Just off the Pelion Peninsula in the northwest Aegean, Skiathos is a compact island enveloped in pine forest and with beaches to die for.
On the west and south coasts of Skiathos is a constant chain of postcard-worthy bays, interspersed with rocky promontories and backed by a protected wooded landscape.
Skiathos has pulled in a younger crowd in the last few years, which gives many beaches a party vibe, but privacy isn’t hard to find either.
The island, which featured in the ABBA musical Mamma Mia!, is small enough that you can use a single bus to get around from Skiathos Town (Chora), with numbered bus stops positioned near all the main beaches.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Skiathos:
1. Evangelistria Monastery
You can’t overstate the importance of this place to Greek national identity.
The Evangelistria Monastery was founded by a group of monks from Mount Athos in 1794 and quickly became a safe haven for Greek insurgents in the last years of Ottoman rule.
In 1807, freedom fighters including Theodoros Kolokotronis, Thymios Vlachavas and Andreas Miaoulis gathered here to swear an Oath of Freedom using a prototype of the current Greek national flag, with a white cross on a sky blue background.
In the Katholikon (main church) are icons dating to the 1600s and 1700s, while you can also browse the museum, which has vestments, manuscripts and silver and wooden crosses.
But maybe most exciting of all is the same loom used to weave the first Greek flag.
In the 14th century, in the face of constant pirate raids, the capital of Skiathos was moved to this now abandoned promontory at the northern tip of the island.
Today there’s no easy way to reach this point as you’ll need a 4×4 for the dirt track through a nature reserve, or to catch a boat from the harbour at Skiathos town, serving the delightful beach under the promontory.
From there it’s a hair-raising hike up to the castle, which is being restored.
After Greek independence from the Ottomans in the 1830s the capital was moved back to its current location.
But on this scenic rock are the remnants of the imposing gate and drawbridge, as well as streets and houses.
There’s also a mosque and three churches on the site; the largest church, Agios Nikolaos is open and worth a peek, while the mosque is closed to visitors.
3. Skiathos Old Town
Give yourself an hour or two to take a walking tour of the old town at the Chora, because there’s much to see.
You can begin at the Bourtzi Fortress, which was built by the Venetians on an islet on the east side of the harbour, and has photogenic vistas of the old port from its pine-shade terraces.
The harbour’s waterfront is also pretty, with restaurants and cafes packed on the quays next to sparkling clear water.
And then there’s the maze of tight alleys and stairways in the old town.
These are laid with dark marble paving stones and fronted by one-of-a-kind shops, galleries and a big choice of restaurants that have tables under bougainvillea blooms.
On Papadiamantis Street is an outdoor cinema, and its most regular screening is Mamma Mia! of course.
4. Lalaria Beach
Only accessible from the water, Lalaria Beach can be visited while circumnavigating the island on the same tour that takes in the Kastro a couple of kilometres to the west.
The beach is a delight, contained by lofty impassable cliffs that have a natural arch and caves on the east side.
The surface is pebbly so it pays to bring swim shoes with you, as well as a hat and bottled water as there’s not a hint of a beach bar.
The surf is moderate, and the waves churn the white sediment in the water to give it a translucent glow in the sun.
Even with boat loads of sunbathers being dropped off every few minutes in summer there’s enough room on Lalaria Beach for everyone.
In a natural reserve of low hills cloaked with stone and Aleppo pines, Mandraki is an undeveloped stretch of coastline with three beaches in bays on either side of a cape.
These are Xerxi to the west, Elias to the centre and the Agistri the smallest to the east.
The busiest is Elias, which is also the largest, and like Xerxi has a beach bar where you can hire a sun lounger and parasol.
Elias also has more private spaces at the far ends, preferred by naturists.
All three have golden sand, while Elias has a backdrop of low dunes and Xerxi is framed by cliffs.
You can reach Mandraki by bus, getting off at stop 23 and walking through the aromatic pine forest.
The island of Tsougria is visible from the clock tower in Skiathios town is a brief boat trip away.
Leave early in the morning and you can pass a carefree day idling on its four beaches or hiking up the island’s rocky ridge for a panorama of Skiathos and nearby Skopelos.
Tsourgria is uninhabited but in summer there’s a bar open at the stunning public beach on the northwest coast.
Unwinding here you can watch the motorboats shuttling back and forth to Skiathos Town, and take a dip in the light blue transparent sea.
7. Koukounaries Beach
This kilometre-long sandy beach in a bay on the southwest coast is also in a natural park, but is a bit more animated than the other beaches so far and may be the most popular on the island.
Koukounaries Beach is another port of call for boat trips and does get busy, which is fine if you like things to be a bit more sociable.
