Pack your sunscreen and your appetite and set your watch to Greek island time! Of the country’s 6,000 islands, 227 await your visit. With so many options, it can be daunting to decide which ones call to you the loudest. Here are some of the less-visited-but-no-less-miraculous islands to explore on your next Greek adventure.
Fans of the film “Mamma Mia” will recognize the incandescent scenery of Skopelos. Experience the whitewashed villages, pebbled beaches, and pinch-me-I’m-dreaming turquoise water that make this island such a treasure. Located in the western part of the Aegean Sea, Skopelos is home to two mountains—Delphi and Palouki. Bring your hiking boots and take advantage of the landscape! While you’re at it, pack your binoculars, too; Skopelos shelters more than 60 species of birds, as well as its very own goat species.
Rhodes is the largest—and historical capital— of the Dodecanse islands. It gets more than 300 days of sun every year, making it a natural choice for travelers looking for perfect weather. It’s home to several ancient monuments and was once the site of the Colossus of Rhodes, long destroyed, which measured as high as the Statue of Liberty.
Today visitors can explore medieval wonders in the island’s UNESCO-listed Old Town. Built by the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John, the Byzantine walls date back to the 1300s. Another landmark worth a stop is the Palace of the Grand Master, a 14th-century Gothic castle on the site of a 7th-century Byzantine fortress.
Named for the Greek mythological figure Icarus, the island of Ikaria houses the largest number of centenarians anywhere on the planet. With such an aging population, life here is less about wild beach raves and more about local seafood and strong red wine. Spend an afternoon hiking the mountain paths between villages, taking in views of the forests, farmlands, and sun-kissed lakes. Afterward, soak your sore feet in the mineral and steam baths along the coast.
Santorini is perhaps the most famous of the Greek islands. It is actually the remains of a volcano, and the modern-day landscape bears witness to this fact. Some scientists today claim that Santorini and its caldera (underwater crater) are the basis for the lost city of Atlantis. Sheer rock faces beckon mountain climbers, while chalk-white villages dot the cliffside. Climb the hilly sidewalks and indulge in local cuisine and magnificent ocean views.
Rich in cultural heritage, Crete is the biggest and most-populated of the Greek islands. Life on Crete dates back to 2700 BC, making it the oldest recorded civilization in all of Europe. Ancient Minoan and Greek ruins abound here. First-time travelers should start with the 9,000-year-old ruins of Knossos, one of the largest known Minoan settlements.
Skiathos is the westernmost island in the Northern Sporades. It boasts more than 60 fairytale beaches, including Lalaria, Koukounaries, and Banana. Head inland to explore Skiathos’s pine forests, plum and olive groves, and serene hilltop monasteries.
Prepare for some tired legs in Hydra—this idyllic island does not allow cars, or even motor scooters. One of the Aegean’s Saronic Islands, Hydra is home to one main town. Cobblestone streets lead you to taverns or cafes where you can steep your senses in traditional bouzouki music. It is little wonder that Hydra is the hidden gem among the rich and famous, including the Rolling Stones and Sophia Loren.
A part of the Cyclades group, the island of Milos is another volcanic treasure. Here visitors can explore an awe-inspiring 80 beaches, some with their own unique sand-like material. From bright white pumice rock on Sarakiniko to sulfur crystals at Paliorema, these beaches (many of which are only accessible by boat) are an ocean-lover’s paradise. Art lovers will delight in visiting the birthplace of some of Greece’s most famous artistic creations, including the “Venus de Milo” and statues of Poseidon and Apollo.
One of the smaller of the islands, Mykonos is part of the group of islands called the Cyclades. Also known as the Island of Many Winds, Mykonos earns respect for its tolerance of alternative lifestyles. If you visit the island between July and August, take note: Mykonos is a party-lover’s oasis. The streets and beaches, including Super Paradise Beach, get so packed with visitors that it can be difficult to even walk.
Choosing just a few of the best Greek islands for your next trip can be daunting. However, with a better understanding of the top islands, you can start narrowing down your options. Who knows—maybe you’ll make it your mission to visit as many islands as possible within your lifetime. That is a certainly a journey worth taking.
Learn more about Greek life with our Insider’s Guide to Greece.
Need some island-hopping inspiration? Here are a couple pre-built packages to get you going: