We know the secret is out by now, and you’ve probably heard of the Lesser Cyclades. Maybe Koufonissi rings a bell for its white sand beaches or Iraklia for its laid-back vibes. But let us introduce you to an island with unhurried charm, and a distinct lack of flashy development that we hope stays this way.
Deriving its name from the evergreen shrub schinos that thrives on the island, Schinoussa is paradise regained.
From its solitary beaches to the dusty stone paths that lead to them, a visit to Schinoussa (also spelled Schoinoussa) calls to mind the Greek island experience of decades ago, when pleasures were simpler. Here, it’s all about embracing island life that moves slower and gets shaken only during its boisterous feasts and festivals. We visited in late July, and even though this was peak season, we rarely shared the beaches with more than a dozen other beach bums.
Ready to discover one of Greece’s lesser-known escapes?
Best Things To Do On Schinoussa
1. Quaint villages
What better way to acquaint yourself with an island than by embarking on leisurely strolls through the enchanting stone-paved alleys of Schinoussa’s villages?
Chora, also known as Panagia, the island’s atmospheric capital, beckons with its charming whitewashed houses, adorned by cascading bougainvillea, which narrate the vibrant and timeless stories of Schinoussa. Perched strategically atop a hill to serve as an early warning against marauding pirate ships in the Aegean, Chora rewards you with sweeping vistas of the sea. From both ends of the village, dirt roads and meandering pathways fan out, guiding you to some of the island’s most captivating beaches.
Schinoussa boasts two more settlements: the fishing harbor of Mersini, where ferries and boats dock, although there’s not much to see or do there, and the sparsely populated hamlet of Messaria. Messaria truly comes to life during the summer months when visitors traverse its picturesque footpaths winding through vineyards, ultimately leading to exquisite beaches that epitomize the island’s allure.
2. Gorgeous Beaches
A unique aquatic paradise, Schinoussa has no fewer than twenty beaches dotted around the island and accessed by a network of trails.
From the hamlet of Messaria, dirt tracks lead to the beaches of Gerolimnionas, Fikio, Avlaki tou Papa, and Psili Ammos, considered among the most beautiful in Schinoussa. Dirt roads from Chora lead to beaches around the coast, with the nearest being Tsigouri and Livadi to the west. On the east coast, you will find the beaches of Fountana and Almiros, while if you head further south, you will reach Lioliou and the three small bays of Aligaria.
On the promontory of Agios Vasilios, there are some gorgeous beaches as well, such as Santorineiko, Moli, and the pebbly beach of Agios Vasilios itself. However, since the promontory is privately owned, the beaches can only be reached by sea.
We visited them all, and we particularly loved Gerolimnionas for its remote location and killer sunset views, Psili Ammos for the turquoise water and the golden dunes, and Aligaria (Kampos) for its lovely seabed. We have a detailed guide on the island’s beaches so that you can find your favorite ones as well!
3. Leisurely Hikes
Hosting many endemic plants and being an important stopover for migratory birds, the whole island is part of the Natura 2000 Network. Add to this the low and smooth slopes replete with stone-paved footpaths and stunning views out to sea, and you have the perfect place to hike.
When it comes to trails, almost all lead from Chora and the hamlet of Messaria to Schoinoussa’s wild beaches, while a coastal trail winds around the east coast of the island. You can get detailed information about these trails in our guide about the beaches of Schinoussa. There is also an easy 2km dirt road that starts from Chora, crosses the island’s interior with the old windmills and the peak of Vardies (133m), and ends at Messaria.
In our opinion, if there is one single hike you can not miss, this is the coastal trail. And if you want to get a peak of the inland as well, then we suggest you follow this hike that encompasses both trails mentioned above (the coastal trail and the hike from Chora to Messaria).
4. Harakas Gorge
The Gorge of Harakas, located in the Halepes area of the island, is part of an impressive limestone formation between Panagia and Mersini. A climber’s paradise, it features a climbing park with five sectors and more than 30 climbing routes, ranging from 5a to 7c.
