A fertile island in the Northern Sporades, Skopelos hit the big screen in 2008 when it appeared in the ABBA musical Mamma Mia!. Tourists come for the day, from Alonissos and Skiathos especially to see Kastani Beach and the enchanting Agios Ioannis Church, which both featured in the film.
But Skopelos is much more than a quick sightseeing opportunity.
For starters, the island has more than 360 churches and monasteries, some posted on the photogenic slopes of the Palouki or Delphi mountains.
Back at sea level, the beaches are a dreamy pebble coves under softwood forest and with clear, light blue waters.
Skopelos is also one of the most verdant islands in the Aegean, growing fruit like plums which go into a delicious traditional pork dish.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Skopelos:
1. Skopelos Town
The largest and oldest settlement on Skopelos, the Chora is a mass of whitewashed houses with terracotta roofs, clinging to stiff hills on a sheltered natural harbour.
The centre of the town is free of cars and has a tangle of alleys and stairways flanked by traditional houses draped with bougainvillea.
Like the rest of Skopelos you’ll never be far from a cute church; there are 120 in this town alone, the oldest having stood since the 11th century.
Occasionally a street will deposit you at a scenic terrace overlooking the harbour and Mount Palouki, or a cloistered little square in the shade of a plane tree.
2. Agios Ioannis Church
Even if Sophie’s wedding scene hadn’t been filmed at this church in Mamma Mia!, Agios Iannis would still be a must-see.
It’s a church set atop an improbably steep outcrop buffeted by the wind and waves.
From the isthmus below in front you have to 198 steps to reach the church 100 metres above the sea.
The climb might be tricky but it will all be forgotten when you reach the terrace and see the delightful cove way below, and the yachts bobbing in clear waters.
In the wake of the film, the church has become the hub of a lucrative wedding industry, and houses an icon of St John that according to a local legend was discovered alone atop the rock.
3. Churches and Monasteries
The Agios Ioannis Chapel is just the tip of the iceberg for scenic religious sites on Skopelos.
You can’t go more than a few steps without bumping into a chapel, church or monastery.
There are more than 360, which is amazing when you consider how small Skopelos is.
Most are private constructions and will be closed when you visit, but will be worth the journey for the views, especially if they’re in the natural park around Palouki in the southeast.
Of that 360, 40 are monasteries, and if these are still inhabited the approximate, universal opening times are 08:00-13:00 and 17:00-19:00. As with any Eastern Orthodox building, it’s considered respectful to keep shoulders and legs covered.
4. Panormos Beach
At the small namesake resort, Panormos Beach is in a cove that cuts several hundred metres inland.
This location is about 12 kilometres away from Skopelos Town by road, and the beach is served by the island’s buses.
Despite being small the resort at Panormos puts a range of facilities at your fingertips where it’s tavernas, cafes, a mini market, an ATM or a water sports centre, right by the water.
Facing west, Panormos also gets a wonderful sunset, which you can watch between the pine-covered hills framing the entrance to the cove.
The beach is pebbly, and the tranquil waters are different shades of blue depending on their depth.
5. Kastani Beach
Facing the rounded profile of the small Dasia Skopelou island on the west side of Skopelos, Kastani Beach has a few strings to its bow.
Firstly, it has more sand than any other beach on the island, even if there’s also a band of little pebbles by the water’s edge.
In 2007 Kastani Beach was another shooting location for Mamma Mia!, and tour boats roll in all day long to drop off groups of sightseers, or people who simply want to relax by these sparkling waters.
Kastani is free or mass tourism, or even a single beach bar: Enclosing the beach is nothing more than fragrant coniferous forest on high slopes, and a small grassy area.
6. Agios Riginos Monastery
Resting in the hills above Skopelos Town is the monastery for the island’s patron saint.
Alive in the 4th century, St Riginos was the first bishop of Skopelos and participated in the Council of Serdica, a gathering of some 170 bishops who condemned the teachings of the presbyter, Arius.
St Riginos was martyred in 362 under the orders of the Roman Emperor Julian, and his sarcophagus is in the monastery’s beautiful courtyard.
The current building is from 1728, but is on top of a Byzantine monastery going back much further.
On the feast of St Riginos (25 February) there’s a mass pilgrimage to the monastery, also attended by worshippers from Alonissos and Skiathos, and something to witness firsthand.
There’s no longer a monastic community here, but the shop sells items like honey, olive oil and wine made by monks and nuns around Skopelos.
7. Milia Beach
The next beach down from the Panormos, Milia Beach is a pebble and coarse sandy beach that unfurls for more than a kilometre.
People who can’t be without the comfort of a sun lounger and waiter service can stay by the Milia’s beach bar on the north end.
But if you crave a little privacy you can wander south and will be sure to come by an empty patch of sand near the rocks.
The glassy, aquamarine water is so clear you can spot everything on the seabed in perfect clarity.
Skirting the beach is scrub, dense pine forest and no sign of a single house.
