A Guide to Nisyros Island, Greece

Nisyros is one of the most beautiful islands of the Dodecanese but also one of the fascinating ones! It is not only lush and verdant, beautiful and imbued with folklore, or boasting crystal clear, gorgeous beaches. Nisyros is the island of the live volcano.

Formed entirely by the volcanic eruptions of the youngest volcano in the area, Nisyros is a fertile, gorgeous, and unique natural open-air museum. It is the perfect island for flexible, unforgettable vacations, whether you’re looking for adventure or relaxation, activities or rest, folklore or beach and island hopping. With this guide, you will be able to make the most of your visit to Nisyros and create the ideal, unforgettable vacation for you and your loved ones!

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Where is Nisyros?

where is Nisyros map

Nisyros is part of the Dodecanese island group. It is located in the south of the Aegean and northwest of the island of Rhodes. It is also clustered in between the islands of Kos, Tilos, and Astypalaia.

Nisyros is quite small, populated by roughly 1000 people. It has a lush, verdant nature and unique rock formations since the entire island was created from volcanic eruptions. It also has one of the biggest hydrothermal craters in the world, with thermal springs having warm waters ranging from 30 to 60 degrees Celsius.

Nisyros’ climate is Mediterranean, like all of Greece’s. That means it has hot, dry summers and mild, humid winters. Temperatures climb up to 38 degrees Celsius during the summer and drop to 5 degrees Celsius during the winter. During heat waves, temperatures might climb to 40 degrees, while during winter, cold spells might further drop the temperature to 0 degrees.

The best time to visit Nisyros is from mid-May to late September, which is the span of the Greek summer. The island is relatively quiet throughout, but if you’re looking for the best combination of warm seas, full availability of amenities, and better prices, opt for September.

How to get to Nisyros

To get to Nisyros, you will need a ferry or a combination of plane and ferry.

If you opt to go by ferry only, you can take one from Athens’ port Piraeus. Make sure you book a cabin because the trip can be around 14 hours long!

To cut the travel time, you can instead fly to nearby islands that have domestic airports and then take a ferry to Nisyros. A popular route would be flying to Kos, which you can do from Athens airport as well as from Thessaloniki. Kos has also an international airport. The flight from Athens to Kos takes roughly an hour. Once you arrive in Kos, take the ferry to Nisyros. The trip takes another hour, so a combination of plane and ferry will cut your travel time from 17 hours to just over 2!

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A brief history of Nisyros

Nisyros’ creation is interwoven with ancient Greek lore. According to the myth, during the Titanomachy, when the Titans fought against the Olympian gods, Poseidon faced off with the Titan Polyvotes. After a vicious fight, Polyvotes ran away, and Poseidon gave chase. Polyvotes managed to cross the Aegean sea, but Poseidon caught up with him near Kos.

To stop him from running away further, Poseidon threw his trident down on Kos and broke off a piece of the island. He threw that piece on Polyvotes, crushing him underneath it, and Nisyros was created.

Historically, Nisyros is mentioned in Homer’s Iliad as part of the army that descended on the Trojans. They were also part of the Athenian alliance after the Persian Wars for a brief period of time. Nisyros remained mostly independent afterward and under the influence of Rhodes until, in the 1300s, the Knights of St. John fortified the island to use it as a strategic point of influence.

In 1422 there was a huge volcanic eruption that created a large crater in the middle of Nisyros. After that, the Ottomans made several attempts to take the island or raid it until they occupied it in the 1500s. During the Greek War of Independence, Nisyros took part, but when the new Greek state was established, it wasn’t able to join. It was taken over by Italy in 1912 and only joined Greece in 1948.

Nisyros’ economy is based on fishing, agriculture, and tourism. However, the biggest source of income for the island is the production and trade of pumice and perlite.

What to see and do in Nisyros

Nisyros is extremely picturesque, not only thanks to its lush natural environment and vistas but also thanks to the iconic architecture and various historical buildings that herald its long and rich history. Though relatively small, there’s a lot to see and do on the island, so here is a short list of everything you can’t miss!

Explore the villages

Mandraki: Mandraki is Nisyros’ Chora and the biggest town on the island. Take your time to explore the narrow pathways of Mandraki and its iconic architecture: whitewashed, two-story houses made of volcanic stones and pumice offset by colorful potted plants and vibrant blue doors and shutters.

The village is built amphitheatrically on a slope, so the more you go up, the more beautiful the view gets! Make sure you take a stroll around Dolphin Square and walk along its charming seaside promenade.

Pali: 4 km from Mandraki, you will find the beautiful fishing village of Pali. It’s incredibly picturesque, with elegant two-story houses and a gorgeous natural bay.

Pali Harbour

It is the oldest settlement of Nisyros and where you will find excellent fish and seafood.

Emporios: Sprinkled over the top of a hill 400 m above sea level and 8 km from Mandraki, you will find the remarkable village of Emporios. The government has cited Emporios as having the architecture of high cultural importance, so you’re in for a treat. The village has retained its authenticity and still has its full traditional feel and charm.

Emporios was abandoned after a big earthquake in 1933 but it is being swiftly reclaimed by the locals. The village has a strong medieval feel, especially at its core center at the top of the hill, where the ruins of Pantoniki castle are together with the Church of Taxiarches. Don’t forget to check out the little cave at the entrance of the village, which is a natural sauna thanks to the volcanic activity of Nisyros!

Nikia: This village is said to have the best square in the entire Aegean, so it’s a must-see! Also, at 400 m above sea level and quite close to the volcano, Nikia has breathtaking, stunning views of the entire island and the Aegean that you can enjoy.

Portes square at Nikia Village

Wander around its winding paths to discover the spot from where you can enjoy a full view of the volcano and then find your way to Portes Square, the most beautiful one on the Aegean. Don’t miss out on walking up to the small chapel of the Prophet Eliah to enjoy the best sweeping view of Nisyros.

Visit the museums

Archaeological Museum: Located in Mandraki, the museum is housed in a modern building and boasts several collections, from prehistoric to post-Byzantine times. Enjoy exhibits from various settlements on the island and the nearby island of Giali, remarkable burial site artifacts from various historical periods, and beautiful old Byzantine frescoes from churches.

Folklore Museum: This museum is housed in a beautiful 18th-century mansion and has several interesting and unique collections of traditional costumes, tools, everyday items, photographs, and other artifacts that showcase how life was in Nisyros in previous centuries.

Ecclesiastical Museum: This museum is dedicated to the church and monastery history of Nisyros. You will see impressive collections of ecclesiastical tools and utensils, books, documents, seals, and other heirlooms that give a vivid image of the island’s religious side.

Volcanological Museum: This museum is in Nikia and will give you interesting information on Nisyros’ volcano, the volcanic nature of the island, and more.

Explore the sites

Paleokastro: Paleokastro means “old castle”. It’s a deserved name because it is literally the site of the ancient Acropolis of Nisyros! Reigning over Mandraki, its walls are still standing and still impressive. So much so that Paleokastro is considered one of the best-preserved such sites in the world!

Paleokatro Nisyros

The walls are made of volcanic rock and are simply massive, at 3.5 meters wide! The ancient city the walls protected hasn’t yet been excavated, but you will be able to see the six tall towers and the massive stairs, as well as a gateway standing more than 3 meters tall. Enjoy the gorgeous views and the lush shade from the trees all over the site!

Monastery of Panagia Spiliani: Nestled in the ruins of the fortress built by the Venetian knights, there is the whitewashed, beautiful church and monastery of Panagia Spiliani. The name means “Virgin Mary of the Cave” because the church is literally built inside a cave on a steep rock.

You access it by going up 130 steps, so be warned, but don’t avoid it: it’s worth the breathtaking view and the sheer ambiance you will immerse yourself in. Legend has it that the icon in the church performs miracles and appears in the position it is in. The monastery that was subsequently built clustered around the cave without disturbing it.

Church of Profitis Ilias: Near the village of Nikia, high up, you will find the unique chapel and monastery of Aghios Ioannis Theologos.

It is built at the edge of a tall rock and has a beautiful yard for you to relax in and enjoy the stunning view of the volcano and its surrounding vistas.

Visit the volcano

Nisyros’ volcano is unique because its main crater is in the middle of a valley-like, complex formation of five other craters. The rocks all around are covered in pyroclastic deposits and volcanic mud.

Active Volcano in Nisyros Island - Volcanoes in Greece
Active Volcano in Nisyros Island

The most visited crater is called Stefanos, whose diameter is between 260m to 330m and 27m deep. Exploring the volcano is best enjoyed after you have visited the Volcanological Museum.

Hit the beaches

Pachia Ammos Beach

Nisyros’ beaches are simply gorgeous. Pebbly or sandy, they all have crystal clear azure waters and lush greenery for natural shade. There are several to enjoy, but here are some that make it to the top of the list!

Pali beach: 4 km from Mandraki, there is a beautiful stretch of sandy beach adorned with the occasional black pebble. The waters are calm, and the beach is lined with trees that offer thick shade. The beach is rarely packed though it is popular with locals and tourists. It’s excellent for children since the waters are quite shallow for quite a while.

Katsouni beach: This is the largest beach of Nisyros, located 9 km from Mandraki. There is sand, pebbles, and rocks in intervals. The beach is unspoiled and completely unorganized, so go prepared! If you’re seeking to feel relaxed as you enjoy calmness, this is the beach for you.

Lies beach: 13 km from Mandraki, there’s Lies beach, a beautiful, secluded sandy gem for you to discover and enjoy. There are several natural little coves to explore. However, this beach has no natural shade and no organization, so bring your own beach umbrellas and other protection from the sun!

Pachia Ammos: This is considered the most beautiful beach on the island! 10 km from Mandraki, you will find it boasting dark, thick sand, sand dunes, and bushes. The waters are typical crystal clear, reflecting the sandy bottom together with the sky, giving them a deep blue color.

Getting there is a little tough as you can only access it from a narrow tough path, going 15 minutes on foot after you park your car, but it’s worth it. It’s popular with nudists and is known as a free camping ground in its bush-and-sand dune area. Make sure you bring your own shade for this beach, too!

Have a day trip to nearby islands

Day trip to Kos: Kos is a gorgeous island full of tradition and history. Kos’ Chora is simply stunning, with several different architectural styles merging in its unique ensemble, from neoclassical to Byzantine to Ottoman.

Explore it and then hit the archeological sites, such as the Asklepion, the ancient medicine hub dedicated to the god of medicine Asclepius, swim on the gorgeous Aghios Stefanos beach, and sample good food and wine!

Day trip to Giali island: Between the islands of Kos and Nisyros is the small volcanic island of Giali.

Giali island

During the summer months, there is a daily boat trip from Nisyros to the small island, where you will have the chance to swim in its crystal clear waters.

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