One of the smallest Dodecanese Islands, Nisyros sits between Rhodes and Kos. This tranquil island is largely off the beaten track and has a quaint, retro atmosphere and a wild, natural beauty.
At the heart of Nisyros is its imposing volcano. The centre of the island is dominated by the desolate lunar-esque landscape, streaked with neon-yellow and dotted with spitting fumaroles. The volcano influences every aspect of Nisyros, from the dramatic black sand beaches to thermal hot springs and the captivating volcanic energy that reverberates around the island.
While the island is popular with day-trippers who come to experience the volcano, there’s plenty more to discover by staying a little longer. To find out more about this enchanting place, here’s our ultimate guide to Nisyros.
History & Mythology of Nisyros
Whether you believe mythology or science, it’s undeniable that Nisyros had a rather violent beginning! According to myth, the island was created during the war between the Olympian Gods and the Titans. Poseidon, God of the Sea, caught the Titan, Polyvotis, close to Kos. Poseidon tore off a chunk of Kos with his trident and hurled it at the giant, trapping him forever under the lump of rock, which became known as Nisyros.
Modern science provides a different explanation. An underwater volcano started to emerge from the sea about 150,000 years ago. A series of magmatic eruptions over the next 135,000 years led to the formation of the island we see today.
Nisyros has been inhabited since Neolithic times, and was noted in Homer’s Iliad as being one of the contributing forces to the siege on Troy.
The island flourished during the 5th and 4th centuries BC under the Dorians, when it was part of the Delian League. Its turbulent history saw it conquered by the Macedonians and Roman Empire, before a series of pirate invasions led to the Knight of St John of Rhodes occupying the island and building up its fortifications.
Nisyros fell under Ottoman rule in 1522, and there it remained until the Italian Occupation in 1912. After the Second World War, it was reunited with the Greek State in 1947, along with the other Dodecanese Islands.
Things to Do in Nisyros
The youngest active volcano in the Aegean, Nisyros may not make headlines for its pyrotechnics with no magmatic activity for thousands of years and the last hydrothermal eruption in 1888. But this potentially active volcano has an impressive three-kilometre wide caldera, dotted with yellow-streaked craters filled with bubbling mud pits, hissing fumaroles and the unmistakable rotten-egg stench of sulphur.
There are around 10 craters, each individually named. Stefanos and the aptly named Polyvotis are two of the largest and most impressive.
The ancient acropolis of Nisyros, Paleokastro peers over Mandraki from its hilltop location. Dating from the Classical and Hellenistic periods, its massive black Cyclopean walls built from volcanic stone are some of the most impressive fortifications of their kind in the Aegean. There are fantastic views over Mandraki from its summit.
Monastery of Panagia Spiliani
The Monastery of Panagia Spiliani is the religious centre of the island. Located above the wild black beach at Mandraki, the largest part of the monastery is set within a cave. The main church is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, while the adjacent chapel celebrates Agios Charalambos.
The main festival takes places in August, with nine days of celebrations between 6th and 15th.
Thanks to the volcano, Nisyros has hot mineral springs bubbling in several locations. Perhaps the most famous are the thermal spas at Loutra, just outside Mandraki. Founded during the 19th century, only one of the original three baths remains in use, but its waters are said to have therapeutic properties for sufferers of arthritis, rheumatism and various skin diseases.
Nisyros is a hiker’s dream with over 40 paths straddling the island, ranging from pleasant strolls to more challenging day walks. One of the most beautiful walks starts from the Monastery of Evangelistria and winds upwards to Nifios, the highest point on the island and home to the Monastery of Prophet Elias.
Villages in Nisyros
There are no large towns on Nisyros, only a handful of tiny villages spread around the coast and strung along the rim of the volcanic crater.
The island’s capital, Mandraki is a sleepy port town and authentic Greek village. Pretty whitewashed houses with wooden balconies and colourful door and window frames rub shoulders with small grocery stores along atmospheric cobblestone alleys. Ilikiomeni (Old Women’s) Square is the heart of the village and a great spot to sip ouzo and munch mezedes.
There’s a folklore museum in Mandraki, while the Monastery of Panagia Spiliani and Paleokastro watch over it. Sunset is a special time when the entire village turns golden as the sun dips below the horizon.
Picturesque Nikia clings to the rim of the caldera, and is said to be the island’s most beautiful village.
With its elegant elliptical shape and cobblestone mosaic floor, Porta Square is the heart of Nikia and home to the stunning church, Agios Ioannis Theologos, which has panoramic views into the volcanic craters from its bell tower.
Nikia is also home to the only volcanology museum in Greece, with fascinating displays about Nisyros and other Greek volcanoes.
A mountainous village on the northeast of Nisyros, Emborios was destroyed in the 1933 earthquake, but is today regarded as the heart of the island. Built on layers of lava, ash and pumice, this traditional village is home to the medieval castle of Pantoniki and the Taxiarhis Church with its rich frescoes.
The inspiring volcanic energy and incredible volcano views make this a popular spot with artists. The Sterna Art Project is based here, while volcanic activity has created a natural sauna in the cave of Panagia Listiriotissa at the village entrance.
A picturesque fishing village on the north of the island, Pali hugs the curve of the natural bay. A favourite spot for yachts with a sandy beach backed by tamarisk trees, it’s home to Hippocratic baths and the church of Panagia Thermiani.
Beaches in Nisyros
While Nisyros isn’t known for its beaches, its coastline has a wild, untamed quality fringed by some beautiful, unique beaches with black and red sand and pebbles.
The beach at Hohlaki is closest to Mandraki, and has a dramatic beauty with large black pebbles and crystal-clear waters. Follow the road east to Pali at the north of Nisyros to find the island’s only white-sand beach with shade provided by a line of tamarisk trees.
Continue east from Pali to find the island’s best beaches: Lies, Moulari and Pachia Ammos, a black-sand beach that’s regarded as the island’s finest.
The beaches of Nisyros aren’t organised so ensure you take your own sun umbrella and water.
Getting to Nisyros
Nisyros doesn’t have its own airport; the nearest ones are at Rhodes and Kos. Both are busy international airports handling domestic flights from Athens as well as direct flights from a number of European countries.
Daily ferries run between Kos and Nisyros, and there are several ferries a week between Rhodes and Nisyros.
If you book your holiday to Nisyros with Nissia Holidays, our local representatives can arrange for onwards travel to Nisyros from Rhodes or Kos, or one of our other unspoilt Dodecanese islands of Halki and Tilos.
Nisyros has a typical southern Mediterranean climate. The shoulder months – April, May, September and October – are ideal for walking and exploring with lovely warm days and little rain.
In June, temperatures start to heat up, with August the hottest month. Nisyros is perfect for long, lazy summer days, though make sure you have plenty of water and sun protection.
Where to Stay in Nisyros
Nissia offers accommodation in the three main villages of Nisyros: Mandraki, Emborios and Nikia. To find out more, see our Nisyros accommodation page.
For more information or to book your holiday to Nisyros, contact Nissia Holidays on 01455 289421 or email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.