Travel tales

Off-season in Ios, Greece

Off-season in Ios, Greece

My first trip to Greece was back when I was 21 – a week’s package holiday to Faliraki in Rhodes to celebrate graduating from university. It involved plenty of fishbowls of cocktails and dancing on tables, mixed in with a bit of sightseeing and a lot of sunbathing by the pool. My travel style has changed just a bit since then (as has my alcohol tolerance) and I’ve discovered that Greece has so much more to offer. But when it turned out that the Greek villa I’d spontaneously bid on in a travel auction and ended up winning was in one of the country’s top party island destinations, I couldn’t help getting a few worrying fishbowl flashbacks.

Read more: Domes and donkeys: Things to do in Fira, Santorini

Boats in the port at Ios, Greek Islands

Boats and beaches in Ios’ harbour

Set in the blue waters of the Aegean Sea, Ios is one of the 220 Greek islands which make up the Cyclades and is just a 30-minute hop by ferry from Santorini. But where Santorini is full of cruise ship passengers and honeymooners, Ios attracts a whole different crowd. Ios’ nightlife is legendary and in the summer it’s a hedonistic haunt for 18–30s backpackers island-hopping around the Mediterranean, partying by night and sleeping it off on the beach by day.

The main town of Chora has something like 30 tiny bars and clubs, where you can down shots for a free t-shirt (or while getting hit over the head) and dance until the sun comes up. Nothing wrong with that, unless you’re far closer to 40 than 20 and can’t remember the last time you stayed up past 1am. But it turns out there’s a whole different type of Ios holidays too.

Sunset over the town of Chora in Ios, Greece

Looking down onto the town of Chora

Visiting Ios in low season

Ios’ party season is actually pretty short, running from mid-June until mid-August. But in the spring and autumn months, the island has a much more peaceful, relaxed feel. By the time we arrived in October the crowds had long moved on and our ferry from Santorini dropped off just a few of us before heading on its way north to Athens. We were a mix of couples and families, with a distinctly older age range than you’d have seen disembarking in the summer.

You always take your chances with the weather when you travel off-season, but we had mostly sunny, hot days with just a couple of showers. The spring and autumn weather in Ios, Greece, is warm in the day and cool in the evening, with daytime maximum temperatures around 18–22°C (64–72°F). There’s not usually a lot of rain but it can get windy – we had a few gusty days. Autumn’s great for swimming as sea temperatures stay up around 22°C into October.

Valmas Beach on Ios, Greece

The blues of Valmas Beach

We spent our week in Ios staying at a villa with a pool, set on the brow of a hill overlooking the port in one direction and out across the Aegean to Santonini on the other. It was an unbelievably peaceful place, where all you could hear was the bleating of sheep and the bells of the goats grazing around the villa. It would’ve been pretty easy to let the whole week pass in a haze of reading, swimming and lazing on a sunlounger, but there were places to explore.

Down a rocky track from the villa we came across Valmas Beach, a small cove with turquoise waters so clear you could see straight down at the sand below. There’s a taverna right on the beach, but in October it had closed for the season, with the shutters up and the owners relocated for the winter. You could stand on the taverna’s terrace and imagine it packed with people eating and drinking in summer. But for now it was like having our own private beach.

Churches at sunset on the hillside above Chora in Ios, Greece

Sunset from Ios Greece

The biggest town in Ios is Chora, which was about 15 minutes’ walk from our villa. Though that’s more a description than a name – the word Chora means ‘main town’ and you’ll find them all over the Greek islands. Ios’ Chora has a line of shops set along a main road, and on the opposite side the old town stretches up into the hillside. From a distance it looks like an impenetrable mass of tightly packed whitewashed buildings, but get up close and you can spot the narrow gaps which lead into a maze of twisting and turning cobbled passageways.

Everything in Ios closes down from 2pm to 5pm, so as we wandered through the old town the only signs of life were the island’s many cats grabbing a siesta in the shade. At 5pm the town started to wake up again, with shopkeepers opening up their shutters and café owners laying out chairs ready for the evening. A few shops and restaurants stay open through the spring and autumn months, but you’re more likely to see locals than tourists there out of season.

Sunset from the churches above Chora on the island of Ios, Greece

The sun disappears behind Sikinos

We carried on climbing to the top of the hill where there are four tiny white churches. There are 365 churches on Ios – one for each day of the year – but only 2000 permanent residents. Most are looked after by local families who make sure they don’t fall into disrepair. Chora’s highest church is Ios’ top sunset spot, where you can look down onto tiny boats in the port in one direction and the mass of white dotted with blue domes in the other. The sunlight made the churches glow before dipping down out of view behind the neighbouring island of Sikinos.

