A unique experience in Mykonos without the crowds

Last updated on August 18th, 2020 at 03:56 pm

I visited Mykonos without the crowds in June 2020, and unexpectedly fell in love with quiet beaches and wild landscapes. Here’s my experiences during a unique time in Mykonos.

What do you think when you hear “Mykonos Greece”?

What are the first words that come to mind when you hear about Mykonos Greece? Some people might say “nightlife”, “parties”, “crowded”, “jet-set”, “gay-friendly” and “expensive”. These had been exactly my thoughts for several years.

On the streets in Chora Mykonos without the crowds

But who am I? My name is Vanessa, and I was born in Athens in the mid-70s. I am pretty certain that Mykonos was the very first island I ever heard about. You see, my parents used to go there before I was born. In fact, my mother had been there before she even met my dad, which was sometime in the early 1960s.

Mykonos in the 60s

Mykonos has been popular for several decades. The island’s pristine beaches, in combination with its laid-back attitude, made it a hotspot with people from all around the world.

Little Venice in Mykonos Greece

Little Venice in black and white

Greek royalty, shipping magnets and politicians visited the island in their private yachts as early as the mid-50s. During the 60s, Marlon Brando, Grace Kelly, and Jackie Kennedy were among the famous jetsetters who visited the island.

Mykonos didn’t have a proper port back then. Instead, the slow ferry from Piraeus approached the coast, and the passengers were transferred to Mykonos on smaller boats.

My parents have some crazy memories of travelling to Mykonos on some very windy days. Getting to shore in those little boats must have been something like an activity at a fun park, only a lot worse!

Travel to Mykonos Greece by ferry

Travelling to Mykonos is a lot easier these days!

Once on the island, the easiest way to get to the beaches in the 1960s was by sea. Some of the most popular beaches were Ornos, Psarou, Platis Gialos, Paradise, Super Paradise and Elia. The roads were not paved, and there were very few cars on Mykonos, as well as a handful of buses and taxis. Of course, this has all changed today.

Mykonos in the 70s

A larger port and the island’s first airport were constructed in the 70s, so getting to Mykonos was now easier. The notorious Pierro’s bar opened in 1973, and soon became a hotspot for gay people.

Mykonos was becoming more and more popular. It was a synonym for sea, sun and fun, in combination with naturism and freedom from conventional life.

View of Super Paradise beach in Mykonos Greece

The famous Greek jetsetter Zachos Chatzifotiou has written an account of the times in his book “Once upon a time in Mykonos”. If you can read Greek, give it a go.

It was during this time that Mykonos started to become increasingly fashionable. Little by little, it developed into the cosmopolitan destination that we know today.

My parents stopped visiting Mykonos in the early 90s. In their words, the island had lost its charm, and it had become too crowded. It just wasn’t for them anymore.

The iconic windmills in Mykonos Greece

If you’d like to get an idea of what Mykonos looked like in the past, here is a fantastic selection of photos. They are not mine – I wasn’t even around when some of them were taken!

My first experience of Mykonos Greece

I first visited Mykonos in August 1996, when I was still a university student. It was a really short visit which I will never forget, even though I don’t seem to have any photos!

Little Venice in Mykonos without the crowds

Little Venice, summer 2020

On that summer, we were island-hopping around the Cyclades. After spending a few days on the wild, unspoilt Tinos, we thought we would also check Mykonos out.

We arrived on a ferry at midday and took a bus to one of the campsites. Getting there, we realized that there was almost no space between the tents, plus prices were extremely high for our student budget. To top it off, food prices were almost triple to those in Tinos and the nearby beach was packed. We soon decided this wasn’t for us.

We ended up returning to the port, and booked tickets for the next available ferry off the island, which was at 6 pm. As we had a couple of hours to spare, we ended up walking around Chora, the main Mykonos town.

