Ios is somewhat like Mykonos’ grungy little brother. While Mykonos has gone the full route of upscale Miami style posh beach club parties, Ios has taken the less fancy approach and focused just on drinking and partying. Ios is well known through the Cyclades as a party island, albeit attracting less foreigners and with cheaper prices.
In the month of August, Ios is a party central for local Greeks in their 20s. However, I visited during Coronavirus times so its traditional crazy party vibe was non-existent for the most part. In the end, I found much more to do than crazy beach parties including the best beaches in the Cyclades in my opinion, a beautiful Chora, stunning landscapes, and more.
Santorini was one of the islands I visited on my month long trip island hopping through the Cyclades. If you’re also planning a multi-island trip through the Cyclades, make sure to read my itinerary and guide to planning your own Greek island hopping trip!
How to get to Ios
Ios is well connected through the Cyclades ferry ssytem. It is not as popular as Mykonos or Santorini (which is good) but it does see a good amount of tourists. Nevertheless, in the summer months, there are still ample ferries servicing the island. Usually, you’ll take a ferry that that passes through Ios while stopping in other islands like Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Sifnos etc.
There are no airports on Ios but there is a helipad so if you are very much a high roller, you probably are not reading this blog but if you are, there is a helipad.
For a comprehensive guided on Greek ferries and navigating your way around the Aegean, make sure to read my Greek ferry guide.
Walk through the Chora of Ios
It’s likely that any visit to Ios will mean at least some time in the Chora. Whether this means a huge night of partying, or a nice dinner out at the many restaurants the town has to offer, you’re bound to end up in the city center. There simply aren’t many other places to go. Really you just have the port town, the Chora, and the area around Mylapatas beach that resemble any sort of society.
The Chora in Ios is picturesque. After visiting so many other villages in the Cyclades, Ios Chora feels more weathered, older and rustic. It’s not particularly picture perfect like Mykonos, or small and charming like Milos, but it is charming in its own way. The white houses are still plentiful and the streets still perfectly adorned with cobblestones. It’s almost like the setting is too cute to be the home of drunk 20 something year olds crowding into clubs.
In fact, I think the most beautiful part of the Chora is actually the view looking at it from afar. It’s built so perfectly on a pyramid like hill with churches at the peak. The best viewpoint is on the road leading up to the ancient Theater of Odysseus.
The Catholic Church of Ios
At the entrance of the Chora is famous Catholic church with its towering blue domes. I found this church to be very impressive especially as it blends into the rest of the Chora. Also, some nice pictures can definitely be taken here!
Ekklisia Panagia Gremiotissa (Church of Virgin Mary of the Cliff)
If you fancy a short but meaningful hike, climb up the stairs to the Church of Virgin Mary at the top of the Chora that reminds me of the sunset church in Folegandros Chora. You can see three churches when looking at Ios Chora from afar with one stacked on top of another. You can visit all three but the highest one will give you the best views of the sunset.
If you want a free and cheap view of the Chora and surrounding islands, look no further than coming here. Bring some wine and make a whole sunset party out of it!
Viewpoint of the Chora including the Greek Theater
Just outside of the Chora is the Odysseas Elytis theater named after a famous Greek Nobelist poet who wrote modern poetry. The Odysseas Elytis Amphitheatre was named after the poet himself and is located at the top of the hill of Chora in Ios behind the whitewashed windmills that stand there.
I was confused at first thinking this theater had something to do with the mythical Odysseus from Homer’s Illiad but remembered that was all in the island of Ithaca in the Ionian islands which I also had the pleasure of visiting.
This theater was actually constructed recently as opposed to the ancient ruins I’ve been used to seeing like the Roman theater in Milos. It’s modeled in the same fashion as other Greek theaters but you can tell by the construction that it’s way too perfect and too fresh to be from ancient times. Nevertheless, there is a beautiful view of the sea and of Mylapatas beach from here.
On the same road that comes up to the theater is one of the best views of the Chora in my opinion. You can see all the white houses hugging the mountain it’s built on as well as iconic windmills that you find all over the Cyclades.
You can walk to this theater from the Chora in 15 minutes.
Agia Irini Church
Agia Irini (Saint Irene) is a Byzantine church built in the 17th century. It sits on the right of the port of Ios as you arrive on the island. There are two bell towers with two domes all painted impossibly white.
To reach the church, follow the road along the sea and walk up the paved path. It is a lovely spot to watch the boats and ferries arriving and departing into the port of yialos.
I wish I had taken a drone shot of this church as the surround turquoise waters would be beautiful.
The Party Culture in Ios
If you ask any Greek person about Ios, the first thing they say is “ah party island!”. I didn’t really what to expect before visiting Ios because I really just chose the island because I needed another island in the Cyclades to pass my time by and it seemed like a central place to visit.
Ios has been the party island for Greeks for many decades. People come here in huge numbers in the summer months to party. In recent times, people from other countries like the UK and France have also called it their party home.
In July and August, the tiny streets of the Chora are packed with party goers hitting the many bars and clubs on the island. However, visiting Ios in 2020 during the times of Coronavirus proved that partying is no match for the pandemic. Even in August during the Greek travel week (the busiest time of the year), most of the clubs were closed and the bars were quite muted. Walking around, I didn’t really see that many people even at midnight when it was supposed to start going.
Ios, while a party island, is not fancy or expensive like Mykonos which commands a huge premium as it draws largely international tourists and all the semi-pro influencers in the world.
Is Ios worth visiting if you don’t want to party?
This is the eternal question: Is Ios a place for someone who doesn’t want to party to visit? Will I just be totally consumed by drunk 20 year olds on the street?
The answer is absolutely yes. Ios is totally worth a visit, even if you don’t want to party. The fact is, the parties only happen in specific parts of the Chora late at night. It’s perfectly doable to have an amazing dinner in the Chora and be out of the town before midnight when all the craziness starts.
The island is big enough where there are some amazing beaches (more on that later) that you can simply relax and enjoy the beautiful landscapes that Ios has to offer. While I don’t like to go clubbing and stay up super late, I like to have a few drinks and enjoy the atmosphere of the place. Ios has plenty of these types of places so you can avoid the under 25 clubs.
Ios vs Mykonos
Ios and Mykonos are similar in that they are both the party islands of the country. Mykonos is well known around the world for its party culture, famous beach clubs, and fancy hotels with even more fancy pools. Ios, on the other hand, is totally the party island for local Greeks but is also known by a handful of European countries.
So how does one choose between the two islands?
Well it really comes down to the vibe you want and the money you want to pay.
Mykonos has international appeal and has without fail targeted the affluent influencer crowd. Prices in Mykonos are probably the most expensive in all of Greece. However, the beach clubs like Scorpio and Alemagou are world renowned and have a very posh vibe so if that’s what you’re looking for, Mykonos will be your place.
Ios on the other hand is also all about the party but less pretentious in my point of view. The party culture is more “5 shots for €5” as opposed to “1 shot for €10” and the crowds it attracts reflect that. Pretty much everybody I talked to in Greece said Ios is the spot if you’re under 30 and want to just get wasted with other 20 something year olds. However, Ios also has nice beach clubs like Salt in Mylapatas but that is about the only one in comparison to Mykonos which must have a dozen or so.
Mykonos also has a more beautiful Chora in my opinion. So if you want the most quintessential old town and also some parties to boot, pick Mykonos because the Chora just screams Cycladic beauty.
Visit the Beaches in Ios
After visiting the Ionian islands and many many of the Cycladic islands, I must say that Ios had some of the most impressive beaches I’ve seen in Greece. I was pleasantly surprised because most of the beaches on the other islands were nice, but nothing to write home about. I think Ios had some absolute winners.
Most of the beaches here have soft sand and long flat stretches with crystal clear waters. Some of the beaches are a bit of a party vibe but most of them are not. In fact, even the most vibey of the beaches, Mylapatas, really was not that crazy, especially compared to similar beaches on its posher cousin island of Mykonos.