There are beach bars at intervals, playing music and hiring out sun loungers and sun shades for €8 a day.
In between is plenty of room for people who just want to lie on the sand under the pines.
The beach has the sort of sparkling, shallow waters that are safe for non-swimmers and kids.
8. Agios Nikolaos Church and Clock Tower
In the evening you’ll see this monument in lights on a rise above Chora’s old town.
Getting up to this lookout isn’t easy but warrants the many steps, and when you do make it to the top you’ll have the most complete panorama of the harbour, the white houses of the old town and the mountains inland to the west.
People linger in the evenings to see the sun going down behind these peaks.
Both the small church and tower are minor but photogenic sights, while fans of Mamma Mia! may recognise this location from the movie.
9. Agia Eleni Beach
Walking distance from the much more frequented Koukounaries Beach, Agia Eleni is a west-facing bay named for the nearby chapel.
Travelling on the bus from Chora you can get off at stop 25. Agia Eleni is heavenly sandy bay with the usual rows of sun loungers, but also colourful soft couches, all served by a quirky beach bar.
If you get bored of lying on the beach you can rent a canoe, or go on a walk to see what you can find beyond either end.
To the north is a cape with a great view of the mainland, and on the south side the coast gets rockier, with caves on the waterline.
10. Troulos Beach
On the south coast near bus stop 18 is an enticing sandy bay less than ten kilometres from Skiathos Town.
The sand at Troulos may be the softest on the island, and the beach has the signature gentle slope and crystal clear water that everyone loves.
And being on the south coast the beach is totally protected from the Meltemi north wind that blows in summer.
A few hundred metres offshore is the dome-shaped islet of Troulonisi, a destination for paddle-boarders and kayakers when the sea is calm enough.
There’s also banana boating if you need a rush, or you can just take it easy under a palm sunshade.
11. Banana Beach
Less crowed than Koukounaries Beach, Banana Beach still has a party atmosphere and is a simple walk from bus stop 26. At the end of the forest trail is a crescent-shaped sweep of sand, with up-tempo music played all day at the Bananarama Beach Bar.
Banana Beach is a favourite with the Greek students who flock to Skiathos in the summer, and there are activities for energetic young people like jetskiing, wakeboarding and stand-up paddleboarding.
There’s a rocky point to the north of the main beach, and just beyond this is the secluded Little Banana, for naturists, but also listed as the top gay beach on the island.
12. Papadiamantis House Museum
For a change of scene you could get up to speed with the island’s culture, visiting the house where the poet and novelist Alexandros Papadiamantis (1851-1911) grew up and died.
The modest two floor house, now a museum to the Papadiamantis is a stroll from the harbour in Skiathos Town and was built in 1860 by his father, a priest.
Some interesting memorabilia belonging to the writer is on display, like Papadiamantis’ bed, coffer and ink bottle and you can step into the room in which he spent the last few months of his life.
In this room there also some important examples of traditional pottery from Skiathos.
13. Boat Tours
As well as the lineup of excursions to Tsougria and Skiathos’ hard to reach beaches, there’s a range of other boat tours available from the harbour at Skiathos Town.
A favourite is a Mamma Mia! themed cruise to Skopelos, which was a shooting location for the movie.
You’ll be able to go ashore and track down the picturesque Agios Ioannis Kastri Church, crowning a rocky outcrop.
If you’d like to get to know the island’s marine life without scuba gear try a day-long snorkelling safari, either with a dive centre or on a crewed yacht.
At Kalamaki, Tsougriaki and Arco you can go snorkelling with a guide pointing out starfish, octopuses, moray eels and much more.
The waters off Skiathos are a diver’s dream, with visibility of 30 metres or more and sea temperatures up to 26°C from July to September.
Skiathos has two dive centres: Skiathos Diving Center and Octopus Diving Centre, both in Chora.
If you’re already qualified they’ll organise excursions to reefs, caves and a wreck, and special night dives are also available.
Refresher courses are offered to people getting back in the swing of things, while beginners are also catered for, taking an introductory course or helping you work towards PADI certification if you want to commit a whole week.
15. ATV/Quad Bike Hire
On an island where the main modes of transport for holidaymakers are the bus and tour boats, you can get some independence by renting your own quad bike.
Give that a lot of the island is coursed by dirt tracks, these hold a real advantage over cars and allow you to get to places like Mandraki that would be off the map without a boat.
The indented north coast also has virgin coves like Nikotsala Limani, that the tour boats tend to miss.
Rental rates for a quad bike fluctuate according to the season, but for a low-powered quad bike you can expect to pay €45 for a single day in August, going down to €30 in the fringe season, with discounts for multiple days.