When you think about Greece, it’s not hard to imagine islands with sun-kissed beaches, crystal-clear waters and all-night partying. However, there is more to the islands than this. The history of Greece is fascinating, and on many islands in Greece, you will find ancient sites, monasteries and museums. Some Greek islands offer hiking opportunities, exploring off the beaten track in a four-wheel drive or taking a day cruise to nearby islands.
The Greeks love their food, and you will discover the delights of Greek cuisine on the islands. The wine flows in Greece, and you can visit a winery for a tasting. There are over 200 islands in Greece that are inhabited, making it challenging to decide where to go if you are new to Greece. To help you decide, here’s a list of 20 islands that are worthy of a visit. There are islands for beach lovers, history buffs and Greek islands for partygoers. Some offer a mixture, so read on to find the best Greek Islands to visit.
- From Athens: Greek Islands Private Helicopter Transfer – fly to the islands like a rockstar!
- Santorini: Volcanic Islands Cruise with Hot Springs Visit – very popular.
- Full-Day Sailing Trip around Skiathos Island – explore ‘Mamamia island’ in the movies.
- Zakynthos: Shipwreck Beach, Viewpoint, Blue Caves Day Tour – an incredible tour not to be missed.
- Crete Heraklion: Knossos Palace Skip-the-Line Guided Walking Tour – for history lovers.
Best Greek Islands To Visit
Crete is the largest Greek island and the furthest south.
It promises year-round sunshine, although it can still have winter weather, mainly in January and February.
Crete offers everything from ancient ruins to spectacular beaches to snow-capped mountains.
Although the beach resorts close in the winter, the cities are still lively and all the archaeological sites, museums, and monasteries remain open.
It is a great winter destination, although you won’t get a direct flight outside the summer months and will have to transit through Athens.
The capital of Crete is Heraklion is on the island’s eastern side.
The famous Palace of Knossos, which was the centre of Minoan civilisation and Europe’s oldest city, is close to Heraklion.
It was built in the 7th century BC and is well worth a visit if you are interested in ancient history; it’s one of Greece’s most spectacular archaeological sites. Skip the line and prebook your entry tickets to Knossos here by joining this guided walking tour.
You can see artefacts from the site in the Archaeological Museum in the city of Heraklion.
In the west of Crete, Chania is another city you must visit on the island.
I may be biased as I live near Chania, but it has the most beautiful harbour I have ever seen.
It was built by the Venetians and the Old Town is full of Venetian architecture, narrow streets, and tiny shops selling handmade jewellery.
While in Chania, visit the Archaeological Museum and the Maritime Museum.
If you are near the city of Rethymnon, visit the Arkadi Monastery, which was the scene of heroism in the 1800s.
During the Ottoman siege, some Cretans took refuge in the monastery and committed suicide rather than be captured.
We mustn’t leave out the famous Samaria Gorge, which at 18 km (11.18 miles), is one of the longest gorges in Europe. It offers a great hiking experience and stunning scenery. Find out more here.
There are plenty of beaches in Crete and the nightlife is exciting in the summer.
The Archaeological Museum of Heraklion is at 1 Xanthopoulou, 71202 Heraklion. The Archaeological Museum of Chania is at 15 Skra Street, Chalepa, 73133 Chania.
The largest of the Dodecanese islands, Rhodes, has an average of 300 days a year of sunshine.
Rhodes is a good prospect for year-round visiting, although, as with Crete, you have to change planes in Athens during the winter months.
Rhodes merges history with golden sandy beaches so there is something for everyone.
The Medieval Old Town shows many signs of Venetian rule and is more like Italy than Greece.
Wander around the narrow streets and have a coffee or ouzo meze on the harbourfront, a trendy part of town that comes alive at night.
Here you can party until the sun comes up.
For those who want to discover more about the history of Rhodes, visit the Palace of the Grand Masters and the Street of the Knights in Rhodes Town.
There are plenty of Byzantine churches here, Roman ruins and Ottoman minarets.
If you are in Rhodes during the summer, visit the Valley of the Butterflies, a nature reserve with thousands of butterflies.
They are a fantastic sight.
The village of Lindos is worth a visit with its whitewashed buildings and narrow alleys. You can take a day trip that will also take you to the Acropolis, where you will see ruins from both Medieval and ancient times.
The setting provides spectacular views towards the sea. Skip the line and reserve your tickets to the Palace of the Grand Master here.
Corfu is different from many Greek islands because it is green, as it gets more than its fair share of rain during the winter but in the summer, it is hot like the rest of Greece.
Corfu has always attracted celebrities but it has now become popular with everyone else, from families to couples to groups of friends.
Here you can enjoy the beautiful beaches of Paleokastritsa or hike in the stunning green mountains.
For history buffs, there is plenty to keep you occupied. Visit the Medieval Corfu Old Town and see the Old Fortress, the New Fortress, and the church of Saint Spyridon, the island’s protector.
10 km (6.2 miles) south of Corfu Town, you will find the spectacular neoclassical palace, the summer residence of Empress Elizabeth of Austria, built in 1888.
Don’t leave Corfu without visiting Pontikonisi Island, a short ferry ride from Corfu Town and home to a 12th-century monastery that is well worth visiting.
The island gets its name (which means Mouse Island) from the stone steps leading up to the monastery that looks like a mouse’s tail from the mainland.
If you are lucky, you will see dolphins on the ferry ride over.
Join a guided walking tour to get your bearings and to find out what local food to try.
Santorini is possibly the most romantic island in Greece, although it has become very popular, so it can get crowded in the summer months.
Because of the volcanic eruption of 1600 BC, many beaches have black sand and others red, but this is not something to worry about.
They do look spectacular and the sea is inviting and crystal clear.
If you are interested in history, join a tour to ancient Akrotiri, which was buried by the volcanic eruption and is well-preserved.
The artefacts are on display in the museum in Fira, the island’s capital.
If you don’t want to spend all your days on the beach and your nights at the many clubs in Fira, there is plenty to do on the island.
Take a cruise to the nearby island of Nea Kameni, hike an active volcano, go on a winery tour and try some of Santorini’s unique wines.
Visit the town of Oia at sunset and have a cocktail while watching one of the most spectacular sunsets in Greece.
The Archaeological Museum of Santorini is at Main Street, Fira, 84700.
Since the 1960s, Mykonos has been the party island of Greece and a significant LGBT-friendly destination; however, families and couples also head to Mykonos because of the spectacular beaches.
Not all are party beaches with bars and clubs lining the seafront.
Some are family-friendly and there are even some quiet and secluded beaches.
If you are in Mykonos Town, don’t miss going to Little Venice for a drink or a meal.
This part of the town is lovely, with its white-washed buildings and colourful doors and balconies.
The sunset is spectacular from here.
Close to the town is the Mykonos Windmills, built in the 16th century to mill wheat and a landmark that is one of the most photogenic spots on the island.
One of the windmills is a museum.
If you have time, take a boat trip to the island of Delos to see one of Greece’s most important archaeological sites.
It was built around 314 BC and was a major port and a religious and cultural centre.
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Kefalonia became famous through the book and film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, written by Louis de Bernieres.
Visitors to the island have increased since the book was published and the film released. However, it has always been a beautiful destination, with its clean, sandy beaches and clear, calm seas.
Myrtos Beach is spectacular, with its white sand, stunning cliffs and pine forests surrounding it.
The island is famous for its wine, particularly the Robola varietal, and you won’t go far wrong taking a winery tour and tasting.
If you are interested in history, there is plenty to keep you occupied.
Tour the ancient ruins and visit the Roman Villa at Skala, the Venetian castle of Agios Georgios and the Byzantine castle at Assos.
