In mid-August of 2019, we spent two weeks of family vacation on the island of Samos, and we were captivated by it. It took eight hours of a boat trip for us to reach Karlovasi, the main port of the island from Piraeus. Somewhere in the middle of the trip, at Ikarion Sea, the sea is always rough, and frequent and seaworthy travelers know to expect some waves that can be uncomfortable to the inexperienced, though totally safe for the size of the ships and the experienced captains and crew members of them. Alternatively, Samos is served by many flights a day landing at Pythagoreion Airport.
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A courtyard from Gregory Studios, at Lemonakia, near Kokkari in Samos.
Samos is a Greek island of 477.4 sq km with a population of close to 40,000 people, in the eastern Aegean Sea, separated from Turkey by the mile-wide Mycale Strait. Samos town is the capital of the island. The municipality comprises four municipal units: Vathi, Karlovasi, Pythagoreio and Marathokampos, and a number of picturesque coastal settlements, beautiful mountainous and verdant midland villages. Samos is the mythical birthplace of goddess Hera, sister and wife to Zeus. The historian Herodotus considered her temple in Heraion as "the greatest and most imposing temple in Greece". UNESCO included the broader archaeological site of Pythagoreion among the World’s Cultural Heritage Monuments. Samos is the birthplace of the great mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras, as well as that of the philosopher Epicurus, and astronomer Aristarchus, and where Aesop, of the famous fables, and philosopher Melissus spent most of their lives.
Samos, is mountainous with a coastline of about 140 km. Two mountains dominate the landscape: the rough and rocky Kerkis, and the verdant and fertile Ampelos (or Karvounis). There are few plains. The largest one is that of Chora, in the south of the island. There are no rivers, just torrents, small streams and plenty of springs. Numerous gorgeous beaches, some with pebbles others with sand, most with cool refreshing water surround the island.
Samos is a place of lush vegetation. Olive groves, grapevines, fig trees, pine trees, cypress trees, sapindale bushes known as skina, are abound. The virgin natural landscape is made of colors and light. And every step taken by the visitor is a revelation. There are over 1400 species of rare plants, many of which are native, and dozens of bird species.
The most famous product of Samos, known since antiquity, is its muscat wine, produced by the grapes bearing the same name. With its unique aroma and rich flavor, it holds a prominent place in highly-demanding international markets and is one of the most important ambassadors of Greek wine throughout the world, having been awarded several golden prizes and international distinctions. The island’s traditional ouzo has a long history. Years of know-how and a meticulous selection of ingredients have resulted in the production of ouzo featuring a wonderful aroma and flavor. Souma, the so-called “raki of Samos”, is another traditional local drink, made in all villages in the traditional methods where the whole process is a feast for the locals. It is a strongly fragrant clear raki coming from the grape residue from the first distillation. The olive groves of Samos produce excellent quality virgin olive oil with low acidity. Whether it’s the golden olive oil with an intense flavor, produced by the local ripe olives, or the fact that it is produced by a combination of local and other olive varieties, such as “Koroneiko”, Samian oil stands out for its velvety texture, aroma and unique flavor.
Another wonderful Samian product is honey, produced mostly in the village of Pyrgos. Bees harvest the flowers of the many wild and domesticated trees and plants of the island’s countryside, such as thyme, mountain tea, pines, firs, chestnuts, rosemary, wild lavender, as well as peach, cherry, apple, lemon, and almond trees. Besides pure and delicious fragrant honey, bee-keepers also produce pollen, a raw material for cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries and royal jelly sought after for its miraculous and beneficial properties. Orchids have been growing wild from time immemorial but are also being cultivated in Samos over the last few decades, and some varieties of this beautiful flower are grown exclusively here and exported worldwide. Premium quality herbs and essential oils are also produced here, used both for their beneficial properties and for cooking. Such a craft industry exists in Koumaradaioi village, which produces certified organic herbs and essential oils.
Since ancient times the art of pottery has been developed in Samos. Elaborate vases are moulded in pottery workshops in the villages of Mavratzaioi, Koumaradaioi, Myloi and Karlovasi, where that ancient art is still practiced. The “Pythagorean Cup” is one of the most famous jars of Samos pottery. According to legend, Pythagoras made a cup applying the laws of physics, so that his students would drink wine in moderation.
