Things to see & do on Kythnos

Kythnos is a bit of an open secret among Athenians. Just a three-hour ferry ride away from the capital, it’s a favourite among city folk for a lazy summer weekend. The rest of the year, the island is all for you and the resident shepherds, beekeepers and potters. This is a lightning-bolt island – both in shape and in the number of quietly rural revelations you’ll find. For most, it’s the web of mule tracks that link remote beaches, small fishing villages and hills blooming with wildflowers.

The center of Kythnos is a ruffled landscape of brushwood and aromatic herbs, and farmland hemmed by stone walls. And good luck escaping those wraparound Aegean Sea views. Typical Cycladic communities cluster around the coast and inland, away from the historically pirate-packed waters of the Aegean. Neoclassical villas decorate Daz-white Dryopida, while the Hora is as pretty as a painting. The west side of the island collects the most popular beaches, including Kolona, which casts a sandy hook out towards the islet of Agios Loukas.

Kythnos has a couple of other surprises up its sleeve: one of the oldest Neolithic ruins in the Cyclades, plus one of the biggest cave networks in Greece. Almost completely unmapped, the honeycomb tunnels and abandoned mines were used as a refuge for islanders during WWII.

Top three things to do in Kythnos

1. Ramble along the mule tracks

Mule tracks outnumber roads on Kythnos, having linked farms to villages to harbours for thousands of years. Follow easy farm tracks down to Loutra, where hot springs have been bubbling since Roman times. There are a few loops from Messaria, too. Head over to Episkopi and Apokrousi, where sheltered beaches are cooled by tamarisk trees instead of umbrellas, before scaling the hills to Vyrokastro. The temples and port of this ancient city – think 10th century BC – are still being unearthed by archaeologists.

Most vacations to Kythnos offer guided walks. You might be accompanied by a guide who’s penned the latest guide book on walking in Kythnos or a historian who’ll get you access to archaeological digs usually under lock and key. It’s a small island, so it’s not unheard of for the mayor to pop by to say hi.

2. Keep your eyes on the skies

Birders, rejoice: the Cyclades are a way station for migratory birds heading south in September and October and back north from March to May. And the only predators are the birds of prey that like to nest on Kythnos' ruin-topped headlands. Year-round birds include the Greek small owl, warblers and partridges, plus splashes of bee orchids and fritillaries reel in flashy butterflies in late spring and summer.

Kythnos is also home to one of the largest cave networks in Greece. Monk seals secret themselves away in the sea caves, while lizards and endemic plants creep deep into the nooks and crannies of the Katafiki caves. The best person to show you your chukars from your shearwaters is one of the wildlife experts that often head up the guided walks.

3. Indulge in island food

Taverna menus are loaded with salty Kythnos cheese, slow cooked lamb and goat, and seafood. Honey biscuits come with strong Greek coffee. Or if you fancy something stronger, the tiny Driopi estate puts out solid red and white wines. The best vacations to Kythnos include a food activity as part of the itinerary. You might visit the beekeepers making the island honey that you’ll have with your breakfast or visit a shepherd as they take their mule out on the hills. A cooking lesson is the real deal – think no-nonsense chefs cooking to generations-old recipes and using island ingredients.
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Most vacations to Kythnos are walking vacations. You’ll probably spend three to four hours walking each day – that’s up to around 10km – so you’ll need to be moderately fit. But the terrain is easy, with climbs no higher than 300m. One tip: keep your swimwear on you at all times – the unruly coastline hides a beach around every curve.
Small group vacations match you with a guide from Kythnos. You’ll follow a set itinerary and set dates. The vacation usually includes accommodation, transfers and most of your meals. There are tailormade vacations too that leave you with more time for yourself. You might be given suggested walks to follow, including detailed maps and instructions. Alternatively, the tour operator could match you up with a guide for archaeological day tours or wildlife walks. You’ll also get a broader pick of accommodation, from homely B&Bs to renovated 200-year-old Neoclassical mansions.

Kythnos is a tiny island, so you won’t need more than five nights here to get to know it inside-out. The nearest international airport is Athens. From here, you can catch the evening ferry from the Lavrio or Piraeus ports. The ferry transfer is usually included and pre-booked for you.

The best time to go to Kythnos is between March and October. Spring is for flowering herbs and stone walls spritzed with wildflowers. The island gets a bit busier in the summer, when city folk from Athens make a beeline for harbour towns like Choros.
Photo credits: [Page banner: FocalPoint] [Intro: FocalPoint] [1. Ramble along the mule tracks: Fermina Hotel] [3. Indulge in island food: Claire05] [Practicalities: Fermina Hotel]