Greece is home to over 6,000 islands located in the Aegean and Ionian Seas, offering endless possibilities for an unforgettable holiday. The islands are generally categorised into six major island groups, each with its own unique charm and characteristics.
Which group of Greek islands should I choose to visit?
6,000 islands may sound a lot, however only about 200 of them are inhabited. Obviously, that still gives you plenty to choose from, but breaking it down in to the groups and exploring the main islands within them, should help you find the best options.
The six main groups to choose from (in order of popularity) are:
The Ionian Islands.
The Saronic Islands.
The North-East Aegean Islands.
But before we delve into the details of each set of islands, as specialists in multi-centre holidays, we wanted to ask you to consider island hopping in Greece. Not only does it mean that you don’t have to pick just one island, but it opens endless possibilities. Just choose the islands you most want to go to and get in touch, so we can create an itinerary just for you. Alternatively, visit our Greek Island-Hopping page for more details.
Cyclades literally means ‘encircling islands’ and this refers to the way that the islands circle themselves around the sacred island of Delos. Located in the southeast Aegean Sea, the Cyclades islands has 24 inhabited islands to choose from, including Mykonos, Santorini, Naxos, Paros, Ios and Siros.
Mykonos: Mykonos is undoubtedly the most famous island in the Cyclades and its popularity has gained tremendously over the last few years. The island is known for its cosmopolitan atmosphere, vibrant nightlife, and picturesque white and blue houses plus its plethora of luxurious hotels, upscale restaurants, and trendy bars. Mykonos is also home to some of the most stunning beaches in the Cyclades, such as Psarou, Super Paradise, and Elia Beach. It isn’t cheap, but for a few days on an island-hopping holiday, it’s definitely worth a trip.
Santorini: Santorini is one of the most visited and most photographed of the Greek islands with its picture-perfect white-washed buildings, blue-domed churches, and iconic sunsets that create a dreamy backdrop. The island is also known for its stunning volcanic caldera and unique black sand beaches. Santorini is a popular destination for honeymooners and couples, and it offers plenty of romantic experiences such as sunset dinners overlooking the caldera or wine-tasting tours in local vineyards. Make sure you visit the picturesque village of Oia on the northern tip of the island, with its narrow alleys and breath-taking views of the caldera.
Naxos: Naxos is the largest island in the Cyclades and offers a different experience from Mykonos and Santorini with a more rugged and mountainous landscape, lush valleys, and fertile plains. Naxos has over 30 km of sandy coastline and its beaches are less crowded than Santorini and Mykonos, making it a more peaceful and relaxing destination. Make sure you visit the Portara, a massive marble gate that remains from an ancient temple dedicated to the Greek god Apollo. Other attractions include the Venetian Castle, the Archaeological Museum, and the beautiful beaches on the west coast of the island of Agios Prokopios and Agia Anna.
Paros: While not as widely known as some other islands in the Cyclades, Paros is a destination that is certainly worth considering for its charming, white-washed architecture, quaint fishing harbours, and beautiful beaches such as Golden Beach (also called Chrisi Akti) and Santa Maria Beach. The island has a Mykonos feel, but without all the tourists. Those interested in history and culture should visit the Panagia Ekatontapiliani, a Byzantine church that dates back to the 4th century, and the Frankish Castle, a medieval fortress located in the island’s capital of Parikia.
Ios: Ios is one of the smaller Cycladic islands that attracts younger travellers and partygoers who mainly visit for the vibrant nightlife and stunning beaches. There is more to the island than its nightlife though, so make sure you visit the picturesque village of Ios Chora (or Ios Town), with its narrow alleys, small, cubed houses, and stunning views, especially from the Panaghia Gremiotissa, the highest spot of the village, while the sun is setting. Other attractions include the Homer’s Tomb, an ancient tomb believed to be the final resting place of the famous Greek poet Homer.
Recommended Itinerary: Santorini, Ios, Naxos & Mykonos
The Dodecanese islands
Located in the Aegean Sea, and a short trip from Athens or Thessaloniki, the Dodecanese islands boast some stunning beaches and picture-perfect traditional villages along with a unique Venetian style of architecture that dates back to the area’s Venetian occupation.
