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Which Are The Best Islands In Greece?

Updated on July 20, 2017
Stella Kaye profile image

Stella has travelled widely throughout the Mediterranean and owns a holiday home there, so she has written extensively about this region.

Santorini Sun

Source

'It’s All Greek To Me!'

Greece arguably offers the widest choice of vacation anywhere in the Mediterranean, if not the world. Apart from the mainland, there are over two thousand islands to choose from although a large proportion of these are only accessible by sea and will have obvious appeal to those who wish to charter a yacht to go island hopping.

With such a wealth of islands, it is little wonder that the Greek hero Odysseus reputedly took some ten years to return home to his beloved homeland of Ithaca after The Trojan War. Some islands are little more than rocks and there are many that remain largely uninhabited that are natural havens for wildlife.

There are people who say: ‘If you’ve seen one Greek island then you’ve seen them all’ but this is not the case. Each island group has distinctive climatic differences and each individual island has its own atmosphere and unique attractions even if there are other islands close by which share a similar way of life. For instance there is no other island like Santorini (in the Cyclades group) with its massive volcanic cliffs and picture postcard villages perched precipitously above the coastline. Santorini is a unique and breathtaking sight when seen from the deck of a cruise ship anchored far below in the bay.

Although geographically speaking, the Greek islands lie in the Mediterranean Sea there are other seas within this sea; there is the Ionian to the west of mainland Greece; the Myrtoan Sea to the east; the Aegean to the North East and the Sea of Crete to the south east.

The main groups of islands are as follows and for the purposes of this article we will concentrate on just one island from each particular group:


Myrtos beach, Kefalonia

The beach is one of the most photographed in the world
The beach is one of the most photographed in the world | Source

The Ionian Sea

The Ionian chain is located on the western seaboard of the Greek mainland. The main islands are Corfu, Lefkas, Kefalonia (together with Ithaca) Zacynthos (otherwise known as Zante) Paxos and Kythira.

Corfu is indisputably the most visited of the Ionian group, having embraced tourism on a grand scale from the very onset of package holidays. If it is golden sands you adore and soft, yielding sand underfoot when you take a swim then look no further than Glyfada on Corfu’s west coast. Here you can sunbathe without the constant feeling that you are a feature in an ornamental rock garden. The children can build sandcastles to their heart’s content and topless and even nude sunbathing is allowed on certain parts of the beach. So for those in search of an all over tan, Glyfada can be as near to paradise as they can get. Corfu also boasts an interesting beach at Sidari which has quite unique rock formations and is thus worthy of a mention. Paleokastritsa too, has an individual atmosphere that has made it increasingly popular. There are several small secluded bays surrounded by verdant wooded hills and above the beach there is a fine selection of typical tavernas from which to take lunch and admire the scenery. Water sports are also widely available. The region is a firm favourite with photographers and the scent of pine pervades the air in this delightful part of Corfu.


The Cyclades

The Cyclades are ideal for island hoppers due to their proximity to each other. They are located south east of the mainland. The most well-known of this group are: Santorini, Mykonos, Milos, and Andros but there are many more which are worthy of a visit.

Santorini, as mentioned previously is unique in its appearance and is therefore a popular choice for a holiday. With its blue-domed, white-walled houses clustered on the cliff tops, it is a photographer’s paradise. Due to its volcanic nature it is also an island with an interesting geographical past. It is thought by some to include the remains of an ancient volcano which blew its top and took two thirds of the existing island with it, causing a huge tidal wave and subsequently destroying the ancient civilisation of the Minoans on Crete which had endured for almost fifteen hundred years prior to the devastation.


The Sporadic

The Sporadic Island chain lies close to the mainland as does the smaller Saronic group. Skiathos is perhaps the best known of the Sporadic islands. It is relatively small but has numerous sandy beaches which provide safe bathing and soft sand. The beach at Koukounaries sweeps round in an interesting curve and is perfectly flat. There is a hotel on the beachfront and a view of colourful fishing boats anchored in a typical Greek harbour. Tavernas beckon to the strains of stirring bouzouki music and attractive souvenir shops are never far away or some other interesting place to explore and go for an evening stroll or ‘Volta’ as they say in Greece.


The Dodecanese

The Dodecanese chain of which Rhodes is the largest and most popular are located close to the Turkish coast. Inhabited since ancient times, Rhodes is perhaps most famous for the Colossus at Rhodes – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Rhodes is geographically speaking, part of Asia Minor. Easily accessible to tourists, the island basks in continual sunshine throughout the main May to October season and although the sprawling tourist centres are always busy it remains largely unspoiled.


The Aegean

The Aegean islands are also nearer to the Turkish mainland than they are to Greece. From the island of Lesbos, the third largest in Greece, it is possible to take a day trip to Turkey crossing the very narrow Mytilene strait.

Lesbos is a rare jewel of an isle set in the Aegean Sea and is becoming an increasingly popular destination with British tourists. Less commercialised than some of the more widely known Greek islands, Lesbos still maintains its traditional atmosphere. Tourism is not, as yet, a great source of income, the main revenue being derived from olive production - the island's major industry. Most of the fertile landscape is thus covered with olive trees, apart from the more mountainous, pine-clad regions. Ouzo, Greece's national drink is also produced here. Mytilene, the capital is a bustling town and port, and is the site of a bygone civilisation dating back to 3000 BC, comparable to that of ancient classical Athens.


Varti Harbour, Ithaka

Ithaca's delightful harbour is a great port of call.
Ithaca's delightful harbour is a great port of call. | Source

Crete

We will also mention Crete; Greece’s largest island which is a near-perfect location. The red sandy cliffs at Chiona are breathtaking and the beach here is not commercialised although there are three restaurants providing adequate facilities. The beach is long and rarely becomes overcrowded. Here in aquamarine waters you can go snorkelling or bask in the shade provided by nearby trees. There is ample parking and an interesting site of antiquity nearby.

The locations mentioned in this article are based purely on the personal preferences of the writer, so whether it is a glorious sunset you wish to capture, a sunbathers’ paradise you are in search of, or just a paddle in the sea, then Greece will be sure to provide the perfect holiday island for you.

Greek Islands Information

Island Hopping and Cruising

With over two thousand Greek islands to chose from, it makes sense to try to visit several during the duration of your holiday. This is quite possible if you opt for the type of vacation known as 'Island hopping' on a small vessel with a close group of friends. Many tour operators specialise in these packages (see video below).

More formal cruises can be taken to most of the larger islands which have bigger ports to berth larger vessels.

Greek Island Hopping Enables the Discerning Tourist to See as Many Islands as Possible

What Do The Greeks Say When They Don't Understand Something?

Have you ever wondered what the Greeks would say when they don't understand something? Whereas the rest of us would say 'It’s All Greek to Me!' a Greek person would exclaim: 'This strikes me as Chinese!'

Greece and its islands

© 2016 Stella Kaye

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