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In the early 1960s, shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis "discovered" the Greek island of Mykonos and brought Jackie Kennedy there -- and soon, the island became an exclusive playground for celebrities like Grace Kelly, Brigitte Bardot and members of the Versace family.
Today, it's more democratic, a noisy, bustling, bursting-at-the-seams place with something for everyone, from singles to gay couples to families. You'll find quiet stretches of sand, party beaches, waterfront cafes, shopping in every price range (both international brands and local crafts), water sports and delicious food (especially fresh fish). Scores of people, looking to experience the internationally renowned gold-tinged beaches and sweaty, pulsating nightlife, descend upon the tiny island during the packed high season, which lasts from the Greek Orthodox Easter celebration (usually in April or early May) through September.
After the cruise season, Mykonos gets quieter, but it does not shut down. Restaurants in the principal tourist areas -- the beaches and waterfront -- are generally open from March until November. Spots where locals eat or where business is good year-round remain open.
The largest town on the island is Mykonos town, also known as Chora or Hora; a few miles inland is the village of Ano Mera. The subject of many paintings by local artists, Mykonos is a feast for the eyes, with its azure waters, houses painted white with brightly colored shutters, bougainvillea trees in bloom, iconic windmills and colorful fishing boats. Visitors love to explore the shops, restaurants, cafes and churches on the narrow streets off the harbor.
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Other Eastern Mediterranean Cruise Ports:
Athens (Piraeus) • Bari • Bodrum • Corfu • Crete (Heraklion) • Dubrovnik • Gythion • Haifa • Istanbul • Izmir • Jerusalem (Ashdod) • Katakolon (Olympia) • Kotor • Kusadasi • Limassol • Mykonos • Rhodes • Santorini • Split • Varna • Venice • Volos • Yalta • Zadar
Bartenders island-wide will make anything you want, but if you want to drink like a Greek, stick to ouzo or the local brew, Mythos, which is good -- and cheap, at just a few dollars for a hefty draft.
Souvenir shops are full of trinkets and postcards with a windmill theme. Leather items -- handmade sandals, tote bags and backpacks -- also are popular. So are the flowing white cotton dresses and shirts that are so appropriate for the island setting.
Jewelry at all prices glitters in shops windows, from the expensive 18-karat gold pieces at high-end shops to budget-friendly but stylish items (many starting at around 7 euros). For unique pieces, Sur Real (P. Drakopoulou 1), a few steps off the waterfront has handcrafted leather jewelry: necklaces, belts, bracelets and rings. The bracelets, which are the most popular items, are set with various stones (or watches) and start around 50 euros.
Shops usually open from 10 a.m. until late night; many close for a couple of hours around 2 p.m. When cruise ships are present, some shops stay open all day.
Greek is the official language, although English is widely spoken, as are some European languages. Locals will appreciate a "YAH soo" (hello), "ef-hah-rees-TOH" (thank you) -- and any other phrases you can pick up prior to your cruise.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The euro is the official currency. For updated currency-conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. ATMs are scattered throughout town and can be the cheapest and easiest way to get money. Most shops and restaurants accept major credit cards. However, as one local said, "Cash is king." That means you may do better offering cash to strike a bargain.
There are several bank offices in Hora, open 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays and until 2 p.m. Fridays. A passport is needed when changing money.
Where You're Docked
Cruise ships dock at the new port in Tourlos; however, when no space is available, they anchor in the harbor and tender passengers to the old port in Hora (known simply as the old port or the harbor).
If you dock at Tourlos, you won't see anything beyond an ATM and a small canteen where you can buy water or soft drinks. Your cruise line will provide a shuttle to the edge of town. Other alternatives: the public bus (1.6 euros) or a water taxi (2 euros).
If you're tendered to Hora, home to most of the ferries, you'll find a world of cafes, restaurants and shopping at your feet. (And you're within easy walking distance of the center of town and various highlights.) You'll also find tour operators there.
There's not much to see at the Tourlos port, so you're better off taking the shuttle to town. If you're in the old port, there is plenty to do. Linger at one of the waterfront cafes over a frappe coffee, the popular Greek version of iced coffee that comes topped with foam. Maybe "Petros Pelican," the island mascot will show up, and you'll have a great photo op.
Everything in town is walkable. Choose any of the winding streets (local legend says they were so designed to repel pirates) off the harbor and you'll find shops, restaurants and cafes everywhere. You can easily and comfortably spend hours shopping, snacking or dining (and checking email, as free Wi-Fi is available at many cafes and restaurants).