The Dodecanese islands roughly translates as ’12 islands’ named after the 12 biggest islands in the group: Rhodes, Kos, Karpathos, Kalymnos, Patmos, Astypalea, Simi, Leros, Nisyros, Halki, Tilos and Lipsi. Some of these islands are more off the beaten track than others, but here we’ll dive into some of the more popular islands in this cluster:
Rhodes: Rhodes is the largest and possibly the most famous island of the Dodecanese group. As well as its stunning beaches, including Lindos (which is also a pretty town) and Tsambika beach, it boasts a well-preserved medieval Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can also visit the Valley of the Butterflies, the ancient city of Kamiros, and the 15th century castle of Monolithos.
Kos: Along with Rhodes, Kos is also one of the most visited islands in this group. The island has many ancient ruins, such as the Asklepion, the Castle of the Knights, and the Ancient Agora. Make sure you also explore the island’s traditional villages, such as Kefalos, Pyli, and Zia, and enjoy the local cuisine washed down with an ouzo or two! The beaches are sandy with wonderfully clear blue waters and offer a mix of organised beaches and more secluded beaches. Must-visit beaches include Tigaki Beach, a long sandy beach with shallow waters on the north coast of the island and Agios Stefanos beach, located on the southeast coast of the island, with stunning views the Aegean Sea and clear, turquoise waters.
Symi: Symi is a hidden treasure of beauty and serenity. Small, yet stunningly beautiful, it’s a true gem of this island group. The charming harbour town of Gialos boasts captivating neoclassical buildings that cling to the hillside and a boat trip around the island unveils the mesmerizing bays, secluded coves, and crystalline waters that Symi is renowned for. Indulge in the local cuisine in the tavernas dotting the quayside of Gialos or take an enchanting evening stroll up the 500 steps of Kali Strata to enjoy a stunning view of the harbour. In the south of the island, visit the 18th-century Venetian-style monastery of Panormitis, which is only accessible by boat, but as you approach the jetty, a breath-taking view awaits.
Patmos: Patmos is a quiet island with a relaxed atmosphere, making it perfect for those who want to escape the crowds. The island is famed for being the place where Saint John wrote the Book of Revelation. You can visit the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, the Cave of the Apocalypse, and the Chora of Patmos, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Recommended Itinerary: Rhodes, Symi & Kos
The Sporades islands
The Sporades Island group is found in the Northwest Aegean Sea, and consists of 4 main inhabited islands: Skiathos, Skyros, Skopelos and Alonnisos. Famous for featuring in the film ‘Mamma Mia’, this island group has a lot to offer with its fascinating history, stunning beaches, and lush green forests.
Skopelos: This is where most of the filming for the Mamma Mia film took place – and it’s easy to see why it was the destination of choice, with its lush green interior, olive groves, stunning views, and crystal-clear waters. The beaches are a must-visit with the most famous on the island being Kastani, Panormos and Stafylos. Also, make sure you taste the local cuisine in the tavernas that line the streets of the traditional villages such as Skopelos Town, Glossa, and Loutraki.
Skiathos: Skiathos also featured in some scenes of Mamma Mia and offers incredible beaches, picturesque villages, delicious tavernas and panoramic views. Koukounaries, Lalaria, and Banana beaches are some of the most popular beaches on the island plus you can also explore the island’s traditional villages, such as Kastro, Evangelistria Monastery, and the Bourtzi Fortress.
Skyros: Skyros is the most remote island of the Sporades group, and because of that, the least touristy, but if you have time, it’s worth adding it onto your trip to explore its stunning unspoiled beaches, traditional village life and its trendy alternative vibe. Skyros Town, located on the top of a hill, is a picturesque village with a castle, narrow alleys, and whitewashed houses whilst those looking for beautiful beaches should head to Molos, Agios Fokas, and Aspous.
Alonnisos: A quiet island that is perfect for those who want to escape the crowds for a few days. It’s surrounded by crystal-clear waters and has some of the best beaches in the Sporades, such as Megali Ammos, Agios Dimitrios, and Leftos Gialos. Also, the National Marine Park of Alonnisos and Northern Sporades, which is home to rare species of sea turtles and monk seals, is a must-see when visiting the island.
