If you’re looking to visit the Greek islands but want to get away from the crowds, you might want to consider a trip to lesser-known areas of Ios.
Santorini was one of the most popular tourist destinations in 2023 according to CNN and some would say is struggling with overtourism. If you know the right places to go, nearby Ios can be an excellent alternative for a more relaxing Greek island experience.
If you’ve researched Ios before, you’ve probably seen it talked about mostly as a party island, where people in their early 20s go to stay in hostels and hit the clubs all night. That can definitely be true, especially in July and August. However, the parties stay on one very small section of the island — the Chora, or old town center, near the Ios ferry port.
The rest of the island is quiet, relaxing, and wonderfully devoid of overtourism.
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The best activities to do in Ios, Greece:
Relax at Mylopotas Beach
Mylopotas beach is perhaps the most famous beach on Ios, which means it is usually crowded. Still, as far as location goes, you can’t beat the convenience.Many hotels claim space on the beach for their guests, but there are also areas where you can rent the use of beach loungers and umbrellas.
Still, a day spent on Mylopotas Beach can feel relaxing and luxurious. For more active types, this is the place to find stands to sign up for water sports, like scuba diving, wakeboarding, and waterskiing.
Take a small group boat tour to hidden beaches and coves on Ios
From Mylopotas Beach, you can also sign up for a small group boat tour that takes you to hidden coves only accessible by boat. Over the course of 3-4 hours, you’ll get to visit multiple hidden beaches where you can sunbathe or swim as you see fit.
These tours are small, local operations, so you won’t find them on popular travel booking sites. Just talk to your hotel concierge or walk up to the ocean sport shack on Mylopotas beach to arrange your trip directly.
Tip: Definitely plan to book it at least a day before you want to go, or even more if you’re going during peak tourist season.
Visit the tomb of Homer
While no one knows for sure when or where ancient Greek poet Homer lived, there are many legends that claim Ios as the island where he is buried. Homer is one of the most famous writers in all of history, up there with William Shakespeare. He is credited with authoring both The Illiad and The Odyssey, recounting legendary stories of the Trojan War and the long and fraught homeward journey of its hero, Odysseus.
A visit to Homer’s tomb is an absolute must-do activity while on Ios. Even if you’re not up on your ancient Greek literature, you will enjoy the stunning coastal views on the walk and the feeling of being the only one around for miles and miles. This would also be the perfect spot to bring a picnic lunch.
To get to this Ios destination, you will need to rent a car or ATV and be prepared for about a 20-minute (beautiful) walk.
Hike to the ruins of Paleocastro
Those looking for an active holiday on Ios can hike to the ruins of a castle called Paleocastro.. On this beautiful hike, you have gorgeous views of the deep blues of the Aegean sea the whole way. On a clear day, you will even see views of the nearby islands, including Paros and Naxos.
These castle ruins date back to Byzantine times, and they’re open to visitors without entrance or restrictions (though as always, be respectful. Let’s keep the ruins around for many more centuries to come). You’ll also pass one of the gorgeous Ios churches on your way.
The hike is on a well-maintained trail and will take about 20-30 minutes each way. Keep in mind that the trail is completely exposed, so especially if you are hiking during the hot summer months, bring sun protection and lots of water.
It’s an off-the-beaten-track hike, that’s for sure. We ran into only one other couple when we hiked it, and enjoyed having the run of the place to ourselves. For this Ios activity, you’ll need to rent a car or an ATV, because it’s really in the middle of nowhere on the island
Read a book at the secluded Agia Theodoti beach
Agia Theodoti beach is one of the best beaches in Ios. It can be challenging to find sandy beaches on the volcanic islands, but this one has got sand that goes on and on, and so few people it feels like a private getaway.
It’s nestled away on the less populated northern side of Ios, so you’ll end up driving about 30 minutes to get here, but it’s well worth it. The water is perfect for swimming or snorkeling, and you’ll have plenty of space to spread out and perhaps enjoy reading a novel set in Greece.
Do a cheese tasting at Diaseli Traditional Cheesery
One of the most delightful experiences to have on Ios island is to tour a traditional cheesery. Getting to this cheesery will require transportation, but it’s well worth it to get away from the resort areas, enjoy delicious cheese, and learn about the traditional way of Greek island life.