There is a beautiful National Park on the island at Mount Ainos which you will love if you are interested in nature.
If you are lucky, you will see wild horses and deer. You may like this island highlights tour.
Naxos is the largest Cyclades island and is family-friendly, with long sandy beaches and traditional villages.
If you want to party, the nightlife is lively in Chora, the capital of Naxos.
Since ancient times, Naxos has been famous for its marble quarries. The marble was used in ancient times and is still used today. It is highly priced due to its durable nature.
Naxos is also famous for food and drink.
Their cheese-making skills are second to none, so try the island’s signature cheese, Arseniko. It is a spicy cheese made using sheep or goat’s milk with the addition of whey.
When it comes to drinks, give the citron liqueur a try. It has been produced on the island since 1896 and is served neat and used in cocktails.
Looking to hit the water? You may like this catamaran cruise, which includes snorkelling, lunch and drinks.
Kos is part of the Dodecanese islands and is similar to Rhodes in its architecture, however, it is more laid-back and traditional.
It is a great place to combine a beach holiday with sightseeing.
If you are interested in history, visit the Asklepieion Archaeological site, a sanctuary dedicated to Asclepius, the ancient god of medicine.
It is where Hippocrates studied, becoming the father of Western medicine and writing the Hippocratic oath.
The sanctuary is built on the slopes of a hill from where you get magnificent views of the sea together with glimpses of the Turkish coast.
There is a museum here as well as Roman baths.
A pleasant day out is to the mountain village of Zia, which is on the island’s highest point.
Here, traditional Greek life moves at a slower pace and the food is authentic. Taste local dishes at one of the tavernas, buy some spices and try the local cinnamon water.
For an adventure, take a 1-hour cruise to the volcanic island of Nisyros to go hiking in the volcano. Find out more about the Nisyros Island Volcano and Panagia Spiliani tour from Kos.
Like Naxos, Paros in the Cyclades has been famous for producing marble since ancient times.
The island supplies the whole country with marble; many statues are made with the famous Parian marble.
The island is cosmopolitan, with lovely beaches and exciting nightlife.
The nightlife caters to all tastes, from romantic cocktails to wild parties at the clubs.
10 km (6,2 miles) south of the capital, Parikia, you will find Naussa, the centre of the party scene.
The clubs are similar to those in Athens, with famous DJs entertaining thousands of people.
Parikia isn’t as full-on.
There are quieter bars, and the ones playing music tend to stick to jazz and rock.
Escape from the crowds for a day, relaxing on a quieter beach by taking a short ferry ride or a private boat tour to the island of Antiparos.
While there, visit the Cave of Antiparos and see the beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.
Lefkada is a beautiful mountainous island and is popular because you can reach it by a causeway from the mainland.
This Greek Island has some of the best European beaches and good hiking opportunities, even up to the top of the island’s highest mountain, Skaros.
Visit the Lefkada Folklore Museum in the capital to discover the island’s history and see the reproduction of an ancient house on display.
To experience traditional Greek life, visit the lovely village of Agios Nikitas, where life goes on at a slower pace.
Visit a quaint tavern to try local Greek food and relax on the nearby beach.
Water sports enthusiasts are well catered for. Vassilika is one of the best places in Greece to go windsurfing or kitesurfing.
The Lefkada Forgotten Islands from Nidri is a full-day cruise with four stops, visiting lovely beaches and a traditional village. It includes lunch and snorkelling. Find out more here.
Andros is in the Cyclades, but unlike most of the islands in this group, it has lush vegetation and a total of ten rivers.
There are traditional villages and perfect beaches with crystal-clear waters.
Andros is the hiking island of Greece, with ancient paths you can follow to get around the island without getting lost.
The scenery is magnificent, and it is a photographer’s paradise.
If you are interested in art, visit the Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art, which has both a permanent and a temporary exhibition.
It is in the capital of Andros, a beautiful town with many neoclassical buildings.
