Saturday 9th July 2022
Initial Impressions of Paros
Booking two weeks on Paros, I was confident it wouldn’t be a bad experience. The island’s overwhelming popularity, positive reviews online and reputed similarity to Naxos (one of my favourite places) meant it was unlikely to disappoint. But is it really as good as the mainstream media and travel bloggers would have you believe? Let’s find out…
There’s Beauty in Small Things
After the first week of exploring Paros by local bus, I was struck by how much more compact the island feels than Naxos. On a map, it seems only a little smaller, but it’s less than half the total area of its closest neighbour. This is a good thing, as you can reach most villages and beaches on the island within a 45-minute bus journey – even less by car. It makes the island feel more intimate, with the sense that you could explore any corner of it on a whim without extensive planning required.
Upmarket or Upsold?
Paros does have a hint of Mykonos about it. Whether that’s good depends on how you feel about its celebrity neighbour – in my opinion, it risks sacrificing traditional Greek values, such as authenticity and hospitality, with overinflated prices, milking the large number of tourists visiting over the summer.
Okay, Paros isn’t quite that bad, but it seems to be heading in a similar direction. For clarity, I’m talking about overpriced cocktails, pretentious restaurants with their “aspirational” menus, and being charged frankly extortionate amounts for sunbed hire. In fairness, most of the places we ate were good, so I’m not criticising the quality of the food, but there is always a delicate balance between cost and value for money. I sought out restaurants where the menu wasn’t outlandish and, for the most part, got what I paid for in terms of quality. Don’t be fooled, though; you will pay more here than on other less prominent islands (check out nearby Ios, Folegandros and Sifnos for some cheaper alternatives).
Limited Sightseeing on Paros
After a week of visiting mostly beach resorts, I realised Paros lacks historical sights. Not that every Greek island has an abundance of ancient ruins, of course, but despite scouring the area on Google Maps, I never found many things to see besides the usual small villages. Maybe I missed them (correct me if I’m wrong), but it does seem like an island more geared towards relaxing on the sand or by the pool at one of the many boutique hotels. This isn’t a destination for immersing yourself in Greek history.
A Victim of its own Success?
The popularity of Paros is bound to become a problem sooner rather than later. 2022 could have been an anomaly with pent-up demand in the post-Covid travel market, but 2023 delivered tourists in even greater numbers. Its popularity was boosted by featuring in Forbes’ list of Top Worldwide Destinations in 2023.
We timed our visit before the mid-July start of peak season, but it was still very busy. It’s not quite so bad as to be crowded everywhere; in most cases, it just creates a nice vibrant atmosphere, but I imagine it won’t take many more tourists to saturate the system: packed buses, full hotels, busy beaches, and crowded tavernas would make it a much less desirable destination.
Will I Return to Paros?
When reflecting on a Greek island, one of my key questions is: would I rush to return? I think the answer for Paros is, no, probably not. This isn’t to say it’s a bad destination or that I didn’t enjoy my time there, but when I think back, I can’t say I felt anything unique or special about it that would draw me to return. The beaches are a definite highlight. The food was good without being sublime, and the atmosphere was pleasant enough, but I could find all this on many other islands at a lower price. The fact that Antiparos is so close does work in its favour, as you are effectively getting two islands for the price of one, and I would consider splitting my time between the two if I had the chance to plan my trip again.
If you’ve never been to Greece before, Paros is a justifiable contender for somewhere great to visit, and even if it’s not your first time in the country, I wouldn’t exclude it as a place to experience. Just understand that you will pay a premium for its ‘Instagrammability’, so you can tell your friends/family you’ve been.
What About Alternatives Then?
Which Greek island(s) to visit is the question I get asked the most from family, friends and the online travel community. Naturally, it depends heavily on what kind of holiday you’re after, but my top Greece destinations are good enough that I think they suit all visitors:
- Sifnos. My favourite Greek island. It’s so good that I’m hesitant to shout too loudly – it’s already developing a reputation as a top destination. You’ll find amazing beaches, delicious food, ample hiking and sightseeing opportunities all packaged up in an area less than half the size of Paros and with significantly fewer tourists. Its lack of an airport means travelling by ferry, but it’s well worth it if you’re prepared to make an effort.
- Naxos. Paros’ big brother now suffers from many of the same popularity issues, but being twice the size allows it to handle more visitors without overcrowding. It has a similar vibe, with plenty of good beaches and decent restaurants, but it also has more sightseeing opportunities, plus the chance to scale Mount Zas and visit the highest point in the Cyclades!
- Crete. Recommending Crete is an easy option as it’s such a large island and caters for all types of tourists – from nightlife seekers (try Hersonissos, Stalis and Malia) to those looking for a quiet corner away from the crowds (check out Palaiochora and Elounda). You’ll also find water parks, historical sights, shops, bars and restaurants with some of the best prices around.