White Paraportiani church Mykonos

I still remember that the town wasn’t crowded. However, walking around wasn’t exactly pleasant. To begin with, our backpacks were very heavy, as we had our camping gear for a few weeks. To make things worse, it was an incredibly hot day – who said August is the best time to visit Greece??

We were very relieved to board our next ferry. Very soon, Mykonos was already a bad memory. My first visit to the Island of the Winds had lasted a mere 6 hours.

Mykonos Greece today

For years and years, I refused to return to Mykonos. My friends’ accounts on how busy and expensive it was, convinced me that it wasn’t my type of island. Random Mykonos summer photos that I came across in the Greek press and websites, with hundreds of people crammed in a beachbar, just confirmed my impression.

A colourful church in Mykonos Chora

{NOTE – If you have followed the blog for a while, you will have noticed that my partner Dave and I like quiet destinations. As an example, I love Iraklia, Schinoussa or Gavdos, where you can just walk around everywhere and enjoy the pristine beaches.

Snorkelling is one of my passions, so crowded beaches are an absolute no-no. Being from the UK, Dave likes long, sandy beaches, preferably with some natural shade and very few people}.

Still, I couldn’t help being curious about Mykonos. I had often thought to visit during the off-season, just to see what it looks like. But some of the island’s attractions are supposed to be its notorious beaches. What would be the point of going outside summer?

Whitewashed streets in Mykonos town

And then, the opportunity presented itself. In June 2020, as soon as Greece reopened to visitors after a few weeks of lockdown, we knew it was the right time. We decided to go to Mykonos and stay for 6 nights. This should give us plenty of time to explore the island.

We arrived on an empty ferry with mixed feelings, and no expectations. I was just very curious to see what my parents had fallen in love with, almost 50 years ago.

First impressions of Mykonos

We reached the brightly lit, modern Tourlos port just after 9 pm, when it was already dark. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many public lights around an island port!

Apart from us, only a handful more cars came out of the ferry, which is surely uncommon on a normal year. Upon exiting the port, we headed to our accommodation in Ornos, one of the popular beach resorts.

There was little traffic on the way and getting to Ornos didn’t take us long. Finding a parking spot in the deserted seaside town was very easy. We really seemed to be the only tourists!

Day-trip to Delos from Mykonos

On our first day in Mykonos, we took a half-day trip to the nearby Delos island. I was really excited, as Delos was one of the few archaeological sites in Greece that I hadn’t visited.

Mosaic in the archaeological site of Delos, Greece

Along with the Acropolis, Delphi, Mycenae, Ancient Olympia, Meteora and numerous other sites, Delos is one of the most important UNESCO sites in Greece.

We arrived at the Old Port at around 9 am, to catch the small ferry that was going to take us to Delos. As we were the only passengers waiting for the ferry, they put us on a smaller boat instead of the one running normally.

Day trip from Mykonos to Delos island Greece

We soon realized that we would literally have the whole Delos site to ourselves! And that wasn’t all – we had arranged a private tour with a popular licensed tourist guide, Antonis Pothitos.

The stunning Delos archaeological site

Antonis told us a lot about Delos, Mykonos and his own island, Naxos. He is a knowledgeable, friendly guy who absolutely loves his job and the outdoors. We were very lucky to walk around the ancient site with him! If you book a tour with him, ask him to tell you his story about Tom Hanks 🙂

Eating in Chora Mykonos

We then took the ferry back to Chora, where we were going to spend the afternoon and evening. And then another surreal thing happened. We went for a meal in one of the local tavernas close to the Old Port, Niko’s, and were the only customers.

Empty tables in a taverna in Mykonos

I had a long chat with the waiters, who were both from mainland Greece and had recently arrived in Mykonos for the season. Understandably, they were sceptical about the future, yet excited to share their views, opinions and tips about the island.

Apparently, they had heard the rumour that “a couple of tourists” had just visited Delos. That was our 15-minute claim to fame!

