The Northern Aegean Islands

We’ve compiled the best of the best in The Northern Aegean Islands - browse our top choices for the top things to see or do during your stay.

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  • 1. Agios Therapon

    Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    The enormous five-domed post-baroque church of Agios Therapon, completed in 1935, was designed by architect Argyris Adalis, an islander who studied under Ernst Ziller, the prolific architect of so many of the municipal buildings in Athens. The church is dedicated to Saint Therapon, whose name means "healer," and it's been visited by many people who came to Lesvos to recuperate from illness. It has an ornate interior, a frescoed dome, and there's a Byzantine museum in the courtyard that's filled with religious icons.

    Mytilini, Lesvos, 81100, Greece
    22510-22561

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 2. Archaeological Museum of Vathi

    Museum/Gallery

    Samian sculptures from past millennia were considered among the best in Greece, and examples here show why. The newest wing holds the impressive kouros from Heraion, a colossal statue of a male youth, built as an offering to the goddess Hera and the largest freestanding sculpture surviving from ancient Greece, dating from 580 BC. The work of a Samian artist, this statue was made of the typical Samian gray-and-white-band marble. Pieces of the kouros were discovered in various peculiar locations: its thigh was being used as part of a Hellenistic house wall, and its left forearm was being used as a step for a Roman cistern. The statue is so large (16½ feet tall) that the gallery had to be rebuilt specifically to house it. The museum's older section has a collection of pottery and cast-bronze griffin heads (the symbol of Samos). An exceptional collection of tributary gifts from ancient cities far and wide, including bronzes and ivory miniatures, affirms the importance of the shrine to Hera.

    Dimarhiou Sq., Samos Town, Samos, 83100, Greece
    22730-27469

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €4, Closed Tues.
  • 3. Chios Archaeological Museum

    Museum/Gallery

    Among classical pottery and sculpture is a letter carved into a stone tablet from Alexander the Great addressed to the Chiotes and dated 332 BC, along with a collection of other remarkable stone tablets that dictate the local laws and regulations from antiquity. Also on display is some remarkably intact prehistoric pottery from the 14th century BC.

    Michalon 10, Chios Town, Chios, 82100, Greece
    22710-44239

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €3, Closed Tues.
  • 4. Kambos District

    Neighborhood/Street

    In medieval times and later, wealthy Genoese and Greek merchants built ornate, earth-colored, three-story mansions on this fertile plain of tangerine, lemon, and orange groves south of Chios Town. On narrow lanes behind stone walls adorned with coats of arms, each estate is a world of its own, with multicolored sandstone patterns, arched doorways, and pebble-mosaic courtyards. Some houses have crumbled, but many still stand, surrounded by fragrant citrus groves and reminders of the wealth, power, and eventual downfall of an earlier time. These suburbs of Chios Town are exceptional, but the unmarked lanes can be confusing, so leave time to get lost and to peek behind the walls into another world.

    , Chios, 82100, Greece
  • 5. Kastro

    Military Sight

    The pine-covered headland between the bays of Mytilini town supports an ancient castle and fortress, with many intact walls that seem to protect the town even today. It was built by the Byzantines on the site of an ancient acropolis possibly dating to 600 BC; the remains of a temple to Apollo and sanctuary dedicated to Demeter have been unearthed. Destroyed during battles with the Romans, it was then repaired using available materials by Francesco Gattilusio of the powerful Genoese family—note the ancient carved marble crammed here and there between stones. Finally, it fell into Ottoman hands, who expanded the castle and created new buildings including a madrasa (religious school) and Turkish hammams. Most intriguing perhaps is the temple at the center believed to be the original acropolis: it was first a sanctuary dedicated to Demeter, then repurposed as a church, then repurposed as a mosque. Look above the gates for the two-headed eagle of the Palaiologos emperors, the horseshoe arms of the Gattilusio family, and Arabic inscriptions made by Ottoman Turks.

    Mytilini, Lesvos, 81100, Greece

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €2, Closed Tues.
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  • 6. Kastro

    Castle/Palace

    A 13th-century Byzantine-Genoese fortified castle is a magnetic presence when seen from below, and a drive or walk to the hilltop landmark affords a hypnotic view down the tiers of red-tile roofs to the glittering sea. At dawn the sky begins to light up from behind the mountains of Asia Minor, casting silver streaks through the placid water as weary night fishermen come in. Purple wisteria vines shelter the lanes that descend from the castle and pass numerous Turkish fountains, some still in use.

    Above town, Molyvos, Lesvos, 81108, Greece
    22530-71803

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €2, Closed Mon
  • 7. Koimisis tis Theotokou

    Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    This towering church just off the main square was built in 1694 and is embellished with a lavishly decorated portico.

    Pirgi, Chios, 82100, Greece
  • 8. Mavra Volia

    Beach

    Famous throughout Greece, this glittering volcanic black-pebbled beach is just next to the attractive seaside village of Emborio, where the waterfront is lined with tavernas serving seafood. The cove comprises three beaches, which are backed by jutting volcanic cliffs and fronted by calm dark-blue water colored by the deeply tinted seabed. Here, perhaps, was an inspiration for the "wine-dark sea" that Homer wrote about. Amenities: parking (no fee). Best for: solitude; sunrise; swimming; walking.

    Emborio, Chios, Greece
  • 9. Megalos Taxiarchis

    Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    The 19th-century church that commands the main square of Mesta (and one of two churches of the same name in the town) is one of the wealthiest in Greece; its vernacular baroque is combined with the late-folk-art style of Chios. The church was built on the ruins of the central refuge tower. If the church is closed, ask at the square and someone may come and open it for you.

    Main square, Mesta, Chios, Greece
  • 10. Nea Moni

    Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    Almost hidden among the olive groves, the island's most important monastery—with its finest examples of mosaic art—is the 11th-century Nea Moni. Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachos ("the Dueler") ordered the monastery built where three monks found an icon of the Virgin Mary in a myrtle bush. The octagonal katholikon (medieval church) is the only surviving example of 11th-century court art—none survives in Constantinople. The monastery has been renovated a number of times: the dome was completely rebuilt following an earthquake in 1881, and a great deal of effort has gone into the restoration and preservation of the mosaics over the years. The distinctive three-part vaulted sanctuary has a double narthex, with no buttresses supporting the dome. This design, a single square space covered by a dome, is rarely seen in Greece. Blazing with color, the church's interior gleams with marble slabs and mosaics of Christ's life, austere yet sumptuous, with azure blue, ruby red, velvet green, and skillful applications of gold. The saints' expressiveness comes from their vigorous poses and severe gazes, with heavy shadows under the eyes. On the iconostasis hangs the icon—a small Virgin and Child facing left. Also inside the grounds are an ancient refectory, a vaulted cistern, a chapel filled with victims' bones from the massacre at Chios, and a large clock still keeping Byzantine time, with the sunrise reckoned as 12 o'clock.

    Nea Moni, Chios, 82100, Greece
    22710-79391

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Donations accepted, Closed daily 1–4
  • 11. Old Quarter

    Neighborhood/Street

    An air of mystery pervades this old Muslim and Jewish neighborhood, full of decaying monuments, fountains, baths, and mosques, within the walls of the Kastro (castle) fortifications, built in the 10th century by the Byzantines and enlarged in the 14th century by the Genoese Giustiniani family. Under Turkish rule, the Greeks lived outside the wall, and the gates closed daily at sundown. A deep dry moat remains on the western side. Note the old wood-and-plaster houses on the narrow backstreets, typically decorated with latticework and jutting balconies. Scattered among the precinct are several stone towers and, inside the old gate, the cells where the Turks jailed then hanged 75 leading Chiotes during the fight for independence in 1822, when Chios joined the rest of Greece in rebellion against occupying Turks. The revolt here on the island failed, and the sultan retaliated: the Turks killed 30,000 Chiotes and enslaved 45,000, an event written about by Victor Hugo and depicted by Eugène Delacroix in The Massacre of Chios. The painting, now in the Louvre, shocked Western Europe and increased support for Greek independence. Copies hang in many places on Chios. In the quarter's Frouriou Square, look for the Turkish cemetery and the large marble tomb (with the fringed hat) of Kara Ali, chief of the Turkish flagship in 1822.

