In this destination trip report we will guide you around the best sights and beaches of Astypalea (Astypalaia), the westernmost island of the Dodecanese.
Astypalea, the westernmost island of the Dodecanese archipelago in Greece, is one of the country’s lesser known islands internationally. Although the island is visited by a handful of tourists in the know, by far the great majority of visitors are Greeks from the mainland or other islands.
The island of Astypalea, which is also spelled as Astypalaia (Αστυπάλαια in Greek), is shaped like a butterfly. Due to its shape, Astypalea has earned the nickname “the butterfly of the Aegean”, a quite fitting name if you ask me.
But is the island indeed as beautiful as most butterflies? Let’s find out!
In the previous chapter of this trip report, I already covered the sights of Astypalea Town. The island capital is one of most stunningly located towns of all of Greece.
From far away you can see the hilltop Kastro (castle) looming over the old town (hora) and the small fishing harbour of Pera Gialos (also called Skala by the locals).
The old town streets are an absolute delight to explore and it takes at least a full day to Astypalea Town justice. If you stay elsewhere on the island, don’t forget to visit both by day and night, as the town has a completely different charm with the castle being gorgeously illuminated.
Sights of Astypalea
After a fun day in Astypalea Town I was ready to explore the villages and beaches of the island. I had reserved a rental car for two days at Explore Rent a Car Astypalaia – which I can personally recommend.
As communicated before by email, my Fiat Panda was brought in the morning to my Astypalea hotel free of charge (complimentary pick up or drop-off at the port or airport is also possible).
Looking at the map of the island, I thought it was a great idea to use my first day to explore the western half of Astypalea, followed by the eastern half the day after.
Two days were indeed sufficient to explore most of the island (with a third day added for Astypalea Town), although three days in total really is the bare minimum. If I would return, I would probably stay six days, as it would mean you can do everything at a much more leisurely pace.
It would also leave you with enough time to make a boat trip to the nearby uninhabited island of Kounoupoi, which has some great beaches and was highly recommended to me by a Greek friend. Sadly, I did not manage to visit it due to a lack of time.
To the west
My first destination on my island tour of Astypalea was Livadi (also called Livadia at times), a village just a short distance away over the hill to the south-west from Astypalea Town.
Livadi is one of the most fertile places on the otherwise barren island of Astypalea. The town’s whitewashed houses set to the green backdrop of fields and trees surely make for a lovely view when you approach Livadi by road from the island capital.
Livadi itself is a small, low-key resort town with some small hotels and apartments. If you do not want to stay in Astypalea Town itself, this place would probably be my pick.
There is a small grocery store as well as a couple of inviting cafés and restaurants in town. The sandy beach has plenty of trees for shade and the waters of the bay are delightfully calm as it faces towards the south-east and thus is protected from the strong northerly meltemi winds which are typical for the summer months in Greece.
The town is bisected by a small river creek, which is completely dried up in summer. Thanks to the small river, the lands behind Livadi feel delightfully green and lush, forming a stark contrast to the barren hills of Astypalea.
From the beach, there are also gorgeous views over Astypalea Town in the distance.
As it was early in the morning, I decided to stop for a while in town for my first swim of the day and for a freddo espresso at one of the beachside taverns.
From Livadi, a narrow road runs further south. After a while, the tarmac gives way to gravel roads – which is common for much of the western part of Astypalea.
These roads are easily traversable with a normal car, there is absolutely no need to shell out for a four-wheel drive vehicle.
My Fiat Panda did the job extremely well and it’s a surprisingly fun car to drive. In my opinion it’s miles better than the Fiat 500 which was in the same price category, also because of the Panda’s higher ground clearance.
A few miles south of Livadi is the beach of Agios Konstantinos, which is named after the small church of the same name standing on a bluff right above the beach.
The views from the beach over the deep blue Aegean Sea and Astypalea Town in the background are fantastic.
Unfortunately, the beach isn’t the most suitable for swimming in summer. Facing north, it is fully exposed to the meltemi winds, which means that the waves can be a bit rough.
That said, to me it is a must-visit place on the island not only because of its picturesque location, but also because of the excellent beachside café called Al Mare Beach Bar.
It has a lovely wooden bar and some excellent seating corners underneath the trees. I can highly recommend the place, whether you just come for a coffee or for one of the tasty cocktails.
Towards the far south
From Agios Konstantinos I drove back up the road to the crossroads, which is overlooked by the small Agios Ioannis church.
At the intersection, one road leads south towards Paralia Vatses (Vatses Beach), while another road goes first around a mountain to the north-west, only to loop back south towards Paralia Kaminakia (Kaminakia Beach).
Both beaches are definitely worth a visit. I decided to head first to Vatses and to leave Kaminakia for lunchtime, given that the latter has a taverna while Vatses only has a beach bar.
The road to Vatses Beach is absolutely gorgeous – especially the last bits where you pass through a sort of canyon as you descend towards the beach.
