Greece is one of those magical places, filled with hundreds of exotic islands and archipelagos boasting extraordinary scenery, picturesque warm-water beaches, a glorious Mediterranean climate, and authentic Greek cuisine prepared from age-old family recipes.
Whichever island you stay on, you’ll get a taste of traditional Greek culture. With excellent tavernas, handsome hiking trails, and the world’s best sunsets, there’s an island for everyone – beach bums, foodies, adventurers, and active holidaymakers alike.
Map of the best islands in Greece
Part of the Dodecanese islands, Nisyros is a volcanic island in the Aegean Sea. Situated between Kos and Tilos, the circular-shaped Nisyros island is home to the youngest volcano in Greece – one that’s still active today.
Nisyros is not your typical Greek island, which likely explains why it’s still largely untouched by tourism. Explore Nisyros’ unusual volcanic geology, from dark pebbled beaches to hot springs and hydrothermal craters. Perfect for adventurers, there are over 40 hiking trails snaking their way across the island, including up to the volcanic crater itself.
The island is famed for its quaint villages and excellent Greek tavernas more than its beaches. The main fishing village of Mandraki is characterized by cobbled streets, pretty squares, and the Paleokastro acropolis. Soak up the nightlife scene in Mikri Venetia (Little Venice), explore Nikia with its famous Porta square and Volcanology Museum, and visit the mountain village of Emporio that boasts the fortress of Pantoniki and a natural volcanic sauna inside a small cave.
The petite island of Poros can be found in the southern Saronic Gulf. Made up of two pieces of land – Poros Town, the main hub of the island, located on what was once a volcano overlooking the Aegean Sea, and the larger part of the island that’s separated by a channel and left pretty much untouched. The sister town of Galatas can be found on the mainland side of the strait.
Just an hour’s ferry ride from Athens – and because of its beautiful scenery of churches, monasteries, pine plantations, and citrus groves – Poros is a popular weekend escape. Take your time exploring the town’s lovely narrows streets. Highlights in Poros Town include the Archaeological Museum of Poros and the Poros Town Clock Tower.
A variety of other attractions are spread on the outskirts of Poros Town and around the wild island, such as the Holy Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi and the Sanctuary of Poseidon. Spend your days kayaking, tubing, stand-up paddle-boarding, waterskiing, banana boating, and wakeboarding at a series of excellent bays and beaches – Love Bay, Vagionia Bay, and Askeli Beach, to name a few.
Serifos is a small island in the western Cyclades that has all of the charms of a remote Greek getaway – unspoiled, secluded beaches, great walking trails, and excellent tavernas – without all the touristy crowds. Plus, the views are incredible. There are hundreds of Greek Orthodox churches, ancient monasteries, and Cycladic buildings cascading down an otherwise barren hilltop to meet the rocky coastline below.
Once a busy mining capital, today there isn’t much to Serifos besides its hilltop capital and various old mining trails. Hike up to Hora (also known as the Chora, the Greek term for an island’s main town) for a fantastic view of this rather wild and untamed island.
Don’t miss a stroll along the old mining trail of Serifos, where you’ll pass rusty train tracks, ancient caves, and crumbling bridges as well as an old mining museum in the village of Megalo Livadi. Walk through the picturesque Serifos harbor, people-watch in Pano Piatsa, and have a meal at a traditional taverna like the ones found along Mega Livadi beach.
Also known as Pitioussa (which means ‘pine-filled’), Spetses is made up of just one historical village surrounded by undulating hills and an abundance of pine trees. Just two hours from Athens by ferry, it boasts excellent restaurants, a picturesque old harbor, a range of small beaches, and a great nightlife scene that lures yachties from all over the world.
Spetses Town, the island’s hub, has a romantic feel to it, with cobbled streets, horse-drawn carriages, and Venetian mansions. There’s an interesting history to discover too: Spetses was the first island in the Argosaronic Gulf to join the Greek Revolution, and the independence flag was raised here in 1821.
Historical sites include the Poseidon Square near the harbor, with its statue of Independence hero, Laskarina Bouboulina. Her former home, located nearby, now serves as a museum. Other historical attractions include the War Memorial of the Spetses Navy, the traditional shipyards in the old harbor, and Navy Park.
Don’t miss the Armata, a festival held in September each year which celebrates the victory of the Greek War of Independence. When you’ve had your fill of Spetses’ history, try some of the island’s local delicacies, known as Amigdalota – almond sweets found in the sweet shops inside the new port of Dapia.
Kalymnos is part of the Dodecanese islands, located just off the coast of Turkey. The island has plenty to offer, from superb scenery, medieval castles, and scenic beaches to ancient archaeological sites and amazing cuisine. But mostly, Kalymnos is a place for adventure travelers – rock climbing and scuba diving are the highlights here.