    Chios Town, Chios, 82100, Greece
  • 12. Petrified Forest

    Forest

    Conifer trees fossilized by volcanic ash up to 20 million years ago stand stark on a hillside above Sigri. If you're expecting a thick woods, you might be taken aback by this seemingly barren site that at first appears as a collection of stumps leaning every which way among shrubs and rock. But a walk along well-organized trails reveals delicate colors and a haunting, strange beauty. You can also study the specimens at Ipsilou, a large monastery on the highest peak in this wild, moonscape-like volcanic landscape, overlooking western Lesvos and Asia Minor across the Aegean.

    Sigri, Lesvos, Greece
    22510-54434

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €2, Closed Nov.–Jun.
  • 13. The Chios Mastic Museum

    Museum/Gallery

    The mastic shrub has dominated Chios life, economy, culture, and destiny for centuries, and its role is explained in depth in well-designed exhibits in a stunning glass, stone, and wood pavilion overlooking a wide sweep of mastic groves. Aside from learning about how the valuable resin is cultivated and processed, you'll see artifacts and photographs of village life and learn about the island's tumultuous history, including times when hoarding even a sliver of mastic gum was a crime punishable by death.

    Pirgi, Chios, 82102, Greece
    22710-72212

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €3, Closed Tues.
  • 14. Acropolis of Eresos

    Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    Ancient Eresos crowned a hillside overlooking the sea, and sections of the pre-classical walls, medieval castle ruins, and the AD 5th-century church, Ayios Andreas, remain from the storied and long-inhabited site. The church has a mosaic floor and a tiny adjacent museum housing local finds from tombs in the ancient cemetery.

    Skala Eressou, Lesvos, 81105, Greece
    22530-53332

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Closed Mon.
  • 15. Agioi Apostoli

    Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    The fresco-embellished 12th-century church Ayioi Apostoli is a very small replica of the katholikon, or major church, at the Nea Moni Monastery. Cretan artist Antonios Domestichos created the 17th-century frescoes that completely cover the interior, and they have a distinct folk-art leaning.

    Pirgi, Chios, 82100, Greece

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Closed Tues.
  • 16. Agios Isidoris

    Beach

    The beach strip just east of Plomari is backed by low-key hotels and tavernas. Though the setting is hardly remote, the sea washing onto the long stretch of golden sand is sparkling clean. A bonus for swimmers and snorkelers is the bountiful sea life that flourishes on the rocky shelf just below the surface of the turquoise waters. Amenities: food and drink; parking (no fee); water sports. Best for: snorkeling; swimming; walking.

    Agios Isidoris, Plomari, Lesvos, 81200, Greece
  • 17. Ancient Theater

    Ruins

    This vestige of ancient Mytilini is within a pine grove and freely accessible. One of the largest theaters in ancient Greece is from the Hellenistic period and seated an estimated audience of 10,000. Pompey admired it so much that he copied it for his theater in Rome. Though the marbles are gone, the shape, carved into the mountain, remains beautifully intact.

    Mytilini, Lesvos, 81100, Greece
  • 18. Ano Vathi

    Historic District/Site

    In the quaint 17th-century settlement just above the port, wood-and-plaster houses with pastel facades and red-tile roofs are clustered together, their balconies protruding over narrow cobbled paths. From here you can savor a beautiful view of the gulf.

    Samos Town, Samos, 83100, Greece
  • 19. Apothika

    Beach

    This remote spot, at the end of a well-marked road that leads southeast toward the coast from Mesta, is one of the best beaches on Chios. The clear waters lap against the sand and pebbles that make up this small stretch of coast. A canteen looks down upon the unspoiled beach. Amenities: food and drink; parking (no fee); showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: snorkeling; solitude; sunset; swimming; walking; windsurfing.

    Mesta, Chios, Greece
  • 20. Archaeological Museum of Mytilini

    Museum/Gallery

    Superseding the previous neoclassical mansion that housed the old museum, Mytilini's new archaeological museum contains finds from prehistoric Thermi, mosaics from Hellenistic houses, and reliefs of comic scenes from the 3rd-century Roman house of Menander, as well as temporary exhibits.

    8i Noemvriou, Mytilini, Lesvos, 81100, Greece
    22510-28032

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €4, Closed Tues.

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