Astypalaia, also known as the “Butterfly Island” is one of the most beautiful islands I’ve visited in Greece and I’ve visited many islands. Astypalaia is located in the Dodecanese island range but has all the influences of the Cyclades islands. Think beautiful white stone houses, blue painted windows, stone roads, and incredible views that are synonymous with the Cyclades.
Astypalaia is shaped exactly like a butterfly with its two wings being connected at the middle by the main Chora. The Chora of Astypalaia is absolutely stunning. It is built in and around a hill overlooking the Aegean sea. at the top of this hill is the remnants of the beautiful Kastro (castle) where you can soak in beautiful views of the surrounding islands.
Astypalaia is also considered the first green island in the Cyclades and Dodecanese. They have partnered with Volkswagen to implement a fleet of electric cars, and scooters to use as ride sharing or ride hailing. You can actually use the Asty Go app to call one of their electric cars to pick you up. The first ride hailing service of any sort on the Greek islands!
How to get to Astypalaia
Astypalaia is an easy island to reach in comparison with many of the other Cyclades islands I’ve visited like SIfnos or Amorgos. There are a few ways of reaching this island which I will discuss below
By Air from Athens
There is a very small airport in Astypalaia that has direct flights to Athens. These flights are operated by Sky Express and run daily during the high season summer months and less frequently during the shoulder season.
You can expect to pay about 80 to 100 for a one way flight.
By ferry to Astypalaia
The Greek islands are connected by an extensive ferry system that services all islands far and wide. For Astypalaia, there are a few ferry routes that connect directly to the island. Here are a few that I’ve discovered:
I’m sure there are other islands that also connect to Astypalaia but these were the destinations I found during my research. I took the ferry from Kos to Astypalaia as there was a direct flight from my home to the island of Kos. It’s also easily connected with the larger Cyclades islands like Naxos.
Finally, there are always ferries that you can take from the main port of Athens which will take 8 hours to reach Astypalaia.
Make sure to read my guide to Greek Ferries to better understand what to expect when taking ferries in the islands!
How to get around Astypalaia
Astypalaia, like pretty much every other island in the Cyclades is really meant for a DIY type of adventure. While there are cabs you can take, they are not cheap and not easy if you’re looking to explore multiple places. If you’re staying in the Chora and just want a cab ride to the nearest beach, then that will suffice but otherwise it’s best to have your own transportation.
In Astypalaia, the best way to get around is by scooter or ATV in my opinion. Cars are also an option but I always prefer a good scooter as it’s more interesting. Astypalaia is a large island so if you’re not really a fan of scootering, then I’d recommend renting a car since you’ll need to cover more distance.
Rent an ATV or Scooter
Renting an ATV can be done pretty much anywhere on the island. There are countless shops in the port town of Astypalaia that have scooter/ATV rentals so there’s no need to book before hand. Prices are mostly set but there is always some negotiation room but do not expect to get huge discounts because the shops work with each other to form a minimum price.
ATVs can be rented for around €30-40 depending on the motor size. Gas is not included in the price but they do not take much. Scooters can be had for around €15-20 for a 125cc engine.
You will need an EU Drivers license or international drivers license to rent a scooter or ATV
Greece is famously strict about adhering to the drivers license rule. If you have an American drivers license, they will not rent you anything unless you have an international license to go along with it. I did not find anyone that would skirt these rules, even with the shadiest looking of places. Thankfully, living in Europe and having the right US drivers license, I was able to convert mine into a EU license quite easily.
Best time to visit Astypalaia
The best time to visit the Cyclades
I traveled around the Cyclades during the time of Coronavirus and in the peak summer months. For the most part, it was never overwhelming because international tourism outside of the EU is largely non-existent. It was still busy especially in August, but was never over the top for me. However, in future years, I think I would avoid coming to the islands in the summer months, especially ultra touristy places like Mykonos and Santorini.
It is simply way too much of a disaster during the months of July and August to even think about visiting. Not only do you pay 50% more, but you’re essentially going to a music festival for that extra money.
The best months for visiting Astypalaia
The best times to visit the island is during the summer season. Astypalaia never gets overly busy so any time in the summer months is good. The season is mostly over by mid September which is sad since the weather is good for at least another month. Many of the restaurants close by mid September and tourists leave the island. You can still of course visit after this time but expect the island to be dead.