Just outside Chora is Mylopotas Beach, a 1.5km-long stretch of golden sand that’s Ios’ most visited beach. In the summer there are beach clubs and lines of sunbeds, but in October I counted less than 10 people. The bay is really sheltered so it’s great for watersports, and even off season you can hire a paddleboard or rent a boat and explore hidden coves along the coast. One café at the far end of the beach had stayed open and we stopped for lunch there along with a mix of low-season visitors, locals and expats about to leave the island for winter.

The golden sands of Mylopotas Beach in Ios, Greece

The empty sands of Mylopotas Beach

After getting used to almost having the island to ourselves, it was hard to picture what Ios would’ve been like in the middle of summer. When the streets of Chora pound to the beat of music pumping out of the bars and its narrow streets are packed with a mass of travellers. When the sandy beaches are covered in sunbathers and the waters are full of boats and windsurfers. I loved our peaceful version of off-season Ios, but I can’t help wondering what it would be like to see the other side – I guess I’ll just have to go back and see for myself someday.

Should you visit Ios off season?

Do if: you want a peaceful and relaxing trip, you don’t like crowds, you want to have more interaction with the locals, you want to save money on accommodation and travel costs, you don’t mind cooking for yourself or eating out at a limited selection of restaurants.

Don’t if: you want to party all night and meet lots of other international travellers, you want to eat out for every meal at a variety of different places, you want guaranteed sunshine and to spend every day on the beach, or you want a big range of activities to keep you occupied.

Windmill in Ios, Greece

Chora’s last remaining windmill

The details

How to get to Ios, Greece

There’s no airport on Ios, so you’ll need to catch a ferry to reach the island. The nearest airport is in Santorini, then it’s a 35-minute ferry trip to reach Ios. Or you can fly into Athens where ferries run from the Piraeus and Rafina ports to Ios, taking around seven hours on the regular service or four hours on the fast ferries. There are also ferry connections from other Greek islands like Naxos, Paros, Mykonos and Crete if you’re planning an island-hopping trip.

How to get around Ios

Bus services connect Ios’ port, Chora and Mylopotas Beach around every 20 minutes in low season and cost €1.80 one way. It’s also possible to walk between them – the port to Chora town is 15 minutes uphill via the donkey path steps, then it’s 30 minutes to Mylopotas Beach. If you want to explore the rest of the island, there are buses to Maganari and Agia Theodoti beaches, or you can hire a car, quad bike or scooter in the port or in Chora.

On the Rocks villa, where to stay in Ios Greece

Our villa at On the Rocks

Where to stay in Ios

We stayed at On the Rocks, who have four properties just outside Chora – two three-bed villas which share a pool, a five-bedroom villa with its own infinity pool and the cosy one-bedroom Retreat. They’ve been designed to be eco-friendly and have a beautiful peaceful location. In spring or autumn our three-bed villa costs €150 a night (minimum stay four nights). There are also lots of small pensions in Chora and a few larger resorts with pools in Mylopotas Beach.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Ios?

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Off season in Ios, Greece – this Greek island is famous for its summer parties but visit in spring or autumn for a relaxing island escape #Greece #Ios #GreekIslandsDiscovering the peaceful side of Ios, Greece, in spring and autumn – it's famous for its summer parties, but what happens off-season in Ios when the crowds are gone? #Greece #Ios #GreekIslands

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34 Comments

  • Reply
    Heyjude
    November 6, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    Oh so different from the IOS I visited back in 1971 when a girlfriend and I hitched through Europe and ended up on Mylopotas Beach in our little two-man tent for a fortnight. Only two tavernas then, one at either end of the beach where we ate breakfast – fried eggs or yoghurt and honey – and dinner, freshly caught octopus! Camp fire on the beach, Spanish hippies playing guitars. Nights up in Chora supping ouzo and chatting with the old men who would sometimes do the Zorba the Greek dance for us whilst we laughed with sheer joy, or pop in to the one and only disco with a dance floor the size of a wagon-wheel where we’d shuffle in the heat to the Rolling Stones ‘Gimme Shelter’, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and of course ‘Satisfaction’. We were stuck for an extra week as the ferry was unable to land due to storms, and we saw Jacques Cousteau’s yacht moored nearby. No roads then, no cars only donkeys. No tourist shops. So unspoilt. But we knew then it wouldn’t remain like that, in fact only two years later I returned to find it was already changing.

    What an amazing time, and thank you for bringing back some super memories. Are there any places left like the 1970s IOS I wonder?

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 6, 2015 at 7:13 pm

      How lovely, it sounds like an amazing experience! It’s definitely changed a lot since then, but I still found it a really charming place. There are so many Greek islands out there that I hope there are still a few out there that are undeveloped and a bit more like you remember.

  • Reply
    Darlene
    November 6, 2015 at 7:28 pm

    Sounds perfect and your photos are so inviting!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 6, 2015 at 8:47 pm

      I think Greece must be the most photogenic place I’ve been – I took so many photos!

  • Reply
    Cathy (MummyTravels)
    November 6, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    This sounds blissful, definitely my kind of experience these days (was never very good at staying up late clubbing). And what an incredible sunset view.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 10, 2015 at 9:40 am

      Yes I’m with you there – I am hopeless at staying up late now and can’t remember the last time I was in a club! Sunset view and a glass of wine all the way.

  • Reply
    lexklein
    November 7, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    I loved your lead-in and, of course, the photos of yet another lovely Greek isle. My mom is from Greece, so I’ve seen quite a but of the country but never Ios – thanks for the introduction!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 10, 2015 at 9:41 am

      You’re very welcome! Ios was lovely, it’s set off a desire to go and see some more Greek islands now (there are enough to keep me going for a while!).

  • Reply
    Melissa
    November 9, 2015 at 8:19 pm

    **adds to travel bucket list**

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 10, 2015 at 9:41 am

      Greece is so beautiful, it’s well worth a spot on the list!

  • Reply
    Angela Fakou
    November 12, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    Thank you for this article ..It was also really nice to meet you in WTM London expo …just I d like to mention that the party season is also smaller than you described (mid June till mid August) then it s still crowded till beginning of September with different kind of travellers 35-55 couples, families.
    Thank you once more for your vivid description
    Angela Fakou

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 12, 2015 at 2:38 pm

      Thanks Angela, it was lovely to meet you at WTM too and really glad you liked the article, I loved the island (I have edited the dates so thanks for that too!).

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    November 12, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    This sounds like my kind of trip – taken at the end of the summer when you’re ready for some relaxation and time to soak up the last rays of the year. Bliss 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 12, 2015 at 2:36 pm

      It was perfect for that – so relaxing!

  • Reply
    restlessjo
    November 14, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    I think I’m in love, Lucy! Wonder if I can persuade Mick to sell our Algarve home 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 14, 2015 at 7:19 pm

      It definitely had that classic Greek beauty – though the Algarve is pretty wonderful too!

  • Reply
    Vlad
    November 23, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    I have to go there, it looks absolutely amazing. My parents were talking about going to Greece next year in September, this would be just perfect. How can you get to Ios by the way?

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 23, 2015 at 2:50 pm

      September’s a really good time to go, still warm but much more relaxed than in summer. Ios is pretty easy to get to – no airport so you need to take the ferry, but it’s 4 hours on a fast ferry from Athens or 35 mins from Santorini (quite a few direct flights there or you can fly via Athens).

  • Reply
    Andrew Petcher
    November 12, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    Love your pictures. One of my favourite Greek Islands, I have been many times, always in September where I meet old friends at Homer’s Inn hotel on the road from the port to the chora. A pity you missed the taverna at Valmas, it serves the most exquisite squid!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 13, 2016 at 6:59 am

      Thank you! I loved Ios and hopefully will make it back a bit earlier in the season sometimes – will make sure to check out the squid when I do!

  • Reply
    Bruce
    April 20, 2017 at 11:45 am

    I’m very happy to have found this page, and especially the comments by Heyjude. I was on Ios in March 1973, as an 18-year-old backpacker. There were still no cars at that time, only donkeys, but I was there when the first TV sets arrived in the bars. From one day to the next, people’s attention switched from each other to the box on the wall. Sad. And although I now want to go back there, 44 years later, I’m going to find it a shock to see the roads, cars and nightclubs. This article has made it clear that I have to go out of season. I even lived in a cave for a few days, and would love to find it again.
    Like Heyjude, I too wonder if there are places that still reflect the 1970s Ios…

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 23, 2017 at 7:18 pm

      That’s so interesting to read! I’m sure you will find it so different going back. I visited a few places in Thailand about 20 years ago that I loved and have heard since that they’ve changed so much, I’d be fascinated to go back but on the other hand it would be so odd to see them changed so much. I think off-peak is definitely the way to go in Ios as it has much more of a local feel as it can be crazy in summer!

  • Reply
    Oliver
    November 10, 2017 at 11:46 am

    Oh wow, Ios looks amazing! I’m planning a trip to Greece, but was only going to stay in Santorini. I have definitely changed my mind now!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 12, 2017 at 10:42 pm

      Santorini is lovely but Ios is a great add on to the trip too – well worth a trip!

  • Reply
    Veronika
    January 22, 2018 at 4:48 am

    Dear Lucy, I enjoyed reading this post. I would love to visit these four churches at the top of the hill… is there an easy way of describing how to get to them? Did you have to hike for too long and from which side did you walk up? Hope to hear from you, I’m very excited about my trip to Ios! 🙂

    Veronika

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 24, 2018 at 2:07 pm

      Hi Veronika, we headed up the hill from the village side, there are a real network of paths from the village but we just headed uphill and there were occasional signposts for the churches so it wasn’t too hard to find. Hope you have a great trip!

  • Reply
    Jenny
    May 12, 2018 at 11:41 am

    Memories! Valmas beach in the 70s – our favourite. Hiked over the cliffs from the port. Nudist in those days – just a dozen or so. Playing chess on the taverna veranda in the heat of the day. One nude american set off out into the tiny bay on his windsurfer to be met by applause from the passing ferry. Bliss

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 18, 2018 at 8:24 pm

      What brilliant memories – sounds idyllic!

  • Reply
    suzanne adams
    April 27, 2019 at 11:27 pm

    Hi Lucy. Just came across your site via one of those irritating ads – BUT as I am planning to return to the island of my youth this September (2019) I was immediately drawn in… And delighted I was. First went in 1979 – camping on a kind of a site behind the big bar/café on Mylopotas Beach – possibly called ‘Far Out? A pint bottle of Retsina was about 30p (can’t remember the Dracma equivalent) and was only drinkable if diluted with a can of Fanta, Lilt or Coke! You could only get to the (shared) loos via puddles of urine – in your flip flops – and the ad,hoc cabaret show was Russian transsexuals – an amazing sight for a naïve Irish girl. We were bitten to death by mossies, stung by jellyfish, stumbled home along dangerous cliff paths by torchlight, ate dodgy gyros & drunk water from rusty taps. It was just FABULOUS. So much so that I went back twice a year until 1985 – eventually upgrading to a small hotel on Myloptas beach (the first on Ios with a swimming pool if my memory serves me right). AND SO – 35 years later I plan to have my 60th birthday celebrations there….X

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 14, 2019 at 4:27 pm

      So glad to bring back some good memories – and sounds like you had an amazing time on the island. Hope the return trip is just as wild!

  • Reply
    Noozhat
    May 30, 2019 at 3:53 pm

    Hi Lucy,

    Really want a day trip from Santorini when we are back in October, so thanks so much for this! Very helpful! Since we’ll be going at the same time as you, I was wondering if you remember which restaurants were still open? I’d love to grab some lunch and enjoy the serenity with friends! We’ll probably be there for 4-5 hours (unfortunately that’s how much time the ferries allow)!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 30, 2019 at 9:35 pm

      Hi I’m afraid I can’t remember the names but there were definitely a couple of places open on Mylopotas Beach during the daytime which would be great for lunch by the sea, and a few places in Chora too.

  • Reply
    Jan Rufeea
    August 30, 2019 at 3:59 pm

    I too discovered Ios in the 70’s and returned last year for nostagia’s sake! I think my husband wondered where I had taken him, wearily disembarking from the ferry (as we were island hopping and this was the 4th) and seeing….not much. There’s me saying ‘the town is hidden up there on the hill somewhere’ trying to convince myself as well as him and hoping there would still be some nightlife of some sort as we are very young at heart late 50’s! It didn’t disappoint, we soon found the donkey steps (although I was convinced there were on the other side of the port to where they are!) and took in as much as we could in the 2 nights we were there. I don’t know what it is about this place but it holds a piece of my heart and I have convinced him to return for another 3 nights this year as I am determined to find some goats this time, I missed the sound of those bells! Great article, thanks for the read.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 2, 2019 at 2:12 am

      Glad to bring back some good memories – it seems to be one of those places people really fall in love with – hope you have a great trip back!

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