Last updated on March 25th, 2024 at 01:49 pm

Although avid Greek Island goers, nothing could prepare us for the wonders that awaited us on Iraklia Island and we’re here to tell you all about it.

True to our mission – or desire – to uncover the secrets of a new Greek Island every year, we knew we had to plan a trip to Iraklia Island at some point. The right moment came in June 2023. Little did we know that this first trip to Iraklia would make us vow never to stop going back.

It was a brilliant sunny morning, one of those that make the sea look even more alluring as it glistens almost flirtatiously under the glorious Greek sun. Having spent a week in Donoussa, yet another of our favourite islands in Greece, we couldn’t wait to see what nearby Iraklia had in store for us. Hence our joy at the sight of the local ferry approaching the small port of Donoussa.

Two hours – and a roughish sea – later, we were welcomed by the emerald waters of Iraklia Island. From the very first moment we set foot on Iraklia, the island’s unmistakably relaxing ambience had a seductive effect on us. Yes, this was the essence of Greek summer and we were there to savour every second of it.

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Iraklia's port with small traditional boats moored. A big welcome sign is placed on the hill overlooking the port.
Iraklia Island welcoming us

Where Is Iraklia Island

Situated between Naxos and Ios, Iraklia Island is part of the Small Cyclades Islands complex. Also spelt Irakleia or Heraklia, Iraklia is the largest of the Small Cyclades complex. Yet, it remains a tiny island of about 150 permanent residents.

Panoramic view of Iraklia, Schinoussa, Keros, Koufonisia and Amorgos islands from Seladi.
View of the other Small Cyclades from Iraklia Island

How To Get To Iraklia Island

The only way to get to Iraklia is by ferry either from Piraeus Port or from Naxos Island. From Piraeus, you can reach Iraklia Island by ferry three times a week, with a journey time of between seven and eight hours.

On the days when the ferry from Piraeus doesn’t approach the island, the legendary Express Skopelitis, the local ferry, connects Iraklia to Naxos and other nearby islands. It takes about one to one hour and a half to reach Iraklia Island from Naxos.

Other islands connected to Iraklia by the local ferry are Schinoussa, Koufonisia, Donoussa, and Amorgos, rendering island hopping one of the best things to do in Iraklia. Ferry timetables change depending on the season, so always check the schedule posted online.

View of the Skopelitis Express local ferry docked at the port as seen from Agios Georgios beach.
Express Skopelitis at the small port of Iraklia Island

When To Visit Iraklia Island

Summer is the best season to visit Iraklia. Most hotels, restaurants and cafés are only open in the summer months, especially July and August. We went to Iraklia at the end of June and, even then, some restaurants were closed, others were understaffed and the local bus wasn’t running regularly yet.

Melissa's traditional tables and chairs lined against a wall.
You can never feel lonely in Iraklia

That said, the end of June isn’t a bad time to visit Iraklia if you want to have the island almost to yourselves. Another reason to visit Iraklia in late June is to experience the annual Iraklia Run, a sports and cultural event aiming to showcase the island’s natural beauty and unique hospitality.

This image shows many people in sky-blue T-shirts waiting by the beach for the start of the running race.
Ready to start running along Iraklia’s ancient trails

How Long Should You Stay in Iraklia

You need at least three days in Iraklia to see the island’s highlights. Yet, Iraklia isn’t about sightseeing. It’s about leaving all the stress behind and taking in its authentic easy-going vibes. Therefore, make sure you spend as much time in Iraklia as possible. During our first trip to Iraklia Island, we stayed for five days. However, we could easily spend many more days there.

Things To Know Before Visiting Iraklia Island

Although Iraklia has a central location in the Cyclades, it lacks basic infrastructure, a fate it shares with most remote islands in Greece. Of course, this mostly affects the lives of locals.

