A guide to 20 beautiful Greek islands
Where to go in the Greek islands for family holidays, week-long parties or chilling out on the beach – here’s our guide to the most beautiful Greek islands and how to get there.
You might feel like you’ve already been there; you’re bound to have seen the stereotypical shots of domed white-washed houses set against bright blue sea (if not, see below). Well, you’ve got to go there to see it for yourself, and you might be surprised to find that not all the beaches are pristine swathes of golden sands, but some are in fact black! The most southern island in the Cyclades chain, Santorini is made of volcanic rock, hence the unusual colour of their dunes.
While its cousin in the Cyclades, Santorini, is the spot for canoodling lovers, Mykonos is the place to go to party ’til dawn. It’s a popular stop for island hoppers, looking for a good time. Head to Mykonos Town for your pick of the island’s best bars and nightclubs; from classy cocktails in Caprice, to pumping dance music .
The hideaway of choice for Jason and his Argonauts after they took the Golden Fleece, playwright Willy Shakespeare was also apparently inspired by Corfu, basing Prospero’s island in _The Tempest _on the place. You’ll find plenty of drama in the flashy bars and nightclubs in Kavos, but head to Old Perithia in the north east to see a different side to the island. This is Corfu’s oldest village, nestled at the foot of Mount Pantokrator, surrounded by peaceful vineyards and beautiful Venetian-style ruins.
Another volcanic island in the Cyclades, Milos is earning itself a reputation as a holiday hotspot with international tourists, although its turquoise water and rocky hills have been popular with locals for years. Also known as ‘the Island of Colours’ Milos is relatively quiet, compared with it’s bigger neighbours, so stop-by soon to enjoy its unspoilt landscape.
Moving over to the Dodecanese islands, Kos is the third largest in this group, after Rhodes and Karpathos. The birthplace of Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, why not see where he trained, the Asklepeion? Lazy beach days are best enjoyed down on the south-west coast; head to Kefalos for the best selection of sandy spots to throw your towel down on.
The largest Greek island, Crete is home to the legendary Palace of Knossos. The Bronze Age complex is considered Europe’s oldest city, dating back to 7000BC. Today, there are scores of beaches for you to top up your tan on, plenty of fun in party town Malia, and traditional tavernas tucked away in hillside villages all over the island. Make sure you try a plate of snails, steamed, fried or grilled, they’re a delicacy and island delight.
Possibly the greenest island in the Cyclades, Naxos’s incredible natural beauty has earned its reputation as the Hawaii of Greece. Almost 100km of white beaches are lapped by incredibly clear waters, the perfect spot to get down on one knee perhaps? Do like Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, and find yourself a maiden to marry on Naxos, or take your own beach goddess there for a romantic retreat.
A pearl in the Aegean Sea, Paros is often just a stopping-off point for holidaymakers on their way to nearby Ios and Santorini, but it deserves a little bit more of your holiday time. Home to plenty of postcard perfect villages, make sure you pop in to Parikia (the main town) Lefkes and Marpissa, to name just a few, for your fill of white-washed houses and mountains of home cooked meze, the Greek version of Spanish tapas.
For an authentic slice of Greek island life head to Folegandros, where there are few distractions besides Angali Beach, Chora Town, Karavostasi Port and Ano Meria village. This little-known island escape is a great place to go hiking, but despite being a little quieter than its neighbours, Folegandros gets pretty busy in high season and accommodation fills up quickly, so make sure you book in advance.
Pine forests and pebble beaches await in Alonissos. This island in the Sporades group has become popular in recent years with jetsetters looking for a greener Greek getaway; there are many eco-resorts on the island, which means there are plenty of camp grounds where you can stay and convene with nature. Alonissos is one big marine park, the largest in Europe, so head here if you want to see monk seals or enjoy a bit of snorkelling.
The sixth largest Greek island, Kefalonia is the place to go if you want to supersize your island experience; from wide lakes and towering mountains, to heaving plates of hummus and olives dished out in local tavernas. For humble Greek cooking, get your laughing gear around a slab of Kefalonian meat pie; it’s not exactly dainty but it’s certainly delicious. Kefalonia also features on the big screen in the romantic war film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, starring Nicholas Cage.
Supposedly picked by St. John as the place to pen the Book of Revelation, the caves of Patmos are a UNESCO World Heritage Site worth taking a peek at. Roam the island’s volcanic hills and swim in the azure waters – it’s the perfect spot to escape the usual package tours. The only thing likely to disrupt your peace and quiet are church and goat bells.
Oh hai Hydra! This Saronic Gulf Island makes a great day trip from Athens – it’s only one and a half hours by catamaran – but there’s plenty here to keep you occupied for longer. Hit up Hydra’s Cathedral and musuem, or visit one of the many local art galleries and jewellery shops. While away the afternoon in a traditional taverna in Kamini, a small village that boast a pretty pebble beach.
The smallest spot in the Sporades, Skiathos is perhaps the most stylish. Here you’ll find narrow cobbled streets lined with local artisan shops, cafés and restaurants. Gems and jewellery, hand-crafted on the island, make unique souvenirs. Apart from shopping, the other two big past-times in Skiathos are sunbathing and swimming. Do both at any one of the 60 beaches on the island – Koukounaries and Kanapista are just a couple of the best spots.
If you were going to call a rose by any other name it might Rhodes, a name derived fromrhodon, the greek for this romantic flower. This bloomin’ marvellous island is packed with historical sites, such as the castle of Kritinia, a 16th century Venetian fort. In fact, there’s so much ancient history here that Rhodes’s entire city centre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988, its main attraction being Colossus, a 30m statue to the sun god Helios.
Still searching for more UNESCO World Heritage sites to tick off your bucket list? Sail over to Samos, the birthplace of famous mathematician Pythagoras, and see the Temple of Hera, an ancient sanctuary dedicated to Zeus’s wife and sister – sounds like a case for Jeremy Kyle! Samos is also a brilliant spot for hiking and mountain biking; there are more than 45 trails for you to choose from.
This one time hippy hangout is now the place to party in the Greek islands, making it popular with all the bright young things looking for (responsible) fun in the sun. The best way to explore Ios is on two wheels, preferrably motorised, as it’s quite hilly. Hire a scooter and go exploring all the hidden coves and bays – say hello to Homer as you ride past his tomb, which is also located here.
18. Zakynthos (Zante)
You’ve probably seen the photo below hundreds of times; Navagio beach on the island of Zante is one of the most photographed in Greece. The wreckage found here was a smuggler ship which lost power and washed up on this beautiful bay back in 1981. Other picture-perfect beaches to visit are Gerakas, a large nesting site for loggerhead turtles, and Tsilivi, great for families with a range of watersports on offer.
The largest island in the Sporades, stunning Skopelos is covered in rocky hills and pebble beaches. With just one main road on the island, you’re bound to end up in the main town which is also where most of the accommodation is. Get out to Glossa to see traditional houses and views across the water to neighbouring Skiathos.
Have an adventure on Amorgos and enjoy its unspoilt beauty. Take a hike and cross the island via various scenic trails, hitch a ride on donkey or hire a car. Whichever mode of transport you choose, have a look at Hozoviotissa Monastery, clinging to the cliff edge above the dazzling blue sea. In fact, the water here is so blue, it featured in the 1988 French film The Big Blue.