A green island laid with pine forest and olive groves, Thassos is in the North Aegean and counts as part of East Macedonia and Thrace. Thassos doesn’t grab the headlines as it isn’t a high-octane party destination and isn’t peppered with ancient wonders. But what you do get is a serene, family-friendly getaway with picturesque mountain villages, some ruins and plentiful beaches.
In ancient times Thassos was quarried for its marble, and the archaeological museum at Limenas (Thassos Town) has a compelling set of statues and other artefacts recovered on the island, dating back to the Stone Age. With a car you could escape to high ground and tour villages on hillsides grazed by goats or sheep, while on the water there are cruises to gorgeous parts of the coast only a boat can get to.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Thassos:
1. Archaeological Museum
Limenas has one of the foremost archaeological museums in East Macedonia and Thrace.
There are 18 galleries in this extensive building with collections spanning more than 3,000 years from the Neolithic Period to the 7th century AD. One of the most exciting early finds are a Neolithic clay amphora and a Cycladic plate with Bellerophon riding Pegasus and killing the Chimera (7th century BC). From the Archaic period a little later is possibly the museum’s showpiece, a 3.5-metre kouros (nude statue of a young man) holding a goat, while there’s a head of Dionysos from the Classical Period in the 4th century BC. Among the Roman-era discoveries are busts of Julius Caesar, Claudius and Lucius Caesar and a statue of Hadrian in full armour.
2. Archangel Michael Monastery
The largest monastery on Thassos is a cliff-top convent on the southeast coast.
There has been a religious presence here since the 12th century when a hermit constructed a small church, supposedly at the command of the Archangel Michael, the patron saint of Thassos.
The monastery was founded a century later but was abandoned during Ottoman times and was only revived in 1974 by nuns from Volos and a monk from Mount Athos.
The new church has a traditional cruciform layout and its most famous relic is the nail that apparently fastened Christ’s right hand to the cross.
This nail brings in pilgrims from far beyond the shores of Thassos.
The feast of St Michael is on 8 November and is celebrated around the island.
A few kilometres in from Golden Beach on the northeast coast, Panagia is a sweet mountain village with typical houses that have schist roof tiles and wooden balconies and verandas.
Tightly packed onto steep ground 300 metres above sea level, Panagia was built away from the coast as a safe haven from pirate attacks and was the capital of the island for a short time after the Greek Revolution in the 1820s.
The village is downstream from Mount Ipsaron, and channels the mountain’s spring through a system of fountains and conduits.
In the evening the place to be is the central square by the fountains where there’s a smattering of tavernas.
4. Sotirelis Olive Oil Museum
Also in Panagia is a small museum where you can delve into one of the island’s oldest industries.
Beautiful, gnarled old olive trees sprout on all corners of Thassos, and before olive oil production was modernised in the 20th century there used to be an olive mill in every village.
At this museum you can see one in action, as Sotirelis has the only functioning water-powered mill in Greece.
This old mechanism dates to 1915 and continued to press olive oil until 2007 when the enterprise was moved to a new facility.
On your visit you’ll be talked through the process of crushing and pressing olives, and there’s plenty of black and white photographs for depth.
The shop sells oils infused with lavender, orange and tangerine, as well as olive oil-based beauty products and tea made with olive leaves.
5. Aliki Archaeological Site
In antiquity Thassos was famed for its marble, which was shipped across Greece right up to the Slavic invasions in the 6th and 7th centuries, and it’s a trade that has only recently been revived.
On a rocky peninsula in the southeast of the island you can examine one of the sources of this prized material.
The quarry was in use from as early as the 12th century BC and the two coves on either side functioned as ports.
The great sheets of marble are on the southeast side of the peninsula and if you stand on the edge you can see wedges in the water.
At the highest of the peninsula are what’s left of a pair of early Christian basilicas.
These churches were frequented by sailors shipping marble, and the votive inscriptions they left behind are still visible.
The inland village of Kastro was also built in the mountains at an elevation of 450 metres.
The settlement was out of sight from the coast as a way of keeping it safe from pirate raids.
Kastro is named for the Genoan castle that raised here in the 15th century.
This has all but vanished, apart from the citadel walls at the uppermost point.
At the turn of the 20th century the villagers gave up this harsh environment to find work on the coast or at the zinc-lead mines at Limenaria.
So for decades Kastro was abandoned until its houses were restored, starting in the 1960s.
In the old citadel is an ossuary where the bones of former inhabitants are in stacks.
This small upland village is in a hollow between sparsely vegetated hillsides and has been listed as a “traditional settlement”. You wouldn’t know to look at Theologos today, but for hundreds of years during the Ottoman period this was the administrative centre of the island.
Being a traditional settlement has helped preserve the village’s Macedonian-style stone houses.
These are on cobblestone paths branching off the main roads, which run parallel along the contours of the hillside.
