Best islands to Visit in Greece
With more than 2000 islands, from tiny atolls to Crete, maritime Greece is unmatched for sheer variety. Beaches, history, walking, cycling, water sports, festivals, food, ecology: chances are if you want it, they’ve got it. Here are just a few of the incomparable offerings Greek islands hold.
The pink sands of Elafonisi Beach on Crete. Image by Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho / CC BY 2.0
Best for beaches: Crete, Lipsi, Kefallonia, Skiathos, Mykonos
Almost every Greek isle has great beaches, but few come with a Venetian castle, like laid-back Frangokastello Beach in southern Crete. For lapping turquoise waters, try Platys Gialos and Kambos on quiet Lipsi, and the stunning cove at Myrtos Beach in Kefallonia. To see and be seen, bowl up to one of Skiathos’ 65 beaches, join the mainstream masses at 1200m-long Koukounaries Beach or bronze up on nudist-friendly Banana and Little Banana Beach, popular with the gay and lesbian set. Even more full-on are the legendary Paradise and Super Paradise beaches on decadent Mykonos.
Best for diving and snorkelling: Karpathos, Milos, Paros, Kastellorizo
For organised dives in sea caves full of colourful aquatic life, check out Karpathos. Milos has phenomenal diving face-to-face with deep-sea fish, dolphins and even monk seals. Snorkelling is also great here, as well as on Paros and remote Kastellorizo (Megisti).
Afternoon sun on historic main square in Rhodes' Old Town. Image by Matt Munro / Lonely Planet
Best for history: Rhodes, Delos, Corfu, Patmos
Gape at Rhodes’ magnificent, walled Old Town, where the Knights of St John ruled from 1309 to 1523, and explore their quarter before visiting the 14th-century Palace of the Grand Masters. Tiny Delos, near Mykonos, was once dedicated to Apollo; see ruins of shrines to the gods and explore mosaic-rich ancient dwellings. Kick back in Corfu’s Old Town, with its Venetian, French and British architecture. On ethereal Patmos, visit the Monastery of St John the Theologian, and see the grotto where the saint wrote the Book of Revelations.
Crete's Samaria Gorge is a top hiking destination. Image by Tim Dobbelaere / CC BY-SA 2.0
Best for walking: Crete, Naxos, Alonnisos, Skopelos
The varied terrain on Greece’s biggest island, Crete, ranges from gentle plateaus dotted with windmills to canyons and mountains. Hiking the Samaria Gorge, Europe’s longest at 16km, takes you through the homeland of Crete’s famed wild goat, the kri-kri. The Zakros–Kato Zakros (a former Minoan palace site) amble in eastern Crete is more relaxed. Cool relief awaits on the forested ‘river walk’ at southern Plakias. Fertile Naxos boasts numerous walks along the old paths connecting the villages of the central plain; these traverse ancient temples, Hellenistic towers and Byzantine churches. The Sporades isles of Alonnisos and Skopelos, full of forests, orchards and wildflowers, offer more excellent walks.
Best for cycling: Evia, Kos, Thasos
The meandering country roads of Evia make for blissfully stress-free cycling. Another favourite is well-equipped Kos, bursting with bike-rental places. Excellent forested trails (and a popular international race) bring mountain biking aficionados to Thasos.
A loggerhead turtle comes up for air in Zakynthos. Image by Spyros Kapsaskis / CC BY 2.0
Best for responsible travel: Zakynthos, Chios, Crete
Volunteer to protect endangered wildlife such as sea turtles on Zakynthos with the Sea Turtle Protection Society. Get your hands dirty while tending endemic mastic trees, and explore Chios’ other eco-tourism opportunities in Mesta. Finally, enjoy guilt-free eating and sleeping in Crete’s secluded mountains at Milia, powered by solar energy and living off its organic farm and good vibrations.