Due to its location, the best way to reach Kalymnos is with a flight from Athens. With a rocky landscape dotted with olive groves, Kalymnos is home to some of the most photogenic rock faces in Europe. It’s 60-plus rock climbing routes have made this island a popular adventure destination.
Diving is another favorite pastime in Kalymnos. In fact, it hosts the International Diving Festival every year. Dubbed the ‘Island of the Sponge Divers,’ Kalymnos is famous for its sponge-making traditions that date back hundreds of years. Take your time exploring the beautiful underwater world of Kalymnos at dive sites like Nera, Platy, Telendos, the nearby island of Pserimos, and the Myrties-Telendos sea channel.
Don’t miss a visit to Pothia, the main port on the island, which is home to the historic sponge museum and the 14th-century Byzantine Chora Castle boasting archaeological ruins from the 4th-century BC.
Lemnos, or Limnos, is one of the largest islands in the North Aegean. The island, with its dramatic scenery, is one of Greece’s best-kept secrets – home to enchanting waterfalls, magical sea caves, sandy beaches, and even an interior desert near Katalakkos!
Myrina, the island’s capital, is made up of two bays separated by a medieval castle – the Byzantine Castle of Myrina. Other historical sites include the ancient site of Ifestia (or Hephaistia), which features a cemetery, ancient baths, a Hellenistic theater, and what remains of an ancient fortress.
It’s not just history that brings tourists to Lemnos, but also its natural attractions. The island is perfect for travelers who love to be active. Beach hop your way through its series of sandy beaches – some even with Blue Flag status – and enjoy rock climbing, diving, kite surfing, windsurfing, and hiking, particularly through the Petrified Forest near the town of Moudros and the waterfalls near the village of Káspakas.
Samothrace – also known as Samothraki – is an island in the North Aegean, not far from the Turkish coast. There’s a pleasant laidback feel to this island, with its waterfalls, beaches, basilicas, medieval castles, mineral springs, and pebbled beaches.
Apart from its impressive goat population and the dramatic granite crags of Mount Fengari, the island is well-known for the Nike of Samothrace that now resides in the Louvre in Paris. This massive depiction of the Greek Goddess of Victory was lovingly dubbed ‘the Winged Victory,’ and many replicas can be found around the globe.
Samothrace is all about adventure – trekking, mountain biking, paragliding, rafting, and kayaking are just some of the island’s many activities. Hike up Mount Fengani or Saos, one of the highest mountains in the Aegean, explore the quaint fishing village of Kamariotissa, discover Hora (the island capital) with its folklore museum and fort ruins, and visit Therma for its magical hot springs.
Other attractions on the island include the Archaeological Museum and the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, one of the most enchanting archaeological sites in Greece.
Kea – also known as Tzia – forms part of the Cyclades archipelago in the Aegean Sea. Despite being the closest island in the group to Athens, the majority of foreign tourists tend to miss it, which makes it a lovely and authentic holiday alternative. Instead, it’s a very popular weekend destination for rich Greek locals who have their holiday houses here.
Although it’s typical of a Cycladic island, Kea differs in terms of its landscape and buildings – it lacks the whitewashed houses and blue-domed churches you’ll find elsewhere in Greece. Instead, it boasts olive groves, oak forests, almond orchards, and elegant, peach-colored stone architecture.
Kea is also home to the largest oak forest in the Cyclades. An impressive 60% of the island’s forests are protected by the Natura network, which makes it a popular bird-watching destination. It’s also a hiker’s paradise – take your time exploring the many well sign-posted walking trails, including the Old Lion Trail.
Ioulis, the capital, can be found in the heart of the island where the ancient city-state of the same name once stood. Today, this pretty little town with its tiled roofs, cobbled streets, and scenic squares is worth a visit.
Evia, also known as Euboia, is the second-largest island in Greece, accessible via two bridges (including the impressive Chalkida Bridge) across a narrow channel. Despite its proximity to the mainland – it’s one of the closest islands to Athens – Evia remains one of the less-visited isles by tourists, sought out by locals and those in the know for its wine tasting, archaeological sites, and local handicrafts.
The landscape here is beautiful and quite unlike the more developed Greek islands nearby. The east coast boasts stunning, uncrowded beaches and coves, and the west coast has a mixture of wild beaches, towns, farms, and wetlands, while the interior features a combination of rivers, forests, and streams.
There’s so much to see in Evia, from waterfalls to monuments and monasteries. Visit the Edipsos thermal springs, the island capital of Chalkida with its pretty seafront promenades, and Ancient Eretria in central Evia with its Archaeological Museum.
Alonissos is the largest and only permanently inhabited island in the Eastern Sporades. Because of its relatively remote location and limited ferry crossings, the island is not as busy as its neighbors. It’s mostly visited by Italians, British tourists, and local Athenians.