Recommended Itinerary: Halkidiki & The Sporades
The Ionian Islands, situated on the western side of Greece, have always been a sought-after destination for holidaymakers seeking stunning beaches, lush green landscapes, and fascinating architecture that reflects a beautiful blend of many cultures, including Italian, British, and Greek natural beauty. The most popular and livelier islands include Corfu, Zakynthos, Kefalonia, and Lefkada. Meanwhile, those seeking more tranquillity and peace, the islands of Paxi, Kythira, and Meganisi offer a quieter holiday experience.
Corfu: Corfu, the largest of the Ionian Islands, has long been a popular choice for holidaymakers from across the world and it’s easy to see why. Corfu has some great beaches, of which Paleokastritsa, Sidari, and Glyfada are among the most popular. The island also boasts a stunningly rugged coastline and lush greenery. There is a strong Venetian influence on the island and the Old Town of Corfu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a must-visit destination with its narrow streets, historic buildings, and traditional tavernas.
Zakynthos:Zakynthos, also known as Zante, is home to the famous Navagio Beach (Shipwreck Beach) which is one of the most photographed beaches in Greece and can only be accessed by boat. Other popular destinations in Zakynthos include the Blue Caves, Keri Lighthouse, and the pretty villages of Alykes and Tsilivi. Nature lovers will want to visit The National Marine Park of Zakynthos, which was established in 1999 to protect the endangered Loggerhead sea turtle. Visitors can take a boat tour to see the turtles in their natural habitat, and during the nesting season, they can witness the hatchlings make their way to the sea.
Kefalonia: Kefalonia, the largest of the Ionian Islands, is a paradise for nature lovers and often referred to as one of ‘the best’ Greek islands for tourists. The island boasts some of the most stunning natural landscapes in Greece, including the Melissani Cave and the Drogarati Cave. The beaches of Myrtos, Antisamos, and Lourdas are also among the most popular in Kefalonia. The charming villages of Fiskardo and Assos are must-visit destinations, with their traditional architecture, scenic harbour, and charming traditional restaurants.
Lefkada: Lefkada is connected to mainland Greece by a causeway, making it easily accessible by car. It’s an island that offers something for everyone, from beach lovers and nature enthusiasts to history buffs and foodies. The island’s beaches are known for their turquoise waters, white sands, and dramatic cliffs and some of the most popular beaches include Egremni Beach, Kathisma Beach, and Porto Katsiki Beach. The island’s capital and port town, also called Lefkada, is full of character with its picture-perfect narrow alleys and small squares. The village of Nydri, located on the east coast of the island, is a popular tourist destination with its scenic harbour lined with plenty of restaurants and a lively nightlife.
Paxi and Antipaxi: Paxi, also known as Paxos, is a small island located south of Corfu, and its charm lies in its unspoiled nature, making it the ideal destination for a peaceful escape during an island-hopping adventure. The island remains largely undiscovered by mass tourism, allowing visitors to truly get away from it all. Along with its neighbouring islet Antipaxi, Paxi boasts spectacular beaches and picturesque villages that look like they’ve been plucked straight out of a fairy-tale. Some of the most popular beaches on the islands include Voutoumi and Vrika in Antipaxi, and Mongonisi and Lakka in Paxi, all of which are perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and enjoying the serene surroundings. Foodies will also delight in the local cuisine, as traditional tavernas on the islands offer fresh seafood and delicious local delicacies.
The Saronic Islands are a group of small islands located in the Aegean Sea, just off the coast of Athens. Due to their proximity to the Greek capital, the islands are easy to get to, so they are perfect for an island-hopping trip combined with a visit to Athens. The islands have managed to maintain their traditional character, making them a great destination for those looking for an authentic Greek experience. The main islands in the group are Spetses, Hydra, Aegina and Poros.
Spetses: Spetses is distinctly upmarket, with impressive mansions and a yacht marina. This car-free island is wonderful to stroll around, with its narrow streets and boutiques. The island also boasts some stunning beaches to lay back and soak up the sunshine including Agia Paraskevi, Kaiki Beach, and Vrellos Beach.
