Greece comes up time and time again as one of the top sun destinations in Europe. But while the mainland does feature a ton of beautiful areas and sights in itself (and it’s often overlooked!), it’s the Greek islands that really capture the imagination of sun worshippers across the world. Deep blue seas, white-washed villages and turquoise domes – for many, it’s the ultimate definition of romance.
But when you know that there are an estimated 1,200 – 6,000 islands in Greece, it starts getting pretty tricky trying to decide which are the best Greek islands to visit. Do you go for classic choices like Crete or try something completely new such as Kefalonia? Want a holiday where you can get out and about in nature or do you want to just chill out in the sun? To help you make up your minds, I’ve put together a list of my favourite Greek islands
Greek Islands – the most popular destinations
Rhodes | Kos | Crete | Santorini | Mykonos | Naxos | Corfu
Zakynthos | Kefalonia | Skiathos | Milos | Skopelos
Planning your Greek island holiday
Greek islands map | Greek island hopping | Greece holidays
Rhodes – the island of sunshine
With more than 3,000 hours of sunshine a year, Rhodes is one of sunniest places in Europe. It’s also the fourth-largest island in Greece, so as you can imagine this island has plenty to offer. Two of the prettiest areas in the island that are well worth staying in are the island capital of Rhodes Town, which serves as the centre of tourism to the island, and also the popular tourist resort Faliraki which features kilometres of beaches and a fantastic water park.
When you’re in Rhodes Town, you definitely should take the time to wonder the streets of the historic Old Town. As well as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there’s a ton of sights and landmarks here such as the Grand Master’s Palace, the Gate of St. Antonios and the mighty fortifications that surround the old town. If you’re into your history, then I’d also recommend going on a trip to the village of Lindos, which boasts an acropolis with awesome views. After a busy day of cruising around the island and seeing all the sights, you can put your feet up on one of the many beaches or enjoy a wide selection of water sports. Rhodes offers the perfect combination of relaxation, culture and entertainment, making it a truly diverse destination.
Kos – one of Greece’s greatest islands
The Greek island beauty of Kos is known for its diversity. Plenty of opportunities for a night out make Kos a popular choice for party-goers, while heavenly and remote beaches towards the north offer the perfect setting for a relaxed beach holiday. And while all that’s going on, there’s no shortage of sights to see either. If you’re staying in Kos Town, then you could pay a visit to the Embros thermal baths to ease those aches and pains (and perhaps your hangover too).
Another highlight is situated just a few kilometres from Kos town: the archaeological site of Asclepeion. It’s here where the philosopher Hippocrates supposedly received his medial training, and you’ll be able to see the ruins of ancient healing sites and temples. On top of that you’ll also have an amazing view of the Turkish city of Bodrum – the Turkish coast really isn’t that far away when you look on the map! If you want to escape the crowds, then I can recommend the beaches of Agios Theologos in the south-west of the island as well as Tigaki, which is towards the north.
Crete – the largest island in Greece
The largest island in Greece is also the largest in the Mediterranean and is located in the southern part of the Aegean Sea. Because there’s so much to discover on Crete I think it would be worth your time renting a car or a moped, which you can do for a very reasonable price. But above all the nature on Crete is absolutely stunning – there’s lots of sweeping hills to the east and dramatic cliffs to the west. There are also impressive gorges such as the one in Samaria National Park close to Chania, the longest gorge on the island. The coast towards the south of the island is quite pebbly and rocky, but to the north everything becomes a lot gentler and there’s some fantastic beaches that attract millions of visitors every year. The beaches at Elafonissi and Balos are simply heavenly!
Remember the old Greek legends of the Minotaur in the labyrinth? Well, that very labyrinth said to be situated in the town of Knossos, a town in the north of Crete that boasts a wealth of incredibly well-preserved ruins and archaeological sites such as the sprawling grounds of the Minoan Palace. History lovers will also get their fix in towns along the north coast such as Rethymnon and Chania which both feature beautiful Venetian harbours. Chersonissos, once a Roman port, offers plenty of family friendly activities such as a great aquarium. There’s also good 5 star hotels, nightclubs and plenty of restaurants and bars across the entire island.
Santorini – a dream in white and blue
Santorini is the main island of the Cyclades archipelago, located in the southern Aegean Sea, and it’s by far the prettiest. Featuring dramatic craggy landscapes that rise out of the sea, the views of the caldera are absolutely legendary and it’s an island that’s high up on most people’s bucket list. The white houses, blue domes and lonely windmills contrast with the red and black rocks and beaches. It’s a place that truly puts you under its spell. The legendary sunsets in Oia are also well-known – visitors will flock to their terraces and pools, while tourists from neighbouring islands will happily make a detour just to have that opportunity to see it with their own eyes. If you also want to experience this highlight, then here’s a small tip from me. Instead of climbing up the hill to the small castle like all the other visitors, simply reserve a nice table in one of the many restaurants and enjoy a long evening sipping wine and feasting on delicious local delicacies.
Fira is the capital of Santorini and is located on the rim of the volcanic crater and lots of cruise ships often stop there. Imerovigli is also another fantastic place to stay too – a lot of those ultra-luxury apartments with breathtaking infinity pools can be found there. The high-end accommodation in Santorini certainly does come with a price tag, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that the island still has its fair share of budget accommodation. A holiday to this heavenly island can be done on the cheap!
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Mykonos – the party island
You’ll recognise this popular island in the Cyclades straight away thanks to its white houses, golden beaches, lovely windmills – and parties of course! If you’re on the lookout for a stylish night out, then this is the place for you. Many insist that even Ibiza is nothing compared to Mykonos, not least because of the film stars, singers and designers who spend their holidays here! There’s also tons of classy boutiques you won’t find on any other Greek island.
During the day the beaches up north are somewhat quieter than the ones in the south, as these are more suited for party-goers. Elia beach is one of the most beautiful and popular beaches in the south. Night owls will love it in Chora, the island capital. If you’re not in the mood to saunter from club to club you could also spend a lovely evening in one of the many restaurants there – the island is known for its delicacies found mainly in the more up-market restaurants, something the island has plenty of!
Other sights that are simply a delight to behold are the churches built in a unique architectural style such as the Panagia Paraportiani church, probably the most photographed landmark on Mykonos!
Naxos – the largest island in the Cyclades
This island in the Aegean sea, and the largest one in the Cyclades, is the home to none other than Zeus himself, the father of the gods (and yes, its capital is also called Naxos!). The island of Naxos is separated from Paros by just a narrow strait. With its mountains, valleys, rivers, caves and beaches surrounded by dunes and cedar trees, the island’s diverse landscapes distinguishes it from its close neighbour.
But it’s not just the nature that the island is famous for. Naxos has a wealth of historic sights, ruins and sculptures too. The symbol of the island is the stone gate of Portara, probably the most photographed feature on the whole island. There’s also an ancient temple located there. Behind the stone gate you can enjoy breathtaking views of the sunset! A good beach to go to is Agios Prokopios. Like most Greek islands there’s a whole host of water sports on offer, and at the the taverns and harbour front you can get some really good food such as freshly caught seafood. Be sure to take a look in the small side streets though, because there you’ll find the taverns the locals go to and they’ll more than likely be free from the crowds of tourists.
Corfu – the pearl of the Ionian Sea
On Corfu there are long beaches, steep coasts and dreamy, beautiful bays – the lush, green nature definitely sets it apart from many other islands. What’s more, you’ll notice a lot of foreign influences here too, with old fortresses left behind from the Venetians and Byzantines as well as British and French influences.
Just like every other Greek island you can enjoy wonderful views here in Corfu. Beautiful sunsets can be enjoyed in Kaiser’s Throne in Pelekas, and you’ll often come across beaches nestled away in beautiful valleys. But if you ever go to Corfu, then don’t just stay in one place – explore as much as possible! Whether it’s on foot, or by bike, moped or rental car, the important thing is that you get out there! You could visit one of the 250 villages nestled in the lush, green forests and admire the blossom come spring time A great place to go swimming is Kassiopi or Paleokastritsa. Kassiopi is a small harbour town with lots of small shops that are worth having a nose around and it’s a great place to spend an evening dining at a cosy restaurant. Here’s a small tip from me: head out on a day trip to Saranda, Albania. The journey there by boat only lasts around an hour, and it’s a great opportunity to experience different cultures and cross a unknown destination off your list.
Zakynthos – breathtaking bay views
This island is one of the southernmost islands in the Ionian Sea. Steep cliffs and lush greenery go hand-in-hand with lots of wonderful bays and crystal-clear waters. One of the most famous and beautiful beaches on the island is Smuggler’s Cove in Navagio. It’s surrounded by sheer cliffs and can only be reached by sea. The name derives from the ship that ran aground here in the 1980s, which adds to the already incredible setting. Since it’s so famous the beach is often crowded, so if it’s relaxation you’re looking for, you’re best heading to Kalamaxi Beach in the south-east of the island. Another famous sight on the island are the Blue Caves – the water inside these caves is an unbelievable shade of bright blue, and there are boat trips on offer so you can take a closer look around!
There are also some fantastic towns on Zakynthos too. The town of Agrassi is rather quiet, but to make up for that there’s plenty of taverns, bars and clubs in Laganas. There’s also here’s plenty of boat tours on Zakynthos that you should definitely go on – one place to check out is the small island of Marathonissi (or Turtle Island), which is very idyllic and is easy to get to from Zakynthos. At the northernmost point of the island is the small village of Tsilivi, which is an excellent place to go if you fancy a good hike with its ruins of an old Venetian observation post – and great for swimming! Zakynthos certainly offers a combination of modern culture and the amazing history of Greece.
Kefalonia – the homeland of Odysseus
Sapphire waters, pristine nature and secluded bays home to beautiful monasteries and grottos – once you arrive in Kefalonia, you’ll find it hard to leave again. This truly is a paradise for nature lovers! It’s shrouded in legend too, said to be the home of the ancient hero Odysseus who featured in Homer’s epic poems.