Greek food in Mykonos

The food wasn’t exactly memorable, but it wasn’t bad either. It was definitely expensive by Greek standards – a portion of stuffed tomatoes and peppers cost 9 euro. Still, our lunch was definitely affordable and filling. All in all, if that had been my first ever Greek meal, I would probably be quite happy with it.

In the next few days, we had a couple more meals in Mykonos. Many tavernas were closed, and the ones we chose weren’t exactly notable, while being expensive by Greek standards.

Meal in Mykonos Greece

In all honesty, my best meal in Mykonos was a random souvlaki place called “Kalammmakia”, just outside Ano Mera town. This also happened to be our only budget meal in Mykonos, apart from our home-made ones!

Walking around Mykonos Chora

After our meal, we took a stroll around Chora. If you have ever been to Greece, you will have heard this name before. Literally meaning “country”, it is the name of the main towns in many of the Greek islands.

Empty streets in Mykonos Greece

Chora in Mykonos island is pretty unique. Like in most of the Cyclades, the tiny shops and houses are entirely whitewashed, with colourful doors, windows and flowerpots. The town is really spread out and the maze of streets is pretty impressive. You can easily get lost and walk on the same narrow alleyways again and again, just like we did.

The most famous part of Chora is the iconic Little Venice. This is a tiny area with 18th century houses hanging over the surface of the sea. The small promenade is pretty, and the views are really quite cool.

A view of Little Venice Mykonos

There were only a handful of people there during the afternoon. No wonder, as it was a very warm day, and most people would have preferred to be on the beach.

It would have been impossible to miss the instantly recognizable Mykonos windmills, just opposite Little Venice. Contrary to what some people may think, these windmills are not exclusive to Mykonos. Instead, you can find them all around Greece.

Windmills in Mykonos Greece

Originally, the windmills served a particularly important purpose, grinding wheat and possibly other crops into flour. Today, they are just relics of a past, agricultural life, which has long been forgotten in Mykonos.

Beaches in Mykonos without the crowds

After having heard so much about the beaches in Mykonos, I was very curious to see them. I knew that many of them are normally occupied by sunbeds and umbrellas. I was well aware of the fact that non-stop partying is one of the trademarks of the island. And it is no secret that people go to Mykonos to see and be seen.

Stunning Agrari beach in Mykonos Greece

Still, this was June 2020, and everything we knew had changed.

To my surprise and utter delight, almost all the beaches in Mykonos were natural and quiet. We only saw loungers and umbrellas on a few of them. The rest were totally unspoilt and pristine, just like they must have been back in the 1970s. In fact, some of them almost seemed deserted.

Platis Gialos beach Mykonos

At the time we visited, there were very few people on all the beaches, and every single conversation I heard was in Greek. In fact, Dave may have been the only foreigner on the island!

I consider myself extremely privileged that I got to see the beaches in Mykonos without the crowds. In retrospect, I could have easily stayed longer, as the beaches are some of the best I’ve seen in Greece.

Mersini beach in Mykonos Greece

This is our full guide of the beaches in Mykonos without the crowds!

My favourite beaches in Mykonos

Almost all of Mykonos beaches are long and wide, with beautiful soft sand. If I had to pick my favourite, I would really struggle. As we only had five full days, we couldn’t spend several hours on each one, but we went to most.

View of Ftelia beach in Mykonos

I would definitely return to Agrari, Paradise, Super Paradise, Lia, Agios Sostis, Ftelia, Fokos and Kalafati, not necessarily in that order. In fact, I would return to Mykonos in a heartbeat, just to go to these amazing beaches again. If only they were always as peaceful!

That said, several locals have confirmed that it’s always possible to find quiet spots for a swim, even in high season. I’m sure that the northern beaches will be less popular with visitors. This is partly because they are most affected by the meltemi winds and partly because there are few or no facilities.

