The Greek islands include 6,000 islands and islets distributed in the Aegean and Ionian Seas, and only 227 of these are inhabited. The islands are an integral part of Greece’s history, tourism, and the country’s culture and tradition too. Such a collection of historical and stunning archipelagos, where beaches stretch over great lengths and the landscapes are diverse, is unique in Europe. Beautiful towns and villages, with the famous pastel color palettes of the buildings, are just picturesque and something out of a movie.
Best Greek Islands
Near to the Greek mainland, Santorini (officially Thira) was voted multiple times as one of the best islands to visit in the world. The legendary eruptions on this island have left water-filled caldera and one eruption from 3600 years ago is thought to be the origin of the legend of Atlantis. Thira is famous for an active volcano, remnants of dormant volcanoes, stunning views of sunsets from Oia, volcanic beaches with marvelous rock-formation and colors, and for being a growing wedding destination because of several such scenic views. Santorini has a major airport, one of the few among the Cycladic islands, and is also connected via ferries, buses, taxis, and cruises. Visiting between late April and November is preferred because of the warm and comfortable climate, while it is hotter in the rest of the months.
The largest Greek island, Crete is a part of Greece but it retains a lot of its own culture, including mythology, music, and art. Greece’s reputation precedes it and Crete is the home to Europe’s oldest city, Knossos, and was the center of the earliest civilization in Europe, the Minoan civilization. Being a mountainous region, with major mountain ranges, Crete is popular among hikers and trekkers too; particularly the Samaria Gorge. From archeological sites and ancient ruins to deserted beaches and the mountains, it is a place for all kinds of attractions and certainly difficult to cover all at once. Visitors can reach the island via two international airports, Chania and Heraklion, and a smaller airport in Sitia or even by boat cruising to the main ports of Crete.
A typical Mediterranean island where the sun shines 300 days a year, Mykonos is again a mixture of sacred ruins, delightful picturesque towns, and white-sand beaches. Mythologically, Mykonos was formed from the fossilized bodies of giants killed by Hercules. Although expensive, this island gives you worth its pay with the best beaches and the famously infamous night-life in bars and clubs; enjoyed every summer by celebrities and tourists alike. Mykonos is called the “Island of the Winds”, and rightfully so, it is a paradise for surfers and sailors looking for windsurfing or other adrenaline pumped activities. Travelers can take a 25-minute flight from Athens to Mykonos Airport, 4 km (2.5 mi) from the town of Mykonos, and international flights are available during summer. The other islands are interconnected too, with ferries, buses, and taxis.
Named so because of the ancient springs on the island, Hydra is a part of the Argo Saronic Gulf and close to the capital Athens. Hydra is one of the prettiest Greek islands and gets heavy tourist attraction in the summer. But this does not strip it of its charm as the island of stoned mansions and towns on hills has prohibited all motor vehicles, leaving transportation on foot, boat or donkeys. The way to the beaches is by hiring a sea-taxi, but the deep blue waters just off the harbor are where most people go swimming. Visit the picturesque Kaminia and Mandraki villages, relax on the Bisti and Vlichos beaches or take a day cruise around the island while on Hydra.
The sapphire waters Cephalonia or Kefalonia were the backdrops in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (a book made into the eponymous movie) which made the island’s beauty renowned worldwide. Some thousands of years back, Odysseus (the king in Homer’s Odyssey) hailed the island and its scenic beauty too. Argostoli and Lixouri are the two (rival) main towns, while there are lots of things to do such as Myrtos, Petani and Skala beaches with postcard-worthy views, a tiny port called Assos with the views of the Venetian-era preserved, and the surreal views of the underground Lake Melissani. There are five harbors or ports on the island, so reaching the island by boat seems preferable, in addition to flights from Athens to the Kefalonia Island International Airport.
Once known for white marble quarries and mines, Paros (from the word Parian describing marble or China) is a popular tourist spot in the modern world. One can take ferry rides to other neighboring islands and islets around the Cyclades and loiter around, but there is much to do in the photogenic cities of the island too. A well preserved 13th-century Venetian castle stands on a hill looking over the old town of Parikia, with more well-maintained ancient relics such as churches, and museum attracts inquisitive tourists too. While the beaches, the nightlife, and the hospitality attract vacationers season after season every year. Visit the picturesque town Naousa or the windsurfing competitions at the Chrysi Akti beach or find isolation in other beaches and enjoy the deep blue in Antiparos.
Corfu is the second largest island in the Ionian region, accompanied by several satellite islands, and it draws major influences from the Venetians to the French, Italian and British because of decades of colonial rule. Full of history; ranging from battles in Greek mythology, invasions by pirates in the Middle Ages and falling under British Rule after Napoleonic Wars, it is indeed full of a mixture of cultures and archeological sites. The old town of Corfu City is a UNESCO world cultural heritage site with some of the best nature and architecture found on any Greek island. There are modern ferry services from the port of Igoumenitsa on the mainland going to Corfu. Flights from Athens take around 45-minutes and ferries take around an hour.
Comparatively smaller than other islands in the Aegean Sea, Skiathos is no exception to popular tourism because of pretty beaches like Koukounaries and a natural wooded landscape covered with pine trees. It is an ideal vacation spot for those who are not attracted by the raw nature of the other Aegean islands, without losing the picturesque charm and white beaches either. The capital of the island is a relaxing village called Hora with red-tiled white houses on a hillside with the backdrop of the harbor. Access to the neighboring islands from ferry rides makes it easy for island hopping, for those who like to be on the move.
Once home to one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus of Rhodes, the island is the historical capital of the surrounding island group and known as the “island of the knights”. The Medieval Old Town is UNESCO world heritage site, one of the many (historical) reasons which make this island one the most popular destinations in Europe. Being almost 2000 years old, Rhodes has no shortage of ancient sites such as the Acropolis of Lindos, ancient theatre and palaces, and the castle of Monolithos. Visitors to the island can arrive by charter flights or a long ferry ride from Piraeus. They get their money’s worth not just by ancient relics, but from resorts and five-star hotels to spend long days on the beaches and nights in the city.
Ios (not Apple) is famous for its fanatic night-life, full of young people partying round-the-clock during the holidays. In contrast to that, the cities are great for someone to unwind and relax among the whitewashed hillside houses of Hora and windmills, catching an event at the ancient Amphitheatre or even spending a day at the beach. The beaches (30 in number) are among the best in the country and beloved by every visitor alike; the isolated beach of Manganari is particularly a delight for someone finding some quiet time. One can island hop from Ios to Mykonos, Paros, Naxos and still be a boat-ride from Santorini.
Serifos is another delightful island in the Cyclades and can be found on lists for popular Greek destinations.
To enjoy the famous beaches, nightlife and water activities, along with better and accessible transportation, it is recommended to visit these islands in summer-time or the April to November range.