The Ultimate Traveler’s Guide to The Greek Islands

April 16, 2024

guide to the greek islands

With so many islands to choose from, planning a trip to Greece can feel overwhelming. You may find yourself wondering, ‘How many Greek Islands are there?’, ‘Which island should I visit?’, or ‘What’s the best way to visit Greece?’.

In this guide to the Greek Islands, we’ll answer all of these questions, and provide you with some expert tips and recommendations.

So, get ready to immerse yourself in the rich culture of this beautiful country!

How many Greek islands are there?

When you think of Greece, images of its picturesque islands surrounded by the beautiful Mediterranean Sea naturally come to mind. But what may surprise you is that Greece is home to 6,000 islands, of which more than 227 inhabited.

The country is divided into six main island groups, with Crete standing out as a significant standalone destination, and being the largest of all Greek Islands, by both area and population. 

The Cyclades Islands

The Cyclades archipelago boasts 24 inhabited islands and 32 that are scattered with islets and rocks, some of which hold remarkable archaeological significance. 

For many Americans, the Cyclades are the first stop when exploring Greece. 

This beautiful archipelago is home to some of the most famous Greek islands like Mykonos and Santorini, which are the perfect examples of Greece you’ve seen on postcards.

Santorini isn’t just one island; it’s actually a group of five islands located in the southernmost part of the Cyclades. It’s known for its gorgeous crescent-shaped caldera, which is the only sunken caldera in the world, formed by one of the greatest eruptions around 3,600 years ago.

Mykonos is a popular luxurious and party destination, located in the heart of the Cyclades archipelago. It’s one of the Greek Islands most visited by celebrities who often can be seen partying on a yacht or one of the upscale clubs.

Aside from these iconic destinations, the Cyclades also boasts some lesser-known islands such as Naxos, known for its rich history and beautiful Venetian and Cycladic architecture, and Milos, known for its volcanic landscapes. 

Saronic Gulf Islands

While the Cyclades Islands are world famous and usually a must-see destination when visiting Greece, the Saronic Islands remain undiscovered. 

Although they are located near the Greek capital, only a few tourists have heard about the islands such as Hydra, Spetses, and Agistri. Because of this, you can enjoy their unspoiled beauty without being bothered by hordes of tourists, which will allow you to explore off the beaten path and truly immerse yourself in the local culture.

Hydra, a car-free island, is one of the most authentic and tranquil Greek islands, full of scenic hiking trails and historic landmarks. It’s a great choice if you want to avoid the hustle and bustle of modern life and enjoy its timeless beauty with its cobblestone streets and lovely harbor.

Among the Saronic Islands, Spetses is a favorite destination of captains and trendsetters, blending luxury and local charm in perfect harmony. It’s the perfect island getaway with only strolling, bicycling, and horse-drawn carriages as modes of transportation. 

The Sporades

The Sporades is a group of four inhabited islands – Skopelos, Skiathos, Alonissos, and Skyros nestled in the Aegean Sea. 

The most well-known of these is Skiathos, which is renowned for its cosmopolitan atmosphere. Alonissos and Skyros, on the other hand, are undiscovered gems ideal for travelers seeking unspoiled landscapes and authentic experiences. Skopelos provides peaceful getaways for those looking for serene retreats.

Crete

Greece’s largest island, Crete is home to breathtaking beaches and rich culture and history that date back thousands of years. The island has incredible scenery that has to be seen to be believed – from the Balos Lagoon in Chania to Falarsana Beach and Elafonisi in the southwest.

Ionian Islands

The Ionian Islands, located on the western coast of Greece, are the most popular island group after the Cyclades and Crete. Their history is strongly influenced by Italian culture, which is evident in their distinctive architecture characterized by the Venetian style. But what really makes these islands unique are their pristine beaches with emerald waters and lush landscapes.

North Aegean Islands

Among the Ionian Islands, Corfu, Zakynthos, Kefalonia, and Lefkada are the largest and most visited, with well-developed tourist infrastructure. Meanwhile, Ithaca, Paxi, and Kythira provide a more serene and pleasant environment for those looking for a quieter vacation. Furthermore, lesser-known islands such as Meganisi and Mathraki provide quiet and alternative destinations with minimal amenities, ideal for those looking for a more off-the-beaten-path experience.

The Dodecanese

Nestled between the Cyclades and the Turkish coast, the Dodecanese islands offer a unique blend of history, architecture, and tranquil beaches. While not as popular as the Cyclades, these islands have unique Medieval architecture and peaceful coastal settings.

Rhodes and Kos are the most popular islands in the Dodecanese, known for their historical significance and breathtaking scenery. However, islands like Karpathos, Astypalea, and Symi have gained appeal in recent years, each with their distinct charm and attractiveness. Kalymnos has evolved as a top destination for rock climbers, and Leros entices divers with its underwater treasures. 

What is the best Greek island to visit?

When deciding which Greek island to visit, it all comes down to your interests and what you want from your trip. If you’re drawn to the iconic postcard-perfect images of Greece, the Cyclades islands, particularly Santorini and Mykonos, provide a truly Greek experience with their magnificent landscapes and colorful atmosphere.

However, if you want a more tranquil and off-the-beaten-path experience, consider exploring the lesser-known Saronic or Sporades islands, like Hydra or Skopelos.

Crete, with its archaeological monuments and beautiful sandy beaches, can be a great choice if you are looking for a place to relax while immersing yourself in the rich history. 

Meanwhile, the Ionian islands, such as Corfu and Kefalonia, are known for their lush vegetation, stunning beaches, and Venetian-influenced architecture, providing an ideal balance of natural beauty and cultural charm.

If you’re looking for adventure and outdoor sports, the Dodecanese islands, particularly Rhodes and Kalymnos, provide options for rock climbing, diving, and touring historic sites. And for those seeking a genuinely off-the-beaten-path experience, smaller, remote islands such as Meganisi or Mathraki. 

Regardless of which Greek Island you choose to visit, you’ll have an unforgettable experience. Whether you’re attracted by the romantic atmosphere of Santorini or the tranquility and remoteness of Hydra Island, each island has something unique to offer to every type of traveler. Rest assured, you won’t be disappointed!

What is the best way to see the Greek Islands?

Planning a trip to Greece can be challenging, especially when trying to explore hidden gems among its many islands. While you can island hop using direct ferries between the most popular destinations, discovering off-the-beaten-path gems on your own can be difficult. That’s where joining an all-inclusive small group tour becomes invaluable. 

Instead of worrying about organizing everything yourself, you can rest assured that all the details have been taken care of for you.

Furthermore, going on a small group tour allows you to have the best of both worlds as a tourist. Not only will you get to see the well-known attractions, but you will also get the opportunity to discover hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path treasures with our knowledgeable local host. 

Moreover, with everything included – from accommodation to meals – you can truly immerse yourself in the experience without worrying about a single detail.

In this guide, we explored the captivating world of the Greek Islands, providing information about each archipelago and expert recommendations on the best islands to visit. We hope this will help you plan your next island getaway.