Hydra: Hydra is also a car-free island and, like Spetses, has an upscale vibe. Visitors can climb to the island’s highest peak, Mount Eros, to enjoy panoramic views of the Saronic Gulf and its neighbouring islands. The charming town of Hydra is a delight to explore, with its narrow cobblestone streets winding their way through traditional houses, small shops, and restaurants. Another popular activity here is diving and there are many interesting reefs and caves to explore around off the island’s coastline.
Aegina: More laid-back and a little bit less upmarket than Spetses and Hydra, Aegina is most famous for its pistachio groves and has a distinct agricultural feel. Aegina also boasts a variety of beautiful beaches, including Agia Marina, Souvala, Marathonas, and Perdika where you’ll find sandy shores and delicious seaside taverns. Hiking is popular here and there are many walking paths that lead to impressive spots with wonderful sea views and historical monasteries to explore.
Poros: Poros is a small island, which also doesn’t allow cars in the summer, so the best way to explore this pretty island is on foot – and there is nothing better than to stroll along the well-kept seafront marvelling at the yachts, small boats, stone-built mansions, and little cafes. Poros town itself is also very pretty, with lots of neoclassical buildings and plenty of places to sit down and enjoy a refreshing drink. One of the loveliest beaches on the island is Monastiri Beach, which is surrounded by pine forests and has a small selection of tavernas to grab some lunch. The clear waters are also perfect for a spot of snorkelling.
Recommended Itinerary: Athens & The Saronic Islands
The North-East Aegean Islands
The North-Eastern Aegean islands are situated to the north of the Dodecanese islands and to the east of the Sporades islands. While this group of islands is not as developed for tourism as some of the other Greek islands, they are a great destination to visit, especially for those wishing to discover the ‘real Greece’. The islands are renowned for their traditional architecture and family-oriented atmosphere and each island boasts unique features. Samos, Thassos, and Ikaria offer stunning beaches; Chios is famed for its Medieval villages; Lesbos has lovely seaside spots; Lemnos has vast sandy coasts; and Fourni is ideal for those wanting to be in the thick of nature and away from the crowds.
Lesvos: Also known as Lesbos, this island boasts beautiful beaches, traditional villages, and thermal springs. Lesvos’ main beaches include Vatera Beach, which is one of the longest beaches in Greece, Skala Eressos, Molyvos Beach, and Petra Beach. The fascinating Petrified Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a must-see and is a unique natural phenomenon created by volcanic activity millions of years ago.
Chios: Chios is home to some beautiful medieval villages, such as Mesta and Pyrgi, and stunning beaches like Mavra Volia. History lovers will enjoy wandering around the island’s stunning monasteries, such as the Nea Moni Monastery which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and famous for its impressive mosaics and Byzantine architecture. Chios’ most famous export is the resin that is produced from its mastic trees and is used in cosmetics and cooking – and is also the key ingredient in the island’s Mastiha liqueur which is usually served at the end of the meal as a digestif.
Samos: This island is known for its beautiful beaches, lush greenery, and the Temple of Hera, an ancient temple dedicated to the goddess Hera, which is one of the largest temples in Greece. This ancient temple is located in a beautiful natural setting, and a must-see for anyone visiting Samos. For a spot of exercise and to work off some of the delicious local food, Samos has many beautiful hiking trails, such as the trail to the Monastery of Zoodochou Pigis, which offers stunning views of the island’s rugged terrain and coastline.
Ikaria: Ikaria is the go-to island for a relaxed pace of life. This laid-back island offers traditional villages and natural hot springs which are located in the village of Therma and can be reached by hiking through the beautiful forests and mountains of the island. Arguably the most beautiful beach on the island is Nas Beach, which is located on the eastern coast of the island. The beach is surrounded by lush greenery and crystal-clear waters, making it a perfect spot for swimming, and soaking up the Mediterranean sunshine.
If you’re feeling inspired by this travel guide and like idea of Greek island-hopping, why not explore some of our recommended Greece multi centre itineraries here. Don’t forget, we will always customise your holiday to perfectly suit your individual preferences. Our travel experts are available to chat with you about your options and will help to create and organise your own unique and personalised Greek island-hopping itinerary. Don’t hesitate to get in touch to start planning your dream holiday today!
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