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Teeming with ancient history and set against stunning backdrops, the Greek islands are unlike any other place on Earth.
They attract every type of traveller, from backpackers to celebrities, all looking to bask in the relaxed way of life, take in the stunning scenery, and enjoy the crystal-clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
Having lived, studied, and vacationed in Greece, I’ve had the opportunity to visit quite a few Greek Islands, which only scratches the surface; there are 6,000 islands in total, though only 227 Greek Islands are inhabited.
Hopping around the Greek islands you’ll quickly learn that every island has its own unique personality and story to tell. But since we don’t all have the luxury of being able to see them all, here is our list of the best Greece Islands to visit!
The Best Greece Islands To Visit!
This quirky Greek island is the only of its kind that outlaws vehicles, so you will need to get around on foot or by using one of the island’s donkeys.
In the past, Hydra, or Ydra or Idra as it’s also known, drew acclaim for being an artist/writer’s colony, but these days it’s more frequented by Athenian city-dwellers on weekend getaways.
The large majority of Hydra’s population lives in the center of town where all of the tavernas and restaurants can be found. Come to this Greek island expecting a quiet retreat and stunning Venetian architecture.
It’s a small island and doesn’t take long to explore, which makes it perfect for those looking for a Greece Island to visit for a weekend.
It’s also very near to Athens, which makes it a great island to visit on a day trip from mainland Greece if you are short on time. Here is a 7-day itinerary of the Peloponnese region while in this area.
Tip: Do not rely on Hydra to be a beach escape, as they are found sparingly and are extremely rocky.
Aegina is only a quick 30-minute hydrofoil ride from the main port of Piraeus making it an easy choice for tourists who are seeing Athens sights but don’t have the time to island-hop.
The beaches on this Greek Island are rather lackluster, but the center is filled with cute cafés perfect for escaping the summer heat.
Aegina is famous for its production of pistachios, be sure to pick up a bag from one of the many shops located near the port.
Don’t expect anything remotely resembling mass tourism from Evia, the second-largest island in Greece and the ancient home of Aristotle.
Evia is composed of several quaint villages, fishing towns, and coastal resorts and offers a truly authentic slice of Grecian life.
If you’re looking for the best Greece Islands to visit for beaches, then you’ll find some beautiful ones here. It’s also known for having a year-round warm climate, so no matter what time of year you plan your vacation, you can expect warm days here.
Chilaro beach in the village of Vitalo is hands-down the most serene, beautiful beach I’ve seen in all of my travels. Ask locals how to find it.
4. Santorini (Thira)
Undoubtedly one of the most famous of Greece’s islands, Thira (as it’s known to the Greeks) balances jaw-dropping beauty and intriguing ancient history with a lively party scene and is truly the island that offers something for everyone.
As part of the Sporades Islands, Santorini boasts incredible landscapes with high cliffs, dropping into the wild ocean below. Many of the island’s town have been built onto the side of the cliff, which gives the island that iconic postcard backdrop.
Oia is the town of all the typical Grecian images of white churches with blue domes. It is a bit isolated at the northern tip of the island and is a great place for older couples and families to stay.
Seeing the sunset in Oia is an absolute must!
Fira, the main town, and Perissa, where the black sand beach is located are the best places to go out. Akrotiri, the site of the red sand beach and ancient Minoan ruins make for a great day trip.
Ios, otherwise known as Io or Nio, has a hedonistic reputation as a party island and it attracts young crowds looking for nightlife.
That being said, it’s surprisingly relaxing (without losing its sense of fun) outside of high season. It’s a small island with a population of less than 3,000, so if you want a quieter vacation, this is the place for you.
If you really want to avoid the crowds, head to the beaches furthest from Chora for a truly tranquil experience.
Ios is a hilly island known for its rugged landscape. Think craggy cliffs dropping into the wild sea. Since it’s only 18km in length, it’s easy to explore.
Tip: Pack a picnic and hike to the churches on the top of the hill in the old town’s (Chora) center for a 360 panoramic view of Ios in time to catch the sunset.
The playground of elite jet-setters in years past, Mykonos has retained its glamour while still charming in every way.
The center is a maze of narrow cobble-stoned streets that buzz with energy deep into the night when the bars and clubs open and are bustling during the day with shoppers. The famous windmills and little Venice (pictured) are a must-see as they are just as beautiful in person as in photos.
Get to know the local side of Mykonos away from the tourists with a guided tour to small villages, farms, and secret beaches!
Tip: The meltemi winds that surface in high season are fiercest in Mykonos, which offers little natural shelter so bring a sweater even if you’re coming in August.
Agricultural at its core, Naxos offers some of the best beaches on the Aegean (and dare I say, the Mediterranean) and a lively beach promenade and town center. It hasn’t lost its charm, likely because it isn’t reliant upon tourism like so many of the other Greek islands are.
Since it’s located in the heart of the popular chain of Cycladic islands, Naxos makes an excellent base for island hopping in Greece.
Make sure to see the ruins of Apollo’s Gate near the port (pictured above.)
Consider a full-day tour of the island which includes highlights of visiting the oldest distillery, ancient greek temples, wandering through the famous marble village of Apiranthos, and much more!
Tip: Naxos is big and therefore, the ideal place to rent a moped and explore its more isolated beaches and countryside.
Corfu is one of the Ionian Islands in the Ionian Sea, and is made up of stunning beaches and rugged mountains.
It’s world-class resorts attract thousands of visitors each year, but there is more to the island than staying in your all-inclusive luxury hotels.
