Symi island is one of the more southern in the Dodecanese group that lie off the west coast of Turkey. Symi is a small island just north of Rhodes, and it's one of the most popular day-trip travel destinations thanks to a picturesque port and the impressive Parnormitis Monastery its southern coast.
Once famed for its wooden shipbuilding and its sponges, Symi now relies almost entirely on tourism. Trees have disappeared from much of the island and sponges have vanished from its waters.
Symi is a small island with a population concentrated in the port resort of Gialos where dozens of ferries tie up daily. Paved roads lead to a few beaches, and the rest of the island is laced with rough track and mule paths.
Taxi boats provide services to the more remote beaches. Otherwise, they can only reached with a trek over the hills.
There's not a great deal of holiday accommodation on this small island and what there is, is concentrated around the main island port.
There is no airport on Symi. Most visitors to the island fly to Rhodes, or one of the other Dodecanese islands, then catch a ferry to Symi.
There are scheduled flights to Athens and Symi visitors can catch a ferry from the port at Piraeus, but it's a very long journey time.
Flights to Rhodes can sometimes connect with ferry services but most opt for an overnight stop in Rhodes and a ferry from Mandaraki harbour the next day.
Rhodes airport is 16 kilometres from the town harbour, and there are plenty of buses. Although there is no dedicated airport hotel, accommodation is plentiful along the route from the airport to harbour.
Kos island has a shorter flight time from the UK, but the ferry trip is longer. Regular ferry connections include catamaran services by Dodekanesos Seaways between Kos and Rhodes via Symi.
Most charter flights from the UK fly Wednesdays and Saturdays. On Saturdays, the flights tend to arrive in Rhodes in the early hours of Sunday which can be useful for the 9 am Symi ferry.
Two major ferry companies currently run routes to Symi while several small firms run day trips and excursion to the island from Rhodes and Turkey.
The catamarans Dodekanisos Pride and Dodekanisos Express operated by Dodekanisos Seaways leave from Rhodes' Colona harbour daily calling in at Symi, with a journey time of about 45 minutes.
A service by Blue Star Ferries also calls in a Symi on its run from Piraeus to Kaztellortzo calling in at Astypalaia, Patmos, Lipsi, Leros, Kalymnos, Kos, Nisyros, Tilos and Rhodes. It runs weekly from Piraeus on Wednesdays and twice weekly from Kalymnos on Fridays and Sundays.
There is any number of day trip boats offering excursions from Rhodes to Symi. Most operate from Mandraki harbour on Rhodes from April to October, leaving Rhodes at around 9 am with some calling at the monastery of Panormitis on the way.
Typical are Tourtlee Tours which runs full-day cruises to Symi. Holiday visitors can wander down to Mandraki to see what's on offer on the waterfront.
Aegean Tour Travel runs Sunday only hydrofoils from Bodrum, Turkey, from May to October while E-Ferry has fast catamaran services between Symi and both Bodrum and Dacta and Yesil Marmaris Lines runs a Rhodes to Bodrum service in the summer that calls in at Symi.
Water taxis run out of Gialos daily to the various island beaches. There are plenty of round-island day trips starting from the harbour. The boats display details and prices in the port next to the water-taxis. Small boats are also available to hire.
Tour boats leave Gialos at 10.30 am and return before 6 pm. Some trips include a barbecue lunch and may be combined with a walk or bus trip through the interior.
There are also excursion tours to beaches on neighbouring islets such as Sesklia with a barbecue lunch and drinks usually included. Visiting boats can moor in Gialos, Nimborio, Pedi, Panormitis and Agios Emilianos.
Symi, also called Syme or Simi, lies about 40km north-west of Rhodes and 7km off the Turkish coast. It is about 10 kilometres by 9 kilometres wide with an area around 58 sq km.
There is one major resort at Symi Town or Gialos and a population of 2,500. Another 500 live in hamlets scattered around the coast. Symi has one fertile plain behind Pedi; the rest is mostly rock with pockets of pine and oak. The highest point is Mount Vigla at 616 metres.
Shipbuilding and sponges were the leading industries in the 19th century when the population reached 22,500. The primary industry today is tourism.
Symi is popular with the UK and Italian visitors and has a substantial ex-pat community. The annual Symi Festival held from July to September, is an important cultural event with theatre, cinema, dance, music and art exhibitions.
Summers in Symi are notoriously hot with average temperatures in July and August of 33°C and often rising to 40°C and above in the main port of Gialos which is set in a steep-sided amphitheatre of hills that create a sweltering microclimate.
Spring and autumn are considered the best times to visit Symi, especially early in the year when wildflowers are abundant and especially for walkers when fresh breezes keep the temperatures down. Winters in Symi are mild but wet.
Car hire is hardly needed on Symi as the island has at least five water taxis that head out daily to the main beaches. Car hire can be useful if you have luggage to carry but with only a few paved roads there is not anywhere to drive to except Pedi, Nimborio and Panormitis. Car and moped hire is available in Gialos harbour and Pedi Bay. Off-road tracks are usually poor and sometimes dangerous. There are a couple of petrol stations on the road to Pedi.
Half a dozen taxis operate out of Gialos. The longest trip is to the monastery at Panormitis – agree the price before getting in. An excellent time to get a taxi is when the ferry boats are due to arrive as that is when the drivers gather in the harbour.
Water taxis frequently run out of the harbour at Gialos to Agia Marina, Agia Nikolaos, Nanou and Marathounda and also in the opposite direction to Nimborio. There are also several 'round island' day trips that start from the harbour. Small boats can be hired in the port as well.
Symi Bus (green) runs a reliable hourly shuttle service between Gialos, Chorio and Pedi up to 11 pm. A minibus runs twice a day to Panormitis. It takes 30 minutes with stops on the way for photos.
Symi is also just 13 kilometres north-south and nine kilometres east-west so it's walkable, although walkers should take plenty of water as there are no facilities.
Most walkers head inland to explore the pine-clad interior and the many monasteries and chapels which pepper the island. Symi has some excellent walking trails, but many paths are little more than goat tracks and are in a ruinous state.
Wooded walks can be found in the centre and north of the island although the most populous area around Gialos is rocky and barren.
Symi is only a small island and it doesn't have a great selection of holiday accommodation. The combination of property conservation laws and a shortage of fresh water on Symi have helped to curb the construction of new buildings.
In contrast to many other Greek islands, accommodation can be easier to find in July and August as the searing temperatures tend to put off many people. Rooms are harder to book in the spring and autumn – the most popular seasons for Symi holidays.
Room owners will sometimes meet incoming ferries but they are not as plentiful as on other Greek islands. The Symi Visitor has offices on the north side of the harbour, and they may find you a room somewhere.
There are many self-catering studios in Gialos and the Chorio above. Alternative holiday accommodation is available in the fishing village of Pedi, east of Chorio, which has seen a recent growth in small hotels and studios. To the west of Gialos is Nimborios with a complex of self-catering apartments.
There are no authorised camping sites on Symi and illegal camping is heavily frowned upon. For a cheap night with peace and quiet try checking into a pilgrim's room at the Taxiarchis Michail Panormitis monastery which offers a bed for the night for a small donation.
58 sq km
Apr – Nov