Symi is only 58 square kilometers in size, but is becoming increasingly popular with tourists. The still relatively undiscovered island has no airport and is therefore only accessible from Kos or Rhodes reachable by boat (ferry or excursion boat).
The island of Symi at a glance
Symi is located about one to two hours by boat north of Rhodes in the middle of the Dodecanese in the Aegean. The island thus belongs to the southern Sporades and has about 2500 inhabitants. The Turkish mainland is only 9 kilometers away, while Rhodes is almost 23 kilometers away. Symi is best known for its sponge diving, which nowadays is only incidental.
The capital is most beautiful from a boat when you call at the port. Then you can photograph the numerous colorful houses, with different lights depending on the time of day.
Gyalos (Gialos) and Chorio – the capital of Symi
The excursion boats and ferries dock in the port of Gialos. Here you will find most of the tourist shops, souvenir shops and restaurants. The day tours for tourists on Symi also start from this point. Sights are the beach and the church in the northern area of Gialos.
On the southern side, numerous steps take you to the upper town of Chorio. From there you have a fantastic view over the harbor. The best thing to do there is to visit the old monastery and the ruins of Kastro. There are also numerous taverns in the upper town.
There is hardly any traffic in the capital, only in the port and on the main street. Up until 50 years ago there was not a single motor vehicle on the island, so roads were neither planned nor built. For this reason, there is only one well-paved road connecting the main towns.
St. George’s Bay
St. George’s Bay is one of Symi’s beautiful bays, with Norwegian fjord character added. The bay is only accessible by boat and is suitable for swimming, snorkeling and diving. The bay is also known for the picturesque photo motif from the water. In the water you will see numerous Greek fish, which are usually small and colorless.
Numerous ships call at and stop at St. George’s Bay from the capital and from Symi.
Panormitis Monastery is located on the southwestern side of the island in the bay of Parnomitis, which can also be seen as the blue lagoon. The backdrop with the largest baroque bell tower in Greece is picturesque. The monastery houses a church and a museum (for a small entrance fee).
The monastery is also known for its bakery, where the fresh apple pie with cinnamon and curd cheese strudel should be tried. There are also numerous fresh pastries and delicacies. The coffee with souvenir shop also offers delicious cappuccino with a fantastic view of the monastery and the bay.
Panormitis Monastery can be reached from Symi by boat or by road. A bus also runs twice a day from the capital to the monastery and back. Numerous excursion boats from Rhodes also stop at the monastery of Panormitis.
Bus on Symi
There are currently taxis and a bus that runs from the port (Gialos) to the upper part of town (Chorio). The neighboring town of Pedi also drives. The bus also runs twice a day to Panormitis Monastery at a fare of 6 euros.
Day trip from Rhodes to Symi by boat
Day trips from Rhodes to Symi are currently available. You can choose between different ships, travel times and routes. From the larger tourist steamers to private yachts, everything is there. The boats depart from Mandraki Port (the port with the hind and the stag) directly in Rhodes. Departure time varies between 9am and 10am. The time in Symi is also variable depending on travel time and route.
There are currently 3 different routes from Rhodes to Symi by boat:
- Excursion boat Nikolaos X: The largest ship with a capacity of 420 passengers (including 250 on open Deck) currently runs daily between Rhodes and Symi. Due to the size, the driving is smooth, with the following route including driving time: Rhodes (09:00 a.m.) – Panormitis Monastery (10:30 a.m.), Panormitis Monastery (11:45 a.m.) – Symi (12:30 p.m.) with driving through the bay of Agios Georgios (approx. 12:15). Departure from Symi to Rhodes at 16:00. So you have about an hour at Panormitis Monastery and 3:30 in Symi.
- Excursion Boat Zeus D: The ship departs from Rhodes at 10 am and reaches St. George’s Bay at 12:00 for an hour of swimming and snorkeling. Then at 1pm it’s a short 15 minute drive to Symi where it stays 3 hours. Then it’s back to Rhodes. The travel time for this boat is therefore 2 hours each way. So you have 1 hour in St. George’s Bay and 3 hours in Symi.
- Speedboat: The speedboat only takes 1 hour between Rhodes and Symi and departs at 10am. Between 11am and 3pm, Symi can be visited for between 3 and 4 hours, depending on the day. Then it’s 30 minutes to Panormitis Monastery, where the stay is 1 hour and back to Rhodes. Alternative routes run via St. George’s Bay, with a stopover of just 30 minutes. So you have 3 or 4 hours in Symi and one hour at Panormitis Monastery or 30 minutes in St. George’s Bay.
The check in the boats usually takes place one hour before the start. The departure is extremely punctual – in every port. In the high season, the boats are quickly fully booked, while in the low season you can usually still book on the day of the trip.
The price for excursion boats is currently (October 2020) at 25 euros. The speedboat costs 35 euros. Complimentary hotel pickup is sometimes offered (or for a small additional fee). On the other hand, the port is only 300 meters away from the bus station, although the morning buses take longer because of students.
Another possibility are ferries, which often only offer off-peak times (very early or at night). A price of less than 10€ often has to be paid for this.
Excursion by ship to Symi from Rhodes during the Corona period: During Corona, berthing and disembarking are due to of port authorities to wear masks. In general, the masks are removed regardless of the general recommendation. If travel groups including travel companions are on board, the mask requirement is generally maintained throughout the journey, although most people’s noses are not covered. When boarding, a Corona form (contact details) must be filled out. There is also a temperature check. The ships have cut capacity by a third to a half. It is recommended to stay on the open deck (sun deck).