What makes Tinos Island unique and everything you need to know before visiting it!
Tinos belongs to the island complex of Cyclades in the Aegean Sea and is located between Andros and Mykonos. It’s really close to Athens and Attica and it’s easy to get to. There are plenty of high speed ferries alongside traditional ferries leaving from the port of Rafina, which is located about an hour drive from downtown Athens. From the port of Rafina you can get a high speed ferry and be in Tinos in about two hours or you can take a traditional ferry that takes about four and a half hours to arrive to the island. You can also take a traditional ferry from the port of Piraeus, which takes also approximately four and a half hours.
The island and the pilgrimage
When I was nine years old, I visited the island of Tinos for the first time in my life with my mother, my aunt and my cousin. It was not exactly holidays. The purpose of our trip was to visit the church of Panagia Evangelistria, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Its popularity draws visitors from all over the world, especially Greece, for pilgrimage. We stayed there for no more than three days and due to my early age, my memory of the trip is blurry. But I vividly remember these plastic bottles of unique design: resembling an amphorae that contain holy water. This holy water, or “agiasmo” in Greek, is meant to be drunk first thing in the morning and prior to having breakfast, for blessing and healing. It’s also used as encouragement and bringing good luck to the owner of a new shop, when spread around a newly opened place with a parsley bouquet by a priest.
Though some people visit Panagia Evangelistria randomly, the majority of the visitors promise an offering to Virgin Mary and ask for help at a difficult time in their lives. This offering is called Tama. A popular Tama is to walk on your knees from the island port and all the way up to the church. When I last visited Tinos, there was a woman crawling with the help of her elbows, not on her knees, to the church.
If you ask the locals, they will tell you stories of different types of Tama they’ve seen. Once I heard about a guy whose Tama was to jump-off the ferry when it approached the island’s port and swim to the dock! He managed this with the coordination of the ferry’s captain, of course. Other types of Tama would be to give a present. For example, inside the church there are different types of gold and silver “gifts” hanging from the ceiling, under the icons of Virgin Mary or saints, depending on who the offering is for. Many of these are custom made gifts related to the difficult situation that led people to make the offering. You may find golden boats, probably related to a Tama made while facing a life or death experience on a boat.
The long tradition of pilgrims visiting Tinos island has created a reputation that the island is to be visited only for the church of Virgin Mary. The majority of Greeks who haven’t had the chance to visit it or they visited it for pilgrimage only and spent a couple of days in the port (where the church of Virgin Mary is) don’t consider it as a holiday destination. However, this is far from the truth. Tinos is a fantastic place to visit!
My personal experience and the occasion
Until my recent visit to Tinos, I also belonged to this group of people that didn’t know what the island has to offer. I have a couple of friends who’d visited the island and I was intrigued by what I was told about Tinos. The occasion though was a friend of mine, Michael, whose parents were born in Tinos and he visits the island regularly as his family owns a house on the island. Besides Michael, who has been an excellent guide and host, I was lucky to run into an ex colleague of mine and his friends. So we formed a group of people and together we explored the island.
Reasons to visit Tinos: why consider visiting Tinos instead of another island?
What is the ideal holiday for you? How do you imagine spending your time? It can be really subjective what an ideal holiday consists of but for my taste, Tinos is a top destination!
My friends and I have an insiders’ joke that describes how beautiful a place is according to how many hours it takes to drive there. So we would say for example, place X is 2,5 hours drive nice or place Z is an hour drive nice! This is due to the fact that almost all things are relative and when choosing a beautiful destination to visit, inevitably its attractiveness becomes relevant to the effort it takes and the cost to visit it! Without wanting to devalue what Tinos island has to offer, the first and obvious reason you should choose it amongst other beautiful Cycladic islands is that it’s so close to Athens and so easy to get to!
While being on summer holidays, my daily routine always includes a visit to the beach. While finding a beach in Greece is not that difficult, there are huge differences amongst them. Tinos is a classic example of an island with many sorts of beaches to choose from as it has over 35! Unfortunately I didn’t visit many of them, as I regularly went to Kolympithra beach. Besides Kolympithra beach, we visited Pachia Ammos beach – an amazing long sandy beach – and to my surprise we had the whole beach for ourselves! Since the island has so many beaches and Pachia Ammos beach is a bit difficult to find, it doesn’t draw a large crowd.
Apart from the majestic beaches, Tinos island is suitable for daily excursions due to fact that there are so many picturesque villages scattered around. Many of these are located on the hills of inland island, like Pyrgos. Besides Pyrgos village, there are so many more villages you can visit that are less famous and as the island isn’t that touristic, there’s a big chance that while you’re in one of them, you’ll only stumble upon a few villagers, making you feel like a wanderer and the first to explore and discover an unknown island.
The tasty and value-for-money food
Another reason to visit the island is its food! It won’t be difficult to run into some delicious traditional Tinian and/or Greek dishes. Besides Tinian food being delicious, another important aspect is that it’s also value-for-money, especially if you try a taverna located in one of the many villages spread around the island. Tino’s Chora, which is located on the port might be a bit more touristy but once you start discovering the island, you’ll encounter more traditional places, characterised by an original and authentic atmosphere. Traditional tastes of Tinos include “Loutza” which is a dry cured ham resembling prosciutto, local sausages, several types of local cheeses such as the “Tiraki” – white semi soft white cheese made out of cow’s milk – and mizithra, a white soft cheese also found in other regions of Greece. Traditional Tinian recipes include the artichoke pie, the sweet cheese pie, as well as dishes with goat and rabbit that are breeded by locals.
Panigiria and Cultural Events
Another thing worth doing while in Tinos is to go to a “Panigiri”, if there’s one happening at the time of your visit. “Panigiria” are traditional feasts, the majority of which take place during the summer. It’s a tradition that remains since the old days, when there were not many places for people to socialise and have fun, such as cafés or clubs. While in a “Panigiri” you should expect some traditional music played live by a local band, traditional food, local wine and of course people dancing! Often, Panigiria – plural of Panigiri – celebrate the day of a saint. I’ve been to a panigiri while being in Tinos, in a small village called Komi, and what I really liked about it was that the majority of the people there were actually locals from the village of Komi. Except the Panigiria, in Tinos there are several cultural events happening during the summer such as art exhibitions, poetry nights etc.
The Surf School and the Vibe
Amongst the people who know the island, the surf club located on the Big Kolympithra beach is very familiar. I’ve spent five days in Kolympithra in order to try my luck with surfing. I’d tried to learn how to surf once more before in the island of Ikaria (probably one of the most ideal places to learn surfing in Greece for a number of reasons) where I got really excited about it. On my second attempt in Tinos, things didn’t go as expected. But the beach was amazing and the atmosphere was so relaxing. There were surfers and wanna-be surfers, the music played was cool, the small canteen offered some snacks and there was an old van transformed into a bar serving cocktails. Some of the surfers stayed in tents in the far left end of the beach. There was also a donkey hanging out on the beach, which I found so cute!
Not a crazy night life but hey, you can go for a drink!
Tinos is not an island with crazy night life but you can definitely enjoy a couple of drinks! The place where you go out is Chora and the bar is called Argonautis. Occasionally, people also visit Koursaros before or after Argonautis. In Argonautis you’ll listen to some rock, indie, R&B tunes and when I was there there were also video projections of guess what?! Surfers riding some enormous waves! There are more bars, besides Argonautis but they usually favour Greek contemporary popular music, which is not my favourite type of music.
The Tinians: now and then
I found Tinians to be very polite and simple in the sense that are not very much influenced by tourism. On the other hand, I could say that Tinians besides being traditional, compared to other regions of the Greek countryside, they are also somehow refined. I reckon this might be due to the proximity of the island to Athens and also because of the cosmopolitan character the island has had in the past. The majority of Tinians are involved in farming, agriculture and stockbreeding and every year more and more of them get involved with the tourism sector.
Tinians and the art of marble
Until the last couple of decades many Tinians were involved in excavation and crafting of marble and shale. This is due to the rich resources that are on the island and I’ve been told that Louvre and Buckingham Palace have used some of white and green marble from Tinos for their construction. Interestingly enough this is something that Tinians have been doing for thousand of years. The use of marble resources of the island dates back in ancient years and according to tradition Phidias (born in 480 BC), one of the most famous ancient Greek sculptors, came to Tinos and taught the secrets of his art to the locals. Marbles of Tinos during ancient times were used for the construction of ancient temples not only in Tinos – as for example the temples of Poseidon and Amphitrite in Kionia village – but also in Delos island, a great and very important religious center of the period.
