Visiting the Greek Islands is a full sensory journey. You’ll find an eye-pleasing color palette of whitewashed homes and blue-domed churches, feel the beat of vibrant music, and taste the delectable cuisine featuring fresh vegetables, olive oil, and honey.
Nearly 2,500 Greek islands bask in the Mediterranean sun surrounded by clear blue water. They are divided into six groups plus two large islands of Crete and Evia. The groups are the Ionian Islands, the Cyclades, the Sporades, the Dodecanese, the Saronic Islands, and the North Aegean Islands. Each group, and even individual islands within each group, has its own character.
So, how do you decide which of the stunning Greek islands to visit? Well, it depends on what you want. This Mediterranean jewel has something for nearly everyone.
Favorite Greek Islands in the Cyclades
The Cyclades contains the most well-known Greek Islands that first-time visitors often choose.
Santorini – This magical Greek Island wraps around the collapsed caldera of an ancient volcano, providing spectacular views. Sunsets overlooking the caldera, with iconic Greek windmills and whitewashed buildings spilling down the cliffs, are beyond romantic. Travel Maestro tip: Hike the caldera path between Fira and Oia, enjoy a sunset cruise of the caldera, or a take winery tour to soak in all in.
Mykonos – Known as the party island, Mykonos has hedonistic beach clubs and nightlife but also has amazing beaches, luxury hotels, and high-end shopping. You just might rub elbows with international celebrities here. Travel Maestro tip: Start at Platis Gialos Beach and walk along the beach for about an hour to Paradise Beach Club, enjoy a bite at one of the beach restaurants, then take the water taxi back.
Naxos – With long, sandy beaches and a laid-back atmosphere, Naxos is a very family-friendly Greek island. If the beach isn’t a priority, dining and shopping in the maze of Naxos Town, exploring the island’s archeological ruins, and visiting an authentic mountain village are great activities here. Travel Maestro tip: In Greek mythology, this is where Zeus was raised in a cave.
Paros – This island was an ancient maritime base and trade hub. