The Cultural Mykonos Guide for the Unenthusiastic Party Goer
Okay, so if you have ever heard of Mykonos (an island in Greece), then chances are you associate this place with one thing and one thing only P-A-R-T-Y (insert loud roars and cheers here)! And that is great, for the people who like to stay up till 6 am, dancing with their glow sticks, breathing fire, and doing body shots from unmentionable parts of their body (Trust me, I went to some of these parties back in the day. And at one of them someone really did breath fire).
But (not so sadly), I am not that person. It’s not that I have nothing against partying or drinking at all, it’s just not for me. I am one of those geriatric folks who orders the early bird special for dinner and is in bed by the amazingly early hour of 8 pm (20:00 for the non-Americans), binge watching the latest episodes of TURN (a historical fiction series about the Revolutionary War. If my inner nerd wasn’t showing it is now). The only thing I don’t do is crochet or knit and that’s just because I don’t have the patience for it.
So when I decided to visit Mykonos on my recent trip to Greece, I was a little worried. Would the entire island be a giant Spring Break party gone awry? Would I have to participate in a wet t-shirt contest to gain entrance to the island? Would people be throwing up everywhere? Okay, I knew it wasn’t gonna be that bad, I mean I didn’t expect to see Snookie from the Jersey Shore or the latest Real World cast mates (is that show even still on? I miss Pedro and Puck) drunkenly walking along the beach, but I didn’t know if there would be anything for me to do. I mean, most of the guides I found basically said to party and relax on the beach, which is code for party and recover from your hangover. But since I don’t drink, what the hell would I do, besides eating the entire contents of the breakfast buffet and watch every TV show I downloaded on Netflix?
Well, my general life motto is to experience everything before I judge it. And so it was with this mentality that I cast my fears aside, and booked a ferry ticket to Mykonos. I wanted to see if there was a cultural Mykonos guide or if this island was merely a sea of body shots, booty calls, and left over vomit in bathroom stalls (I kid. I know many party people are not like this. Only when you’re in college). Well, thank God there is more to Mykonos than an exuberant party scene. So if you are a non-party enthusiast like myself then check out some of the culturally rich attractions listed below.
1. Explore some of the 25 beaches
So, no surprise here, Mykonos has some amazing beaches. No rocky shores, no gross algae in between your toes, no cloudy water, and definitely no cantankerous crabs snapping at you. These beaches have soft, almost plush white sand, pristine crystal blue water, and the man-made addition of cushioned lounge chairs with seat side drink service (chairs cost an extra 10 a day at Paragas Beach). Throw in a mobile masseuse and you have some of the best beaches that I’ve ever been to.
Sure, the house music is a bit loud, and yes, some random guy may grind up on you while you’re walking along the boardwalk, in the middle of the afternoon (not from personal experience or anything), but there are quiet stretches of beach where you can sip your drink in peace while listening to your headphones, at a volume that doesn’t burst your eardrums.
Because I was only in Mykonos for a few days, I only visited Paragas and Psarou beaches. Personally, I liked Paragas better since it was a lot less crowded. I mean, no one actually got to the beach before 2 pm, so I pretty much had the place to myself. However, the downside is that this beach isn’t as easily accessible when using public transportation (the bus to Psarouu comes at regular time intervals and actually stopped at the sign that says, “Bus Stop”).
But Paragas and Psarou Beaches are located only a 1 kilometer away from one another. Therefore, I recommend starting at Paragas and then walking back along the shore, towards Psarou. From there, you can hang out and easily catch a bus back into town.
***The buses on Mykonos kind of suck and are not as awesome as the buses here. So I would just rent an ATV for your entire trip (They generally cost between 17 and 27 a day, depending on whether you visit during high or low season.
2. Matoyianni Street (Mykonos Village)
It’s not that Matoyianni Street stands out as the most stunning area in all of Mykonos village. Rather it is what this street stands for that is truly breathtaking. Lying among the cobblestone alleys and the narrow, almost maze like village side lanes lies a postcard perfect symbol of Greek architecture.
As you stroll past the series of designer boutiques, traditional taverns, and touristy souvenir shops, you momentarily glance over and catch a glimpse of a man, walking home after a long day of work. What sets this moment apart is the fact that he is not just walking along any street. He is seamlessly passing through a series of white washed buildings, with royal blue shutters that are draped in some of the most beautiful, fuchsia flowers that I have ever seen (I am no botanist so I have no idea what they were but just go with it). For a brief moment, the overabundant tourist attractions fade away and all you are left with is Greece, pure and simple. It feels like you are gazing into the psyche of an entire nation; a totally worthwhile experience that words fail to capture.
So whatever you do, throw on a pair of comfy shoes and get lost among this stunning labyrinth of alleyways and pedestrian lanes that all come together to create Mykonos Village.
3. Delos Island
So I don’t know why Delos Island was such a surprise to me because apparently this site is a big deal but somehow I missed it. I mean, every guide I read focused on the best raves in Mykonos and failed to mention that this archeological site is hella awesome, er I mean both interesting and informative. Seriously, this was my favorite part of the trip and I am so glad that I didn’t miss out on it because of the rain (don’t go when it is raining because there is no shelter on the island).
For a tiny, 5 kilometer island, Delos sure packs a serious, archeological punch since this site is actually considered one of the most important and influential archeological sites in all of Greece. That’s because this island lies at the center of the Cyclades and was formerly a hub of trade and commerce WAAAY back in the day, like mid-third century BC status.
This island also had special significance since it was believed to be the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis; hence the shrine here to honor these Gods; an enormous shrine that was later converted into a treasury and a commercial centre.
