The 5 best islands to visit in Greece

When it comes to the best islands to visit in Greece, you are spoiled for choice. But I’ve narrowed down the list for you.

If you dreamed of an island paradise, Greece is undoubtedly among the most beautiful in the world. It’s only once you’ve experienced the scale of these archipelagos with your own eyes that you realize how overwhelming their beauty is.

There are over 200 inhabited Greek islands and around 6,000 in total. And like many island nations, each inhabited Greek island has its own distinct character – from the whitewashed white and blue houses on the Cyclades islands and the lush greenery of the Ionian islands to the castle-lined Dodecanese islands.

Greece has six main island groups, as well as one major autonomous island: Crete. It is generally better to travel between islands of the same group than to jump from one archipelago to another. Here we review the best islands to visit in Greece, what they are known for and how you can travel to each archipelago.

Crete

Located almost halfway between Europe and Africa, lies the largest and southernmost of the Greek islands – Crete. With its distinct customs, climate and food, Crete could be its own country. Since there is so much to experience on this island, most travelers visiting Crete usually dedicate their entire trip to the 160-mile long island instead of venturing to other archipelagos.

Crete has two main airports, which means easy access from Athens. And once there, you’ll want to hire a car – it takes around six hours to drive from one end of the island to the other. Did someone say road trip?

Also be sure to explore beaches like Elafonissi (with its otherworldly pink sand) and Elounda (famous for its 5-star beach clubs). And if hiking is your thing, the Samaria Gorge takes you on a stunning 5-7 hour hike through landscapes filled with cliffs and streams or perhaps a stroll through the wildflowers along the dreamy trails of the mountain villages. Don’t miss a trip to the ruins of the palace of Knossos, seat of the Minoan Empire and the sinister monster Minotaur. And for wine lovers, Crete offers the opportunity to indulge in Cretan wines at Boutaris winery.

The Dodecanese Islands

With a name inspired by the Greek number 12 (dodeca), it’s no surprise that the Dodecanese Islands consist of 12 main islands and several smaller ones. The two largest islands are Kos and Rhodes, and while the ten smaller ones may be less discovered, they are equally stunning.

World famous for its incredibly preserved walled city, Rhodes amazes its visitors with crusader castles and an ancient synagogue. While Lindos town offers an ancient Greek acropolis on the top of a hill, a medieval village in the middle and a modern town on its beach below. Be sure to visit the mansions of Kassos, the bright houses of Kastelorizo ​​and the hill of Chora of Astypalea – one of the most beautiful fortified villages in Greece.

The Ionian Islands

Lovers of greenery will find in the Ionian Islands the most beautiful of the Greek islands. The lush “Seven Islands”, or Eptanissia, offers its visitors an incredible spectacle of local arts and culture, music, food and architecture.

You can stroll the streets of Corfu Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to admire the majesty of the Greek islands. But Paxos and its small area planted with olive trees are not to be missed either. To spot wild horses running around the center of Mount Aenos, stop on the largest island, Kefalonia. Or take a break in Zakynthos, home to Shipwreck Beach, accessible only by sea.

Greek mythology buffs should visit Ithaca, known to Homer fans as the home of Odysseus. And finally, the outlier, Kythera – which seems to belong more to the Cyclades islands than to the Ionian Sea. All in all, the Ionian Islands slip easily into the list of the most beautiful Greek islands.

The Cyclades Islands

Best known for Mykonos and Santorini, the Cyclades islands are made up of a group of 24 inhabited islands, making a total of 220 islands. These Greek islands are the postcard version of the Greece you’re probably familiar with – whitewashed churches with blue domes and vines of pink bougainvillea climbing up the street walls.

Mykonos is popular for its nightlife and pristine beaches, while Santorini is romantic and luxurious – the perfect destination for honeymooners looking to bask in private pools overlooking the caldera. Those who want to discover other parts of the Cyclades might enjoy Milos, home to the caves of Kleftiko, Tinos and the famous Church of the Virgin Mary. Without forgetting the large islands such as Naxos and Syros, which constitute the capital of the archipelago, or the smaller ones which see very little tourism, such as Sikinos.

The Northeast Aegean Islands

The Northeastern Aegean Islands are a collection of 13 Greek islands, the 5 most notable being Samos, Ikaria, Limnos, Lesvos and Chios. It is also the closest part of Greece to neighboring Turkey. A trip to the islands of the Northeast Aegean rewards its visitors with remarkable beaches and natural wonders like volcanic rocks and thermal springs.

Be sure to stop at the Petrified Forest and the magnificent Lesvos Castle. There are also archaeological sites such as the Temple of Hera in Samos, the Acropolis in Thassos and the ancient city of Ifestia in Limnos, not to mention the volcanic rock and sand dunes in Limnos.


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The rich history is one of the reasons these islands are among the best islands to visit in Greece, but their waters offer an equal reward, with the likes of Keros beach on Limnos – which is known as one of the best places in Europe for kiting or windsurfing. There are also Seitani coves in Samos and white sand Seychelles coves in Ikaria, which are ideal for swimming.

Getting around the islands in Greece

While most islands in Greece have airports, not all of them are international airports. Many are mainly visited by national airlines such as Aegean Airlines, and you can only fly from Athens or the surrounding islands. But some of the most popular places on this list, like Crete or Santorini, have international airports, where travelers can fly directly from hubs like Europe and the Middle East.

The ferry is an easy and economical way to travel between islands, especially if you plan to stay in an archipelago. But it is also possible to rent a car in Athens or on one of the islands and drive it on the ferry, turning your island-hopping adventure into a maritime road trip.

Remember: you will need an international driving license to rent a car on any of the islands.

When is the best time to visit the Greek Islands

If you want pleasant weather but still want to avoid the crowds, be sure to plan your trip to the Greek islands in May, June and September. High season on the Greek islands runs from mid-June to mid-September, and this time offers more ferry and flight choices, as well as more restaurants and bars to frequent – keeping in mind mind that you will be competing with tourists and high prices.

In addition, each group of islands has varying weather conditions. For example, Crete has the warmest climate all year round, which means that it is pleasant to visit it even in late autumn or winter. Also, some islands, like Santorini, are quiet during the off seasons, from November to March.

Here is an idea of ​​the best Greek islands to visit at different times of the year:

  • March, April, October and November: It’s shoulder season and the busier islands are quieter but still bustling. Santorini, Crete and Rhodes are the best Greek islands to visit.
  • May, June and September: The Greek islands offer pleasant weather in the months before and after the high season. Offering a great time to see the islands, save money and avoid the crowds. Santorini, Rhodes, Corfu and Crete are excellent choices during this time.
  • July and August: These are the busiest and hottest months. If you love beach parties and clubs overflowing with hot bodies, then Mykonos is the place for you. This is also the best time to visit less crowded islands like Milos and Ikaria, which have short tourist seasons.
  • December, January and February: Most of the Greek islands are quiet during the winter months, but Crete and Santorini still offer plenty to do with many open places to stay and enjoy the beauty of the Greek islands.

While picking the best islands to visit in Greece is nearly impossible, these gems are a good place to start. Let me know in the comments section, which is your favorite Greek island!

Efrat Sagi-Ofir is CRO and founder of Air Doctor. Air Doctor is a startup that connects travelers to a global network of 20,000 local doctors through an easy-to-use app, to receive appropriate medical care from anywhere in the world.

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