But even if you are not into climbing, a gentle hike through the gorge will reward you with captivating views of the beach of Tsigouri and the islet of Fidoussa.
On the island, you will find five stone windmills, fine examples of folk architecture: two in Messaria, another two in Tsigouri, and one at the peak of Vargies. Interestingly enough, the windmills have been built in two straight lines that meet each other and form a right angle, which is what the islanders call “the phenomenon of the windmills of Schinoussa”.
6. Maniatis Cave
Legend has it that there was once a pirate from the Peloponnesian region of Mani that decided, during a raid, to rob the Church of Panagia Akathi. Having the sense that the icon of the Virgin Mary was watching him during the robbery, he took out his gun and shot a hole through it. However, as he was making his way back to the ship with his booty, he slipped into a cave near the port and died. The locals that found him supposedly burned him on the spot, giving the cave its black colour.
To get there, follow the stone-paved trail from the fishing harbour of Mersini up to Chora. Illuminated after dark, it makes for a scenic evening walk!
7. The Churches
Dedicated to the Presentation of the Virgin Mary and the Akathist Hymn, the Church of the Virgin Mary Akathi is the parish church of Chora. It owes its name to the famous icon of Christ standing (being “akathistos”) next to the Virgin Mary instead of being in her arms. Many girls on the island are called “Akathi”, a name of the Virgin encountered almost exclusively on Schinoussa.
The whitewashed Chapel of St. Nicholas, at the tip of the peninsula, between the bay of Mersini and Sifneiko, and the picturesque Church of the Annunciation in Messaria are also worth a visit.
8. The Folklore Museum
If you are interested in learning about the history of the island, then head to the Folklore Museum in Chora. Consisting of everyday objects that have been donated by the island’s inhabitants, this tiny museum is dedicated to depicting what everyday life on Schinoussa was like over the past two centuries. The exhibits include a collection of traditional costumes, kitchen utensils, and agricultural tools.
How to get to Schinoussa
Like the rest of the Small Cyclades, Schinoussa doesn’t have its own airport. The closest one is the airport in Naxos, serving domestic flights from Athens, while a regular ferry connects the island with Schinoussa. That said, hopping on a ferry from Piraeus, Naxos, or the Small Cyclades is the easiest way to reach this gorgeous island.
| From Athens
Regular ferries to Schinoussa depart from the port in Piraeus, the main ferry port for Athens. The passenger ferry Blue Star Naxos operates the route to Schinoussa three times a week throughout the summer season, and the journey typically takes about 7 to 8 hours. En route, it makes stops at Syros, Paros, Naxos, and Iraklia.
Getting to the port in Piraeus: From Athens International Airport, take public bus #Χ96 to Piraeus (60min, 6€). Alternatively, take metro line #3 and then change at Monastiraki station to green line #1 (40min + 17min, 10€).
| From Naxos
The closest airport to Schinoussa is the one on Naxos, the largest island in the Cyclades and the transport hub of the region. During the summer months, you’ll find a wide range of domestic flights to Naxos from Athens every day of the week (40min). From there, you can either take the small ferry Skopelitis Express (1h 50min) or the Blue Star Naxos (1h 15min) to Schinoussa.
Getting to the port in Naxos: The distance between Naxos Airport and the islans´s port is 3km. A direct bus runs between them every 30min during the summer months. There are also regular buses from every other part of the island to the port.
| From the Small Cyclades
If you are already island hopping the Small Cyclades or Amorgos, getting to Schinoussa is a breeze, thanks to Skopelitis and Blue Star Ferries.
The legendary ferry Skopelitis Express connects all year round its homeport, Amorgos, with Schinoussa and the other Small Cyclades. The ferry ride is scenic and, depending on the island you are on, may take from 20min to 3h. The timetable of Blue Star Ferries, on the other hand, depends on the season, with most ferries operating in summer.
How to get around Schinoussa
Teeny-tiny Schinoussa has a single 5km paved road that runs its spine and a relatively smooth landscape. This allows easy access throughout the island on foot, with no place being more than 30 minutes walk from Chora.
However, if you prefer to have your means of transport, there are buggies and scooters for rent at Faros Bikes and Jason Motors. There is only one gas station, one taxi ( +30 6973 215 518), and no buses at all. Actually, there was a minibus running between Chora, Messaria, and the port when we visited Schinoussa in the summer of 2021, but it stopped running in the middle of our stay.
Aiolia offers a boat tour around Schinoussa every Thursday and excursions to the nearby islands the rest of the week. A reservation, as well as a minimum number of 8 passengers, are required for the trips to take place. If you are short on time, these tours are a nice way to get a taste of the other Lesser Cyclades. But if you have some more time to spend, we highly recommend spending a couple of nights on each island instead of visiting them as day trips.
For an unforgettable experience, check out these kayaking tours around the island!
What & Where to Eat on Schinoussa
The local fava (split-pea mash) may be award-winning and the string beans mouthwatering, but what the islanders are really proud of is the famous patatato casserole, made with goat’s meat, potatoes, and herbs. Be sure to also taste the excellent chtapodi giouvetsi (baked octopus with pasta), handmade pitaridia (pasta boiled in goat’s milk), and local cheeses, such as ladotiri, xinomozithra, and kopanisti. Besides, if you adore cheese even as a dessert, you will love melitinia, the traditional sweet cheese pies made with mizithra, honey, mastic, eggs, and cinnamon.
| For Lunch & Dinner
| For Drinks (or coffee)
Treat yourself to a cocktail at one of the atmospheric bars of Chora, while enjoying the panoramic views of the surrounding islands. Or, even better, do as the locals do and sip as many rakomela (sweet honey and raki drink) as you can handle in a traditional kafeneio. You may even be lucky enough to experience an impromptu performance!
Where to Stay in Schinoussa
Still off the beaten track, Schinoussa has far fewer amenities than some of its more famous neighbours. But this only allows it to retain the romantic, ramshackle feel of a more secluded retreat.
Small as it might be, it is divided up into three different settlements: the atmospheric capital known as Chora or Panagia, the small rural village of Messaria, and the port of Mersini. Most accommodation is found at Chora and the nearby beaches of Tsigouri and Livadi, while there are also a couple of nice hotels at Messaria. Mersini is not the ideal place to base yourself as there is not much to do there, and the daily uphill to Chora will wear you out.
We stayed at Harama Hotel, located at Messaria, a good 15min walk to the main village. The rural setting was ideal, the hosts were lovely, and our favourite beaches – Psili Ammos and Gerolimnionas – were close by.
However, no matter where you stay, you will not be far away from the island’s beating heart. And as a bonus, accommodation owners will pick you up at the ferry port when you arrive.
When to visit Schinoussa
Unless you are willing to pay a premium for everything, avoid visiting the island during the peak season, which runs between early July and late August. If you can make it happen, early summer and September offer the perfect time to explore Schinoussa: the weather is superb, the waters are the ideal temp, accommodation prices tend to drop, and everything is up and running.
However, when summer rolls around, it’s also all about the festivals!
— The Festivals —
The most celebrated one on the island is the annual Split Pea Festival, taking place at the end of June. During this two-day event, you will taste the local produce and dance to the sounds of traditional music. Another festival worth visiting is the three-day Feast of August (12-14), which includes live music, traditional dances, photography exhibitions, and a bazaar with local handicrafts.
As far as the religious festivals are concerned, almost all of them are dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Panagia): the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary on March 25 (it coincides with the Greek Independence Day), the Fete of Panagia Akathi on the last Saturday of Lent, and the Dormition of the Virgin on August 15. And then there is the Feast of Saint Nicholas on December 6, when the homonymous, quaint chapel at Faros comes to life, with the worshippers arriving there on foot or by boat.
Map of Schinoussa
If you are wondering how long to spend in Schinoussa, we think three days is enough time to explore the wonders of the island. After all, Schinoussa is a stone’s throw away from Iraklia, Koufonissia, and Donoussa, which are also worth exploring!