Much more recently – after the Greek revolution against the Turks and the establishment of the new Greek independent state in 1830 – the art of marble in Tinos flourished and some of the most important and famous Greek sculptors came from Tinos. An example is Giannoulis Chalepas (1850 -1938), a renowned Tinian sculptor whose famous sculpture the “Sleeping female figure” can be admired in the 1st Cemetery of Athens. Besides the Museum of Marble Crafts in Tinos that is located in the village of Pyrgos, someone can notice the extensive use of marble everywhere: in fountains, in the houses, on the roads, etc. I find it really fascinating that the lives of people, their habits and their occupation can be influenced by the environmental characteristics that surround them and I love the fact that for thousands of years there’s a continuity of the same craft! In 2015 UNESCO inscribed Tinian marble craftsmanship on the representative list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity!
Tinians and Catholicism
Another very unique characteristic regarding the locals is that many Tinians are Christian Catholic. There are villages like Agapi, Aetofolia, Volax, Kampos and others where almost all the inhabitants are Christian Catholics. In Greece almost over the 90% of the population is Christian Orthodox. The presence of many Catholics in Tinos is the result of the island’s Venetian occupation from 1207 until 1715 AD. By the 18th century, the Orthodox community had shrunk to less than one third of the population. The Tinians were greatly influenced by the Venetians and it’s worth mentioning that from 1390 to 1715 there were schools that operated under the supervision of Venetians and students attending these schools were not only the children of the Venetians but also local children. Even today some of the inhabitants of Tinos have Latin-Catholic names such as Lorenzo or Eduardo.
Doves and Dovecotes
Another thing that is related to the Venetian occupation are the dovecotes! Tinos is full of beautiful dovecotes and it’s estimated that there are over 1000 of them scattered around the island. It was the Venetian Feudal lords that owned a dovecote during the 13th century AD, which made it a symbol of wealth as, initially, only members of the aristocracy owned them. Later on, after the Venetians left, during the 18th and 19th century the Tinians who owned land and some wealth started creating their own dovecotes! During this time the breeding of doves was so big that Tinians were exporting them to mainland Greece, Istanbul and Smyrna. Dove meat was considered a delicacy, it was very expensive and was consumed by the aristocracy of the time. The interesting thing is that until today, though not consumed extensively, you can still find some restaurants serving a dish made of dove called “pitsouni”.
Tinians and the Turkish occupation
Last but not least, it’s worth mentioning that Tinos was one of the few places in Greece where Turks made many unsuccessful attempts to conquer the island and they succeeded only in 1715 AD. This made Tinos one of the few places that was under the Ottoman occupation only for 100 years, while most of the other places in Greece were occupied by the Turks for more than 400 years.
Tinos is considered to be one of the biggest islands belonging to the Cyclades complex with around 8.500 permanent inhabitants living on the island. You’ll find almost anything you’ll need: banks, ATMs, shops and supermarkets, a medical center, hotels, rooms for let, car rental companies, etc. The majority of these services are located in Chora, the capital of the island, which is next to the port. There are some local buses, called KTEL, which you can take from Chora and visit some of the most popular villages, like Pyrgos but I’d strongly recommend to rent a car.
The majority of available rooms and hotels are located in Chora but the real beauty of the island lies outside of it! I stayed both in Chora and at Kolympithra beach! Both places had their own charm! At Kolympithra beach, I’d wake up in the morning and walk to the beach and during the night I’d fall asleep while listening to the waves of the sea crashing on the rocks. During the evening though, there was absolutely nothing to do in Kolympithra except dining at Victoria Rooms and Restaurant and there were very few people around. While staying in Chora, we would drive to different places during the day, either going to a nice beach or going on an excursion to a picturesque village and then during the evening we were where the nightlife was! We could have a walk around the tourist shops that stay open until late, we could have a glass of wine while watching passersby or we could have a drink in one of the bars!