There’s a clutch of tavernas in the village, as well as a folklore museum, and close by in this mountainous setting are historic lime kilns and olive mills to check out.
8. Paradise Beach
On a quiet stretch of the east coast, Paradise Beach is a wide strip of sand under pine-decked slopes.
Sitting on the beach you can make out the conical silhouette of the small Nisida Kinira island a few hundred metres to the northeast.
Despite being 22 kilometres from Limenas, Paradise Beach is a hit with families for its facilities, sun loungers, but also the natural make-up of the beach.
There are light waves here that break some way offshore, leaving a large shallow space by the low-shelving shore, fine for anyone who doesn’t like venturing into the deep.
There’s a kiosk for food, and a taverna a little way along the coast.
Around a group of rocks, is another more private beach preferred by naturists.
Nor far from the southern village of Astris is a small, circular lagoon that has been hewn from the rock by the sea.
Giola isn’t easy to get to, as you have to drive a dirt road for a couple of kilometres from Astris and then walk, but it’s a place that merits a bit of effort.
There’s a perfectly clear pool of water, 15 metres in diameter and surrounded by a bowl of rock, which is naturally tiered like the rows in an amphitheatre.
There are lots of places to lay a towel, but not much shelter from the sun.
On the seaward side of this arena the rock narrows to just a couple of metres across, and when the water’s calm you can also step down to bathe in the sea.
10. Golden Beach
Both a resort and the largest beach on the island, Golden Beach on the east coast is a sandy bay framed by spellbinding natural scenery.
The beach is three kilometres long and is fringed by a low-impact holiday community, which doesn’t spoil the views of the verdant hills close by, and the spectacular escarpment a couple of kilometres behind.
There’s a string of cafes and bars on Golden Beach, each offering a different deal for the sun loungers.
In some places a pair of loungers and parasol come with the price of a drink, but at other, quieter sections you’ll pay a little more (€5 for a day) and get attentive service.
As with Paradise Beach, Golden Beach has low rolling surf.
There’s lots of shallow water, but the currents can be too much for little ones on windy days.
11. La Scala Beach
Hardly five minutes from Thassos Town, La Scala differs from the other choices in that it’s a completely private beach, taking the name of the bar that manages it.
The beach itself is rather small, but has fine sand and rippling transparent water.
The main appeal of La Scala is its comfort, as there are cushioned sun loungers, soft couches, divan-style dining areas and beach pergolas, all under the shade of palms and canvas awnings.
Obviously you have to pay a little more for these luxuries, but that doesn’t deter the many young couples.
On its east shoulder is a small watersports centre for kayaking and banana boating.
12. Psili Ammos Beach
In the very south of Thassos, Psili Ammos is a soft sandy beach bookended by flat tables of rock.
At just over 100 metres the beach isn’t large, and does get crowded in July and August.
This will be fine if you prefer things to be lively, and the beach bar plays up-tempo music throughout the day.
Some people sunbathe at the far ends of the beach, and even on the rocks under the pines, while the remainder of the beach is full of sun loungers, several rows deep.
The best sun loungers here are fully serviced and come to €20 per day.
The beach pitches quite steeply into the water, but is protected from strong currents and fine for non-swimmers who just want to bathe.
13. Alyki Beach
The cove to the east of the archaeological site at Alyki is also a delightful place to spend an afternoon in the sun.
Tucked behind the peninsula, Alyki is out of the wind and has glimmering aquamarine waters.
There’s a blend of sand and pebbles here, and even if the slope drops off quickly underwater, the absence of currents keeps things safe.
Every inch of the beach is covered with sun loungers, and these tend to come free with drinks or the price of a meal at one of the sequence of tavernas to the rear and the north side.
14. Boat Tours
On Thassos there are parts of the coast that just can’t be accessed by land.
These might be beaches or sheltered pools with crystalline blue water.
Pick a calm day and you can take a tour from the harbour at Limenas.
If you don’t mind going with the flow, take one of the organised cruises.
Lunch is served on board these ships, when you’ll be treated to grilled meat and fresh salad, all purchased on the day.
If you don’t want to share your experience with up to 50 other people there are private and semi-private captained yachts that you can hire.
Naturally they’ll give you more time to stay at a special cove or reef for snorkelling.
15. Water Sports
Something that will strike you about the beaches on Thassos is just how many are equipped for water activities.
This goes for Golden Beach as much as smaller bathing spots like Psili Ammos, La Scala, and superb beaches we haven’t listed like Pefkari and Pachis.
Here in the North Aegean, Thassos escapes the worst of the Meltemi wind.
So while windsurfing is generally off the menu, the protected coves on the south coast couldn’t be better for kayaking, snorkelling and stand-up paddleboarding.
Thassos also has three dive centres (Vasiliadis, Popeye and Diver to Diver). If you’re already certified, these arrange trips to underwater caverns, locations with soft currents for drift dives and a site where amphorae from an ancient wreck are strewn on the seabed.