Alonissos is one of the less developed islands in the area. Part of the National Marine Park of Alonnisos Northern Sporades, which includes the island and several offshore islands, it’s known instead for its immense natural beauty dotted with passion flowers, pine forests, honeysuckle, olive groves, and apricot orchards.
Because of its marine park status, Alonissos boasts some of the cleanest white-pebble beaches with crystal-clear water. The stretch of coastline is often frequented by dolphins, rare seabirds, and the Mediterranean monk seal. Hiking, boat trips, and diving are popular activities here.
Situated on a hilltop overlooking the ocean, Alonissos Town, the island’s capital, as well as Patitiri, the port of Alonissos, is worth a visit. Highlights include the Women’s Association of Alonissos, where you can pick up homemade treats prepared from age-old traditional recipes, and the Alonissos Museum – the largest privately owned museum in the Aegean.
Tinos is a pretty Greek island that’s part of the Cyclades archipelago. Once known as Ophiussa or Hydroessa, it serves as a stopping point for the ferry between Athens and Mykonos. But Tinos is popular in its own right – for activities such as trekking, surfing, scuba diving, and mountain climbing.
While it’s much quieter than Mykonos, Tinos is a popular island to soak up the local Greek culture. It boasts a plethora of Tinian villages to explore, with cobblestone streets, Cycladic architecture, pretty squares, and historic churches. Explore the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, visit Jesuit and Ursuline monasteries in Loutra, and discover the abandoned Monastiria in Dyo Horia.
Visit Tinos Town, the island’s main hub, known for its pigeon houses, festivals, and the Evangelistria church – home to a statue of the Virgin Mary. The Panagia Megalochari church is another highlight and a popular pilgrimage spot.
Astypalaia, dubbed the Butterfly of the Aegean because of its shape, is the westernmost island of the Dodecanese archipelago. Yet when you consider its history, geography, and architecture, it’s perhaps more like the Cyclades.
Home to just over a thousand residents, Astypalaia boasts a fascinating, centuries-old history, and because of its mainly Greek visitors, it offers a more authentic island escape. You’ll find no package tours here!
Astypalaia is split in two by nature: the Mesa Nisi to the west and the Exo Nisi to the east. The main town, or Chora, is well worth a visit. Built like an amphitheater, it boasts spectacular scenery with whitewashed Cycladic buildings, windmills, and a citadel with lovely views of the Aegean. Highlights here include the Town Hall, the Municipal Library, and a famous traditional café known as ‘Mouggos.’
If you’re a foodie, you’ll love Astypalaia. It’s famous for its cheeses, honey, and seafood – particularly lobster!
Ios is a famous island in the Cycladic archipelago. Sure, it may have a reputation as a party island, but Ios is so much more than that – especially if you avoid the party-central months of the summer between July and August.
Ios boasts whitewashed buildings, cobblestone streets, lovely beaches, and clifftop villages. There are hundreds of churches to explore, many of which are historical monuments, and not all of the beaches are hyped towards raucous beach parties. You’ll also find opportunities for scuba diving, windsurfing, jet-skiing, and banana boating here.
The Chora in Ios Town is where you’ll find the Panagia Gremiotissa Church. The main attraction is the Palaiokastro (the Old Castle), which features the remains of a Byzantine fortress on the eastern side of the island.
Leros is an island in the Dodecanese archipelago in the southern Aegean. It has a charming yet desolate feel to it, with a host of medieval castles, historic museums, Orthodox churches, and scenic coves. Plus, as it lacks the excellent sandy beaches that many of its neighbors have, it’s nowhere near as busy.
Instead, Leros is more about enjoying the slow life. Spend your days relaxing on pebbled beaches and tucking into Greek cuisine at traditional tavernas. Explore the island capital of Platanos, home to the city hall and photogenic clusters of windmills, and stroll through the bustling Agia Marina.
Discover the history of the island with a visit to the 11th-century Castle of Leros on the top of Apitiki Hill, the Church of Panagia Kavouradena, and the War Museum.
Milos, located just above the Sea of Crete, is home to more beaches than any other island in the Cyclades – easily one of Greece’s best-kept secrets. Due to its fair distance from Athens, it’s easier to reach Milos with a flight, unless you’re happy to sacrifice the seven-plus hours it takes to get there by ferry.
With an age-old mining history that dates back to the Neolithic era, the volcanic island of Milos is famous for its impressive natural scenery, from dramatic rock formations and hot springs to steam vents and mineral quarries.
What’s more, the western side of the island is a nature reserve, home to some interesting wildlife, such as the Mediterranean seal, the Milos viper, and the unusual croc-shaped Mílos wall lizard. Spend your days lazing on beaches and enjoying a range of nature-based activities, such as windsurfing, boating, sailing, and horseback riding.