On Foot: most of Hora's attractions are within easy walking distance -- no more than 10 or 15 minutes -- from the old port (harbor). From Tourlos, walking to town (about a half-hour) is possible but not recommended because there are no sidewalks, the terrain is not even and the road is quite busy in season.
By Taxi: If you want to venture beyond the town, there is a taxi stand at Manto Mavrogenous Square (sometimes called Town Square or Taxi Square). It's marked with a bust of Manto Mavrogenous, the heroine of the 1821 War of Independence. Rates are fixed according to destination and vary by season. Phoning for a cab (22890/23700 or 22894/22400) is extra, also according to season (about 1.5 euros), and an appointment costs at least 5 euros. There are a limited number of taxis on the island so they may be difficult to get in high season.
By Bus: There are two bus stations. The main Fabrica (also spelled Fabrika) in the southern section of town serves Ornos, Aghios, Ioannis, Platys Gialos, Psarou, Paranga and Paradise. The other, Fabrica, in the northern part of town, serves Ano Mera village and the beaches of Elia and Kalafatis. Normal fares are less than 2 euros.
By Boat: Small boats (caiques) are one way to visit the beaches at the southern and western part of the island. Check the travel agencies at the old port for schedules, departure points and fares.
Watch Out For
ATVs and all kinds of two- and three-wheel vehicles speed around corners and up and down the narrow streets. This seems to be a chronic and serious problem, not only because ATVs are a popular way of getting around, but also because many deliveries to shops and restaurants are made by mini-trucks that travel the same streets used by pedestrians.
If you don't take a formal walking tour, you can easily hit any or all of these attractions on your own, using a map you can pick up before you leave your ship.
Hora is overlooked by the famous white Venetian windmills (Kato Myli), which might be the first thing passengers see when cruise ships approach the harbor. Built by the Venetians in the 16th century, they were used to grind wheat until the early 20th century. Some have been restored and all of them are popular subjects for photographers and artists. You can climb the hill to the windmills for a close look -- or take your photos from the harbor with a zoom lens.
Located near the main harbor entrance in the Kastro (castle) area, the oldest part of town, the Byzantine church Panagia Paraportiani is the oldest in Mykonos -- and perhaps the most photographed church in Greece. Dating to 1475, it's really a group of five smaller churches, which were constructed over a period of time and completed in the 17th century. Hours fluctuate, but it might be open in the morning. Admission is free (do not enter during services), but donations are appreciated.
Near the church and located in an 18th-century building is the Mykonian Folklore Museum, displaying period furniture (most from the 19th century) that shows how middle-class residents lived. Also here: tools, weapons, lighting devices, tapestries, ceramics, photographs and related artifacts. (Open 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays from April to October; admission free, but donations appreciated)
Facing the old harbor is the Archaeological Museum, which houses collections from various excavations. These include funerary statues and grave stelae, pottery, clay figurines, jewelry and small objects -- all dating from the second and first centuries B.C. Of special interest is a large relief from the seventh century B.C., decorated with scenes from the capture of Troy: the descent of Greeks from the wooden horse and warriors attacking women and children. (Open 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday; admission 3 euros, free on Sunday)
Photogenic Little Venice, located where the westernmost part of town meets the sea, is so named for the medieval houses with balconies that overhang the water. Pirates frequented Mykonos during the 16th and 17th century, and it's believed that they loaded and unloaded their booty in this area. Today, you'll find boutiques, restaurants and cafes. If time permits, grab a table at Katerina's (Agion Anargyron 8; 22890/23084; open 11 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. from March to November), which has two levels, and nurse a cocktail while you watch the sunset.
While you're in Little Venice, you have a good chance of seeing Petros Pelican, the Mykonos mascot. The first Petros was rescued after a storm in 1954 and lived on the island for more than 30 years. When he died, the loss was felt so deeply that a replacement was soon found -- and a tradition was established.
Visitors interested in Greek history, mythology and archeology should head to nearby Delos, the spiritual and geographic center of the Cyclades island chain. Considered a holy place for thousands of years, Greek mythology holds that the island is the birthplace of Apollo and his twin sister Artemis, offspring of Zeus. The 1.5-square-mile island contains countless ruins and an impressive archeological museum. Remember to bring your water -- the dry, rocky island can become brutally hot in the summer.