Snorkelling and sailing tours in Mykonos

I know that snorkelling isn’t everyone’s priority when they are on vacation. Nevertheless, I should add a brief section here for people who would consider taking a sailing – snorkelling tour in Mykonos.

Snorkelling in Mykonos Greece

I’ve been snorkelling since I was a child, and it’s my longest-standing passion. I’ve been lucky to go snorkelling in hundreds of places in Greece, as well as several tropical countries. While the Mediterranean cannot compare with the colourful seabed in Thailand, Cuba or Brazil, I still love exploring our coastline.

By Greek standards, snorkelling in Mykonos was great. The water was absolutely crystal-clear and I saw many fish and even octopus, which I hadn’t seen in years. A girl I met, who works for a diving school on Paradise Beach, confirmed that there is a lot of sealife in Mykonos, even during peak season.

Paradise beach Mykonos Greece

I would have loved to take a sailing tour combining Delos and Rhenia, another deserted island nearby. Unfortunately, these tours weren’t available when we visited, but I believe it would be totally worth it.

Crystal-clear water in Mykonos Greece

A last note – even though swimming was amazing, I wouldn’t say the sea in Mykonos was super warm. In fact, the sea temperature around the Cyclades is lower than what you might expect. And when the meltemi winds blow in July and August, the sea temperature might be best described as “fresh”.

Kayaking in Mykonos

As we were on the island for a few days, I checked out a few things to do in Mykonos. One activity immediately caught my attention – kayaking in Mykonos.

Mykonos kayak - Kayaking trips in Mykonos

Even though I love most sea activities, I had never tried kayaking before. This was about to change!

A lovely family company, Mykonos Kayak, invited us to take part in a special kayak tour they had organized for friends and locals. It was an incredible activity, where we saw a totally different side of Mykonos!

We set off from Panormos beach and followed the coast going north. As it was a day with zero wind, it was really easy to paddle along the coast. {Well – in all honesty, I let Dave do most of the hard work, if you know what I mean}.

Kayaking in Mykonos Greece

We saw a few deserted beaches, hidden coves, and wild rock formations, which reminded me of Milos. The highlight was exploring a few seacaves – really amazing landscapes!

We had the chance to have a talk with the family. Kostas, the father, and Nikos and Alexis, the two brothers who run the tours, are really passionate about what they are doing. Their aim is to introduce visitors to the “real” side of Mykonos, which is very much in line with what we do. They are a great source of information for all things Mykonos, and not just for the beaches!

Read about our experience here: Kayaking in Mykonos

Sunsets in Mykonos without the crowds

Think “sunsets on the Greek islands”, and chances are that you will come up with one place: Santorini. Indeed, the Santorini sunsets with a view towards the caldera are world-famous.

Sunset in Mykonos Greece

I’ve visited Santorini three times, and yet I somehow enjoyed more the sunsets in Mykonos! It could be because we had some of the most amazing spots entirely to ourselves. Strangely, these sunsets somehow felt more authentic!

One of the most popular locations for Mykonos sunsets is the Armenistis Lighthouse, located on the north-west side of the island. It was built in 1891, after an English steamboat sank in the area, causing the death of 11 crew members.

Sunset in Mykonos Greece at Armenistis Lighthouse

There is a parking spot nearby, where you can drop your vehicle and walk to the lighthouse. We found our own quiet corner up on the cliff, and it really felt like we were at the end of the world.

Little Venice also offers great views of Mykonos sunsets. Many people will suggest going to Caprice, the iconic bar towards the end of that promenade. I actually preferred walking through to the other side of the coast, under the windmills, and seeing the sun setting into the sea.

Mykonos sunset

However, my favourite place to watch the sunset in Mykonos was a random curve on the road, not far from Chora. It was close to Apiro hotel and Cape Mykonos hotel, just after Megali Ammos beach. I really thought this was the best sunset view in Mykonos!

