Nothing screams getaway quite like the Greek Islands. Firstly, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting an island that suits your personality and travel style, and each offers a relaxing escape where beauty that normally only exists on a postcard can be experienced in reality.
With some estimates placing the number of Greek Islands at around 6,000, with roughly a couple hundred of those inhabited by residents and travelers, it can be difficult to know where to start when planning your Greek Island getaway.
So we’ve created this guide to introduce you to some of the most notable Greek Islands from the Mediterranean, Ionian, and Aegean Seas.
Choosing the Right Greek Island
Top Greek Islands
Whether you’re looking at the Cyclades, Sporades, Ionian Islands, or others, the Greek Islands are filled with fascinating ruins, delicious cuisine, picturesque villages, and stunning beaches.
Well connected by ferries and planes, a trip to any of these Greek Islands is perfect year-round.
Situated within the Cyclades of the Aegean Sea and nicknamed the Queen of the Greek Isles, Mykonos is for the chic-seeker, party-goer, or beach lover.
The bohemian vibe of the islands hasn’t completely faded since the 1960s although now you’ll find beauty salons on the once-famous naked beaches and a constant drone of house music blasting at all hours.
Many of the most luxurious hotels can be found on the Aghios Ioannis peninsula south of Hora. Or you can also look for Villas in Mykonos for a more secluded and intimate getaway.
Seek out some of the island’s famous pelicans that wander around the waterfront and marvel at the mansions of Little Venice. There are also plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities available including surfing, jet skiing, parasailing, and scuba diving.
Of course, you could simply lounge on one of the island’s many beaches including Korfus, Ftelia, Ammos, and Kalafatis. Be sure to sample some Aegean delicacies such as Louzes, Amigdalota, or Kopanisti topped with tomatoes atop Greek rusks.
Just offshore Mykonos, lies Delos which makes for a great day trip to explore the birthplace of Apollo. The island is a must for birdwatchers who regularly observe Eleonora’s falcons, Bonelli’s eagles, caciques, shearwaters, and shags.
If the glitz and glamour of Mykonos gets too much for you and you’re after a bit more authentic local flavor, consider visiting Tinos for more of a traditional village feel.
Tinos is home to more than 50 small villages, each being quite unique. It’s famous for its marble craftsmanship, with many renowned Greek sculptors leaving behind their masterpieces in villages like Pyrgos.
Witness the basket weavers of Volax or check out the Poseidon Sanctuary. There are also countless hiking and horseback riding trails scattered across the island despite it only being 75-square miles.
The island is known for its many Cathloic and Orthodox churches, one of its most famous being the nearly 200-year-old Church of Panagia Evangelistria. The island takes its religion serious, with large festivals honoring the Virgin Mary taking place each August.
You’ll also notice hundreds of elaborate structures called dovecotes which house pigeons. Many of these unique structures date back to the 17th and 18th centuries when the Venetians introduced the breeding of doves to the island.
Not only were the doves considered a delicacy to eat, but they also found their droppings made high quality fertilizer which helped make the soils of Tinos so fertile.
Don’t forget to sample some authentic Greek foods like cuttlefish risotto or caramelized octopus and wash it down with some wine from the family-run winery in the village of Mesi. All this, just a 15-minute speed boat ride from Mykonos.
Crete, the birthplace of Zeus, is the largest of the Greek Islands. You could easily spend your entire Greek Island holiday simply on Crete, with countless beaches, snow-peaked mountains, and countless historical sites to keep you occupied.
There are also plenty of hiking trails and traditional villages to explore which can help burn off the baklava and moussaka you will be devouring along the way.
Try a hike through the Aradena Gorge in the wild and untouched Sfakia region, ending in Marmara which is a stunning cove in the Libyan sea. The west coast is home to the authentic villages of the Amari valley or Apokoronas, surrounded by orange and olive groves.
Travel back to the Bronze Age with a visit to Palace of Knossos, which is thought to be one of the oldest cities in Europe. It is the Minoans which once called Crete home. You can also check out historic Venetian port towns and the Venetian carvings of Arkadi Monastery.
Elafonisi Beach is unique in that in offers up pink sand and you’ll also find the island is blessed with Europe’s largest palm forests. Seek out even more adventure at Crete’s UNESCO Global Geoparks, where you can appreciate Earth’s long geological heritage.
Naxos is one of the more family-friendly islands in Greece. The island’s west coast features a number of soft-sand beaches with shallow waters. Like on Tinos, you can enjoy a bit of horseback riding, even along the shoreline in places like Plaka Beach.
The largest of the Cyclades, Naxos is also popular for windsurfing and kitesurfing thanks to the seemingly ever-present winds. Being that the island is quite large, you will want to rent a vehicle or will have to rely on the local bus system to see many of the sites.
There are a number of intriguing archaeological sites to explore including the 17th century Bazeos Castle, statues of Kouros, Sanctuary of Demeter, the old Venetian Castle of Naxos built under the reign of Markos II Sanoudos, and the island’s giant marble Portara gate that once lead to the unfinished Temple of Apollo.
If you’re into hiking, check out Zas Cave or try to summit Zas Mountain which at roughly 1,000 meters is the island’s tallest point.
Santorini is one of the Greek Islands you’re most likely to see pop up in your Instagram feed due to its countless photo opportunities. This is where you’ll find the famous white-washed buildings with blue domes, many alleyways often draped in vibrantly colored bougainvillea.
A scenic cable car ride will take you to the Santorini’s capital of Fira which sits on a volcanic caldera. You may even wish to give the local donkeys a bit of a pat. Be sure to catch the sunset at Oia, sipping some of Santorini’s delicious wine while you do so.
If you wish not to fight the crowds of Oia or Fira, head to the villages of Pyrgos or Megalochori which are just as beautiful but receive less attention. You may also wish to seek out the Akrotiri Lighthouse or Profitis Ilias monastery which overlooks the island at its highest vantage point.
If you’re into archaeological sites, be sure to check out the Cycladic Bronze Age city of Akrotiri, and find out even more detailed history of Santorini by paying a visit to one of the museums such as the Archaeological Museum of Thera or Museum of Prehistoric Thera.
Lastly, you can head offshore via one of the boat tours that will take you to an otherworldly volcanic landscape known as Nea Kameni Island, where you may have the option of swimming in the warm geothermal water along the shoreline.
This is just a small offering of what the Greek Islands have to offer. Whether you settle on a single island for your entire stay or decide to do a bit of island hopping, you really can’t go wrong.
The main goal is narrowing down what kind of activities you’re looking for and whether you wish to party-it-up or enjoy a bit of seclusion and then select your islands accordingly.