There are numerous beaches, larger or smaller, organized or not, worth visiting during your stay at the island. We suggest, based on where you are staying and your means of transportation, to explore as many of them as you can, picking your own favorites, among which: Kokkari (pebble beach by the village of the same name), Mare Deus Beach (close to Heraion, sand and pebbles, beach bar, beach volley), Glykorisa (close to Pythagoreion, well-organized, sand and small pebbles), Megalo and Mikro Seitani (hard to reach, not organized, Natura, sandy), Potami A and B (easy to reach from Karlovasi, organised), Svala (close to Tsabou. pebbles), Tsabou (well-organized. deep waters), Mikri Tsabou (not organized, nudism), Avlakia. Tsamadou and Navagos (popular with the youth, well-organized), Lemonakia (organized, pebbles), Kedros, Livadaki, Mourtia, Megali Lakka, Mikri Lakka, Kerveli, Psili Ammos (Pythagoreion), Mykali, Potokaki, Pappa Beach, Psili Ammos (Marathokampos), and Limnionas.
The statue group by sculptor Geneleos at Heraion, Samos.
There are still impressive remaining ruins of Heraion, the temple dedicated to Hera – only one pillar is standing, about half of its original height – close to the south coast of the island, 5 km from Pythagoreion. Heraion had been established since the Geometrical period as a sacred place and remained as such until the Roman era. It is a dipteral Ionic temple with 115 colossal columns. At the time of Polycrates the temple took its final grand form. Herodotus considered the Temple of Hera as “the greatest and most impressive temple in Greece of his time.” The sanctuary was politically and administratively connected to the ancient city of Samos (current Pythagoreion) through the Sacred Way (“Iera Odos”), parts of which have survived. Significant offerings have been found along the Sacred Way, which are now kept in the Archaeological Museum of Samos, the most important being the Statue Group by sculptor Geneleos, and the colossal Kouros. UNESCO has included the temple in the world cultural heritage sites.
The Tunnel of Efpalinos, or Efpalinian Aqueduct, is one of the greatest technical achievements of the 6th c. BC and is considered by many to be the 8th wonder of the ancient world. Its extremely accurate construction reveals the great architectural knowledge that Greek engineers had at that time. The double-ended orygma as the ancient historian Herodotus calls it, was built during the tyranny of Polycrates to supply the ancient capital of Samos with water. The tunnel was built by the architect Efpalinos, around 550 BC and was used until the Late Roman period. Today is one of the most important monuments of the island.
The Archaeological Museum of Samos is located at the town of Samos. Its findings are housed at the old Museum, called the “Paschaleio archaiofylakeion”, an antiquities guard-house built in 1912 and at the new Museum, which houses a collection of ancient sculptures, including Archaic, Sculpture, Pottery, Bronze, Ivory, Wood, Clay, and Miniatures collections. The most famous exhibit of the museum is the 5 m high “Kouros of Samos”, the largest surviving kouros in Greece.
To the west of Pythagoreio, the visitor can find the ruins of Thermae aka the Roman Baths, built during the second half of the 2nd c. AD, including dressing rooms for bathers, facilities for cold baths, an octagonal pool, rooms for hot baths and a vaulted room, as a sauna area. Thermae belong to a single, organized space, which included sports facilities of the ancient city, namely a gymnasium, a stadium and an arena. The stadium was 190-200 m long and 40-50 m wide, one of the largest stadiums in ancient Greece.
The Archaeological Museum of Pythagoreio, includes a collection of archaic columns, a collection of Roman emperors’ portraits, a collection of reliefs depicting funeral banquets, and pottery (9th c. BC – 2nd c. BC). Among its most important exhibits are the marble seated statue of Aeaces, a large marble sarcophagus in the form of a temple-like edifice of second half of the 6th c. BC, an oversized marble statue of Roman emperor Trajan, a marble portrait of Augustus, and a marble portrait of Claudius.
The Samos Wine Museum displays the history of Samian wine and the Union of Vinicultural Cooperatives of Samos. The building housing the museum, was once a private winery, then the Union’s cellar/warehouse and cooperage. Even the huge wooden casks, currently museum exhibits, were once in use. Traditional wine making, its tools, its vats and tubs and its chemistry equipment, even the art of fashioning a barrel come to life through exhibits that spin visitors back into remote fragments of centennial time. An ingenious simulation depicts the cultivation of grape vines on their steep terraced perches from the moment they take root to the moment they are tenderly picked. Two cellars are still in use, one reserved for barrels, the other for bottles of wine. Finally, visitors can taste and buy the Union’s wines, at the Museum boutique.