Mention Mykonos and a few images will spring to mind, whether it’s celebrities sunbathing on yachts, bright white Cycladic architecture or paradisiacal beaches.
One of the most popular islands in the Aegean, Mykonos has a fun-loving, cosmopolitan atmosphere and is well-established as a gay-friendly destination.
You’ll want to spend as much time as possible in the fashionable and arty Chora (Mykonos Town) getting share-worthy shots of the famous windmills and pure white houses. Even the cracks between the marble paving stones are painted white here.
Afterwards you can investigate the enchanting ruins of Delos and head off to all corners of Mykonos in a matter of minutes, hunting down the best beaches and vantage points.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Mykonos:
1. Mykonos Windmills
The first sight that hoves into view before you pull into the harbour is this row of seven white windmills posted on a small cape.
These would most likely have been built by the Venetians as long ago as the 16th century and are oriented to the north to catch the prevailing wind.
They were built close to the harbour to mill grain offloaded from ships to make it easier to transport.
The mills have become a symbol for the whole of island and are a simple walk southwest of the Alefkandra quarter.
There’s a small gift shop next to the road, and you can join the gaggle of photographers taking snaps of the white mills contrasted by the blues of the sky and sea.
2. Matogianni Street
A north to south street through Mykonos Town, with little alleys darting off it, Matogianni Street is where it all happens.
By day you can idle along, perusing souvenir shops, boutiques, jewellery stores and a couple of international chains like Sephora and Lacoste.
When hunger strikes you could opt for a souvlaki or gyro or sit down at one of many tavernas, which tend to be more reasonably priced here deeper in the town.
And in the evening there’s a delectable choice of restaurants at romantic spots with bougainvillea climbing the walls, and bars that do a roaring trade to the early hours.
At the old harbour you can set sail for one of Greece’s most treasured archaeological sites.
The island of Delos is just a couple of kilometres from the southwest coast of Mykonos and its excavations have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you’re up to scratch on Olympian Greek mythology you may know Delos as the birthplace of the twin gods Apollo and Artemis.
But more than a thousand years beforehand the island was already a venerated holy sanctuary.
There’s a lot to discover, like the Terrace of the Lions from the 7th century BC, the Doric Temple of the Delians, the Minoan Fountain, a series of market squares and the Theatre Quarter, laid with splendid mosaics.
You can also see phenomenal Hellenistic mosaics at the House of Dionysos, the House of Masks, House of the Trident, House of the Lake and House of the Dolphins.
Recommended tour: The Original Morning Delos Guided Tour
4. Delos Archaeological Museum
After 30 years of excavations the French School of Athens needed a museum for all its discoveries on Delos, and this was inaugurated in 1904. The archaeological digs have continued for more than 145 years, and the museum had to be expanded in 1931 and 1972 to accommodate all of this material.
The oldest pieces here are the ceramics, going back more than 3,500 years.
There are also numerous grave statues and stele from the 7th to the 1st century BC, as well as clay figurines, mosaics, jewellery and everyday items from the Hellenistic Period.
Among the must-sees is a bronze mask of Dionysos from the 2nd century BC, an ivory plaque with a relief of a Mycenaean warrior as old as 1400 BC and a magisterial sculpture of Boreas kidnapping Oreithya from the end of the 5th century BC.
5. Alefkandra (Little Venice)
Around the western lip of the Old Harbour is a gorgeous web of little car-free alleys.
These are laid with the typical dark marble paving stones with cement coated with the same brilliant white paint as the houses.
It’s the waterside that gives Little Venice its nickname, where restaurants open on to a narrow path less than a metre above the sea and tables for couples line the way.
These buildings have slightly shambly wooden bay window boxes and balconies painted in blues and greens.
Facing west, the sunsets are impossibly beautiful, so try to get a table before twilight, and look down round to see the windmills catching the last rays.
Suggested tour: Mykonos and Little Venice Sunset Cruise
6. Old Harbour
After catching the SeaBus from the new port at Tourlos you’ll disembark at the marble quays of the Old Harbour.
On the east side are the arcades of the Town Hall dating to the 1700s, in front of which is the tiny church of Agios Nikolaos, crowned with a blue dome.
There’s a string of bars and restaurants hugging the curve of the harbour and if you investigate the side streets you’ll come across boutiques, design shops and tasteful souvenir stores, shoulder to shoulder with quaint little churches like Agia Eleni and Agios Kirykos.
7. Church of Panagia Paraportiani
Just north of Little Venice, in the Kastro neighbourhood is the fascinating Church of Panagia Paraportiani.
This monument was built between the 15th and 17th century and comprises four separate, interconnected churches beneath a fifth built on top.
That highest church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Panagia) and is easy to pick out for its dome.
The oldest is Agios Anargyros, begun in 1425, while the remaining four churches were all constructed in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Like the Mykonos Windmills it’s a monument that attracts people for the photo opportunities, framing the asymmetrical white walls against the azure sky.