Amazing sunset in Mykonos Greece

Several locals suggested to check out the sunset from the 180 degrees bar, located up on the hill just behind Chora. We somehow never made it a priority, but it’s definitely there for next time.

Getting around Mykonos

As we live in Athens, we normally travel to the islands on the ferry, and bring our own car. I’ve found that my old Starlet is ideal for the islands, as it’s small and it behaves very well on rough roads. This article might help you decide whether driving in Greece is for you.

Car in Mykonos Greece

At the time we visited Mykonos, driving around was a breeze. There was no traffic, as there were few other cars. That said, I couldn’t help thinking that the numerous roundabouts and narrow streets around the island would be packed on a normal year.

Another potential issue would be parking. Most of the beaches have parking spaces, but I could easily imagine them being full in peak season.

If you decide to rent your own vehicle, a quad would be better in terms of parking, plus you could drive it on dirt roads. However, they are said to be less stable – I’ve only driven a quad a very long time ago so I can’t offer much advice.

I would personally recommend renting a small car, or maybe a small 4WD if you wanted to reach the more remote beaches. Most of the roads are in good condition, but this is what some of the dirt roads look like – pretty rough, eh.

A rough road in Mykonos Greece

On the other hand, if you’d rather rely on other forms of transportation, there are several options. For people who prefer to travel by land, there is a local bus network as well as taxis. Alternatively, you can use a taxi boat departing from Ornos to get to most of the south beaches.

You can take a boat taxi in Mykonos Greece

As you would expect, there are also sailing tours around Mykonos. This could be an interesting option if you only had limited time or wanted to explore the beautiful beaches without any hassle.

Where to stay in Mykonos without the crowds

There are, literally, thousands of places to stay in Mykonos, ranging from exclusive 5-star hotels to campsites. You will always be able to find something you like. Whether it fits your budget or not, is another matter!

Our hotel in Ornos Mykonos

My lousy attempt for an instapic at Pleiades apartments in Ornos

Some of the most popular areas to stay in Mykonos include Chora, Ornos, Platis Gialos and Elia. But in all fairness, the island can get pretty packed in peak season.

If you want to visit Mykonos and still be away from the crowds, the north-east side of the island would be your best bet. This part of the island is less developed, with little infrastructure. Just bear in mind that you’d need your own transportation.

A view of Mykonos Greece

That said, there are dozens of private villas and luxury hotels around the island. Many of them have their own outdoors pools and rooms with private terraces, offering some much-needed isolation.

Note – Back in the 70s, there were few, if any, houses on most of the southern coast. As an example, Ornos was little more than a pick-up location for visitors who wanted to explore the southern beaches!

My overall impressions of Mykonos

I never thought I’d say that, but I absolutely loved Mykonos without the crowds. It has some of the best beaches I’ve seen in Greece, and Chora is really impressive.

Mykonos Greece Kalafatis beach

In addition, every single person I spoke to on the island was really nice. Granted, few of them were actually from Mykonos, but many of them live there year-round. We were among the first visitors in 2020, and everyone was happy to have a chat and offer tips about the island.

Obviously, nightlife was not a thing when we visited, as many bars were still closed. Still, what is generally known as the “Mykonos nightlife” has never really appealed to me – not even in my twenties!

Bar in Mykonos Greece

So this is where I’m a bit torn! While I loved the beaches, I didn’t think the island has much more to offer, like pretty villages or memorable food. In addition, I thought that some of the prices on the island are unjustifiably high.

All in all, I would personally struggle to find many other reasons, apart from the beaches and Chora, to recommend Mykonos over another Cycladic island. And I would never go to Mykonos in peak season, with thousands of other tourists. The only way to visit Mykonos without the crowds, would be to travel in the off-season, when the weather isn’t ideal to swim. Tough call!

Still, I’m just one person, and this is only my opinion. If you’ve been to Mykonos, I’d love to read yours, so please feel free to leave a comment below!

The streets of Mykonos without the crowds

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