Do not visit in the winter months as there is absolutely nothing going on and the ferries are only running a few times a week.
What to do in Astypalaia?
Astypalaia has plenty of things to keep you busy. However, keep in mind it is still a small Greek island so the name of the game is to mostly enjoy the beautiful scenery along with eating and drinking the Greek way.
Walking through the Chora
The Chora of Astypalaia is the main town and also the main highlight in the island. This beautiful town is built along the hill overlooking the sea. The meandering cobblestone streets are decorated with the iconic Cycladic white houses and blue colored window frames.
Simply get lost through the streets and just gaze at the historical beauty of the island. It’s hard for me to believe sometimes that people actually live in these houses and have been for generations. The best time to take pictures of the Chora is actually during the middle of the day when the sun is highest.
This really brings out the white of the buildings which allows for the best photos. It will be very hot during this time but the crowds will be nonexistent as everyone is at home napping. You’ll need to weigh the trade offs!
Visit the Kastro Ruins
At the top of the Chora sits the main castle (or Kastro in Greek). It was built in the 13th century by Venetian families as a way to shelter from frequent pirate attacks. Up until the 19th century, it was the only settlement on the entire island. Over the years, it’s been mostly abandoned but the ruins remain.
There sits a beautiful church in the middle of the Kastro ruins which is perfect for drone photos and videos.
Sitting right below the Kastro is the church Panagia Portaitissa which is widely considered the most iconic and beautiful in the Dodecanese.
Walk along the windmills
Astypalaia’s most unique identifying feature is its row of beautiful windmills leading into the Chora. These 8 windmills are beautifully painted white and maroon color and are picture perfect like the rest of the island. The windmills are now used as stores selling souvenirs, art exhibitions, and more.
Best beaches in Astypalaia
Astypalaia has plenty of beaches scattered throughout the island. The beaches on the island aren’t the most beautiful in Greece. In general, I don’t think the beaches in the Cyclades are that great with the exception of a few places. I wouldn’t visit Astypalaia purely for the beaches but rather just understand that it is an option for those that want a swim in the Mediterranean!
For the best beaches, always visit the Ionian islands as they offer absolutely incredible beaches and water.
Here is a list of all the nice beaches I found on Astypalaia.
Located on the southeast side of Astypalaia, this is probably my favorite beach on the island. It’s a smaller beach but has crystal clear water and sandy patches on the beach. My favorite part of this beach is the view of the Chora directly in front of the beach. The views are hard to beat and the picture opportunities are endless here.
There is also a nice beach bar that serves drinks and food for those not looking to leave for food.
Located in the southwest of the island, Kaminakia beach is often talked about as one of the best beaches on the island. It’s quite a journey to get there however. From the main road, you’ll need to drive on dirt roads for a good 20 minutes. Once you arrive at the beach, you’re greeted with beautiful clear water.
There is also a taverna located at the beach but the reviews are questionable at best. While I liked this beach, I’m not sure it’s worth the journey especially on a scooter when you can go to Konstantinos beach.
Where to eat in Astypalaia
Astypalaia, like the rest of the Greek islands offers the best that Greek cuisine has to offer. There are so many amazing restaurants in the island that you will surely not go hungry. Greek food is my favorite food in Europe and I will unequivocally state that Greek food is the best food in all of Europe.
Not only is Greek food is absolutely delicious, fresh, meaty, and so much more, but it’s way more affordable than other popular cuisines in Europe like Italian and French food. With Є50, you can have an amazing meal for two including local wine!
Antikastro is one of my favorite restaurants on the island. It’s a casual style taverna on the waterfront that offers unobstructed views of the Chora and the Kastro. This family run taverna raises their own goats and cheese so make sure to try their delicious grilled meats and local style cheese. Their shrimp saganaki is probably the best saganaki I’ve ever eaten and I’ve had more saganaki than I can count.
Come here for an early dinner at 7:30pm and watch the sun set over the chora with all of its beautiful orange hues. Make sure to make reservations beforehand!
Akti is by far the most upscale restaurant on Astypalaia and even then it wasn’t overly pricey. This incredible restaurant faces the Chora and offers beautiful views of the Aegean and the Chora. The restaurant has a large terrace but also individually carved balconies that sit at the face of the cliff right above the water.
The restaurant specializes in seafood including numerous fish types, lobsters, prawns, etc. The seafood risotto is incredible and the grilled squid was among the best I’ve ever had in Greece. Prices are slightly higher than other places but not by much.
It’s an absolutely incredible view and definitely a must visit when coming to Astypalaia.
Argo is another restaurant recommended to me by the locals working on the island. This local style taverna is located just outside of the main Chora and serves all the Greek classics. The menu is more limited compared to other restaurants but the dishes they do offer are done very well.
You will find lots of locals eating and drinking here before a night out.
Located in Livadi town just outside of the main Chora, Gerani is the best restaurant in the area. This family run taverna serves the best of Greek dishes. The Greek salad and Dakos salad (local Cretian style salad) are both incredible. Their lamb chops were incredibly tender with that smoky charcoal flavor. I ran through a half kg of this delicious meat and I was in heaven for a short while.
Mestani is located in the main Chora on the main strip right in front of the windmills. This restaurant is the hotspot to get drinks, coffee, and breakfast. They offer numerous breakfast options including omelets, pancakes, Greek yogurt, pastries, and more. Late at night, it’s always cracking with locals and tourists alike people watching.
Where to drink in Astypalaia
I was very impressed by the cocktail quality in Astypalaia, especially compared to the much larger island of Kos nearby.
Greek culture on the island
As Astypalaia mostly attracts Greek tourists, the culture of the bars work a little differently. Expect bars to open from later than you are used to, and become busy much later than you’re used to. Many of the bars were open after sunset time which was baffling to me. I showed up at the Kastro bar which was open at 8pm and it was completely empty. The wait staff told me to return after midnight as that’s when it gets popping! I’m almost asleep by then but not in Greece. Expect to stay up later than normal!
Butterfly bar is located right outside of the main Chora and sits across the street from the famous windmills. It’s definitely one of the hot spots to be in Astypalaia and is an amazing place to have drinks at night while enjoying the views. Don’t expect many people to be here until at least midnight however!
There are no shortage of bars with beautiful views of the Chora. Archipelago Cafe is a beautiful bar serving amazing Greek deserts as well as refined cocktails.
Come here when they open around 6pm and enjoy a cocktail and light pastry while watching the sunset.
Palaiomylos is a must visit bar located in a windmill a few hundred meters outside of the city center. This windmill sits atop the hill and has stunning views of the Chora and Aegean. They also make amazing cocktails which makes the experience even better.
Kastro bar is located up near the top of the Chora by the old Kastro. The views here are absolutely beautiful. However, it’s only open from 8pm and onwards which is baffling to me as the sun has already set by then and the sky is already dark!
Where to stay in Astypalaia
Astypalaia has no shortage of beautiful accommodation options for all budgets. I stayed in a beautiful guesthouse called Korali Guesthouse which had breathtaking views of the Chora and sea. From the terrace of the apartment, I had panoramic views of the Chora. The sunrise from the guesthouse was absolutely stunning.
If you are not renting a scooter however, I would recommend staying somewhere closer to the Chora so you have more things easily accessible by foot. Otherwise, walking 15-20 minutes in the Greek summer heat is brutal and you’ll eventually just give up on doing it during the days.
Day trip to the other islands
One of the must do excursions on Astypalaia is to take a day boat trip to the nearby islands of Koutsomiti and Kounoupa. These two islands have incredible beaches and the clearest most azure colored waters in the Cyclades, things you won’t find on Astypalaia.
There are numerous companies that do this tour with varying prices and boat quality. Make sure to book well ahead of time! The companies that I found are the following:
- The group ferry: For Є25, you can take a ferry style boat with about 25-30 others and visit the islands. This boat isn’t very luxurious but it visits all the main highlights.
- Avra Cruises: Avra cruises has a pirate style boat that sits 20-25 people and is much more luxurious than the local ferries. The cost is Є50 and this includes a great lunch option
- Astypalaia Cruising: For a luxury experience, go with Astypalaia cruising which has a yacht style boat cruising in luxury. This boat is Є100-120 depending on the time of the year.
All the companies do the exact same itinerary which includes visiting the Red Rock cliffs, Koutsomiti and Kounoupa. You’ll get time at each stop to relax and swim in the crystal clear waters. Lunch is served on the boat. Take a look at these photos for a better understanding of what to expect!
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