Visit the Port or Chora, the capital of Tinos
The Chora, which is the name Greeks use to call the capital of an island, of Tinos is located next to its port. It’s the most developed settlement of the island and also where the very famous church of Panagia Evangelistria (Virgin Mary) is located. The majority of tourists visiting Tinos stay there, partly due to the fact that the majority of hotels and rooms to let are located there.
You can find many restaurants, bars and cafés and during summertime it’s quite vivid and full of people. It’s not very common for a Cycladic island to have its capital next to the port and compared to other Cycladic choras/capitals, the majority of which are located uphill, it’s not very picturesque. It still has its charm though and you can find some beautiful spots, if you stroll around.
Eat in Chora
To koutouki tis Elenis
To Koutouki tis Elenis is a classic choice, if you are in Chora and want to eat some traditional Greek dishes. I loved the setting and its atmosphere, there are small tables spread on different levels in a narrow picturesque alley. It also has some interesting vegan dishes like the artichoke pie!
Itan ena Mikro Karavi
The name of this restaurant is derived from a Greek children’s song that tells the story of a small boat. As it happens with many other children’s tales and songs that are not quite suitable for children, the “Small Boat”lyrics are describing a horror story where the people being on the boat draw straws to decide who’s going to die in order for the rest to eat his/her body and survive starvation! The important thing though is that besides the title connected to this weird children’s song, the restaurant Itan Ena Mikro Karavi has some delicious food served in a very romantic, summery yard! The place is quite stylish and the majority of the dishes offered are local recipes with a twist, Greek fusion cuisine! It’s a restaurant meaning it’s a bit more upscale than a taverna and though this is also reflected in the prices, in my opinion it’s a value-for-money place.
Duo Horia, Duo Horia Village
Dyo Horia (which translates to two villages in Greek) is a taverna actually located outside of Chora, though quite close to it, in a village called Dyo Horia. The owner – a young Greek guy – who was previously living in Athens, due to the financial crisis he decided to make the big step and moved to Tinos to start this new business. I really admire his bold decision because it’s a really big step to leave a big city of 5 million people and go to an island with less than 10 thousand people. He had a previous connection with the island, as his parents originate from there. He told us that he has embraced a totally new life in which instead for example of going to big clubs, he now drives around the island with his surfboard in order to find the best waves available and takes advantage of being close to nature. He opened this place with enthusiasm, something you can taste in the traditional Greek dishes Dyo Choria tavern offers! The place is value for money and you can also enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of Chora and the Aegean sea from there!
Drink in Chora
Kyriakatiko Kafeneio which in Greek means Sunday café is a very cute coffee shop with an interior design that resembles a traditional Greek café. Its character though is more of a French bistro: it has nice lounge music and besides serving drinks and coffees it also has a small but quite elaborate selection of dishes of the day. For example, one of the days we visited it, it had mussels and sea urchin salad in the menu, which is not what you would expect to find in a traditional Greek café.
Argonautis is the cool bar of the island. It’s where you would go to listen to indie-rock, R&B, surf rock (i.e. Beach Boys) and rock’n’roll tunes. The crowd is primarily young people in their 20s and 30s. The place is quite small and cozy and the atmosphere friendly.
Koursaros is a rock bar, which is manifested not only by its music selection but also by its décor. According to Michael, my friend from Tinos, it used to be Chora’s most popular bar before Argonautis came along. It’s still a quite popular place to visit for a drink, usually either early in the evening for a relaxed drink or later in the small hours of the night, after visiting Argonautis Bar.
Visit Kolympithra Beach and soak up the sun while surfing
Kolympithra is a beach in Tinos with divine greenish waters and a surf school that became famous during the last few years. In fact Kolympithra is divided into two parts – two separate beaches: The Big Kolympithra and the Small Kolympithra. Since in the Big Kolympithra there’s the surf school, there’s a number of surfers (or people trying to become surfers) that choose to stay next to the beach. Some of them are free camping on the far left end of the Big Kolympithra beach and some others stay in the few rooms that are available to rent. The truth is that the rooms to rent in Kolympithra are really few so if you want to find a room next to the beach you should book early. I was really lucky there was a last minute cancellation when I booked mine!
The room I had in Kolympithra, though very basic, had the most amazing view of the sea! From my window I could see both Small and Big Kolympithra beaches and in the evenings I would listen to the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks. These rooms, I was told, are usually booked by Christmas, which is insanely early for Greek standards!
View from My Window
I spent some days staying in Kolympithra and I can say that if you decide to stay there, holiday routine is very much connected with the Surf school, surfing and the surfers that stay there. During the evenings, there’s no bar to go to and it’s rather quiet. So the highlight after dinner was to hang around with the neighbours, having a beer all together in our shared terrace. During daylight the options, if you’re staying in Kolympithra, were, of course, swimming, surfing and hanging out on the beach, and maybe drinking a beer or a cocktail from the Surf school’s Bar-Van!
Eat in Kolympithra
Next to the Small Kolympithra beach there’s this seaside tavern called Drakonissi, which in Greek means Dragon island. I found the food in Drakonissi really tasty and I’d recommend you to visit it even if you’re not staying in Kolympitrha beach. They serve Greek and Tinian traditional dishes and it’s really value-for-money. I loved the relaxed atmosphere, it had a vibe of a Greek tavern in the 90s: family run, with the mother of the family cooking, serving, doing all sorts of things while still making the occasional joke! The people eating there were in an extremely relaxed mood as most of them visited after a swim.
Victoria Rooms & Restaurant
Victoria is a settlement with some few rooms to rent and a restaurant. The food offered in Victoria restaurant was really tasty and the menu included both meat and seafood dishes. Though its cuisine is traditional Greek, the dishes are creative with a modern touch and sometimes more elaborate than the original dish. The view is amazing, overlooking the sea, so the best time to visit is before sunset. Victoria restaurant is worth visiting even if you’re staying in Chora or elsewhere and you’d need to drive there.
Snack on the Beach
In case you don’t want to have a proper meal at lunchtime and prefer to have a little snack instead prior to your afternoon swim, you can buy snacks from the canteen that’s located on the Big Kolympithra beach next to the Surf school. As you can see in the pictures, there was also a donkey hanging around! This cute donkey belongs to the owner of the Surf school and was able to smell food from really far away! In the picture, the donkey is throwing a hopeful gaze at the canteen girl, who is toasting a sandwich! Of course the animal was in good condition and fed by its owner but I think it was very used to people and particularly very accustomed to be fed by them.
Kounaria, Aetofolia Village
Kounaria tavern is not in Kolympithra beach, but it’s located very close to it, in Aetofolia village, which is something like a 10-minute drive away. Kounaria tavern is as close as it gets to a really local and authentic tavern in a traditional Tinian village. Aetofolia village is rather small and we didn’t get to see many people while walking around. The food in Kounaria tavern was amazing, traditional and value-for-money! It’s a very good example of the basic rule that if an isolated restaurant wants to attract customers, it has to offer amazing food in good prices. I really liked the view from its balcony and the serenity we experienced while the sun set in a quiet village, far from any city sounds!
Drink in Kolympithra
Have a cocktail in Big Kolympithra
As you can see in the pictures, there’s a cute little van filled up with alcohol! In the afternoon you can have an aperitivo on the beach for example, a glass of wine, a beer or even a cocktail! I really liked the music played. It was quite cool with some sort of alternative tunes and as you can maybe imagine, the atmosphere was very relaxing and summery!
Be Merry in Kolympithra
Surf in Big Kolympithra
In case you’ve taken the time to read the text above, the obvious thing you can do while being in Kolympithra beach is to surf or to try and learn how to surf! Of course, if you’re a surf fanatic, you’ll appreciate the place and the crowd. If you’re not, you get the chance to explore why these people get crazy about it. You can check the prices for renting a board or having surf lessons here.
Swim in Small Kolympithra
If you don’t feel like surfing but you’d love a dive, you should visit Small Kolympithra. As it’s quite sheltered from the wind due to the cliffs surrounding it from both sides, usually the waters are quite calm. The sand in Small Kolympithra is light yellow and very thin and the water is greenish and amazingly transparent! As you can also see in the pictures, the beach is organised and has a number of sunbeds and umbrellas.