Yes, a smattering of tile mosaics and doric columns are scattered throughout the island, but many of Delos’ most precious artifacts are actually preserved in the islands on site museum, which includes an exquisite set of lions from the Terrace of the Lions (FYI the lions on the outdoor terrace are plaster replicas). Other points of interest on the island include the House of Dolphins, the Sacred Lake, Mt. Kynthos, the House of Dionysos, the House of Masks, and the Artemision.
Because there is so much to see and do here (seriously don’t miss the stunning, and largely intact tile mosaics at the House of Dolphins), I would allocate a minimum of 2 hours to exploring the island. I also recommend hiring a tour guide to show you around and help you appreciate the rich history of this intoxicatingly beautiful place (get a guide on the island because it’s a lot cheaper than hiring one on Mykonos. They also help you cut the slow moving ticket line).
Just note that overnight stays on the island are prohibited, so you will need to take a 30-40 minute ferry ride to and from Mykonos Island, for a roundtrip cost of €20 (kids 6-12 are only €10). Delos Tours has ferries that leave from Mykonos at 10:00 am and 5:00 pm on Mondays, and at 9:00 am, 10:00 am, 11:30 am, and 5:00pm on Tuesdays through Sundays. Ferries leaving from Delos depart at 1:30 pm and 7:30 pm on Mondays and at 12:00 pm, 1:30 pm, 3:00 pm, and 7:30 pm (You can choose any combination of ferry times since your ticket is not for a specific time).
There is a cafe and bathroom on site, but that’s about it. So you’re better off bringing you own food and water. Also, there is minimal shade on the island so be sure to bring a floppy hat and throw on a touch of sunscreen and a pair of walking shoes just to keep things interesting.
But whatever you do, don’t miss Delos Island. It’s totally worth it and believe it or not, a trip to Delos is really only a half day excursion. Therefore you have more than enough time to head to beach after exploring the island (There is a Delos Ferry in Mykonos Village and one at Psarou Beach so if you want to head to the beach after your visit, you might want to board the ferry at Psarou instead).
Island Admission: Adults are €12 and children are free
Hours: From April through October the island is open from 8am – 8pm. From November though March the island is open from 8 am – 3pm.
4. Church of Paraportiani
If you have ever seen a famous photo of a rock like, Greek, white-washed church, this would be it (minus the blue domes because that is so Santorini). Panagia Paraportiani is the most famous church on the entire island and is comprised of four small chapels, with a bonus chapel on the upper story.
Silly me, when I visited I actually wanted to get in the church and learn about its history, but sadly it was locked (and usually is) so I had to settle for an Instagram worthy shot of the whitewashed exterior, against the clear blue of the nearby ocean. Basically a great spot for a photo op that will take you maybe 15 minutes (and that’s if you take a lot of photos). You can also walk around the back of the church towards the shore. Here you can sit by the water and enjoy the stunning scenery that this magical island has to offer.
These white, cylindrical windmills are relics of the past that overlook the entire village of Mykonos. Each one has a pointed roof and a series of tiny windows that make it difficult to see inside. Because these windmills can be seen anywhere in the village, they have become an emblem of the entire island itself and are definitely worth a visit. And while there are a total of 16 windmills scattered throughout Mykonos only seven can be found overlooking the village itself, so be sure to get your close up with these iconic seven.
Now, if you’re a nerd like me (and God I hope you are because I don’t want to be alone), then you like to learn about the windmills so that you can better understand them and appreciate their cultural significance to the island. Well, good luck finding any of this information on Mykonos. I saw no signage or museum to explain the history of the windmills (in fairness I may have missed it but I don’t think so). Rather, this was merely an opportunity to snag a photo at one of the “top 10 most instagramable sites on Mykonos”. And that’s fine because the windmills are amazingly beautiful, but I’m a wanna be history buff who needs to know more (inquiring minds want to know. Or maybe just me)!
Well I still got my history fix and apparently the windmills were built by the Venetians in the 16th century with construction continuing well into the early 20th century (come on guys, they wanted to make it as instagramable as possible). They were originally built to mill wheat ( I dunno, the ones I saw didn’t look like they could do much of anything) and became an essential source of revenue for island inhabitants. Eventually, as the island economy changed, the windmills fell into disuse but still stand as a reminder of Mykonos more agricultural past. But they’re still pretty to look at so I think we’ll let them stay.
6. Rarity (Art) Gallery
Be forewarned, this is not a huge gallery at all. Quite the opposite actually because going through the whole gallery will take you all of fifteen minutes, but those are fifteen minutes well spent inside this contemporary art display. Plus it’s free so if you hate it, it doesn’t really matter.
But the Rarity Gallery stands out since the exhibits are not just thrown on a wall and displayed independently of one another. Rather, the curators of this establishment have designed the installations as a complete aesthetic experience that uses all of the human senses to tell a collective and unique story about all the pieces on display (That’s my fancy way of saying that it’s weird but totally in a good way). Plus, you leave with a firmer understanding and better appreciation for the contemporary art movement and what it represents.
So there you have it. That’s Mykonos in an incredibly tiny nutshell. But,
I’ll happily admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the vibrant culture, hospitality (The Aeolos Hotel was Amazing. They gave me a free ride, had a pool, and even let me pick out my own room from two available options. Plus they have a breakfast buffet so who cares if the location is not the greatest), and history that goes unnoticed amidst the fist pumping music and beach side tiki bars of the Mykonos party scene. I’m just grateful that I didn’t have to flail around a pair of glow sticks or attend a wet t-short contest to the tune of ear drum splitting house music. Instead, this island’s many cultural offerings left me exhausted and yearning for my jammies and Netflix by the end of the day. Too bad the wifi here is horrendous and drops every five seconds (Yes it’s that bad so don’t say I didn’t warn you), otherwise it was an almost perfect trip.