Like Panormos and Kastani, if you linger on Milia Beach until the evening you’ll catch a magical sunset.
8. Hovolo Beach
Heading towards the northwest coast, Hovolo is a pebble beach in front of impassable white limestone cliffs with tufts of dark green vegetation.
The beach is on the south end of Neo Klima, and requires a bit of persistence to get to: Between Hovolo and Neo Klima is a bulge in the cliffs and you have to stay close to the rock and wade through a little water to get there.
After a few metres the beach opens out again and you’re met by crystalline pale blue waters and a pebble shore dotted with little outcrops.
There are no facilities at Hovolo, but that’s half the fun, as it’s only short walk back to the resort at Neo Klima.
And even though it isn’t easy to get to this divine little beach fills up quickly in summer.
9. Venetian Castle
At the site of historic Peparithos in Skopelos Town is what remains of the town’s castle.
This was renovated by the Venetians in the 1200s but has been fortified since antiquity.
Not much is left apart from the walls, which are ever present above Skopelos Town.
You should still battle up the steps from the waterside because the castle has the best vantage point of the town and Mount Palouki on the other side of the harbour.
On busier days people will line up for a selfie or panoramic photograph of this magnificent scene.
10. Limnonari Beach
There can’t be many beaches where you can sunbathe while watching wild goats hopping from rock to rock.
But that’s just what can happen at Limnonari Beach just under 10 kilometres from Skopelos Town.
The name of this beach means “small lake”, which surely refers to the calmness of the sea in this cove, where private yachts are anchored a little way from the shore.
The beach is pebbly, so it pays to pick a sun lounger: Half of these are managed by the beach bar, and the other half by a taverna.
All come with the price of a drink or meal.
Those peaceful waters are safe for littler members of the family and also perfect for some snorkelling.
11. Evangelistria Monastery
On the protected slopes of Palouki, 3.5 kilometres from Skopelos Town is another monastery in an inspiring landscape.
The Evangelistria Monastery, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is from 1712 but lies on the ruins of an earlier monastic settlement dating to 1676. At the time of writing there were still two nuns at Evangelistria, and the building continues to be surrounded by its historic defensive wall.
In the courtyard is a covered fountain with an in inscription for the 18th-century founder Hadji-Stefanis Daponte (father of the famous writer Kaisarios Daponte). The church interior is radiant for its profusion of gold leaf, an 18th-century iconostasis crafted in Constantinople, 14th-century icons and frescoes evoking chapters from the Old and New Testaments.
12. Sendoukia Carved Graves
The large sheets of bare rock near the crest of Mount Kyra have signs of human intervention in the form of ancient graves cut from the stone.
There are four in total, each roughly 2.5 metres in length and partially covered with big slabs of slate that have been turned over as a sign that the graves were plundered long ago.
The age of the graves is not certain, but they are most likely from Roman or early-Christian times.
Kyra is also known for its pure mountain spring, while the Monastery of Efsthathios is a brief walk down the slope from the graves.
The other big draw is the view over the strait to the island of Alonissos.
13. Boat Trips
The Northern Sporades are grouped closely together, so in the space of a day you could easily go ashore at both Skiathos and Alonissos respectively.
The best, and most flexible way to make this sort of trip with a private or semi-private skippered yacht from the harbour at Skopelos Town.
For a larger vessel, shared with other voyagers there’s Ena, which will take you to deserted bays and provide you with snorkelling equipment.
If you’re lucky you may catch sight of a dolphin pod or seal in the clear water, and at lunch you’ll have a barbecue on board.
A more personal pick is the smaller Aegea, captained by the experienced sailor Vasilis.
Together with a swimming dog named Pirati, he’ll take you where ever you want to go, as long as you help trim the sails when needed.
14. Water Sports
With a coastline that is burrowed with snug little coves Skopelos is a fine destination for water sports that needed gentler water, like kayaking, snorkelling or stand-up paddleboarding.
The latter has exploded in popularity over the last ten years, and at Panormos there’s a dedicated paddleboarding centre.
Sporades Stand-up Paddle Boarding makes the most of the 700-metre inlet at Panormos, which has two branches.
Open to most ages, it’s an activity that won’t take long to master, and within half an hour of a guided paddle most people will have little trouble keeping their balance.
Being on the west coast, the centre also organises special sunset tours, and you can follow up your trip with a drink at one of the tavernas in Panormos.
The eye-popping water clarity in the Northern Sporades should put diving in your holiday plans.
The Skopelos Dive Center has bases on both shores, at Chora and Panormos, and offers, PADI training and excursions to dive sites around Skopelos and further out to sea.
If you’re really committed and complete the e-learning courses online you could go from a beginner to full PADI certification in under a week.
Experienced divers can take a refresher course or study towards a professional licence in Skopelos.
If you’re up to speed, excursions set sail for reefs, sea caves, wrecks, deserted islands and the marine life-rich waters beneath the iconic Agios Ioannis Chapel from Mamma Mia!.