Said to be the place where the tragic hero of Greek mythology Icarus landed after his wax wings melted, this distinctive island in the northeastern Aegean Sea is a beautiful and fascinating place to visit. Also known as the birthplace of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, Ikaria is famous for its packed schedule of summer festivals featuring local food, traditional dancing and plenty of wine.
In contrast to many other Greek islands, Ikaria’s terrain is largely undeveloped and untamed. With little space devoted to agriculture, the Ikarian landscape includes vast tree-lined gorges; barren, rocky cliffs and hidden coves with sparkling turquoise waters. This mountainous island is bisected by the Atheras range, with most of its villages clustered along the coastline.
Fewer than 10,000 people make their year-round home on this nearly 100-square-mile island, but the population is famed for its longevity; Ikaria is one of five worldwide “Blue Zones” in which at least one-third of inhabitants survive into their 90s and beyond. Studies have attributed Ikarians’ long lives to several factors, including diet, lifestyle and genetics.
While a short holiday on the island won’t necessarily help extend your life, it can definitely slow down time for a few days as you enjoy the laid-back culture, delicious Mediterranean cuisine and delightful climate of Ikaria.
Best Time to Visit Ikaria
The summer months are peak travel season in the Mediterranean, and while you’ll encounter larger crowds on the island, you’ll also have full access to shopping, dining and lodging options, many of which shut down for several months during the winter slow season.
If your goal is to get as much beach time as possible, wait until at least June to visit; while May temperatures are typically mild, the waters of the Aegean Sea will still be cold, and weather can occasionally be too chilly for sunbathing. The island also feels some of the cooling effects of the Meltemi winds, which aren’t as strong on Ikaria as they are in the Cyclades but are enough to help mitigate the heat of the summer sun.
Summer on Ikaria also brings the Panagiria: traditional village-wide feast days to honor the saints and other religious milestones. During these celebrations, the whole town turns out for traditional food, music, dancing and wine, with the massive street parties lasting well into the night. Festival season begins in May and runs through November, with most of the celebrations concentrated in July and August.
If you opt to visit in September or October, the weather will still be pleasantly warm, but expect to encounter more frequent rain showers during your stay.
Getting to Ikaria
Despite its relative remoteness, there are several options for getting to Ikaria:
- Air: Airlines serving Ikaria Airport include Olympic Air, Aegean Airlines and Astra Airlines. Flights are available from Athens as well as several other popular Greek islands, such as Santorini and Mykonos.
- Boat: Ikaria has two main ports, Evdilos and Agios Kirykos, both of which see frequent ferry traffic from Piraeus port in Athens. However, this method of travel is somewhat time-consuming (around 11 hours one way), so unless you have plenty of vacation time to spare, arriving via plane is the more efficient choice. If you’re island-hopping, ferries from Samos, Chios, and Lesvos are plentiful during summer high season.
Places to Stay in Ikaria
- Karras Star: This recently renovated three-star hotel is located in Avlaki Village on the island’s north side. The four-building complex offers 37 spacious rooms, all of which deliver majestic sea views and modern comforts like air conditioning, TV, refrigerator and Wi-Fi. Guests can enjoy the daily breakfast buffet in the tranquil garden and unwind with a cocktail by the sparkling pool.
- Cavos Bay Hotel and Studios: Perched on the rocky cliffs of Armenistis Bay, Cavos Bat Hotel and Studios blends seamlessly into the rugged landscape with its chiseled-stone accents and majestic wood beams. Each light-filled guest room features fine contemporary furnishings, modern bathrooms and a private balcony or terrace with sea or garden views. The property features two pools, free Wi-Fi and daily cleaning services.
- Daidalos Hotel: Surrounded by majestic cedars, this serene cliffside hotel faces the vast blue Aegean Sea. The hotel is situated a short walk from Livadi beach as well as several tavernas, cafés, boutiques and a small harbor. The property features a large lounge with satellite TV and cozy seating, a restaurant serving Greek and continental cuisine and a pool with a snack bar. The traditionally designed guest rooms include large verandas with panoramic sea views.