Other attractions Milos is known for include the statue of Aphrodite that’s now found in the Louvre in Paris, the Milos Mining Museum, and Sikia Cave that’s accessible only by boat.
Despite being one of the smallest islands in the Cyclades, Syros is the administrative capital of the archipelago. A pleasing mix of the modern and traditional, it boasts the contrast of Ano Syro, the original settlement of Syros, and modern-day Ermoupolis with its historic museums and buildings.
The island of Syros makes for a pleasant weekend escape from Athens, easily reached with a three-hour ferry. A quieter alternative to ever-popular and ultra-touristy Santorini and Mykonos, many seek out Syros for its uncrowded beaches and medieval architecture.
The capital is well worth exploring, with its meandering streets and colorful houses cascading down into the Aegean Sea. Discover a range of remarkable buildings, including the town hall, the Apollo Theater, and the blue-topped Agios Nikolaos Church.
Shaped like a seahorse, Amorgos is the easternmost island of the Cyclades and the closest one to the Dodecanese archipelago. It’s definitely off the tourist trail, with two charming ports located a fair distance from Athens – even the fastest ferry will take you seven hours to get there.
This seclusion makes Amorgos a perfect choice for lazy beach days, free-diving, and hiking. There are plenty of decent walking trails meandering their way across the island, and the seaside pathway between the Chora and Katapoula is particularly good.
Spend some time in Chora exploring its churches and bougainvillea-tangled streets. Don’t miss a visit to the Hozoviotissa Monastery, the Amorgos Archaeological Collection, and the 16th-century Venetian Gavras Tower.
The most famous of the smaller Dodecanese islands, the hourglass-shaped Patmos is a laidback holiday destination characterized by pine-covered hillside and the hilltop Chora with its whitewashed maze of buildings.
The focus here is definitely on the beaches and bays – the appeal being that many are uncrowded even during the height of the tourist season. This is possibly explained by the fact that the island doesn’t have an airport, fortunately keeping mass tourism at bay.
Patmos’ main claim to fame is its spiritual cave known as the Cave of the Apocalypse, where St. John supposedly received prophecies that dictated the chapter of Revelations in the Bible. Today, the cave and the island’s monasteries and Orthodox churches are a popular pilgrimage site for spiritual travelers.
Karpathos is the third-largest island in the Dodecanese group. Its rugged terrain – from rocky mountains to crystal-clear coves – makes it a great choice for beach bums and adventure seekers alike.
The island is split in two by a cloud-tipped mountain – gorgeous beaches to the south and quaint clifftop villages to the north. Don’t miss a visit to Pigadhia, the island capital, home to the history-filled Archaeological Museum of Karpathos.
Thrill-seekers will be in their element in Karpathos too, with an abundance of opportunities for watersports, such as kite surfing, windsurfing, and scuba diving on the cards. Leisure seekers can simply find a beach and sunbathe to their heart’s content.
Folegandros is a rocky little island on the southern edge of the Cyclades island group. One of Greece’s most beautiful undiscovered islands, according to Conde Nast Traveller, Folegandros offers a true get-away-from-it-all escape. It’s not a package holiday destination whatsoever, but tourism is picking up, so you should go before the crowds clock on.
Once used as a political prison up until the 20th-century, remote Folegandros is just 45 minutes from Santorini by ferry. It offers a much quieter alternative with a gorgeous countryside filled with chapels, Greek ruins, and beaches such as the Angali Beach – one of the most scenic beaches in the Cyclades.
The clifftop Chora is one of the most attractive in the archipelago. This traditional medieval village is partly built into a 13th-century fortress known as the Kastro. While you’re here, don’t miss a visit to the quaint fishing village of Karavostasi, where you can explore its Cycladic buildings wound in bright bougainvillea.
Surrounded by pine forests, olive groves, plum trees, almond orchards, and undulating vineyards, Skopelos is the largest and easily one of the most attractive islands in the Northern Sporades. Most famous for being the location of the 2008 film Mamma Mia, the island boasts a series of beautiful beaches and splendid hiking trails.
With a firm reputation for being the greenest island in Greece, Skopelos is an ideal island for those looking to get back to nature. There’s so much to do, from strolling through pine forests and sea kayaking through the Aegean to cycling the island’s back roads in search of the next best beach.
Visit Skopelos Town, the main port on the southeastern side of the island, which boasts all sorts of interesting architecture. Another port can be found in Loutraki, making Skopelos easily accessible to yachties and cruise ships.
Spend your days here exploring Skopelos’ 300-plus churches and chapels, including the 11th-century Agios Athanasios – the oldest existing ecclesiastical building in the Kastro area.
Skyros is the largest island in the Sporades archipelago, but because of its cascading whitewashed towns, it has more of a Cycladic feel to it. Gorgeous countryside, glistening bays, and pine forests in the north are contrasted by the rocky coastline and deserted hills found in the south.
Take your time exploring the photogenic seaside villages and scenic coves on this idyllic Greek island. Skyros Town, the Chora, is the main affair with its bright white houses and ruins of a Byzantine fortress.
Definitely underrated, the island of Skyros is ideal for nature lovers, thrill-seekers, and water babies. Spend your days hiking to find Skyrian horses, bird watching (to see the Eleonora’s falcon), and enjoying all manner of watersports – particularly scuba diving.
The third-largest island in Greece, Lesbos (or Lesvos) boasts an unusual, barren landscape, with sandy beaches and salt marshes on one side and thick forests and millions of olive groves on the other. But the main highlight on the island has to be the hot springs – they’re some of the warmest in Europe!
Lesbos is known for its arts and culture. It’s the home of many famous Greek poets and writers. The island also has a reputation for excellent handmade pottery that you can pick up at a steal from villages such as Agiasos and Mandamados. Ouzo is another famous product in Lesbos. In fact, the island is believed to be the birthplace of this famous Greek spirit.
Don’t leave Lesbos without a visit to Mytilini Town, the port and capital of the island which is always bursting with personality. Other highlights include the petrified forest to the west and the Ouzo Museum in Plomari.
Welcome to Sifnos, a paradise in the Cyclades archipelago just three hours from Athens by ferry. Characterized by olive groves, sandy beaches, almond groves, and idyllic bays, it’s really a no-brainer for a laidback island retreat.
Known as ‘the most delicious Greek island,’ according to Conde Nast Traveller, Sifnos is an island for foodies and creatives. With a reputation for traditional arts and crafts, you can explore the authentic pottery, basket weaving, and cookery workshops the island is famous for in the villages of Vathi and Kamares. Don’t leave without trying the delightful local products such as amygdala, Greek salads with a twist, and divine mezze platters.
Visit the medieval capital of Kastro and the modern capital of Apollonia and discover the island’s many churches and monasteries. The highlight is the Monastery of Khryssopiyí.
Aegina, also known as Egina, is one of the closest islands to Athens, forming part of the Saronic Islands of Greece. Due to its close location to the mainland, just 40 minutes from Piraeus, it’s often bustling with locals – but that just adds to its charm.
Despite its obvious proximity to the mainland, Aegina is still surprisingly untouristy, yet you’ll still find developed beach bars should you seek them. Instead, the appeal of Aegina is in its ancient Greek ruins, waterfront cafes, and pistachio orchards.
The main highlight on the island is undeniably the Temple of Aphaia. Visit the Byzantine Paleohora ruins and the archeological site of Kolona. Other activities include hanging out on one of the many beaches, strolling through the Folklore Museum, and exploring Aegina Town, the island capital, with its Neoclassical buildings and popular port.
Andros is the second-largest and northernmost island in the Cyclades. Dotted with citrus groves, olive trees, and waterfalls, the island is a hiker’s paradise. In fact, it’s one of the greenest islands in the Cyclades!
Nature lovers will definitely be in their element in Andros, exploring the endless network of walking trails leading to waterfalls, alongside bubbling creeks, or through wild valleys on foot or horseback.
The island’s quaint villages are worth a stroll, too, with their cobbled streets and footpaths. Check out the neoclassical buildings, historical museums and monasteries, Byzantine churches, and fascinating archaeological sites.
A string of unspoiled beaches is another reason to head to Andros. Spend your days swimming, diving, fishing, windsurfing, water-skiing, and playing beach volleyball to your heart’s content.
Chios is the fifth-largest island in Greece, located in the northeastern Aegean Sea. On top of a phenomenal Byzantine monastery and several quaint fishing villages, it’s really the island’s unusual palatial architecture that sets it apart from its neighbors.
These heritage buildings remain from when the island was the home of wealthy shipping magnates. It was also the only commercial producer of mastic resin – something that’s earned the island its nickname as ‘the Mastic Island.’
Today, the undulating countryside is dotted with olive groves, citrus orchards, and mastic bushes. You’ll find all sorts of things made from this local export, such as jam, sweets, perfume, and local liqueurs like brandy ouzo.
Visit Pyrgi, the largest mastic village, where you’ll find buildings covered in interesting geometric patterns known as ‘graffito,’ and the port capital of Chios Town, known for its olive, fig, and wine industries. Don’t miss the chance to explore the Chios Mastic Museum, which tells the tale of the island’s most famous trade, from cultivation to processing.
Thasos, also known as Thassos, can be found in the North Aegean Islands archipelago. With its spectacular natural scenery – from olive groves and densely forested mountains to gorgeous bays and sandy beaches – it’s the perfect spot for outdoorsy travelers. Think hiking, sunbathing, diving, and bird watching as the order of the day.
The landscape on Thasos is the perfect terrain for growing a variety of local produce, such as olives, honey, fruit, and nuts, making the island a favorite for foodies. Tsipouro, a local spirit, is more popular here than wine.
Nature aside, there are other drawcards to visiting Thasos. It also has several ancient ruins, authentic mountain villages, and various bouzoukia (music tavernas) to discover. Don’t miss a visit to Thasos Town, the capital, with its archaeological museum and Byzantine Moni Arhangelou, or Alyki with its ancient Greek temple and two early Christian basilicas.
Kefalonia is the largest in the captivating Ionian island collection and has absolutely everything you could need for a carefree Mediterranean escape. Not only does it boast a plethora of built-up holiday resorts and four glorious peninsulas, but proper tourist towns too.
Many are drawn to the island of Kefalonia by its captivating limestone coves, Venetian architecture, lush vineyards, and gorgeous fishing villages like Fiskardo and Assos that are perfect for yachties.
It’s not all developed though. Kefalonia also boasts Mediterranean oak forests, undulating meadows, and lovely bays teeming with marine life like Caretta-Caretta sea turtles. In fact, the beaches on Kefalonia are some of the most picturesque in Greece (Europe, even), particularly the powder-white strip of Myrtos Beach.
Visit the port town of Sami, once the island’s capital, and the site of the original settlement of Sami. These days, the hilltop Argostoli forms the island’s central hub, and its markets and monuments make it well worth a visit. Other activities in Kefalonia include sailing, horseback riding, scuba diving, wildlife watching, and exploring the ancient clifftop Venetian castle.
Symi is a charming Greek island in the Dodecanese archipelago that gets very busy during the summer months. With a strong history of shipbuilding and sponge-diving, it was once a very prosperous island, hinted at by its striking but now crumbling neoclassical buildings. Today, Symi is celebrated for its laidback fishing village feel.
The first thing you’ll notice when you dock at Symi is its glorious Gialos Harbour in Symi Town, the island capital, surrounded by rows upon rows of pastel-hued Italian-era mansions. The rest of Symi is rather desolate, with just a few settlements at the old village of Horio and Pedi in the valley behind.
Symi is also a popular pilgrimage site for Greek Orthodox devotees – particularly the 18th-century Monastery of Archangel Michael Panormitis. But it’s the cobalt blue coves, juniper, oak, and pine forests (perfect for walking), and quaint pebbled beaches that attract many to Symi in the summer months. If you’d prefer to escape the crowds, then visit Symi in the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn.
Hydra, also known as Ydhra, is part of the Saronic Islands archipelago. Blissfully traffic-free – there are no vehicles or roads on the island at all – Hydra has a sort of undeveloped charm. The island is deservedly one of the most popular day-trip destinations from Athens.
The island hub of Ydhra Town, with its rows and rows of grey-stone mansions and white-and red-tiled houses above a pretty harbor, is undeniably photogenic. Explore its narrow winding streets that are home to wild cats, donkeys, and 18th-century waterfront mansions – one of which was home to the famous singer, Leonard Cohen.
Hydra is less about built-up cities and more about pine forests, historical museums, and hilltop monasteries. There are only a handful of pebbled beaches, but plenty of walking trails leading along the coast and past old chapels, such as the trail to Cape Zourva.
Important landmarks include the Lázaros Koundouriótis Museum, the Historical Archives Museum, the Áyios Nikólaos monastery, and the Kímisis tís Theotókou church.
Lefkada is part of the Ionian Islands. Once a peninsula, rather than an actual island, it’s connected to the mainland by a narrow strip, making it one of the only Greek islands you can drive to. While it’s one of the most easily accessible for this reason, Lefkada still remains largely untouristy.
The island has a rugged charm, with wild mountains, waterfalls, olive groves, lagoons, vineyards, and some of the best beaches in the Mediterranean – some of which have Blue Flag status. Activities abound on the island. Spend your days kitesurfing, windsurfing, scuba diving, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
Lefkada Town with its superb marina is a popular destination for yachties, Vassiliki is best for water babies – it’s supposedly the largest windsurfing hub in Europe, while Nydhri has a laidback feel and a gorgeous view over the satellite island of Meganissi.
The most notable landmark in Lefkada has to be the 14th-century castle of Santa Maura – the island’s Venetian name.
Samos is a sizeable island located in the eastern Aegean, not far from the coast of Turkey. With its undulating, vine-covered hills and mountains, Samos is one of the greenest islands in the Aegean, most famous for its local sweet Muscat wine.
The capital is Vathy (or Samos Town). It boasts a museum and a few pastel-colored Neoclassical mansions, but it’s really the other villages that hold the appeal on Samos. Visit Kokkari and Karlovassi with their cute roadside cafes and authentic villagey feel, Pythagorean for its 6th-century Roman aqueduct, and Heraion for its iconic temple honoring the Goddess Hera (supposedly the largest temple in Greece).
Samos is a favorite for nature lovers, home to a series of secret beaches, forest trails, and the imposing Mount Kérkis (Kerketévs) – the second-highest summit in the Aegean. Spend your days on Samos sunbathing, swimming, diving, windsurfing, and hiking. A variety of trails wind their way past cascading waterfalls, hidden caves, and clifftop villages topped with old monasteries.
Naxos is the largest island in the Cyclades. With high mountains, fig plants, vineyards, and olive groves, it’s one of the greenest and most fertile islands of the archipelago.
Naxos has a steady industry of potatoes, olives, lemons, and grapes, but it has also welcomed mass tourism in recent years. With a cruise ship port, Naxos is often one of the busiest islands in the summer season. It doesn’t hurt that the island also has some incredible sandy beaches and ancient Greek ruins to explore!
The island’s center, with its lush valleys, authentic villages, and significant churches, is well worth a visit and can be explored within a day. Hikers will be in their element in Naxos, as it’s home to Mount Zeus – the highest peak in the Cyclades. Don’t miss a visit to Naxos Town, the Chora, with its quaint waterfront, Venetian mansions, and cobbled alleyways beneath a hilltop fortress.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Naxos
Kos is an island in the Dodecanese island group, one that’s famous for its series of sandy beaches, mountain villages, and medieval ruins. Unfortunately for independent travelers, the appeal of Kos hasn’t gone unnoticed, and it’s often heaving with tourists during peak season.
Apart from mass tourism, the island’s main industry includes melon growing, hay baling, and cattle grazing. Located close to Turkey, the island’s capital and main port is Kos Town. Here, you’ll find the 15th-century Neratzia Castle built by the Knights of the Order of Saint John and the Ancient Agora ruins.
Asklepion is another historic site that’s worth a visit. Once a medical school run by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, it’s where they practiced the Hippocratic Oath. Other activities in Kos including exploring the island by bike and swimming in Ebros Thermes, the island’s natural hot springs.
Zakynthos, also known as Zante, is one of the most beautiful Ionian Islands. Home to extraordinary beaches like the famous Shipwreck Beach and some spectacular Greek sunsets, Zante is a pure paradise all year long.
Zakynthos’ charm lies in the fact that it has something for all interests. And while it’s got so much to offer, it’s not yet overrun with tourists. The summer months are crowded in some places, however.
Spend your days exploring one of Zakynthos’ most notable attractions – Navagio Beach, better known as Shipwreck Beach. Most tourists take the boat out to the beach during the day, but a quieter glimpse can be enjoyed from a clifftop viewpoint at sunset.
Other highlights include swimming at Xigia sulfur beach, watching the sunset from the Sunset Taverna in Keri, and taking a boat to Marathonisi Turtle Island and the Blue Caves.
Paros is a typical Cycladic island, and its fishing villages offer a stereotypical Greek retreat less than three hours from Athens. Apart from its typical Greek architecture entwined in purple and red bougainvillea, Paros has a reputation as a party island, with a range of cocktails bars and restaurants – you won’t struggle to find a happy hour here.
But while Paros’ nightlife certainly precedes it, that’s not all there is to do here. The island is also a popular spot for outdoor activities, such as hiking, windsurfing, kitesurfing, horseback riding, yoga, and scuba diving.
Visit Parikia, the island capital, with its arcaded lanes filled with whitewashed buildings, Venetian-style villas, old monasteries, and blue church domes. The port of Náoussa, the former capital of Lefkes, and the satellite island of Antíparos with its stalagmite-filled caves are also worth a visit.
Highlights include the Ekatondapylianí (formerly the Katopoliani) church – one of the most striking in the Aegean – as well as the Áyii Anárgyiri monastery and the archaeological museum.
With its holiday villas, restaurants, and open-air night clubs, Skiathos is the most developed island of the Sporades. Decked out with pine forests, olive groves, and an impressive number of sandy beaches, it’s not surprising that it attracts a fair mix of party-going youths and nature seekers.
If you’re here for the Skiathos nightlife, head to labyrinthine Skiathos Town, the main port, on the southeastern coast of the island. Here, you’ll find an abundance of sidewalk bars and restaurants near the old harbor and along pedestrianized Papadiamanti street. There are also plenty of open-air waterfront clubs located between the town and the airport.
Nightlife aside, Skiathos also tempts yachties with its appealing yacht marina. Jump off and explore the island’s captivating monasteries, age-old churches, and hillside hiking trails.
Corfu is one of the greenest and most beautiful Ionian Islands. It has been a popular weekend escape for centuries; even today, it receives a steady flow of tourism – often with package holiday travelers. This is due, in part, to its excellent beaches, fantastic nightlife, and an international airport, which makes Corfu one of the easiest islands to get to in Greece.
The appeal of Corfu is that it has something for everyone. Corfu Town, the island’s historic center, is laced with the varying architectural styles of its Greek, Italian, French and British past.
Visit the main tourist hub of Palaiokastritsa for its beautiful turquoise bay and fascinating monastery, Sidari for its family-friendly theme park, and Kassiopi for its vibrant party scene.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Corfu
See also: Top Corfu Attractions
Rhodes – dubbed ‘the Island of the Knights’ – is the largest of the Dodecanese archipelago, the historical capital, and perhaps one of the most popular islands in Greece. It’s famed for its age-old historic ruins, lively beach resorts, and excellent windsurfing opportunities.
The island boasts the longest summer of any Greek island, with sunshine here right up until November. But with the sunshine comes the crowds, and the tourist season begins as early as April. When you see all that Rhodes has to offer though, it’s not all that surprising.
Explore Rhodes Town, the island capital, where you’ll enter the cobbled (and often crowded) maze of the walled Old Town that was built by the Knights Hospitaller in the 14th-century. Here, you’ll find the Street of the Knights and the impressive Palace of the Grand Masters that’s now a history museum.
To get away from the crowds that descend on Rhodes in the summer months, hire a car and explore the island’s tree-filled interior. There are plenty of fascinating castles and churches to discover, such as the ones near Monólithos, Kritinía, Thárri, Asklipió, and Áyios Yeóryios Várdhas. Other attractions include the Acropolis of Lindos and the Valley of the Butterflies.
See also: Top Rhodes Attractions
The largest island in Greece, Crete also boasts one of the longest summers in the Mediterranean. You can enjoy a sunshine-filled holiday here until mid-October. First inhabited by the Minoans as far back as 2,000 BC, Europe’s earliest civilization, Crete has a fascinating history and culture.
Today, Crete is easily reached with a flight into one of its three airports. It offers something for all types of travelers – party resorts for the young, delicious cuisine for foodies, adventure for adrenalin-junkies, and rural countryside for those looking to escape.
The island boasts some diverse landscapes – rugged valleys, sleepy Cretan villages, snow-capped peaks, ancient caves, and beautiful beaches. Explore the interesting mix of Renaissance mansions, Islamic mosques, Turkish bathhouses, and Byzantine chapels, churches, and monasteries. Heraklion is the capital, home to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, not far from the ancient Minoan sites of Knossos, Phaestos, and Ayía Triádha.
Foodies will be in their element in Crete as many tavernas make their own produce – from cheese and meats to olive oils, raki, and wine. Home to the longest gorge in Europe, as well as it’s second-highest bungee jump, Crete is an adventure playground with opportunities for rock climbing, mountaineering, and rappelling. Other highlights in Crete include Elafonisi Beach and Ideon Cave in the White Mountains (said to be the birthplace of Zeus).
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Crete
See also: Top Crete Attractions
Mykonos is famed as a cosmopolitan destination among the Greek islands. And, with an Ibiza-like reputation that precedes it, it’s also one of the most expensive. There’s something for everyone in Mykonos, though – beach bums, history buffs, nightlife-seekers, and sunset chasers.
The bougainvillea-draped Mykonos Town is a picturesque Cycladic town with whitewashed, blue-doored houses, iconic windmills, and hidden churches, shrines, and chapels. Explore the maze-like streets built supposedly to confuse the hopeful pirates of the 18th-century, home to an archaeological museum, a maritime museum, and a folklore museum.
Although the streets are lined with small shops, boutiques, art galleries, cafes, bars and restaurants, Mykonos Town has not completely lost its identity. Thanks to Mykonos’s strict building regulations its traditional Cycladic architectural style and character has remained firmly intact.
If it’s a beach party you’re after, head to Paradise Beach or one of the many lively beach clubs. Or simply indulge in some post-sunbathing retail therapy and explore the shops in Mykonos Town.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Mykonos
See also: Top Mykonos Attractions
Easily the first island you imagine when you think of Greece, Santorini is simply magical. The largest of a mini archipelago in the Cyclades, Santorini offers the stereotypically Greek whitewashed buildings, but its two main towns – blue-domed Oia and capital Fira – teetering on the cliffs above a submerged volcano offer some of the best views in the Mediterranean.
You don’t need plenty of time on Santorini to enjoy its allure though, particularly as the volcanic island is also one of the most expensive in Greece – a veritable playground for the rich and famous. But it’s something you simply have to tick off the bucket list for its world-famous sunsets and fine wineries.
Shop until you drop at Santorini’s glamorous boutiques, walk the caldera clifftops, and hang out on the white, black, and red volcanic pebbled beaches. If you arrive by sea you can take a cable car up from the port or alternatively take a trip on a mule up the 588 zigzagging steps.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Santorini
See also: Santorini Attractions