Europe / Photo Essay / Photography

Is Symi the Most Beautiful Small Town in the World?

Symi, Greece, under a pink sunrise.

Is Symi, Greece, the most beautiful small town in the world?

I’ve always regarded Antigua, Guatemala, as the most beautiful town I’ve seen. Situated at the base of three volcanoes, one of which is active, and encircled by cliffs, it enjoys a stunning natural setting. It is a colonial Spanish city with grand architecture painted an assortment of bright colors along the cobble-stone streets. To top it off, there are about 40 cathedrals in various states of photogenic ruin strewn about the city, reminders of violent earthquakes from the past. Throw in the Mayans with their colorful clothes, the gaudy chicken buses, and the always bustling Parque Central, and Antigua is pure magic.

Being in Symi the last few days, I found a place to rival it in my mind. Symi is essentially three towns in one – a harbor town, a village of stacked houses that climb up a vertiginous hillside, and a beach town called Pedi in the adjacent valley. Controlled by the Italians until World War II, it boasts polychromatic edifices more like those in Italy and different than the white wash so common in other Greek Isles.

The sea is beautiful and clear before falling off into an intense blue. The mountains are scrubby and daunting, rising up high above the town in all directions. In the distance the rocky shores of Turkey are visible. There are over a dozen churches on the island, all brightly painted in orange, yellow, white and blue.

Like Antigua, Symi has a scruffy side. Symi was bombed during World War II, and the population of 2000 people is about 10 times less than in its heyday. As a result, there are many grand homes that lie in ruin. Often these ruins are adjacent to beautifully restored villas.

Symi is peaceful and charming. There is an easy pace of life. I went to the grocery store to buy something and the cashier was out front drinking a beer but paused to ring up my order. Another time at the same store the cashier was rolling a cigarette when I went to pay. The sidewalk cafes are filled with some visitors, but being tourist low-season, there are many locals there also. They are taking back the village.

I don’t know if Symi is the most beautiful small town in the world, but it has to be on the short list. What I do know is that when it comes time to get on the ferry, Kristi may have to drag me kicking and screaming. This place is special and it will be hard to leave.

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Symi photo gallery

Click on any photo to open a slideshow view.


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What are your favorite small towns?

Have you been to Symi?

Note: I define a small town as anything less than say, 50,000 people.
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36 thoughts on “Is Symi the Most Beautiful Small Town in the World?

  1. I have never heard of Symi before, but judging from your pictures I can tell it’s a beautiful small town, indeed. I can imagine myself lazing down at the beach or on top of the hill.

  2. Greece has been on our list for 2014 holiday – But then I was hesitant due to the crowds and heat of Jul – Then I saw your Santorini sunset and Symi post and it is now back on our holiday itinerary- any tips on best place to stay in Symi? We would be going with 2 kids 9 &12 years – Are the beaches easy to swim at i.e. not too rocky and deep? Can we visit the island without using a car?
    Would appreciate any recommendations on visiting the area!

    • I think for a family vacation you’d probably prefer Symi, but you really ought to look into Crete. That was our favorite island and I will be getting a post or two ready for it probably after this trip.

      For Symi, we stayed at the Dorian hotel and it would be perfect for a family. We had a studio apartment with a small kitchen that we used to make most of our meals. There are some outdoor seating areas with a partial sea view. The manager, Fotina was her name, was so helpful and sweet and brought us backlava and deserts at times. It was also very cheap, I think about 40 Euros a night (but that was in October)

      Symi has a small pebbly beach near the Dorian with calm water. Not great for kids for sand, but safe for swimming. You can take boat trips around the island but you don’t need a car. It is easily walkable.

      We stayed in Hania in Crete. There are some world class beaches on western Crete. We rented a car and drove everywhere. There are mountains there too if your family likes hiking. We stayed at Erato Rooms in Hania which also had a kitchen and a harbor view. It was great and again I think it was 40 or 50 Euros.

      Let me know if you have any other questions. Thanks for reading and have fun planning your trip.

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  12. Yes – Symi is one of the many beautiful places in the world, what makes it extra special are the people. As someone who live on the island for a good few years, I can tell you, you visit Symi at a perfect time, as the island and her people starts to prepare for summer. Take in a large breath of the oregano on the Mountains, and then sit in Pacos with a cold beer for me.

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