8. Rarity Gallery
Recently Mykonos has gained a reputation as an art destination, and has a lot to do with the Rarity Gallery.
Founded in 1995, this three-room space was the first to present paintings, sculpture, photography and installations by artists of international standing.
On a visit you can expect to see pieces by established names, but may be surprised by less renowned, emerging talent that the gallery has taken under its wing.
Some of the artists featured over the last two decades include pop artist Julian Opie and Carole Feuerman, known for her hyper-realistic sculpture, and Hong Sung Chul, famed for his three dimensional string sculptures.
9. Archaeological Museum of Mykonos
The island’s own modest but engaging archaeological museum has artefacts recovered from Mykonos and adjacent islands, dating from prehistory to the end of the Hellenistic Period around the 1st century BC. In the large collection of ceramics is a pithos (jar) from the 7th century BC with reliefs depicting the capture of Troy.
There’s also exceptionally old Cycladic patterned pottery from as long ago as 2800 BC, preserved funerary steles from the island of Rineia off Delos and black vases from the Ionian Islands.
Another outstanding piece is a statue of Heracles wielding a club, also from Rineia and fashioned from the finest Parian marble in the 2nd Century BC.
10. Agios Sostis Beach
If you’re craving some space to yourself, make for the beaches in the less frequented north of Mykonos, which is scattered with natural parks.
Agios Sostis has no beachfront bars, restaurants or sun beds and is all the better for it: The beach is noticeably quieter than those in the south, and behind is not much more than gently sloping hills with sparsely dusted with scrub.
Head north and there’s a small village with a taverna and church, and another much smaller cove bathed by shallow, glimmering water.
11. Elia Beach
On the other hand you might want to experience Mykonos at its most vibrant and cosmopolitan.
In which case Elia Beach on the south coast is a great pick.
It’s the longest beach on the island, and is the choice of gay tourists to Mykonos.
Ringed by arid slopes, Elia is a bay with golden sand at its centre and shingle beneath the low cliffs to the east.
Naturists also flock to Elia, and even though this beach is one of the most popular on the island it never feels overcrowded as there’s plenty of room for everyone.
You can hire a jet-ski from the jetty at the centre of the beach or hike up the barren slopes past white Cycladic houses to see the bay in all its splendour from above.
12. Dio Horia
Also at the forefront of the island’s contemporary art scene is Dio Horia, a gallery hosting exhibitions, providing residencies and championing young talent from countries outside the art world’s attention.
In the three years since it opened, Dio Horia has exhibited work by Tracey Emin, David Adamo, Erik Parker and Nina Chanel Abney.
Dio Horia also has a publishing arm, and organises events and pop-up installations around Mykonos.
There are upcoming solo shows in 2018 for the well-known contemporary artists Trudy Benson, Peter McDonald and Raul de Nieves.
13. Kalo Livadi Beach
In the southeast of Mykonos Kalo Livadi is a supreme sandy beach fronting a picturesque valley with clusters of white houses.
A few hundred metres from the coast, the beach has a soft gradient, allowing children to play in the shallows and confident swimmers to venture a long way out without worrying about currents.
The shore has regimented blocks of sun loungers, six deep and divided by wooden walkways.
These are rented out by the restaurants behind and can be pretty pricey, but are worth every penny if you want full service.
If you prefer to go your own way, there’s a patch under the rocks on the west end of the beach where you can lay your towel.
On the west side is a boat charter company with its own jetty if you’re up for a self-navigated voyage.
14. Kalafatis Beach
Two beaches over from Kalo Livadi, Kalafatis is another alluring sandy bay with an arc of golden sand and shallow, clear waters.
What sets this beach apart is that it is oriented to the east, and not far offshore there are generous breezes.
So while you recline on your sun lounger you’ll see windsurfing sails zipping across the horizon.
Joining them in summer are some snazzy-looking yachts anchored in the bay.
Kalafatis also has a watersports centre for motorised activities like wakeboarding, waterskiing and jet-skiing.
On the northern edge of the bay is a quay with waterfront restaurant and where tour boats set off for cruises.
15. Armenistis Lighthouse
Six kilometres north of Chora is a working lighthouse guiding traffic along the strait between Mykonos and neighbouring Tinos.
Positioned far above the water, this edifice was completed with an octagonal tower in 1891 and flashes a white signal every ten seconds.
It was raised in response to a disaster in which the Volta steam ship sank off the north coast of Mykonos in 1887, at the cost of 11 lives.
If you’d like to see the original Fresnel lens, it has ended up at the Mykonos Maritime Museum.
Although you can’t go inside, the lighthouse is a trip worth making for the awesome scenery.
This is best done just after sunset when you can see the lights of Agios Sostis and Laouti on the other side of the strait.