- Erofili Beach Hotel: The eco-friendly aesthetic of this sleek coastal hotel blends the traditional with the contemporary, with local wood and Ikarian stone featuring heavily in its construction. Convenient to both Livati and Messakti beaches, the Erofili Beach Hotel pampers guests with a lavish daily breakfast buffet, indoor and outdoor pools, a hot tub and a posh bar with breathtaking views of the Aegean Sea. Other on-site amenities include free Wi-Fi, laundry service, massage therapy and free parking.
- Pyrgos: The spacious detached villas of Pyrgos are ideal for large families or extended stays on the island. Each air-conditioned unit is generously equipped with a full kitchen and utensils, dining area, living room and bedrooms. The eight-dwelling community features a shared pool, laundry facility, lounge area and gardens. The hillside complex near the island’s main port provides excellent views of the sea and surrounding countryside with its large olive trees and lush vegetation.
How Long to Stay in Ikaria
Given its remote nature and relatively small size, activities on Ikaria are limited, so if you’re the kind of traveler who loves constantly exploring and seeing new things, you’ll probably want to stay four or five days before hopping to another island or visiting the mainland. However, if you’re simply looking for a peaceful place to relax and decompress in a stunning natural setting, you could easily spend a week or more here.
Getting Around Ikaria
- Boat: During the busy summer months, water taxis ferry passengers from Agios Kirykos to Therma and from Manganitis to Seychelles beach.
- Bus: The island operates a few bus routes between Agios Kirykos to Hristos Rahes, with stops at Evdilos, Armenistis and Ikaria Airport.
- Car or Motorcycle: If you plan to venture beyond the main villages, renting a car or motorcycle is recommended. Rental vehicles are in limited supply on the island, so be sure to book as far in advance as possible, especially if you’ll be visiting during July or August, when demand will be at its peak.
- Taxi: A number of independently-operated taxis are available to transport you from the airport to your hotel or among the island’s villages, but most services require an advance reservation, and costs can add up quickly, with a trip from Agios Kirykos to Evdilos averaging around 55 euros.
Things to Do on Ikaria
Ikaria is relatively small and remote, so tourist attractions and organized activities are somewhat limited, but the island is anything but boring. Its lovely beaches, unspoiled landscape and quaint villages will give you plenty of opportunities for exploration and relaxation during your stay.
Explore Agios Kirykos
This capital city and main port on Ikaria’s southeast coast is home to just under 2,000 residents, many of whom are employed in the hospitality and fishing industries. Founded by sailors three centuries ago, the picturesque town is built around a central square filled with shops and tavernas. Two- and three-story neoclassical homes rise above the narrow streets, while blooms of flowers add splashes of color to balconies and terraces. Most of the island’s bars, clubs and other nightlife are anchored here.
Relax in Evdilos
The island’s other port is located in Evdilos, a fishing village built in the mid-19th century after the threat of pirates in the region had subsided. With a population of just 500 people, the village stands out for its neoclassical aesthetic and flourishing gardens. This popular resort town also features an abundance of hotels, villas, cafés and fish taverns.
Hike in Halari Gorge
This rugged region about 30 miles northwest of Agios Kirykos is a well-known destination for hikers, with an extensive network of paths and bridges that lead trekkers past small lakes, rivers and waterfalls.
Soak in the Hot Springs of Therma
Just outside the capital, Therma is a centuries-old destination for locals and tourists seeking the therapeutic comfort of the natural hot springs. The site consists of three main geothermal springs, said to have curative power to soothe aches and pains and melt away stress, and you can still see the ruins of the marble spa where ancient Greek inhabitants immersed themselves in the healing waters thousands of years prior.
Hit the Beaches
Ikaria’s most popular and memorable beaches include Seychelles, Nas and Livadi. Just a mile outside Maganitis, the vivid blue waters, polished marble pebbles and sea caves of Seychelles are reminiscent of the African island nation of the same name. Nudist-friendly Nas beach is about 2 miles west of Armenistis, and nearby Livadi beach features fine sand and a small island in the middle of the bay to challenge ambitious swimmers.