When you approach Vatses, it might initially not appear like one of Greece’s best stretches of beach. The beach – a mix of sand and pebbles – looks a bit barren, with just five or seven trees standing at its edge.
However, once you reach the shore you can see instantly why Vatses is actually a delightful little beach. The calm waters of this sheltered bay look highly appealing for a swim and there is a nice little beach bar with lovely views from its wooden deck.
As there are some large slippery stones in the water, it can be a bit tricky to get into the sea for a swim. There are however some special mats placed on the seafloor (in front of the beach bar) where you can walk more easily into the waters up to a level from where you can swim.
The road back
Although Vatses Beach is just a short distance away from Kaminakia Beach as the crow flies, there is a mountain in between – which means you have to take quite a detour to get there.
It basically meant driving back to the crossroads near Agios Ioannis Church, from where I had to take the roundabout route around the mountain to reach Kaminakia.
On Astypalea’s roads this is however not a crime as I absolutely loved the views across the island’s barren interior.
Just like Vatses, the charms of Kaminakia Beach only become clear once you have actually parked your car and walked onto the pebbles.
Although I think Vatses is a better spot to swim as the beach is less pebbly and has more shade, Kaminakia is a prettier bay. The different shades of blue of the sea just looked absolutely stunning when contrasted against the barren rocks.
At Kaminakia, there is a small taverna a few feet away from the beach. From the covered terrace, there are some lovely views over the tavern’s small garden and the bay.
Called Linta, the restaurant does typical Greek tavern food ‘grandmother style’. There were no menus available as the old lady running the tavern just came to the table to explain what the available dishes were that day.
Don’t expect the widest variety of food, but prices are cheap, service is friendly and the food tasted good. It was just too bad that the goat I ordered was probably the skinniest animal on the island when it was still alive judging by the small amounts of meat on the bones.
Back to Astypalea Town
After the late lunch it was time to slowly head back to Astypalea Town having basically visited the main sights and beaches of the western half of the island.
There are a couple of more beaches and sheltered bays of interest (for example Panormos) but the roads leading there are very rough and such places are better visited by boat.
The views from the road were again gorgeous – especially the panorama over Astypalea Town as you approach the island capital from the south-west.
On day two, I planned to explore the eastern part of the island of Astypalea. From Astypalea Town, you first need to drive across the isthmus to reach the eastern landmass of the butterfly-shaped island.
The isthmus is at parts so narrow that you have some good vistas on both sides of the road. There are some especially beautiful viewpoints on the wild northern side on your left as you drive from Astypalea towards the east.
Although there are some small beaches at this side of the island, they aren’t the best for swimming due to the strong waves and winds.
The first good beach you will hit when you drive from Astypalea Town to the east is Steno Beach, which is located on your right hand side immediately after you pass by the small red-roof Agios Mamas Church on the same side of the road.
First you will come across Paralia Mikro Steno (Small Steno Beach), which is divided by a rock from the main section of Steno Beach. Both stretches of beach face the sea on the sheltered southern side of the island, making it a calm place for a swim.
Steno Beach has a small beachside tavern where you can get a drink or a full meal.
After the turn-off to the Astypalea’s small airport you will descend down towards Analipsi, the main settlement on the eastern landmass of Astypalea.
Just like the town of Livadi on the western half of the island, Analipsi has several small hotels and apartments, making it another alternative to Astypalea Town to stay. Compared to compact Livadi, Analipsi is however more stretched out along the coast and is noticeably larger.
There are several appealing cafés, taverns, shops and a small supermarket in town.
Analipsi is also home to the archaeological site of of the Tallaras Baths. These Roman-era baths are well-known for their ancient floor mosaics. Unfortunately, it was closed due to the corona pandemic when I visited.
Analipsi has two beaches. The long but narrow stretch of sand in the town centre is called Maltezana Beach, which ends at Analipsi’s small fishing harbour.
If you walk or drive a few hundred metres more along the main road over a small hill towards the north-east, you will arrive at Schoinontas, which is Analipsi’s second beach. The waters at both beaches are shallow, making it a perfect place for families with young children.
Personally, I thought Schoinontas was the most attractive beach of the two for a swim. Do climb up to the church just above the road at Schoinontas Beach as there are some lovely views from there over the sea.
If you venture east of Analipsi you will notice that the lands almost instantly get more wild and mountainous. Compared to the western half of the island, the main road here is of good quality as it’s basically a sealed road almost all the way to Vathi.
There are some great views over the coastline from this mountainous road, making it a fun drive.
There aren’t many points of interest east of Analipsi – and even fewer which can be easily reached by road without requiring a hike or risking the state of your car on one of the rough side roads.
Most rental car companies will not even allow you to use the side roads on this part of the island in the first place – something which also counts for the very rough stretch of road beyond Vathi.
One of the points which I do think is worthwhile to stop is Agrilidi. You are best off parking your car along the main road and walk the short distance (approximately 10 to 15 minutes on a gravel path) to Agrilidi.
