Island Hopping in Greece
When many people think of Mediterranean islands, they immediately picture Greece. The Greek isles certainly present an alluring draw that is hard to resist for first-timers and seasoned visitors alike. Before you start packing your bathing suit, get to know the Greek islands with our short island-hopping guide.
Every island scattered around the mainland of Greece, throughout its sparkling Aegean and Ionian waters, has a unique character and history, cuisine, landscape and architecture, dialect and way of living. The Greek islands are indescribably beautiful, and the truth is that no matter where you go you are sure to find a mix of ancient ruins and tradition, along with a laidback beach culture that appreciates great food, drink, and fun with friends and family. What better way to spend a summer holiday than discovering the island gems of this welcoming nation?
Get to Know the Island Clusters
There are thousands of islands and islets in Greece, 227 of which are inhabited, and these are grouped into geographic clusters that may help you when you are choosing a region to visit.
Cycladic – The Cyclades contain some of the most famous and iconic spots with blue and white towns, timeless weathered windmills and captivating beaches set against a backdrop of sparse, sunbaked scenery. Mykonos and Santorini are the most visited and well-known of this group, but here you can also find Delos, Andros, Tinos, Kea, Kythnos, Anafi, Ios, Folegandros, Serifos, Kimolos, Sifnos, Sikinos, Paros, Naxos, Iraklia, Schinoussa, Koufonisia, Donousa, Antiparos, Amorgos, Milos, and Syros.
Crete – The country’s biggest island (once its own autonomous state during the Ottoman Empire) is a separate region in and of itself. There is so much to see and do, an eager traveler could spend a week or more discovering all the island’s merits. Once home to the Minoan civilization, visitors can take a peek into the past at the ruins of the ancient city of Knossos, and the rest of the island beckons with scenic mountains, beaches, authentic fishing villages, and dramatic geological features such as caves and gorges. You’ll want to visit and stay at both ends of the island to have the true Crete experience. Also, keep in mind that Crete is just 90 minutes by ferry from Santorini so a Crete/Santorini combination makes a great 10-night trip.
Dodecanese – This group of islands lies at the southeastern end of Greek territory, near Turkey, with a cultural essence that takes from both Turkish and Venetian influences. Rhodes is the largest and most popular land in this island complex, but visitors can also seek out Kos, Kalymnos, Pserimos, Telendos, Karpathos, Tilos, Leros, Patmos, Arki & Marathi, Astipalea, Kassos, Symi, Halki, Nisyros, Lipsi, Agathonissi, and Kastelorizo.
Ionian – Lying closer to Albania and Italy, these islands are like the gateway to the Adriatic and European lands beyond. The predominantly visited island here is Corfu, but there are eleven others to explore as well: Zakynthos, Ithaca, Kefalonia, Lefkada, Paxi, Antipaxi, Erikousa, Mathraki, Othoni, Meganisi, and the islets of Strofades.
Northeastern Aegean – These relatively far-flung islands, situated somewhere between Turkey and Thessaloniki, are largely unspoiled treasures. They include Samos, nearby the Turkish port city of Kuşadası and Ephesus, as well as Lesbos, Chios, Samothrace, Thasos, Limnos, Ikaria, Agios Efstratios, Fourni, Psara, and Inouses.
Argosaronic – These charming island destinations in the Saronic Gulf are not so far from Athens, giving mainlanders (and you) the chance to get away without venturing too far. Take a day-trip to Aigina, Agkistri, Spetses, Hydra, Poros, Salamina, and the Methana peninsula.
Sporades – This alternative island-hopping paradise offers dense vegetation and less international tourists. Here you may discover Skiathos, Alonissos, Skopelos, and Skyros.
Decide What You Want Out of Your Vacation
Whatever your travel style, it might say something about which islands are the best fit for your island-hopping itinerary.
Do you want to want to soak up the sun by day and party by night? Mykonos is a gorgeous spot with many lovely beaches, also renowned for its thriving international nightlife. But don’t think Mykonos is the last word in the party scene: there’s also Ios with a great variety of bars and clubs, Kavos on Corfu, Faliraki on Rhodes and also Paros. Santorini also offers compelling crystalline beaches with colors of red and black volcanic pebbles, deep blue waters, and white sands or vertical cliffs.
Do you want to cram as much history as you can into your island adventure? You must see the Minoan ruins of Knossos, located on Crete along with many other remnants of this great civilization. Delos island is another significant historical site, on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1990. (You can take a day trip here from Mykonos or Paros.) Naxos, also in the Cyclades, offers some remarkable sites such as Portara – the Great Door – and the Temple of Demeter. A top spot for history in the Dodecanese is Rhodes, with an acropolis dating back to the 2nd century BC, another acropolis in Lindos, and also ancient Kameiros from the 5th century BC. We also can’t neglect to mention Kos, famous for its Asklepieion, an ancient and sacred healing center based on the teachings of Hippocrates.
Are you more about tranquil scenery and discovering authentic island life? Lefkada in the Ionian islands features brilliant blue waters and heavenly beaches, with some places in the center of the island especially that remain untouched by the footprint of tourism. Ikaria is a quirky island in the northern Aegean, so unaffected by the western way of living that the excellent diet, health and longevity of its citizens have been the subject of a number of scientific studies. If you’re visiting Crete, an island so big it is bound to still have some off-the-beaten-path areas – on the southeast edge of the island you can find Myrtos, a peaceful village with whitewashed houses, a long sandy beach and even a small museum of Minoan artifacts. Agathonisi is one you probably haven’t heard of, a true gem near the coast of Turkey with beautiful mountains, a vibrant charm, two traditional villages and secluded picturesque beaches.
Or maybe you’d like to simply eat your way through the Greek isles? Among the best islands for food and drink are Lesbos, for its olive oil, wine and ouzo; Samos for sweet dessert wine; Folegandros for Cycladic specialties such as pasta with rabbit or chicken in a red sauce, lobster paired with spaghetti, and sun-dried fish; Crete is a gourmet paradise with many specialties like olive oil, sweet cheese used in pastries, and wild greens paired with roasted lamb or fish. There is also Corfu, which retains a more Italian influenced cuisine.
Know Your Seasons
The summer season (June 1-September 30) will bring higher prices and more crowds. Prices can be extremely inflated during this busy tourist season. We recommend you book ahead if traveling in the summer, or plan your travel for the quieter and less costly months of April, May or October.
How to Get There
There are many ferries operating routes all around the Greek islands, so many that it's definitely recommended to have someone who knows the islands help you plan a logical route. You could also fly, as several Greek islands have international airports. This alternative to a long boat journey will save time and protect against any boat cancellations because of weather. There are many cruises that allow you to see a few islands or a handful of them in one trip. If you’re interested in this option, we can help you find the right cruise for you! We also think you might be surprised to find out about yacht options and how affordable and convenient they can be, especially for privacy and the ability to see many destinations in a time frame as relaxed or active as you wish.
Whatever you decide for your island-hopping experience, Greece’s Mediterranean jewels are here for you to delight in again and again, as you relax with your toes in the turquoise seas, meet the people, eat the food, wander the streets and the villages home to both ancient wonders and a warm, modern society where philoxenia (Greek hospitality) is alive and thriving.
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