The absolute most famous beach on Ios is the Mylapatas Beach just south of the Chora. This beach is a huge long sandy stretch of beach. The water is a beautiful turquoise with mostly calm waters which makes it perfect to swim and lounge around in.
There are many sunbeds at Mylapatas but not overwhelming since the beach is so huge. There are also a few beach bars here with the most famous being Salt Restaurant Bar.
There are also buses that come to this beach from the Chora so it’s a must visit.
While Mylapatas is beautiful, if you want a quieter and more remote beach, look no further than Maganari Beach in the very south of Ios. It’s a 20-30 minute drive from the Chora and is worth every minute.
This beach is probably one of the nicest beaches I saw in Greece. It’s a huge long strand of white sand. The water is super shallow and sandy so you really get that tropical looking turquoise water. The beach felt more like I was in the Caribbean than in the Mediterranean.
There are only a few sunbeds here and they are actually free! They belong to the restaurant Antonis (which serves fantastic food). I spent a few hours lounging under the umbrellas and had a fantastic lunch at the restaurant.
All in all, this beach is why you come to Greece and one of the reasons Ios is so much more than just a party.
Where to eat and Drink in Ios?
Like every other island in the Cyclades, expect no shortage of delicious food options in Ios. With delicious restaurants located all over the island, I was only able to really indulge in the options within the Chora. Nevertheless, I found really tasty food for very generous prices all over Ios.
The Mills is a restaurant in the Ios Chora next to the…well mills! There is ample outdoor seating with great views of the Chora and surrounding terrain.
It’s a traditional Greek Taverna that has meat and seafood. However, they definitely specialize in meat dishes as they do a special pork and lamb roast on the spit which was absolutely delicious. Would highly recommend a dinner here!
Ios Club sunset
Another popular bar for the sunset is the Ios Club. Located right outside of the Chora, this place is great for a cocktail drink. It kind of reminds me of the 180 sunset bar in Mykonos but it’s a much smaller venue. You’ll need to make reservations here to get the nice seating but if not, there is a first come first sere stadium seating area at the top of the venue.
The sun sets directly overhead and it’s very beautiful. The drinks were not the best but at €10 a pop, it was worthwhile.
Sainis was also recommended to me by my Airbnb host and it’s another winner. It’s located on a quiet side street in the Chora that was difficult to find. When you enter, you are greeted by an old school Greek taverna setting with an owner that is very excited to share with you his cooking.
The food is fantastic with many different offerings I hadn’t seen elsewhere. Get the dishes of the day which are normally fantastic as well as the oven baked feta cheese with spicy peppers (yummm). Make sure to of course drink copious amounts of the house rose for €8 a liter. Oh my how can you not love Greece?
Katogi was recommended to me by my Airbnb host and I can subsequently absolutely recommend this at all. Located in the heart of the Ios Chora, Katogi is a mezze style Greek restaurant that has delicious food served in small plates for sharing.
We had a variety of seafood and meat dishes and all of them were delicious. Would recommend making a reservation here as they get very busy.
Pathos Club for Sunset
If there’s one place you need to go in Ios for any sort of drink or party, it is without a doubt Pathos Sunset Club on the west side of the island. Located past the port town and towards the west, this is literally the ultimate place to party, watch the sunset, or do both.
How do I even begin explaining this place? The first time I saw pictures, I saw a huge pool with a DJ and people partying and thinking that was it. It is ridiculous and so much more.
The place is literally an amusement park for partying. There are multiple levels with swanky open air seating, two pools and one with these totally Instagram worthy chairs that face the sunset. The upstairs area has spaceship-like seating areas for drinks, and another infinity pool that faces out into the ocean. It’s probably one of the most extravagant and over the top (but in a good way) type of places.
As I visited in 2020 during Coronavirus, the typical parties that this place throws were not to be. However, you can imagine that a place this big and this beautiful would have some of the most epic parties in Greece. In 2020 however, it was mostly just a chilled huge open air venue that served cocktails and had nice views of the sunset.
If you come to Ios, absolutely make sure this place is on your list!
Getting around Ios
Ios, 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 Ios, 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. Ios 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 right around the Chora as well as the port town 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 €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.
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