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Serifos

Serifos, in the western Cyclades, is a tranquil island somewhat off the tourist trail. Known as the “iron island”, it was the mythical home of the Cyclops, the mighty giant children of Poseidon, who mined the island’s iron deposits and created huge walls. It is also according to myth the island where Danäe and her son Perseus (begotten by Zeus in the famous “golden shower”) washed up on land. Perseus would go on to kill the Gorgon Medusa, and returning with her head, reduced his enemies to stone with its terrible gaze.

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The island’s history

The Cretans were probably Serifos’ original human miners. The Phoenicians and the Mycenaens took their turns occupying the island, and during the Roman Empire Serifos was a place of political exile. The 13th century Venetian dukes, whose slaves reopened the iron mines after a millennium, brought a wealth to the island which was in turn ravaged by the Ottomans and their pirates. The iron mines were the scene of a famous and violent miners’ strike in 1916; the mines re now closed.

What to do on the island

Hora (or Chora) is the charming main town on Serifos, with traditional Cycladian architecture and narrow streets, and a long staircase leading up to the medieval Venetian castle (destroyed in 1210), with beautiful views from the top over the island and the sparkling Aegean Sea. Hora also has an archaeological collection and a museum of folklore. In the northwest of the island, the 16th century Monastery of the Taxiarchs (archangels Gabriel and Michael, who indicated where it was to be built) offers an interesting collection of icons and manuscripts overseen by the one remaining monk. The 4th century BC marble White Tower allegedly is a remnant of the Cyclops’ fortifications, and at Kedarhos (or Kallitsos, “the most beautiful”) is a vaulted tomb of a Roman centurion – perhaps a guard of some Patrician exile. Livadi is the tourist hub of the island and its port; here you find the restaurants and nightlife. Megalo Livadi was the main mining town and its port; there is a sobering monument to the miners’ strike. There is one diving centre on Serifos, and several boat hire and yachting offices.

The beaches

Serifos is virtually ringed with beaches, most of them fairly uncrowded and pristine. Karavi has several shipwrecks just off shore; Livadakia is the most popular, and Agios Sostis is overlooked by a scenic cliff side church. Psili Ammos, near Livadi, is considered by many the best beach on island, and in fact was named the 2003 Sunday Times best European beach). Ganema is also a beautiful broad beach, and usually uncrowded.

How to get there

There is no airport on Serifos. From Athens you can take an internal flight to nearby Milos followed by a 90-minute or so ferry to Serifos. From Athens Piraeus Harbour you can also travel 2.5hrs by high speed hydrofoil, or 4hrs by boat. There are also ferry connections with Sifnos and Kythnos for a bit of island-hopping.

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© Michel Koven