At Diaseli Traditional Cheesery, you can choose to tour the farm, do a cheese tasting, or combine the two activities (I highly recommend doing both!). The farm tour is small but quaint and is one of the best ways to learn more about life on the Greek islands before tourism became the dominant industry.
There’s a replica of what a house would have looked like for farmers on Ios, and the tour guide will tell you a lot about the day-to-day life and culture of the Greeks living here.
The resident cheese maker, Dimitris, is descended from a long line of cheese makers on his farm, and still makes it in the way his grandfather taught him. During the tasting, you’ll get to sit in a gorgeous outdoor patio area and taste some amazing sheep’s milk cheeses, all made using the traditional methods.
When I did the tasting, they also threw in a carafe of homemade wine, honey from the estate, and some delicious olives. It was an absolute delight to do both the tour and tasting, and it’s an activity you should not miss while on Ios.
You can book the tour in advance by calling the cheesery, or you can just show up and see if they can accommodate you.
Take pictures in front of the iconic blue-domed churches
Tourists each year flock to Santorini and stand in long lines of other tourists to get a photo in front of the iconic blue-domed churches. But this is totally unnecessary, as many of the other, less touristy Greek islands also feature these same churches!
That’s definitely true of Ios, which has several locations where you can find and photograph these gorgeous, whitewashed buildings. In fact, Ios is sometimes called the island of 365 churches, because, you guessed it, there are 365 churches on this small island. One for every day of the year, which means there’s no shortage of opportunities to see or photograph them.
So skip the Santorini crowds and have your own private photo shoot with one of the gorgeous Greek churches on Ios. Simply drive around the island, or walk around the Chora, the old town, and you’ll come across them every step of the way. With 365 of them, they’re honestly hard to avoid.
Attend a summer concert or play at an outdoor amphitheater
Overlooking the rest of the island of Ios, there is a gorgeous outdoor amphitheater called the Odysseas Elytis theater. It’s named after a Greek poet and Nobel prize winner of the same name.
The Odysseas Elytis theater is a modern construction of marble, but built in a classical roman theater style, and the views of the rest of the island can’t be beat. During the summer months, the municipality of Ios puts on a series of cultural entertainment here, which may include music concerts, plays, or other events. If you’re visiting during the summer, this experience should be at the top of your list.
If you visit during the off season and there are no concerts while you’re visiting, this is still a great place to catch the sunset over Ios.
Check out the old windmills
Nearby the Odysseas Elytis theater are the famous old windmills over Ios. These are formerly operational windmills that once ground grain that was grown on the island. Now, they are a weathered but beautiful reminder of times gone by.
There are 12 windmills in total on Ios, those most have been completely run down. They make for great photos and great views over the Chora, especially at sunset.
Explore the island by ATV
ATVs are popular rental choices for visitors to the Greek islands, and I think Ios is a great place to do it. On Santorini, the roads are so congested with cars and buses, it can be incredibly dangerous to try to navigate those roads with an ATV.
On Ios, the roads are much more open, and in fact, many of the roads on Ios are unpaved and only really suitable for ATV driving. That means you can get away from the crowds of the Chora and explore much more of the island.
You can book your ATV in advance, or simply walk to several rental locations near the ferry port in the Chora. Just keep in mind it won’t be a suitable way to get your bags to your hotel unless you only bring a small backpack!
How to get to Ios
Take the ferry from Athens.
One option for arriving in Ios is to take a ferry from Athens Port Piraeus. There are a number of companies that run ferries, and the travel time can be anywhere from 5.5 – 9 hours, depending on the ferry’s speed and the number of stops along the way.
From my experience, the ferry was massive and perfectly comfortable, with assigned seats that recline, free Wifi, bathrooms, and even food for sale on board. It seemed the entire ferry got off at Santorini, while only a handful of us got off at the Ios port. I was pretty satisfied with my choice and getting away from Santorini crowds!
Just realize that taking the ferry will essentially take a full day of travel from your trip itinerary.
Fly into Santorini airport and take a shorter ferry from there. Ios is very close to Santorini, which has an international airport on the island. If you want to reduce your travel time, fly into Santorini airport and catch a shorter, 30-minute ferry to Ios. Just make sure to check timetables and allow for potential flight delays.
These 10 activities in Ios, Greece, are sure to help you have a relaxing and fun holiday while escaping the tourist crowds of the Greek islands.
Guest post by Constance of A Well-Read Wanderer.