Corfu also has a wonderful mix of an historic old-town, beaches and popular tourist resorts. However, it’s still possible to plan a quiet escape, away from the crowds. Just head to Nikos & Vivi Studios. Located on the south-west of the island, near Perivoli, this guesthouse is family-run with views over olive groves, just a 5-minute walk from white-sand Santa Barbara beach. Nearby there is a sufficient smattering of restaurants, cafe and bars – just enough to keep you fed, watered and entertained, but just the right amount that you can sit back and switch off for a while. Eat, beach, sleep, repeat.
Tip: Syros has great swimming platforms within the port area – one is located behind Hotel Hermes. Another is right at the tip end of the port. Slip off the platforms into the sea for a refreshing escape from the heat. Travel away from the port and Syros has beautiful beaches to explore.
Kos Town has several significant historical sights and even if history isn’t your thing, there’s a well-established cycle route with bike lanes that will take you past them all, making for a fun way to spend a few hours. The Castle of the Knights is a gigantic 15th century castle that sits in the Harbour and offers great views to sea and into Kos. Meanwhile, Hippocrates’ plane tree, where Hippocrates sat and taught his students, is also worth seeking out – it’s around 700 years old, making it one of the oldest trees in Europe.
From the blue-domed churches to the ancient ruins, celebrity hot-spots, glittering green seas and sizzling sands, there’s something uniquely magical about the Greek Islands, which are as numerous as they are unique. With more than 3,000 hours of sunshine a year (around 250 sunny days), it’s easy to find yourself gravitating to Greece year after year. I’m certainly hooked.
Greek ferries – the cheaper but more time consuming way to get around is by using the Greek ferries. The are several companies offering many, many routes. I did my route planning using Lonely Planet’s Greek Islands travel guide. It gives you a good starting place for which islands connect easily, port information etc. You could trawl the Internet for this info, but the Guidebook is a more focused place to begin planning your itinerary and will save you a lot of research time.
Otherwise, the streets of Kos Town are bustling with a tourist market, bars and restaurants. For beaches, Lambi beach is closest to the port (2km) with Tingaki Beach (10km) and Marmari Beach next closest, if you hire a bike. For those who plan to stay on Kos, the main beaches are clustered around the southwest of the island.
Tip: If you have only a short time on Santorini, I suggest visiting Oia. It’s prettier than Fira and has fewer crowds during the day (but more at sunset). Best tour on Santorini: Island Cruise with Hot Springs.
Religious or not, Patmos is a stunning, seahorse shaped island that stretches only 12.5 km. There are plenty of hills to tackle so take a guided tour or prepare for a hike. Skala Village is a beautiful area to wander close to the port while Chora, the island capital is packed with winding alleys. If you prefer to skip the sightseeing, Patmos has some very relaxed, crowd-free beach. Try Kambos Beach (main image), a €10 taxi ride from the port. For €15 you can hire a plush sun lounger complete with umbrella at Atmos Bar. You’ll get an ice bucket of still and sparkling water included.
Tip: If you decide to do for a dip in the sea that skirts the old town, watch your step. Thoughtless party-goers have strewn the pebble beach with broken glass.
Tip: Because religion hasn’t joined the 21st century, women (but not men) must wear a long skirt or trousers to enter each religious site. Don’t worry: if you forget, you’ll be handed something to cover your legs.
Tip: from the port, don’t forget to look out to sea – that closest land mass you see is Bodrum in Turkey and it’s possible to take a day trip. Just don’t forget your passport. Popular island hopping cruise from Kos: Full Day Boat Cruise to 3 Islands – visit Kalymnos, Plati, and Pserimos.
Santorini is also famous as a honeymoon island thanks to the wonderful hotels that dot the volcano rim – perched high, with sea views and infinity pools, the hotels of Santorini have romance written all over them. Whether you visit for a day or stay for a week, Santorini is typically at the top of many people’s list of Greek Islands to visit.
Exploding your budget is perfectly possible on Mykonos with exclusive bars, clubs and restaurants available (if you can afford the fee and can get on the list). And even your average restaurant with sea views has prices elevated beyond proportions. However, that is the price of beauty, and there are still some free things to do on Mykonos. In fact, two of Mykonos’ highlights are completely free – wandering the old town, and paying a visit to the striking windmills that sit just a bit above the old town, facing out to sea.
For the sunset, first make sure you know what time it sets, then I’d suggest finding a bar to watch it. Standing in the streets, you’re at risk of getting an elbow in the face. Should you want a challenge, you can walk the caldera rim between Fira and Oia. It’s the fastest ways to escape the crowds and see the most dramatic views of the island all in one hike.
With Mykonos to the north and Santorini to the south, many people sail past Paros and neighbouring Naxos (below) which is a shame because both islands are packed with Greek charm yet devoid of Greek tourist crowds. You don’t need to leave the port town of Parika to enjoy Paros – it’s one charming bar, cafe, boutique and restaurant after another. But you should leave Parika because Paros has some stunning beaches. Since the crowds are so thin and the locals so accommodating, its worth hiring a quad bike to explore Paros; navigating the roads is easy. Armed with four wheels, you can spent the day beach hopping. No need to even referr to a map – just see a stretch of sea or beach and heading that way, wind and salt air in your hair. It’s days like these, absent the pushing and shoving of other tourists, that serve up the best memories of the Greek Islands.
As you approach Syros, you’ll likely be captivated by the dramatic scenery of twin hills topped by twin churches. If you’re up for a challenge, the hills are begging to be climbed, with a Greek Orthodox Church on top of one and the Catholic St George’s Cathedral on top of the other. Not up for a hike? There are just enough sights to keep you entertained. The port is located in the (tiny) capital of Ermoupoli. A short walk from the port you will find the Town Hall and Apollo Theatre, which is as grand as Milan’s Scala opera house.
If you’re looking for a ‘blue and white’ island to rival Santorini, but without the crowds, visit Naxos. Like many Greek Islands, the port of Naxos is situated in the capital, Hora, which is a swirl of winding whitewashed alleys. Don’t miss the Kastro, a Venetian neighbourhood within Hora, which is the most picturesque part complete with tumbling pink bougainvillaea and the remains of the old fortified castle, Tower of Sanoudos. That said, it’s difficult not to find yourself in Kastro – just wander from the port and you’ll find yourself pleasantly lost in the streets in no time.
Milos is on the cusp of losing its ‘hidden gem’ status, since Travel + Leisure have recently added it to their list of best islands in Greece. So, visit sooner rather than later. Milos is beautiful not just because it’s small and relatively unknown. Milos has some of the most dramatic beaches in Greece, from luna landscapes to fishing villages to rock jumping and cave swimming. The best way to explore Milos is by hiring the car (or taking a day tour). The island is tiny and most stops are just 10-minutes drive away but you the island is a mass of winding, hilly roads with no pavements for walking. The top spots if you’re beach hopping are: Pollonia fishing village with beautiful water for swimming; Sarakoniko for its lunar-white rock formations and caves; and Papafraga beach which is great for swimming and also has caves.
But perhaps the real beauty is found the way Syros invites you to unwind. Step off your yacht (or ferry) for breakfast at one of the port-lined cafés, spend the day wandering around the meandering hills, stop for an iced drink in a shady spot. Then, however your day has sprawled out, relax with a long feast at a Greek Taverna after the sun goes down.
There’s really only one reason to go to Ios, and that’s to party. Sure, this small Greek Island is oh so cute and there are cultural things to do, but for the most part, the island has gained a reputation as a place for hedonism, and as such it draws the European backpacking crowd by the boat-load. With beach clubs serving up chilled caipirinhas and base beats All Day All Night, Ios is the place to get your party on. Ios is a lot of fun, even if you stay for a day and take your hangover to a more subdued island the next day. Just stay safe – all that booze plus sun plus water can be trouble. Remember – the plan is to made good memories only.
That’s my guide to the best Greek islands. Got any other suggestions or questions, let me know in the comments below.
Check out my Google Map of the Best Greek Islands.
Take a cruise – this is the easy option and a fantastic way to see a lot of Greek islands in a short space of time, without having to waste time on ferry schedules and getting yourself around. Instead, you mainly sail at night. I took a cruise on a beautiful luxury yacht, Running on Waves – here’s my review. Prices start at €1,680 (,049/£1,546) per person for a week, including all meals. I can’t recommend this cruise enough (it’s the tall sail boat in the image above). I took the Aegean Cruise with stops in Athens, Syros, Delos, Mykonos, Patmos, Kos, Santorini, Milos.
Tip: Head to Mandrakia beach for Medusa cafe, which is one of the most popular restaurants on Milos. Famous for its fresh squid, this cute taverna is worth the wait if you have time. Also at Mandrakia, don’t miss the traditional fishing houses – the fishermen pull their boats into the lower level and live on the upper level. Popular cruise around Milos: Kleftiko Sailing Cruise with Snorkelling.
How to get around the Greek Islands
Tip: Try the fresh squid for lunch overlooking the port. The food and prices on Naxos alone are enough to merit a stop, if only for a short while.
In this article I’ll introduce you to some of the best Greek Islands to visit from the hotspots, to the islands you’ve probably never heard about. At the end, I’ll include a quick guide to how to get around the Greek Islands and a map so you can plan your Greek island hopping.
Tips for departing from Athens
With one of the major attractions on Patmos being The Cave of The Apocalypse, you instantly know this Greek island is a little different from the others. The Holy Island, which is a significant site for Christian pilgrimage, has two main attractions. First, visit the cave, which is half way up the hillside between the port and the capital. There, it is thought that the Book of Revelations was delivered to John the Apostle by a higher voice in the in the 1st Century AD.
Map of the best Greek Islands
Tip: For a spot a little less crowded, head south of the Old Town to Benitses where restaurants line the beach road. For excellent local Greek food, try Taverna Oraies Benitses. Popular Island Hopping Tour from Corfu: Visit Antipaxos, Paxos and the Blue Caves
Looking for something more lively? Corfu has some very large tourist resorts if you’re after an all-inclusive beach break (Kavos is popular). There’s also the old town which is large and focused on tourism, but has managed to retain its Greek charm. Don’t miss the Old Fort.