The Greek Islands have a certain charm that keeps drawing us back – it certainly helps when we have 227 inhabited islands to choose from.
Yet, while most tourists descend on Mykonos to party or to Santorini to watch its famous sunset, those in the know are heading to its lesser known Cycladic neighbour, Sifnos, instead.
With a burgeoning foodie scene, golden sand beaches, and endless hikes to explore (the French have been following the island’s trails for years) there’s something for every traveller in Sifnos. Blue domes are aplenty here too – there’s an impressive 235 churches dotted across the island.
Read on for our guide to the Cyclades’ most under-the-radar island.
Where to eat & drink
The Tsikali, Vathi
A truly authentic farm-to-table Taverna. Set on the shores of the far end of Vathi Beach, it’s a family-run restaurant that serves cheese and meat made and reared from its own farm on the island. The stone-baked goat is a signature, as well as its salty chickpea soup – the latter is also a Sifnian staple. The Greek salad is fresh, moussaka divine and be sure to save room for something sweet – the homemade lemon pie manages to be both light and rich at the same time.
Omega3, Platis Gialos
One of the Cyclades’ most famed restaurants (Tom Hanks is a known fan), Omega3 offers the best fish dishes you’ll find on Sifnos. While its raw fish plates are its signature, we loved the sashimi, rocket salad with Greek black truffle, figs and Sifnian cheese and the melt-in-your mouth scallops. The beach ‘bar’ has a prime position on Platis Gialos beach, so book a sunset seating to watch the stars slowly appear above you while you sip on sharp Greek wine.
Cayenne Restaurant Art Gallery, Apollonia
Tucked away on the main, narrow alleyway of the island’s largest town, Apollonia, Cayenne Restaurant Art Gallery is Greek food with a posh twist. The Sifnian cheese ‘donuts’ with blackberry sauce is a sumptuous combination of salty and sweet, while the Greek salad with barley rusks is a perfect accompaniment to the succulent pork gyros. Tables are outdoors, so diners can soak up the balmy summer evenings, and chef Nikos moonlights as an artist – the art gallery above the restaurant is filled with his work.
Sunset in Troulaki, Troulaki
We pulled in here by chance one evening and it turned out to be one of our favourite spots on the island. All of the outdoor tables have spectacular views of the pink-hued sunset and the food is classic Greek. We dined on tender pork souvlaki and opted for both the ‘chocolate pie’ – more rocky road-esque – and Greek yoghurt with honey for dessert.
Apokofto Tavern, Apokofto Beach
One of the best tips for any tourist is to go where the locals go, which is how we found ourselves at Apokofto Tavern. After spending an afternoon at Apokofto Beach, walk the five or so steps it takes to get the Tavern for your evening meal. Listen to the waves lap and the sounds of locals nattering while dining on souvlaki, fried courgettes and lashings of Greek yoghurt with honey.
Plonked at the end of Kamares Beach, Isalos is in a prime position for a post-swim feast. Another sunset spot, watch the boats glide leisurely on the horizon while you take a break from Greek fare and instead dine on delicious lemon and garlic linguine or a hearty steak. For your Greek fix, there’s a divine filo wrapped feta with honey on the menu as well as aubergine ‘chips’.
What to see
The best spot in the island to watch the sunset, the Agios Symeon monastery is also one of the highest points on Sifnos. Towering above Kamares, the blue domed church has stunning interiors (most churches leave their doors unlocked so visitors can have a look), but sunset is the prime time to visit.
Church of the Seven Martyrs
On the opposite side of the island to Agios Symeon (but only a 15-minute drive away from Kamares), the Church of the Seven Martyrs is the most ‘grammable of the island. Perched on rocks above the Aegean Sea, watch the sunrise over the water as it frames the church in pretty pink hues.
In the near-barren north of the island, Cheronissos is one of the only remaining fishing villages protected in a small gulf. The water here is unbelievably clear and boats bob up and down while locals swim from the beach or dive off the small jetty. There are two tavernas on the beach that serve fresh fish for when you’ve worked up an appetite.
Parallell to Cheronissos, in the southern corner of the island, Faros is home to two pretty beaches and a fabulous selection of restaurants and shops. We spent the day beach hopping between here and neighbouring Fassolou Beach and dined on gyros at a beachside taverna.
What to do
Spend a day exploring hidden coves by sea with Aegeas Cruises
This was, unequivocally, our favourite experience on the island, which was in large part due to the warm hospitality of Aegeas Cruise owners Georgia and Michalis. The pair started their own day trip cruises in 2019 after buying and renovating a traditional trechantiri fishing boat, Aegeas. Now it can take up to sixteen guests (there was just four when we went, a French couple and us, so plenty of room to sunbathe) and we visited three coves that you could only reach by boat (or a lengthy hike).