Been There, Done That
The Aegean Maritime Museum, located in the center of town in the area known as Tria Pigadia (Three Wells), was home to famous sea captain Nikolaos Sourmelis. Exhibits include models of ships from the pre-Minoan period to the early 20th century, navigational equipment, maps, a collection of ancient rare coins with nautical subjects and thousands of rare books. In the garden are reproductions of ancient gravestones from Delos and Mykonos related to shipwrecks and sailors lost at sea. (Open 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday; admission 3 Euros)
The famous Tria Pigadia, the three wells for which the area is named, are located near the museum. According to legend, if a virgin drinks from all three, she will find a husband; a more recent story says that if a visitor drinks from the wells, he or she will return. (Please do not test the truth of these tales.)
If you'd like to see more than Hora -- and religious sites in particular -- you can take the bus from the north station to the picturesque village of Ano Mera, only four miles away. In the town square is the 16th-century Monastery of Panagia Tourliani, which houses Cretan icons, an Italian baroque altar screen, fine Byzantine wood carvings and a small museum of ecclesiastical objects. Nearby are tavernas and souvenir shops.
So you've done the trip to Delos, the guided walking tour and the scenic island drive and the Ano Mera Monastery. How about a two-hour horseback ride on Fokos Beach to the north? It costs about 65 euros and may be arranged through the ship or with a local tour operator.
The waters of Mykonos are rich with sea life (and a couple of shipwrecks). Several dive centers -- at Paradise beach, Psarou beach and Kalafatis -- offer training for beginners and excursions for certified divers. For a more relaxing way to view marine life, the Discovery glassbottom yacht offers a choice of excursions starting at 45 euros.
The beaches on Mykonos are among the best in Greece, and there is one for every taste. Several are gay friendly and clothing optional.
Best for Families: Though it's one of the busier beaches, Platis Gialos is a good choice for families. It doesn't attract nude sunbathers or a party crowd. In addition to the usual sunbeds and umbrellas, there are water sports facilities, restaurants and bars and a mini-mart for inexpensive snacks and other sundries.
Also a good choice for families is Ornos beach, which is fully developed with plenty of umbrellas and sunbeds, bars, cafes and restaurants, as well as shops, markets and a pharmacy.
Still another possibility, though it has fewer facilities, is the Agios Ioannis beach, also known as the "Shirley Valentine" beach for the 1980s English film that was shot here. The water at the beachfront is shallow enough for children to play. Umbrellas and sunbeds are available for rent and a few taverns can supply lunch. Bonus: Nice view of Delos.
Best for Parties: Just check the Facebook photos for Paradise beach and you'll get the picture of a young, multicultural crowd that parties day and night, fueled by alcohol and loud music. The Tropicana Beach Bar kicks the vibe up even higher.
Best for Gay Visitors: Beautiful Super Paradise could be described as the most "anything goes" beach on Mykonos. Though it long has been a favorite with gay travelers and fans of "clothing optional," now it attracts anyone and everyone who loves to party. There's a restaurant, disco bar and pool to keep the energy way, way up.
Elia, the island's longest, perhaps cleanest and relatively quiet beach is popular with nude sunbathers, both gay and straight.
Best for Celebrity Watching: OK, most celebrities spotted on Psarou beach are likely to be recognized only by Greeks, because they tend to be high-powered business and financial folks. However, the beach is the island's poshest, as reflected by the cost of renting a sunbed and umbrella -- 25 euros per person in high season (15 euros in low), about twice the cost of such rentals on other beaches.
What you get is a clean sandy beach with crystal clear water (with possibly a yacht or two in sight), several taverns and restaurants, including the trendy and expensive Nammos restaurant and bar. The menu includes refined Greek dishes, grilled meat and fish and pastas, but the place can get crowded (the service, spotty) in high season.
If your wardrobe is short on Armani, the Luisa Beach boutique there can help. The spa can provide a soothing massage.
The diving school serves both beginners and experts.
Best for Peace and Quiet: Though there can be no guarantees in high season, Lia is the least developed beach and the farthest away from town, so you'll need a taxi to get there -- or you can walk from Kalafatis. The sand is coarse, but the atmosphere is relaxed, and there are umbrellas and sunbeds. For refreshments: a fish tavern and a coffee house.
Best for Active Types: Waves and winds make Kalafatis a windsurfer's paradise. You can rent what you need; jet skis are also available. Kalafatis also has a dive center. Along with a couple of taverns, the Thalassa restaurant (part of the Aphrodite Hotel) offers food and drink.
Greek cuisine reflects its long history, with flavors that are Levantine, Turkish, Italian and Balkan. Though you'll find examples of many cuisines on Mykonos, from Chinese to Italian to French, your best bet will be the local Greek specialties. Most of the restaurants in the harbor area serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Many stay open very late.
For the best souvlaki, gyros and other street food, the most popular place is Jimmy's in the heart of Hora; the place has been serving up cheap, tasty eats for 30 years (Two can eat well, with a soft drink each, for less than 10 euros). (Lakka; open 11 a.m. until the bars close in the early morning hours)
At Rouvera, on the harbor waterfront, the waiter will bring the catch of the day for your approval. Order it grilled and ask for it to be "cleaned" -- and beheaded, unless you believe, as many foodies do, that the head is the best part. With a fresh Greek salad, some crisp french fries and maybe a chilled Mythos draft beer, you can linger to enjoy the view and use the free Wi-Fi. (Gialos; 22890/28223; open 8 a.m. to midnight or 1 a.m. late March to November)
Next door, at the Music Cafe there's also free Wi-Fi and a similar menu that includes huge grilled prawns (langoustines, really). Fresh fish is priced by the kilo, and while some prices may seem high, the fish are often big enough to be shared. Both places have grilled meats, good moussaka and other Greek specialties and desserts. (Gialos; 22890/27625; open 8 a.m. until about 12:30 a.m. late March through November)
Near Manto Square (Taxi Square) is Niko's, one of Mykonos' oldest restaurants, popular with tourists and locals alike -- and one of the spots frequented by Petros Pelican. The menu includes grilled meat and fish, lots of Greek specialties like stuffed cabbage, stuffed tomatoes and the ubiquitous moussaka. (22890/24320; open 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. March to November)
Nearby is Antonini's, another old-timer that has been around forever (or at least since 1955), where you might sample the taramosalata (a creamy dip of cod caviar) and tender grilled octopus. (22890/22319; open 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. March to November)
For the best crepes on the island, it's Bougazi on Polikandrioti Street, behind the taxi stand. You can choose sweet (Europeans love the Nutella filling) or savory (perhaps fresh veggies and feta cheese?). If you're in the mood later for window shopping, the high-end jeweler next door, if he's not too busy, loves to share stories about his handmade pieces. The art gallery across the street, like many on the island, features original works by local artists. (22890/24066; open 1 p.m. until the bars close at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. from March to November)
If you choose to spend time on the Agios Sostis beach, you'll be in for a treat. Adjacent to the beach and atop a hill is Kiki's, an institution that serves delicious meat and fish grilled on a charcoal barbecue. (Open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. May to October)
Staying in Touch
There is no shortage of Internet cafes in Mykonos; they are open during cruise season, from late March until November, generally from 10 a.m. to past midnight. Two -- Internet World and Fast Internet Mykonos -- are located near the main bus station (Fabrica). In town, you'll find Angelos (Xenias Street; 22890/24106) and Net World (Tria Pigadia). However, many restaurants and cafes (signs posted) offer free Wi-Fi, so unless you need to actually use a computer, why not enjoy a good meal or a tempting Greek dessert while you check your email?
Best for First-Timers: Most lines offer some version of the island tour, usually in combination with a beach or another attraction. Typically, these include a photo stop at Agios Ioannis beach (with views of the island of Delos); a tour of the 16th century Panagia Tourliani Monastery in the picturesque village of Ano Mera; free time at Kalafatis Beach (not enough for a swim, but long enough for a stroll and purchase of refreshments); and a guided walking tour of Mykonos town that includes the famous windmills, Little Venice and the ancient Byzantine Paraportiani Church. There's usually enough time left for independent exploration and shopping.
Best for History Buffs: Not to be missed is the 3.5-hour trip to the island of Delos, birthplace of Apollo and a UNESCO World Heritage site. After a 20-minute ride on a ferry, the two-hour guided walking tour explores this vast archeological site, which includes temples, statuary and a small museum. There's also a full-day version that takes in Delos and pretty much everything that's included in the standard island tours. This option makes for a truly tiring (possibly exhausting) day and might be a good option only for hardier visitors who feel they simply must sample all that Mykonos has to offer.
Best for Beach Bums: Though it's not hard to get to any of the island's many beaches by taxi (some by public bus), for those who'd like easy door-to-door service, most lines offer a beach package that provides roundtrip transportation for a three-hour stay on a popular beach: Platis Gialos, Kalafatis, Paradise or Elia. Sometimes (always with the upscale lines) the package includes a reserved lounge, umbrella and some refreshment.
For More Information
On the Web: Municipality of Mykonos
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Greece Ports
IndependentTraveler.com: Europe Travel Guide
--Updated by Lillian Africano, Cruise Critic contributor