Go to Surf School
Based in Messakti beach on the island’s north end, Ikaria Surf School offers lessons in surfing and stand-up paddleboarding for all experience levels as well as yoga and Brazilian Ju-Jitsu classes.
Raise a Glass at Afianes Winery
Perched on a hilltop above Hristos Rahes, this modest family-owned winery has made its mark in the industry, garnering honors in several European competitions. Visitors can tour the operation, schedule a wine-tasting and pore over the vintage wine presses and antique wedding dresses on exhibit at the facility.
See the Byzantine Odeon
The ruins of this ancient Roman theater in Kampos date back to the first century A.D., when it served as a cultural center of the island as well as a location for military, civil and religious events.
Visit the Archaeological Museum of Kampos
Carve out a bit of time for this tiny one-room museum, which offers visitors a closer look at sculptural remains, ancient vases, Neolithic tools and other artifacts from centuries past.
While most of the island’s three dozen known caves are inaccessible or unsafe for tourists, a few are available for tours, including the stalagmite-lines Raos Houtra on the island’s north end.
Places to Eat in Ikaria
Ikaria is home to a few dozen restaurants and tavernas, most of which are concentrated in the larger towns, although smaller villages typically have at least a taverna or two if you find yourself in need of sustenance while sightseeing.
Best Breakfast in Ikaria
Indulge in the tempting breakfast offerings at Ambariza Bistro in Agios Kirykos, which include house-made granola, indulgent pancake platters topped with nuts, chocolate or cheesecake and strapatsada, a traditional Greek dish made with eggs and tomatoes. High-quality coffee and exotic tea varieties will help you start your day on the right note.
Best Lunch in Ikaria
Stop by Ma’Mu Souvlaki and More in Hristos Rahes for generous portions of classic Greek favorites such as gyros and souvlaki as well as hamburgers, zucchini fries and other street fare. Wash it all down with an ice-cold Ikariotissa beer as you chat with the friendly owners.
Best Dinner in Ikaria
With an eclectic menu of Greek, international and vegan dishes, Marymary in Armenistis village is sure to please every member of your party. Start your meal with a traditional appetizer like fava, goat cheese or tzatziki with freshly-baked pita; for your main course, offerings include a wide variety of pasta dishes, grilled chicken and seafood and hearty meat stews.
Best Dessert in Ikaria
As you step off the ferry at the port in Armenistis, be sure to stop by Grand Mam’s Recipes to start your vacation on a sweet note. This no-frills bakery is known throughout the island for its cakes, pastries and homemade ice cream as well as the classic Greek spinach pie. You can also meet the family goats, which provide the milk for many of the shop’s delectable treats.
Top Photo Spots in Ikaria
- Fortress of Drakanos: This crumbling stone tower sits on a hilltop outside the village of Faros. Built in the 4th century B.C., the structure served as a Hellenistic military fortress as well as a site for religious rites honoring Eilythia, a fertility goddess.
- Armenistis Village: Fewer than 100 residents call this picturesque fishing village home, but the charm and beauty of its modest whitewashed houses, small port and Agios Nikolaos church create fantastic photo opportunities.
- Agia Irini Church: Located in the village of the same name, this church was built in the 11th or 12th century and is the oldest structure on the island. The church was constructed on the remains of a 4th-century basilica, and a few columns from the ancient structure remain onsite today.
- Stone houses in Maganitis: To avoid contact with enemy forces, ancient inhabitants of this small village built homes that—from a distance—look like large rocks nestled into the cliffs.
- Agios Kirykos Church: With its high, rust-colored walls and distinctive blue dome, this impressive church is the island’s largest.
Unlike some of its more glamorous distant neighbors in the Aegean Sea—I’m looking at you, Mykonos and Santorini—Ikaria has a rustic, laid-back vibe that matches its pebbled beaches and rugged landscape. If you enjoy venturing off the beaten path and prefer peaceful small towns to glitzy beach resorts, Ikaria is the Greek island for you.