Apollo, the ancient god of light, was born on the island of Delos, smack dab in the middle of the Aegean Sea and equally distant from every shore of mainland Greece. You might say it’s in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of everything. The islet, a UNESCO Heritage site, is currently uninhabited, but this doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see and do in Delos – au contraire! During your tour around the Cycladic islands, you should definitely dedicate a day to this unique piece of land and see, close up, a number of divine masterpieces of ancient Greek civilization. There are the remains of an entire ancient city consisting of houses, guesthouses, a forum, shops and squares, as well as sanctuaries of gods.
Shall we do a refresher of Greek mythology? The story of Apollo goes as such. His mother, Lito, was chased by the queen goddess Hera who was blind with jealousy because of her husband Zeus’s cheating, gave birth to handsome Apollo and his twin sister Artemis lying all alone under the only palm tree found on the banks of the island of Delos’s Sacred Lake. Both baby gods were particularly beautiful, of course.
After these twin gods were born, a bright and sacred light spread over Delos, turning this once insignificant island into one of the most sacred places in the whole of the ancient world.
What to see in Delos
In a day, you should manage to see the following important monuments:
The sanctuary of Apollo: Within the area of the sanctuary you will find the remains of three temples dedicated to Apollo. This sanctuary was established around 1400 BCE but became more developed around 7000 BCE.
House of Dionysos: a 2nd century private house famous for its mosaic of a tiger head and named for another of Dionysos riding a panther
Lion Terrace: This part of the island is lined with impressive marble lions, a donation made by the residents of Naxos in late 7th century BC. This huge masterpiece looks towards the Sacred Lake (now dry) and functioned as the guardians of the sanctuary. One of the initially 16 lions is now decorating the naval base entrance of Venice.
The Theater: Although, it had suffered a great damage due to pillage or even stealing of the marbles for building purposes, the sea-view ancient theater of Delos still captivates visitor’s eyes.
The Archaeological Museum: Considered one of the most important museums in Greece, it is known for its impressive display of private items mostly from the Hellenistic period, including sculptures, inscriptions, pottery items, mosaics and more.
Delos visitor Tips
As Delos is totally devoid of vegetation, it is wise to wear a hat and loads of sunscreen to protect yourself. Also put on light clothes, sunglasses (it’s blindingly white) and preferably long trousers to avoid an unpleasant skin reactions.
Bring your own water bottle and a snack, since there’s not much to buy here.
Last but not least, stay on delegated routes or paths. The ground on the island is uneven and accidents might happen if you are not aware of the proper paths.
The archaeological sites are closed on Mondays, so don’t plan your visit then! On other days, the island is open for visitors from 8:30AM to 3PM
How to get there and Where to stay
Day cruises to Delos usually include a three-hour guided tour to the landmarks of the island, although you can simply take a boat there and explore it on your own at greater leisure.
To reach Delos, visitors should take the boat, usually from the harbor in Mykonos’ Chora (year-round, weather permitting, about half an hour), or from other nearby islands, such as Naxos or Tinos (only in the summer). Mythology dedicates that no mortal shall be born or die on the island. Perhaps that influenced the modern decision that nobody is allowed to stay the night here… there is no accommodation, so you have to leave at sunset. (Whereas in antiquity this island boasted a wealthy, 30,000-person city – anyone in danger of dying or giving birth was bundled off to nearby Rinia.)
Thus we suggest doing the day trip to Delos while enjoying an utterly relaxing stay in luxurious surroundings. The Andronis Boutique Hotel in Santorini is a boutique suite hotel built on the edge of a cliff, with incredible views of the Aegean Sea. Some suites even feature a private infinity pool. The décor is modern yet preserves an ancient feeling contrasting white walls with dark grey accents.