Wrapped with crystal turquoise waters and sprinkled with sun-bleached ruins, the Greek islands will fill your imagination with rich histroy, your belly with local flavours and your soul with tranquility. The Greek islands are a magical place and one of my favourite places to travel around. If you’ve visited before, you could probably attest to their beauty, but if not, here’s your ultimate Greek islands travel guide.
Before we begin this Greek islands travel guide, there’s a bit of background information you should know.
The islands are the main characteristic of Greece’s morphology and an integral part of the country’s culture and tradition. Greek sovereign land includes 6,000 islands and islets scattered in the Aegean and Ionian Seas, of which only 227 islands are inhabited.
Things to Know
Emergency services: Dial 166 (ambulance), 199 (urban fire brigade/forest fires) or 100 (police)
Largest island: Crete
High season: July and August, although for discounted room rates and still a fair bit of crowds, late June is also a good time to travel.
Mikró ýpno (siesta, 3pm-5pm) is a legally mandated quiet time. Most businesses will close for these times.
Local driving habits leave much to be desired – beware especially of people emerging from side roads without stopping, opposing traffic straddling the median line, and of reckless overtaking.
If you’re planning on how long you’re staying in the Greek islands, remember to take into account travel time. Some islands can take up to 10 hours to arrive.
The most common way to travel between the islands is by ferry boat, and I highly recommend Blue Star. It’s reckoned the best domestic shipping line. There’s also Hellenic Seaways which is less expensive but slower than Blue Star.
Not all the islands have airports, but the main ones do including Mykonos, Santorini, Naxos, Paros, Crete, Rhodes, Lesvos, Corfu, Skiathos, Chios, Samos, and Kos. If you are staying that first night in Athens it’s still easier to take the ferry from Pireaus (Athens port) the next morning, than to go all the way back to the airport to fly to the island.
Best for Romance: Santorini
If you think of the Greek islands, chances are the first place you think of is Santorini. There’s plenty of restaurants, beaches, adventure, shopping and sunsets like you’ve never seen before. Because of it’s romantic atmosphere, a lot of the crowd consists of honeymooners. Most will stay in Oia because it’s a little quieter and has the best views of the sunset, volcanoes and Adriatic sea. However, you could also choose to stay in Fira. It’s much more affordable and in the hub of nightlife.
Best for Spring Break: Ios
Ios has been dubbed as “the new Mykonos,” which in other words means, the new island for party-goers which I couldn’t leave out of this Greek islands travel guide. However, I find Ios and Mykonos to be different in almost every day. The very young crowds tend to go to Ios to party because it is significantly cheaper to visit. It’s college orientated, so you won’t really find anyone over the age of 30, with the most popular age group 18-25. The island is really quite small. Stay at either Markos Village which is right in the hub of all the nightlife, or Far Out Beach Club (the more popular) which is where you’ll find all the beach parties.
Best for Party: Mykonos
Mykonos is the great glamour island of Greece. The high-season mix of hedonistic holidaymakers, cruise-ship crowds (which can reach 15,000 a day) and posturing fashionistas throngs Mykonos Town (aka Hora), a traditional whitewashed Cycladic maze, delighting in its authentic cubist charms and its chichi cafe-bar-boutique scene. It has some of the best nightlife in Greece, and Cavo Paradiso, which is one of the best clubs in the world. Mykonos is a very expensive island and draws an older crowd as a result. There’s people of many different ages, with the most popular being 25-35.
Best for beauty and culture: Crete
Crete is a patchword of splendid landscape, ancient treasures and rich history. Crete’s spirited people and time-honoured traditions remain a dynamic part of the island’s soul. The island boasts many natural beauties from the sun-drenched beaches in the north (there’s even a pink sand one!) to the rugged canyons spilling out at the cove-carved and cliff-lined southern coast. Choose to trek through Europe’s longest gorge, hike to the cave where Zeus was born or cycle among orchards on the Lasithi Plateau. Leave time to plant your footprints on a sandy beach, and boat, kayak or snorkel in the crystalline waters. Crete feels big in it’s heart and landscape.
Best for tranquility: Hydra
Hydra is a little gem of the Saronic Gulf and stands alone among Greek islands as the one free of wheeled vehicles. No cars. No scooters. Just tiny marble-cobbled lanes, donkeys, rocks and sea. There’s monastery’s to visit, including Moni Profiti Ilia (with incredible views), swimming rocks, pebble beaches and a beautifully restored 19th century stone bridge.
Best for an eternal summer: Rhodes
Rhodes abounds in beaches, wooded valleys and ancient history. Whether you arrive in search of buzzing nightlife, languid sun worshipping, or diving in crystal-clear waters, or embark on a culture-vulture journey through past civilisations, it’s all here. There’s a charming Old Town with a maze of cobbled streets, as well as a picturesque town of Lindos, with sugar-cube houses spilling down to a turquoise bay.
Best for outdoor enthusiasts: Náxos
Náxos is the greenest island in Cyclades with a web of steep cobbled alleys, filled with the hubbub of tourism and shopping. Yet you needn’t travel far to find isolated beaches, atmospheric villages and ancient sites. The island draws outdoor enthusiasts, with kiteboarding off the sandy southern beaches, and traditional footpaths to follow between villages, churches, a 13th century medieval castle and other sights. Although, it is also home to some of the most beautiful stretches of beach.
Your budget can vary greatly in Greece. You can find accommodation in hostels for as little as 10 euro a night, and the longer you stay in some places, the cheaper they’ll give it to you. You can eat from street vendors, mostly gyros or souvlakis which are around 2 euro, and if you skip the cocktails in places like Mykonos and Santorini, Greece can be very affordable.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for luxury travel, you can end up spending thousands a night for spectacular views along the coast lines and dine in rather expensive restaurants.
Keep in mind when you’re traveling in peak season (July – August) prices will double, and some will triple.
Do you have any tips to share? What’s your favourite Greek island?