For instance, after speaking with locals, we realised that there’s only an elementary school in Iraklia, struggling to remain open as only a handful of children are on the island in the winter. On the other hand, teenagers have to make daily trips to the nearby island of Naxos, often in rough weather, because that’s where the closest high school is located.

But there are also a few things that might affect holiday-goers, too. Therefore, it’s best if you go prepared. There is no pharmacy in Iraklia, so pack any meds you’ll need during your trip. For emergencies, there is a doctor for basic medical treatment.

What’s more, you won’t find any bank on the island, only an ATM. Moreover, there’s no gas station. Similar to most Greek Islands, tap water in Iraklia isn’t safe to drink. You can buy bottled water at the island’s mini-markets.

For us, supporting the local economies of all those islands that become the centre of attention in the summer but face nothing but hardships and isolation in the winter aligns perfectly with our travel ethics and commitment to sustainable tourism.

Do You Need a Car in Iraklia

The short answer is no. Iraklia is one of the best Greek Islands to visit without a car as you can walk around the entire island. To be fair, most of the time, it will be an uphill walk. But, honestly, it’s not worth bringing a car here.

Besides, during the high season, you can reach the island’s main areas by public bus. If you don’t remember the bus timetable or if you’re far from one of the bus stops, you can even call the bus driver to check if he is somewhere near you. If so, he’ll be more than happy to pick you up. That’s the level of hospitality you’re signing up for in Iraklia. Alternatively, there’s a taxi you can call to get you anywhere you want on the island.

Maria is walking on Trail 7 from Agios Athanasios to Agios Georgios.
Walking in Iraklia

Where To Stay in Iraklia

As Agios Georgios is Iraklia’s main village and port, here you will find almost all of the island’s accommodation options. If 5-star luxury hotels are your thing, this island is not for you. However, you can find gorgeous boutique hotels, ideal to loosen up and unwind. Keep in mind that Agios Georgios is an uphill village. Therefore, check the hotel’s location carefully if you’re not a cardio enthusiast.

Ironically, we, the indisputable uphill despisers, chose a hotel at the top of the hill. We decided to sacrifice our comfort for the outstanding panorama of the nearby islands. And for the glorious spectacle of ferries approaching the island’s port with the sun rising over these blessed pieces of land scattered across the Aegean Sea.

Panoramic view of sunrise over Schinnousa. A commercial ferry is sailing on the sea between Schinoussa and Iraklia Island.
The sun rising over the nearby Schinoussa Island

Not to mention the starry nights away from light pollution, when nothing comes between you and the countless constellations. We didn’t need more reasons to opt for Villa Panorama, a complex of beautiful apartments with unobstructed views for as far as the eye can see.

The milky way on a starry night and a panoramic view of Livadi bay.
The Milky Way from our terrace at Villa Panorama

Villa Panorama offers smartly decorated and spotlessly clean apartments, all with private terraces overlooking the Aegean Sea. The hotel’s uphill location might sound like a deal-breaker but it’s not as bad as it sounds. After all, you might, like us, stumble upon the lovely owner Maria and her husband, Aggelos, during your evening stroll and they’ll be more than happy to give you a lift back to your homey apartment.

Book your cosy room at Villa Panorama and get ready for your unforgettable Greek summer holidays.

The double room in Villa Panorama. Apart from the double bed, the room has a door and a window, an open closet, a desk with a chair and a mirror.
Our apartment, Lara, inviting us to an authentic Greek summer holiday

Villages in Iraklia

Agios Georgios

Set on a hill overlooking the port, Agios Georgios is the place to be in Iraklia. Agios Georgios is home to the vast majority of restaurants, cafés and bars in Iraklia. The village’s beach is ideal for a swim in crystal clear turquoise waters or for lazy afternoons under the thick shade of tall trees.

Panoramic view of Agios Georgios village with Naxos in the background.
Agios Georgios Village with the island of Naxos in the background

No matter how many days you’re spending in Iraklia, never skip a visit to Melissa, the locals’ meeting point in Agios Georgios. Apart from a traditional café, Melissa is also a mini market and a travel agency. It’s where the island’s doctor, constructor and boatman hang out together, painting the canvas of the Greek islanders’ daily ritual in a traditional kafeneio.

It’s also where we realised that Iraklia is like no other island. Arriving at Melissa Café after our first day in Iraklia spent lazing around on the beach, we quickly understood that we wouldn’t be strangers for long. By the end of our five-day trip to Iraklia, locals and fellow travellers alike felt like longtime friends, faces we’d want to see again before too long.

So, don’t hesitate to pick a table and drink a coffee or beer at Melissa, the very soul of Agios Georgios and the entire Iraklia Island. Sooner or later you’ll become part of the locals’ company. No matter the language barrier, it’s inevitable.

Three locals are chatting at Melissa's patio. Everyone is sitting at their own tables.
Life goes by slowly at Melissa Café

Village Of Panagia

Panagia is the Greek word for Virgin Mary. Although the village of Panagia is Iraklia’s capital, it’s not as vibrant as Agios Georgios. You can get there by bus or a 45-minute walk from Agios Georgios Beach.

Known for its traditional architecture and home to a couple of tavernas and a few guesthouses, Panagia Village in the centre of the island is the starting point of the hiking trails that lead to Papas Peak, Melicha and the Cave of Saint John.

A narrow paved street with whitewashed buildings and a blue domed church in Panagia Village.
The timeless charm of Panagia Village

Beaches in Iraklia

Agios Georgios

The most accessible beach on the island, Agios Georgios is where locals start their day before visitors flock to the beach. Despite its small size, there is plenty of shade even at noon, thanks to the towering trees along the beach. With its shallow turquoise waters, Agios Georgios is Iraklia’s best beach as it’s always protected from the winds.

View of Agios Georgios Beach on Iraklia Island.
Agios Georgios Beach

Livadi

A 20-minute walk from Agios Georgios, Livadi is the island’s largest beach. With crystal water and a nudist-friendly part at its end, Livadi is perfect for a relaxing day on the beach. There are some trees for shade. However, if you’re there in July or August, it’s best to have a tent or umbrella with you. To avoid the uphill road from Agios Georgios, you can always hop on the public bus.

Panoramic view of Livadi Beach.
Livadi Beach

Vorini Spilia

Situated on the island’s west coast, the delightful Vorini Spilia beach is exposed to northern winds, thus not recommended for the summer months when the northern Meltemi winds are common. Before getting there, make sure you pick a windless day. To get to Vorini Spilia, you need to hike so don’t forget to wear a hat and walking shoes. The easy scenic hike takes about 30 minutes from Agios Georgios.

Panoramic view of Vorini Spilia beach in Iraklia Greece.
Vorini Spilia Beach

Alimia (Plane Wreck)

Alimia and Karvounolakos are two of the island’s beaches that are accessible only by boat. Ask the locals how to book an organised boat trip to those beaches. The most impressive part is a Second World War plane wreck in Alimia Bay, visible from the boat.

Hiking in Iraklia Greece

Hiking is one of the best things to do in Iraklia. The island features a network of eight well-signposted trails with a total length of 16 kilometres. Three of them start from Panagia Village and lead to Papas Peak (Trail 1), Mericha (Trail 2) and Cave of Saint John or Agios Ioannis (Trail 3).

During our first trip to Iraklia, we initially picked the most interesting and challenging trail, the one that leads to the Cave of Saint John. In the end, we ended up walking around pretty much the entire island. However, that wasn’t a very smart move as we chose to do it on a super hot day. Please, don’t be us. Either pick a cool day or start your hike very very early in the morning.

At first, we underestimated the difficulty of the trail. The beauty that surrounded us was so profound that we got carried away as the gorgeous views at every turn made us momentarily forget about the excessive heat.

View of the steep slope along trail 3 with Schinoussa and Keros islands in the background.
View of the nearby islands while hiking along Trail 3

Yet, the most demanding part of the hike was upon us. That was no other than the uphill path from the Village of Panagia to Seladi, its entire length set along a steep slope. It was then that we started to realise we had made the wrong call. Should we go back, we wondered? But, no, our itchy feet wouldn’t let us quit so easily. In retrospect, that was super stupid of us.

From Seladi, the path that led to Saint John Cave was a downhill one. On that very hot day, that part of the route felt like paradise. And so did the cool interior of the cave. By the way, if you want to enter the cave and explore it, don’t go by yourselves. Book a hiking tour with a local instead.

The entrance to Agios Ioannis Cave. A stone seating is built along the rocks.
Outside the Cave of Agios Ioannis

On our way back to Seladi, the formerly downhill trail was now a tantalising shadeless uphill path. Under the scorching sun, with very high temperatures, we feared for our lives more than once. We even made a vow never to try such a hike in the summer again.

Maria is resting on a stone under a tree shade on the way back from the Cave of Saint John.
A rare instance of a bit of shade along the way

Once we reached Seladi, the spot where several hiking trails meet, at the junction with Trail 3, we took the downhill Trail 4 that led to Agios Athanasios, the third of Iraklia’s small villages, which is now almost abandoned. From Agios Athanasios, Trail 7 was an easy yet scenic walk back to Agios Georgios, mostly on dirt roads.

The junction in Seladi with signs leading to other trails of Iraklia Island.
In Seladi, several hiking trails meet

Our Favourite Places For Food & Drinks in Iraklia

With so many options for top-quality Greek food, we were spoilt for choice in Iraklia. Here is a list of our favourite cafés, bars and restaurants in Iraklia:

To Ypovrichio (Submarine) in Agios Georgios: The incredibly friendly staff and the lovely talented cook placed To Ypovrichio at the top of our list. We tried the creamy fava, the boiled greens and the homemade fries, among other veggie delicacies.

A fava puree dish with capers and olive oil on top. Next to it, there is a dish of boiled greens with lemon.
Fava puree and boiled greens, a delicious vegan combo

Syrma in Agios Georgios: With fantastic views over Agios Georgios Port, Syrma has no shortage of delicious vegetarian Greek dishes. The refreshing ntakos salad, mandatory summer dish of fava, melting-in-the-mouth saganaki and homemade briam were the mouthwatering dishes we tried there.

Melissa in Agios Georgios: This kafeneio/travel agency/mini market serves coffee, drinks and small dishes. We paid a visit at least once every day and you should do the same.

En Lefko in Agios Georgios: A cosy café bar with a stunning terrace, ideal for breakfast and snacks or drinks at night.

Perasma in Agios Georgios: Perfect for huge crepes, stuffed with cheese and vegetables.

Pera Panta in Livadi: A few steps from Livadi Beach, Pera Panta is ideal for a light lunch on the beach. The bus stop to go back to Agios Georgios is right outside the restaurant.

Surfin Bird on the road to Livadi: Boasting a perfect romantic location near the sea, Surfin Bird serves simple food, drinks and cocktails. It’s only open during the high season.

The cyan vespa's front part attached on a rock with the surfin bird logo on the top.
The Surfin Bird Vespa has become one of the island’s landmarks

On the morning of our sixth day in Iraklia, the alarm clock violently brought us back to reality. It was time to leave this small slice of heaven behind, unaware of when we would be able to go back to this so painfully familiar place we knew nothing about five days before, to all the strangers who had instantly become our friends.

Getting on the early-morning ferry back to Piraeus wasn’t easy. Looking back towards Iraklia Island as the ferry headed to the vastness of the Aegean Sea ahead even brought tears to our eyes. But, at the end of the day, they were tears of joy. For we were blessed to have spent those precious moments in Iraklia and nothing could stop us from planning a second trip to the island before too long.

WORDS & IMAGES: Katerina
EDITING: Maria

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