Depending on the weather, it will hug the Sifnian coast or head to the nearby uninhabited island of Polyaigos for the day. Snorkels, goggles and flippers are provided so you can take a look at the beautiful fish and bask in the incredible clarity of the water. Lunch (and snacks) are provided too, as well as water, soft drinks and wine and beer, and it was one of the best meals we had on the island. Food was homemade by the couple, with fresh bread topped with aubergine spread, traditional Sifnian biscuits, the freshest Greek and potato salads and lamb and pork skewers barbecued off the side of the boat. Later, Georgia bought out fresh fruit and her homemade brownies, safe to say we were perfectly satiated.
Become familiar with the island’s ceramics
Pottery is deeply cemented in Sifnian history, it’s been practised here since the proto-Cycladic era. This is largely due to the abundance of fire resistant clay found on the island and the mild climate conditions. The modern day result is that handmade ceramics here are aplenty, and they are incredibly beautiful. There are currently 18 pottery workshops on the island, many with a long-held family tradition of pottery. We met with Giannis Apostolidis who has a workshop on the hills above Kamares. A third-generation ceramist (he makes all of his own clay on site), he happens to be one of the island’s friendliest locals too and creates wonderful handcrafted pottery. Also make a visit to Sifnian Stoneware, which has a beautiful array of dinnerware, and Art Ceramic Narlis which has everything from vases to clocks.
Learn about the island’s ancient history
While you can explore the many monasteries yourself, sometimes it’s best to do it with a guide. On a balmy Friday morning we were greeted by Christina Kagianni who escorted us to some of the island’s most historical spots. We dove into Ancient Greek history at the Citadel and museum of Agios Andreas at the base of the ancient 13th century BC city of the same name, before exploring the Monastery of Panagia Vounou, the Monastery of Panagia Chrissopigi, Panagia Poulati and Kastro Village, the old capital of Sifnos which offers stunning cobblestone streets and alleys leading to pretty homes.
Each summer, from July to September, the exhibition of Sifnian Folkloric Objects opens in the pretty hilltop town of Artemonas. Set in a traditional Sifnian home, you can see how people used to live on the island (and how they used to dress). If you’re lucky, you’ll be guided by 14-year-old Alex who knows a thing or two about the island’s folklore.
Beach hop around Sifnos
If there’s one thing Sifnos isn’t lacking, it’s excellent beaches. Unlike its Cycladic neighbour Santorini, where picturesque beaches are few and far between, you’ll be spoilt for choice with golden sand beaches leading to azure waters here. Most of the beaches can be found in the south, the quieter Fassolou was our favourite beach and boasted plenty of pretty trees to hide from the hot sun. Over the hill, you’ll find two lovely beaches in Faros and Apokofto Beach around the bay is always protected from the wind, making it a great option for kids.
Just off Apokofto the flat rocks off Chrisopigi Monastery are ideal for a dive-in dip. When there’s no wind from the north, there’s a rocky beach below Panagia Poulati monastery which is great for snorkelling and the beach up in Cheronissos Village is a quiet oasis.
Explore the island’s hiking trails
There are some 200 kilometres of hiking trails around Sifnos, which offer beautiful vantage spots that those travelling by car miss. Choose from hills big and small and enjoy discovering hidden churches along the way. Autumn and Spring are particularly popular times for hiking on the island, thanks to the fragrant herbs and wildflowers that grow. One of our favourite hikes was between Panagia Poulati and Kastro Village and you can walk into secluded beaches where, more often than not, you’ll have the crystalline waters to yourself.
Where to stay
A short five-minute drive or 15-minute walk from the port, the family-run Nymfes Hotel exudes Greek charm. Rooms are reasonably priced (£50 for a double) and bright and airy thanks to the French doors that open onto private balconies, each with views across to the surrounding hills and sparkling seas. Kamares Beach is just down the road as is a bunch of eateries, and it’s a great base for exploring the island.
Breakfasts here will keep you full all day long. It’s largely continental but with a couple of hot, usually egg-based offerings. Expect spinach and feta pastries (mini croissants and pan au chocolats too), Greek yoghurt with honey, fresh fruit, sweet treats, freshly baked bread, spreads like fig jam, olives, feta, tomatoes and some days there’s a bowl of the island’s signature chickpea soup, too.
From £50 per night on a bed and breakfast basis, nymfes.gr
Perched high above the Aegean Sea on the eastern side of the island, the sexy Verina Astra is the perfect lover’s bolthole. Watch the sunrise from your bed before meandering down the hill past Panagia Poulati to take a dip in the sea at the rocky cove below. Rooms are smart, each comes with a large terrace to soak up the ever-changing views. Artemonas is just a short walk away, while there spot the grand venetian villas along the cobblestone alleyways.
From £122 per night, verinahotelsifnos.com