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Island of Skiathos
As you walk around the harbour of Skiathos with the restaurants packed cheek by jowl, the waiters accost you in a dozen languages to sit and eat. How else could they fill their tables to bursting, with tourists with bulging wallets? Don't even think about sitting down. How could you deprive the nice sunburnt tourists queuing behind you of a place? Carry on walking and further down slip into one of the quieter side streets. Just a few metres away from the seething crowds of tourists you'll find an authentic piece of Skiathos.
In the Middle Ages, and later too, Skiathos was harassed continuously by pirates. Things are not much different today, except that instead of pirates there are now tourists, who literally take over the island each year. In the summer months Skiathos is the captive of mass tourism. Charter flights land daily and the island is flooded by northern Europeans hungry for the sun and Britons who rush to lie on the beach.


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  In 1964 Skiathos was fortunate(?) in being designated by the Greek National Tourism Organization as a development zone for tourism. Since then there has been rapid change. The first project undertaken in this framework was the construction of the coast road from the town of Skiathos (the only settlement on the island) to the famous sandy beach at Koukounaries. Over the years a host of tourism units has been built along this road, from luxury hotels to cheaper accommodation for mass tourism. Skiathos is classic example of 'exploiting' a Mediterranean seaside zone. The first large hotel was built above Koukounaries beach, which takes its name from the unbrella pines that grow there. With the completion of the airport for charter flights from abroad, in 1984, Skiathos surrendered itself totally to mass tourism. Today the hotels, pensions and holiday flats offer 16,000 beds, in order to cope with the summer invasion of tourists. This number is more than excessive, considering that the local population is only 4,000.

Skiathos is not only mass tourism
If your idea of a holiday is enjoying yourself until the early hours and spending all day on crowded beaches, then Skiathos is the right place. In the town of Skiathos there are tavernas, bars and clubs galore offering a frenetic night life for all tastes. As to beaches, the island has over 60 , most of them sandy. And if you prefer pebbles, there is the renowned Lalaria beach on the north side of Skiathos.
The tidal wave of tourism has not manage to engulf the Chora of Skiathos entirely, for it still largely preserves its architectural heritage. Ugly new buildings, in the all too familiar Modern Greek style, have sprung up around Chora, but the damage is not too great. Whoever has visited places like Majorca or the west coast of Spain, with the endless stream of huge concrete hotels, understands all too well what full tourism development means.
Skiathos lies just 4 km from the Pelion peninsula and 6 km from Skopelos. The sea around the island is full of reefs and shallows, and visitors with yacht or pleasure craft should be worry of these. It was here, some 2,500 yeras ago, that the fleet of King Xerxes of Persia was badly damaged when it was cast upon the ridges by a storm. There followed the naval battle with the Greeks off cape Artemision (480 BC) and the ignominious defeat of the pErsians in the naval battle of Salamis.
The Skiathians have a glorious maritime past: they were outstanding seamen as well as skilled shipwrights. Ship-building yards flourished during the 19th century. The vessels were constructed of timber from the pines that grow in abundance on the island. The appearance of steam ships brought the demise of the Skiathian shipyards, but a small boatyard continues to exist, where traditional wooden caiques are built.
Skiathos is 48 sq km in area, 12 km long and about 9km wide. The terrain is mountainous and mainly covered by pine woods, maquis and cultivated fields. The highest point is the summit of the limestone hill called Karafiltsanaka, 436 m a.s.l. The north side of the island is largely unspoilt, in striking contrast to the south, with its tremendous tourist development. Here you can find a little peace and quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of the port.
A trip around the island, to discover the lovely landscapes and to visit interesting places, is well worth the effort. A pleasant excursion is that to the Monastery of the Evangelistria (Annunciation), founded in 1704 by monks from Mount Athos. It is famed for the role it played in the years of the Greek War of Independence, when it was a safe-haven for freedom-fighters.


  In the footsteps of the Middle Ages
In the dangerous years of the Medieval period life was not easy for the island's inhabitants. In the mid-14th century, excausted by continuous attacks by the pirates, the inhabitants abandoned the old capital of Skiathos which had been located at the centre of the island since antiquity, and built a new settlement on a high crag overlooking the sea, in the north part of the island. Only a few ruins remain of Kastro, as it was called, but the place is worth visiting for its superb site and the vast vista over the Aegean. At the end of the Greek War of Independence the Chora of Skiathos was established again as the capital of the island and remains so to this day.
In front of the town of Skiathos is the Bourtzi, a densely wooded hillock on a tiny peninsula separating the passenger-commercial port from the harbour for fishing boats, caiques and sailing craft. Bourtzi was originally an islet, which is now joined to the island by a small mole. when the island was captured by the Gyzi brothers, in 1207, they built a Venetian fortress here: only remnants are visible today. However, it seems that this failed to protect the population from pirates and prevent its migration towards Kastro.
Skiathos is the native island of Alexandros Papadiamantis, who lived there in the late 19th century and is distinguished as the most important Greek short-story writer. Among his short stories which give a uniquely vivid picture of daily life in those days, is one entitled "The seal's Lament", which attests that seals were once a part of everyday life for the island's inhabitants. The house in which Papadiamantis was born and died, in the town of Skiathos, is now a museum.


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