The island has an interesting architecture, which reflects its years under Venetian, French and British rule. The most beautiful architecture is that of the Venetian castle in Corfu Town, which is surrounded by cobbled streets and medieval alleyways.
Rhodes is the largest island in the group of Dodecanese islands and is well known for its luxury hotels and beach resorts.
For those looking to sit back and relax on a sandy beach, this is the Greece Island to visit.
Other than beaches, Rhodes has ancient ruins that date back to the Crusades, as well as medieval buildings in the Old Town – the most striking of which are on theStreet of the Knights.
If you’re a foodie fan, Rhodes is a great place to find some delicious, fresh Greek cuisine, paired with local wines.
Crete is Greece’s largest island and is packed full of things to see and do. Do not miss a chance to check out the archaeological sites and explore the ancient ruins of Aptera and Malia.
The most popular attraction on the island, besides its beaches, is the Palace of Knossos in Heraklion.
If you don’t want to spend your days on the beach and fancy doing some hiking, then head out to the 16km-long Samariá Gorge that has more than 50 canyons to explore. The Aradena Gorge is also a great hike on the island which takes you to Marmara, a beautiful cove on the Libyan Sea.
For those looking for a quieter side of Crete, head to Chania. This small port-city is known for its 14th-century Venetian harbor, as well as its beautiful narrow streets lined with venetian architecture.
You won’t find waters as blue as the ones in Zakynthos, which is a Greece Island all about the water. The main city, Zakynthos, is a harbor city where all the goings-on happen around the waterfront of Solomos Square.
If you want to soak up the sun, head to the nearby beaches of Agios Nikolaos, Alykanas and Tsilivi. The most famous beach of all is Navagio Beach, which houses a shipwreck that sits in a sheltered cove, protected by cliffs.
Zakynthos is also a popular diving destination, since much of its marine landscape has been unspoiled, you can dive through sea caves or at popular turtle spots, where the endangered Caretta sea turtle comes to mate.
It’s the perfect place to spot wildlife. If you’re lucky, you may even see some baby monk seals playing in the waters.
Syros is small but it packs a punch, which is why it’s one of our favourite Greece Islands to visit! It was once a very wealthy city and was constructed by European architects during the Renaissance period, so its archiecture is simply stunning and vastly unique compared to other Greek Islands.
It’s also home to several stunning beaches, coves and hidden bays. It’s known for having a vibrant nightlife scene, but it’s more sophisticated than the backpacker bars or Santorini or Mykonos.
You’ll find plenty of jazz bars, taverns and wine bars playing elegant piano music, as The Apollon Theatre hosts an annual classical musical, jazz and contemporary music festival.
For this reason, it’s one of the best Greece Islands to visit for couples.
Located next door to Naxos is Paros, home to the Panagia Ekatontapiliani, a famous Byzantine church that dates back to the 4th century A.D.
As well as some historical attractions to discover, Paros offers a similar vibe to Mykonos and Naxos, with white-washed buildings, world-class restaurants and bars, and a buzzing nightlife scene.
Like most Greek islands, Paros is also known for its beaches, but as well as soft sandy beaches, there are also some naturally formed coves that you can swim in at Kolimbithres Beach which is one of the most famous places to visit on the island.
UNESCO World Heritage site of Delos is a hidden gem in the Greek islands. The whole island is an archaeological site, and is famous for being the mythological birthplace of Apollo.
In its prime, it was a major religious center and its ruins date it back to the 1st millennium B.C.
Visitors can see the ruins of Doric temples, ancient markets, an amphitheater, as well as several houses with mosaics. The most famous landmark is the iconic Terrace of the Lions statues.
You can learn more about the excavations and history at The Archaeological Museum.
While you cannot stay on Delos, you can get a ferry from Mykonos and take a day trip there.
Although not as famous as the other Greece Islands to visit on this list, Kastellorizo is a hidden gem that’s perfect for a quiet getaway.
It’s famous for being the location of the Oscar-nominated movie, Mediterraneo, about Italian soldiers who washed up on a remote Greek island during WWII that was filmed in 1991.
The most famous attraction on the island is the Blue Grotto, or the Blue Caves, which are located on the southeast coast. They are famous for the bright blue reflection created by light seeping into the cave’s entrance, bouncing off the waters inside. You can swim inside the cave when the tide is out.
At only 10 square kilometers, you will find this is one of the most remote islands in the Greek Islands, but is easily accessible by ferry from Rhodes.
Final Thoughts On The Best Greek Islands
So there you have it, those are the best Greek Islands to visit this year, and as you can see, there’s so many amazing islands to explore.
Whether you’re looking for those iconic Greek beaches, or you want to explore some ancient ruins, there’s all that and more in these islands.
We hope this guide helped you plan your next trip to Greece and gave you some inspiration about which Greece islands to visit.
If you are visiting Athens, don’t miss my 48-hour guide to Athens.
BIO: Christine Medina is the writer behind Christine in Spain. She has been traveling since she first fell in love with Europe in 2008, and now calls Spain her home away from home.
More Greece Travel Tips
Looking for more inspiration on travelling in Greece? Then you may like these other resources!
- Check out this coastal region that made this list on destinations in Europe on a budget!
- 20 Awesome Things to do in Crete
- Scuba Diving in Zaykynthos Island, Greece
For more ideas about things to do on that road trip, planning information, beautiful photos, and practical maps to help you plan your travels, check out ZigZag On Earth’s eBook: Explore and Photograph Santorini