A very popular bay is Myrtos Beach – many visitors say it’s absolutely stunning and a must-see! Two beaches that offer a lot of water sports opportunities are Makrys Gialos and Platys Gialos. The Drogatari caves are also worth seeing as well – geologists estimate they they could be more than 150 million years old. History lovers should also check out the ancient artefacts in the archaeological museum of Argostoli (the capital of Kefalonia). Argostoli is also where you’ll find most of the clubs and bars on the island.
Kefalonia is a great place to go sea kayaking – you’ll be able to experience the island and its bays from a completely different and unique way. You could also do a day excursion to Zakynthos. Excursions to the neighbouring island take place every day. If you want to have that typical Greek island experience but avoid the massive crowds, this is a fantastic choice.
Skiathos – a paradise for beach lovers
Skiathos may be a tiny island, but it’s got more than 60 beaches to choose from that will all leave you speechless. For those of you looking for relaxation, this is easily one of the best islands to choose from. Lots of small, picturesque fishing villages feature cosy tavernas and lovely houses nestled amongst groves of olive trees and spruces.
Kokounaries is one of the most popular beaches, and you’ll find plenty of taverns and bars in the area. Vromolimnus beach is also worth seeing – the waters are crystal clear and the sand is pure white. Activities such as sailing, diving and paragliding are offered in a lot of places. Some boat tours stop at Lalaria beach which is simply beautiful! On Skiathos you can also have a look around the many interesting churches and monasteries – the Evangelistra Monastery for example is just 30 minutes away from the capital, and you can get there by taking a small bus. There are daily excursions to the neighbouring islands of Skopelos and Alonissos and even further destinations such as Athens and Meteora.
Milos – otherworldly landscapes
Romance and beauty – Milos truly is a slice of paradise. The famous Venus of Milo statue was discovered here, and since it’s a popular choice amongst lovers during the summer months, it goes by the name of the Island of Lovers. Yet despite this beauty the island is unbelievably quiet outside the summer months. This is your perfect opportunity to discover some of the finest landscapes and views all to yourself and enjoy wonderful Mediterranean weather without having to jostle with the crowds.
Perhaps the island’s most famous natural landmarks are the distinctive cliffs. The bare limestone rock rises out of the sea and you’d almost feel like you’re on the moon. The best places to see this unique landscapes is the beach at Sarakiniko or Firiplaka – find a bit of shade beneath an olive tree, relax on the white sands and let the wonderful clear waters cool you down from the afternoon sun. Another geographically significant beach can be found at Paliochori. Thermal springs and dramatic red cliffs allude to the volcanic origins. You’ll find plenty of taverns and restaurants here too, so it’s a great choice for those who want relaxation and activity. Some restaurants even use the volcanic rocks to cook with!
Skopelos – the perfect island experience
Those of you who have seen Mamma Mia! might recognise the pictures of this island. This wonderful island in the Aegean Sea was chosen for its typically Greek views of lush, rolling hills, bright blue seas and wonderful towns with its white-washed houses and terracotta roofs. Life here is laid-back and slow – it’s a place where you can really sense the authenticity and the way of life as lived by locals. Skopelos Town is the largest settlement on the island, but thanks to its multitude of beautiful squares, narrow streets and restaurants overlooking the sea, it’s a fabulous place to be.
The beaches on Skopelos are fantastic as well, often nestled amongst lush bays and green forests. The island’s hilly terrain offers plenty of opportunities for wonderful scenic drives or hill walking (the island’s largest mountain is over 2,200 feet tall) so if you don’t mind the heat of the warm weather you’ll often find that the efforts will be paid off by awesome panoramas. Whatever you do, be sure to see the Agios Ioannis Montastery. Perched on top of a rock overlooking the sea, the dramatic setting and cute little structures make it a truly picture-perfect sight to behold.
Planning your Greek island holiday
Map of the Greek islands
It never hurts to get yourself orientated! Here’s a handy overview of the 10 islands I’ve listed in the article:
Greek island hopping
Still can’t decide which island to go? Well, whoever said you had to just go with one! The good network of local ferry crossings with neighbouring islands and even long-distance services mean that the Greek islands are all nicely connected, so if you don’t want to limit yourself to just one island than I can only recommend heading out on a little adventure.
The Cyclades is perhaps the best island group to go island hopping in, due to the fact that they’re geographically very close to each other. You could start in Mykonos and sample a bit of the nightlife, making a day-trip to neighbouring Dilos, one of the most important islands in Greece for its archaeological and mythological relevance. Then you can work your way around, heading to Naxos, Paros and Milos before finishing the tour in breathtaking Santorini!
Even the Ionian islands are great for a little adventure. Starting in Corfu, head to the neighbouring islands of Paxos and Antipaxos for a little day trip. Then hop on the crossing to lush Kefalonia, and finish your tour admiring the famous views of Navagio Beach in Zakynthos!
Other harder-to-reach islands can be easily reached from Athens by the means of cheap domestic flights – have a little look here to find great deals for domestic flights in Greece.
Book your holiday to Greece
If you’re itching to feel the sun on your face, then what are you waiting for? I’m always on the lookout for cheap holidays to Greece – and there’s plenty of Greek island holidays in the mix too. Simply have a little look at my Greece category and see what deals take your fancy!
More Greek inspiration!