Don’t miss Tinos’ beaches
As I was staying next to Kolympithra beach, I’ve created a separate tab about it! If you want to see pictures and read about it, go to the Kolympithra tab!
Pachia Ammos beach which in Greek translates to thick sand, is a bit more than half an hour drive away from Chora (the port) of Tinos. This is of course in the case you don’t get lost. We got a bit confused while driving as there were no signs and we realized that we needed park the car outside a wooden gate and continue on foot towards the beach, which was not at all visible from there. We felt as if we were entering a private property and after a bit of walking we were able to see the beach. When we arrived at the entrance of the beach we had to walk down an enormous sand cliff, which was sort of funny!
The good thing about all this adventure was that we had the whole beach to ourselves! That felt kind of weird in a sense and amazing at the same time. As you can see in the pictures, it’s not organised so you’d better bring along some water and some snacks, if you wish.
Don’t miss the chance to experience a Tinian Panigiri (Feast)
Panigiria are feasts that take place in a village on the nameday of its patron saint or the day before. In Tinos there are plenty of Panigiria taking place, especially during the summer. These feasts, which are usually organised by the locals usually involve live traditional music, dancing and eating. The scale can differ from Panigiri to Panigiri as well as the food served. Some of them can be free of charge, food is sponsored by donations from the locals, and some others have an entrance fee, for example 15-20 euros per person, which includes food and wine.
If you visit Tinos during summertime, it’s very possible there will be a Panigiri happening in one of the villages scattered around the island. If that’s the case, then you shouldn’t miss the chance of seeing first hand such a long Greek tradition and be part of such a vivid and authentic celebration!
Panigiri – Traditional Feast in Komi Village
While I was in Tinos, I was lucky to visit a Panigiri taking place in Komi Village. I found the Panigiri of Komi very original, similar to how Panigiria used to be in the old days: it was organised by the people of Komi, for the people of Komi. You could spot that the majority of people knew each other and you could feel how important this day is for the locals.
As you can see in the pictures, everybody sits together in some long tables. If you spot any empty seats, you can just feel free to sit there with your group of friends, sharing a table with people you don’t know, just yet! If you go really late to a Panigiri, it might be challenging to find a place to sit all together in case you’re a big group of people.
Visit the beautiful Pyrgos Village
Tinos has many beautiful villages. The most famous and probably most picturesque is Pyrgos village! Though it’s located only 24 km away from the Chora of Tinos, the port, it took us about 50 minutes to get there. The road was good but you shouldn’t expect it to be a highway either.
Pyrgos has some beautiful narrow stone paved alleys and houses built in the Cycladic style that are unique as they are decorated with marble details! While you walk around the village, no matter which direction you look at, it’s pleasing to the eye. On the main square there are some small traditional cafés with wooden chairs and tables which enjoy the shade created by an enormous plane tree. What I noted is that marble is used everywhere, even the coffee tables are made of marble! Besides the use of marble in everyday objects and settings you can also see some masterpieces of marble carving and sculpting, if you visit the cemetery and Yannoulis Chalepas’ former house now converted into a museum of Tinian artists. Yannoulis Chalepas is one of the most renowned modern Greek sculptors.
Visit the most popular church in Greece: Church of Panagia Evangelistria of Tinos
Tinos island is mostly famous for the church of Panagia Evangelistria which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The church is located in the Chora, the capital town, of Tinos and is one of the most well-known Christian Orthodox churches in Greece.
Thousands of pilgrims visit the church every year, travelling from all over Greece and abroad. When you walk in, you cannot miss the numerous offerings, called “Tamata” in Greek, hanging from the ceiling or on the front of the icons. It was built during 1823-1826 and one can notice the extensive use of marble, Tinian marble in particular as you might have guessed. Actually the church is part of a monastery complex and it was built around the miraculous icon of Virgin Mary. According to the tradition, the icon was discovered after Virgin Mary appeared to a girl called Pelagia – who became a nun and later a saint – and told her to build a home for Her, while pointing to the location where the church is now situated. When Pelagia went and digged in this very location, she discovered the icon of Virgin Mary and the church of Panagia Evangelistria was then built on this exact location where the holy icon was found.