Andros is a great base for island hopping as ferries go from here to many islands, including Paros, Naxos, and Mykonos.
The Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art is at Basil & Elise Goulandris Street, 84500. You may also like this half-day sightseeing tour.
Step back in time and visit the island of Hydra, where no motor vehicles are allowed.
The only way to get about is on foot or donkey!
Hydra played a significant part in the 1821 Greek War of Independence and is now a popular destination for Athenians wanting to get away from the smog at the weekend.
The ferry takes about 2.5 hours from Athens or if you have some cash to splash, get a private helicopter transfer to or from Santorini.
Hydra has attracted artistic people for many years, and you will find that the School of Fine Arts is on the island.
The island enchanted Henry Miller in the 1930s and Leonard Cohen in the early 1960s.
The island is virtually wild apart from the port, which goes crazy in the summer.
Despite this, the town of Hydra is beautiful, with cubist-style buildings, boutique shops and lovely views.
You will find quaint tavernas serving traditional Greek food and bars to enjoy a cocktail while the sun sets.
While in town, visit the Lazaros Koundouriotis Historical Mansion. He was an important figure during the War of Independence, and his home has been turned into a museum.
The beaches are beautiful and out of the main season can be very quiet.
The Lazaros Koundouriotis Historical Mansion is at Ermioni, Hydra, 18040.
Zakynthos, sometimes called Zante, is the third-largest of the Ionian islands and is well known as a beach and party island, though not quite to the extent of Mykonos.
You do need to go to Navagio Beach as not only is the beach kept in immaculate condition, there is a shipwreck on the sand.
Who could imagine this ship would be photographed so much, catapulting Zakynthos to fame worldwide?
The beach is magical with its sheer white cliffs and clear turquoise waters inviting you to dive right in.
However, there is more to Zakynthos than beaches and nightlife.
Visit the Anafonitria Monastery, built in the 15th century when the Venetians occupied the island.
It is well worth seeing the spectacular frescoes and the beautiful gardens 25 km (15.53 miles) away from Zakynthos Town.
The Blue Caves are spectacular sea grottoes carved in limestone over centuries of erosion.
The cobalt-blue water reflects on the walls of the caves and is a truly magical experience to enjoy on a boat tour.
Also only reachable by boat are the Keri Caves on the south of the island for their spectacular stalactites and stalagmites.
Step back in time and visit Tinos with its quiet, pretty villages and pigeon houses.
The Greeks on the island are devout Orthodox Christians, and every year, many make the pilgrimage from the port to the Church of Panagia Megalochari on their hands and knees to worship the icon of the Virgin Mary.
If you enjoy beach life, you’ll love it as there are plenty of beautiful beaches here.
The great thing is that they don’t get crowded so you can have a relaxing time.
There isn’t a beach party atmosphere anywhere on Tinos. If that is what you want, head to Mykonos or Rhodes.
Tinos is another island known for its marble quarries.
The village of Pyrgos is worth visiting as there are numerous marble creations created by local craftsmen.
Everywhere you look, there is marble and it is well worth photographing.
You shouldn’t leave Tinos without visiting The Tinos Agricultural Cooperative, which is the heart of the animal-raising and dairy business on the island.
Sample local products such as graviera cheese, honey, wines, raki, ouzo, vinegar, herbs, olive oil, and many other delectable items.
If you don’t want to stay, you can do a day trip from Mykonos.
The capital of Syros, Ermoupolis, is the administrative and cultural centre of the Cyclades, so it remains busy all year.
If you aren’t interested in beach life, you could go there out of season, enjoy the delicious food and wine, and tour the island.
Visit the village of Ano Syros, initially built in Mediaeval times, with its narrow streets and colourful shutters.
Interestingly, most of the people in the village are Roman Catholics, and the Catholic Church sits in the middle of the village at its highest point.
Syros is a unique blend of cultures and religions with Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians living together in peace and accord.
