Sifnos stands out among the Cyclades islands for its architecture and natural beauty. Once a thriving gold and silver mining location, it has since ancient times cultivated a reputation for the finer things in life. Today, it combines the picturesque with a rich tradition in cuisine and local crafts. And yet, despite its refined culture and “Cycladic chic” ambience, Sifnos retains a low profile that instils a sense of peace in the visitor.
As with so many islands in the Cyclades, Sifnos offers a wide array of beaches, from Panagia Chryssopigi, where you can dive from rocky ledges to more organised swimming at Kamares, Platys Gialos and Vathy. For those who prefer to avoid crowds, there is Fykiada, accessible on foot, and if you rent a yacht or have your own boat the island has multiple small, secluded natural bays.
The town of Artemon is defined by its beautiful neoclassical homes and well-tended narrow streets, and the surrounding villages stand out for their whitewashed courtyards, deep-coloured bougainvillea and finely crafted terracotta chimney tops.
Meanwhile, traditional cuisine on Sifnos includes chickpea soup made in ceramic bowls, mastelo (lamb or goat baked on vine branches) and salad with capers. A swim at the quaint little ancient port of Seralia can be followed by a seafood meze, and later on by a walk up to the medieval settlement of Kastro (Castle) with the Venetian loggias to see the sunset. And to wrap up an eventful day, you can look forward to Sifnos’ rich nightlife.
Sifnos’ main town, Apollonia, also offers plenty of choices for entertainment, as well as more traditional pursuits, especially the island’s church festivals (panigiria), which are accompanied by food for all and music. Sifnos even has a name for locals who organise the festivals (panigirades). If you go to Sifnos in September, you will catch the annual Cycladic Gastronomy Festival, named after Nikolaos Tselementes, a renowned chef in Greece born on the island and forever synonymous with the Greek cookbook that is a culinary bible in houses across the country.
Like a gracious cosmopolitan hostess who also follows local tradition, Sifnos is an island of opposites that work together and provides a mix of people and lifestyles without losing its balance.
Apollonia takes everything most authentic and classy about Sifnos and presents it with classic Cycladic grace. Little whitewashed alleyways, brightly coloured doors and window frames, bougainvillea and pots of geraniums … you get the idea. Built on three hillsides, it offers beautiful views over the Aegean Sea. You’ll love exploring but most of your attention will inevitably centre on the Steno (or Narrow, as it translates), the central walkway of shops, churches, bars and tavernas.
One visit to this conical hill, where you will find the walled medieval village of Kastro (Castle), will capture your imagination. Vaulted arches, mystical little chapels, stone cottages nestled behind ancient foundations. Take in the breathtaking view from the trail around the settlement towards the sea to the chapel of Eptamartyrou. Mariners love this point, as well as the port of Seralia that flourished under Frankish rule on Syros. There you can savour local delicacies in the quaint little ouzeries.
The villages of Sifnos are built in perfect harmony with each other and with the landscape. Apollonia, Artemonas, Agios Loukas, Exambelos, Katavati, Pano (Upper) and Kato (Lower) Petali are dotted around the centre of Sifnos like electrons around a nucleus. This is where students come to learn the essentials of the architecture of the Cyclades islands first hand. During your holidays on Sifnos, you’ll never tire of walking around them with their cobblestone lanes and whitewashed stairways.
Sifnos’ soil is famously fortified by clay, water and sun. Potters set up their workshops here centuries ago and their ceramics became famous throughout the Cyclades and Greece. You can visit the workshops, where traditional artisans still use the potter’s wheel, and Apollonia’s Folklore Museum to find out all about this unique art.
From the hill above the seaside village of Vathi, the view is like an aerial photograph. The bay with its calm, deep blue water almost forms a complete circle. St Taxiarchis, a church built in the 16th century, sits on the dock, a landmark at the edge of the beach. This picturesque port, with its sandy beach and seafood restaurants, is guaranteed to charm you.
The main town of Sifnos is a one-way road by night. So your perfect day will likely end taking an even stroll through the narrow streets, teeming with restaurants, cafes, chapels, boutiques and stone dwellings with beautiful patios. It’s an ideal setting for sipping cocktails!
And by day, the magic starts all over again. The sun rises behind the bell tower of Chrysopigi Monastery, painting everything in resplendent shades of pink and orange. The 17th-century monastery of Sifnos, built on a craggy rock, is the most important pilgrimage site on the island.
In every Sifnian household, every Sunday morning, chickpea soup steams in a ceramic pot. The cooking begins the previous night when the chickpeas are boiled with oil and rainwater and then left to simmer all night in a wood-burning oven.
Locals enjoy their soup after coming home from the morning church service, accompanied by olives, bread and wine. It is featured in the restaurants here, along with mastelo (lamb or goat slow-cooked in a clay pot). Sifnian recipes prove that true happiness lies in simplicity.
At the top of Agios Andreas Hill, you will discover the ruins of the fortified acropolis built in the Mycenaean era and the church of Agios Andreas. The view is extraordinary.
Looking out from the courtyard of the beautiful church of the Virgin Mary, the panoramic view stretches from Platis Yialos to Kimolos. You can have a similarly dazzling experience at the church of St Simeon, the white church overlooking the port of Kamares.
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