Agrilidi basically is a beautiful sheltered bay from where you have some scenic views over the blue-and-green coloured waters. It’s worth it to hike all the way to the small Agios Nikolaos Church, from where the vistas are the best.
Although the sea did look appealing here, I could not find a good spot for a swim as the coastline is very rocky and the few beaches I encountered were not the most appealing.
At Agrilidi, you can also see an abandoned factory and some submerged docks. Seemingly, this was once an important local mining or manufacturing point which has since been left to the elements.
As you follow the mountainous road on the eastern half of Astypalea, you will eventually reach the small village of Vathi. Right at the entrance gate to this village the tarmac ends, giving way to a very rough stretch of gravel road.
Most rental car companies won’t allow you to drive past Vathi, so if you want to reach the settlement of Exo Vathi a bit further down the road along the bay, you will most likely have to walk.
Vathi has a real Wild West (or Wild East, in this case!) feel to it. Many of the stone houses in the village are abandoned or crumbling, and the few houses which seemed to be inhabited seemed to belong to local fishermen or shepherds, making Vathi about as far away from any tourist infrastructure as you can possible get on the island of Astypalea.
Although there is nothing to see here as such, I liked driving out here just to absorb the views.
As it was getting already a bit late in the afternoon and I hadn’t eaten yet, I decided to drive back to Analipsi for lunch.
I returned again to Almyra where I had stopped earlier in the morning for a coffee. This time around, the restaurant was full with locals and tourists alike for lunch.
Almyra is a bit more than your traditional Greek tavern as besides some traditional classics it also features some inventive dishes on the menu such as a “mojito pork belly”.
The restaurant also has fish freshly caught the same morning from the sea. You can just walk inside the kitchen with the waiter to see what kind of fish they have on offer that day.
I went for a massive, ugly looking fish from the grill (no idea how it’s called – I’m quite bad when it comes to recognising fish species!) – which was absolutely delicious. It was served with some kind of orange sauce, which indeed paired excellent with the fish.
Having done enough exploring on Astypalea, it was now time to relax a bit more. After the great lunch in Analipsi, I therefore decided to drive back to the western half of the island to Al Mare Beach Bar on Agios Konstantinos Beach, which kind of became my favourite spot on the island.
There really was no better way to while away the late afternoon hours than by drinking a caipirinha or two in the shade while reading a book – and with a lovely backdrop of the Aegean Sea and Astypalea Town that is!
I absolutely loved my stay on Astypalea island. The highlight is arguably Astypalea Town itself, as there aren’t many towns in Greece with such an awe-inspiring, unique location. It’s an absolute delight to explore the winding lanes of the town, stopping regularly to admire the views or to eat and drink at one of the town’s fine taverns.
However, also on the rest of the island there is a lot to see, and you are well advised to get a rental car for at least a day or two. The western part of the island has the best beaches, with Vatses and Kaminakia both being worthwhile destinations with clear blue waters.
The small town of Livadia is also a delight to stop as it has a nice beach and plenty of taverns with great views over the sea and Astypalea Town. A bit further away, Agios Konstantinos Beach might not be the best place for a swim, but with Al Mare Beach Bar it has one of the best places on the island for a drink or two.
Schoinontas and Steno are two of the best beaches on the eastern half of the island, although personally I’d prefer Vatses and Kaminakia. The town of Analipsi is however a low-key, worthwhile place to linger around for a while and you can find some great restaurants here such as Almyra.
Both in the west and in the east you will likely be awed by the beauty of the wild, barren interior of the island. Perhaps that is where the real charms of the island lies. Astypalea feels like such an unexplored, unknown gem.
Even for many Greeks Astypalea is quite off the beaten path, and most foreign tourists will likely have never heard of the place before. Around 90 percent of all tourists arriving on the island are Greek – which means that Astypalea has still retained its traditional charms unlike some other Greek islands overrun by tourists in summer.
Astypalea is a great destination and I really cannot recommend it enough!
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘A Dodecanese Dream: Summer Island Hopping in Greece‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Back in the Skies – My First International Flight in the Age of Corona
2. Review: Kimon Hotel, Athens, Greece
3. Exploring Plaka: Through the Winding Streets of the Old Town of Athens
4. Climbing up the Acropolis: Visiting Athens’ Most Famous Sight
5. Review: Skyserv Melina Merkouri Lounge Athens Airport
6. Review: Sky Express Athens to Naxos (ATR 42)
7. Review: Studios Zafiri, Naxos Town, Greece
8. Naxos Town: The Gorgeous Historic Heart of the Cyclades
9. Review: Blue Star Ferries Naxos to Astypalaia
10. Review: Belvedere Studios, Astypalaia Town, Greece
11. Astypalea Town: The Unknown Crown Jewel of the Aegean Sea
12. Astypalea Island Guide: Exploring the Butterfly of the Aegean (current chapter)
13. On a Night Boat in Greece – Astypalea to Kastellorizo With Blue Star Ferries
** rest of the chapters to follow soon **