For a local gift to take home, buy a box of loukoumi. It is Greek Delight, very similar to Turkish Delight. Syros has been producing it for centuries, and it is the best in Greece.
Ios, in the Cyclades, is famous for its spectacular beaches, lively party scene, and delicious local cheeses such as Kefalotyn and Xinotiri.
According to legend, the famous poet, Homer, died on Ios, although there is no proof.
However, a tomb is dedicated to him, and the hike to his hilltop tomb is well worth the climb, if only for the spectacular views.
The one place you must go is the Ios Club, where you will experience a breathtaking sunset with classical music playing in the background.
For fun on the water, go on a spearfishing and snorkelling boat tour.
Skiathos was a relatively quiet island but has become popular because it was used in the 2008 Mamma Mia film, together with Skopelos Island.
Believe it or not, it has 60 beaches, and now younger crowds flock to the island.
Fortunately, there are enough beaches to accommodate both partygoers and families.
The best beach is Lalaria, one of the most exotic in Greece, and you can only reach it by boat, which adds to the experience.
Skiathos Old Town has an attractive seafront with plenty of tavernas and cafes to while away the hours.
The Old Town has simple white houses, unique shops and narrow alleyways.
Skiathos Town comes to life at night, with most of the activity is on the main street, Papadiamanti and the seafront.
Skiathos was the birthplace of a renowned Greek writer, Alexandros Papadiamantis, who died in 1911. His house is now a museum which is well worth visiting.
A full-day sailing trip around Skiathos Island is relaxing way to see it.
Sifnos has beautiful golden-sand beaches, such as Platys Gialos, Vathi and Faros Beach.
Sifnos is famous for its ceramics, so take back a souvenir of Sifnian pottery if you can.
The island is also well-renowned for its cuisine, partly because it was home to 20th-century chef Nikolaos Tselementes, who was the forefather of modern Greek cuisine.
He introduced French cuisine to Greek food, such as bechamel sauce in moussaka.
Because of the tradition of creating ceramics, many dishes are slow-cooked in earthenware pots, such as revithada, the island’s famous chickpea stew.
The other speciality on this Greek island is the almond cookies such as bourekia, and there are fish tavernas on the island serving freshly caught fish.
For superb views, hike to the top of the hill at Profitis Ilias, where you can take photos of the surrounding sea and the island.
From Sifnos, enjoy the Greek Islands like a celebrity on this Kimolos and North Milos Speedboat Tour, exploring a remote corner of the islands.
Spetses is a small Saronic Gulf island that’s a favourite escape for the rich and famous.
The capital has stylish cafes, art stores and stylish boutiques.
There are beautiful beaches all over the island with crystal-clear waters and a hiking tour of Spetses Hills will show you some spectacular views.
The island has been left somewhere back in time as private cars are banned, like Hydra, although taxis, garbage trucks, and mopeds are allowed.
There are plenty of leisurely things to do on the island, such as wandering around the Old Town of Spetses with its narrow alleyways and little cafes.
Visit the Bouboulina Museum, dedicated to the revolutionary heroine, Laskarina Boubolina, explore the many churches on the island or go for a horse ride on organised trails.
The Bouboulina Museum is at 50 Spetses, Spetses Town, 18050.
Samos is a popular East Aegean Island and is busy during summer.
It has traditional villages, lush vegetation and stunning beaches. Because it is so near Turkey, there are daily ferries and a boat tour to Samiopoula Island is a fun thing to do.
The island is a great place to go hiking.
If you are fit, hike Mount Kerkis (the island’s highest peak) for amazing views.
If you are interested in history, visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pythagoreion, home to an ancient city of the same name.
Here you can see the city’s remains, including the Temple of Hera and the Tunnel of Eupalinos.
Don’t leave Samos without trying their dessert wine made from the famous Muscat grape.
It is delicious.
For more islands around the world, read: