerobics instructors who gave us some lessons on the beach in Rhenia, while our captain dove for sea urchins and fresh fish to barbeque on the beach.  It was a very special day.

For something a little different, another wonderful and well established Mykonian tour combines two of my favourite things on the island.  Horseback riding, and lunch at Fokos Tavern on the beach.  Mykonos Horseland has a selection of daily riding tours and special romantic options, but if you want to make the most of your day, book one of their 3-hour rides which includes a one-hour break for lunch at the stunning tavern on Fokos beach.  Riding through agricultural lands, and alongside one of the island’s two dams to the beach is an opportunity to get a real feel for Mykonos’ unspoiled landscape. No riding experience is necessary as they have a selection of horses for varying levels of experience.

The author (right) riding on Fokos Beach with Mykonos Horseland

At the end of the day, before you head back to your hotel or villa, make sure you find a place to watch the sunset.  There have been so many times I’ve just pulled my car over, or sat on the wall of a little church to watch the sun go down here.  Whether you’re on the side of the road, in Little Venice or at 180 Sunset Bar with the crowds, or just sitting in the sea at Paraga Beach, a Mykonian sunset never ever gets old.

If you’re a romantic at heart, don’t miss Cine Manto.  Hidden in the maze of streets and laneways in the middle of Mykonos town you’ll find one of my other most loved places.  A magical outdoor cinema, set amongst a fairytale garden that feels like the old-style Mykonos I’ve heard so much about.  There’s a bar and a barbeque so you can eat and drink while watching the big screen under the stars.  They normally run two session times each night during the season, so you’ll have time for sunset cocktails first, and if you miss the first movie because you’re enjoying the view too much, just keep sipping that cocktail and head to the late session.

Cine Manto, Mykonos, Greece

Cine Manto is one of my favourite places in Mykonos

Mykonos is well known for Its beach clubs and organised beaches, but there are still some beautiful and more wild beaches left to discover.  The beaches I spend my time at during the busy season include Mercini and Fokos on the north-west side of the island.  Even though they’re very close to each other, the beaches have their own very special personalities. The northern beach of Agios Sostis is stunning, and although it gets a little busier, there’s also an unofficial nude section if you like to go à la naturel. Ftelia does have a small beach club, but most of the beach is free.  Being on the north side it can get very windy there, but on a calm day it is spectacular.  The southern beach of Agrari, is one of my favourites for pure beauty.  It does have a small and unassuming café and sunbeds, but there is also plenty of space to do your own thing. Just always check the wind direction before you go to any of the beaches on the island.

Agrari beach is perhaps the most beautiful. Image by Toni Atkinson

When it comes to all-round fabulous Greek cuisine I have five top tavernas I always recommend to my visitors. Each with their own unique setting and atmosphere, and all serving delicious authentic food:

Fokos Tavern (Fokos Beach)

Kalosta (Panormos Beach)

Nikolas Taverna (Agia Anna – Paraga Beach)

Oti Apomeine (Ano Mera)

Tasos Taverna (Paraga Beach)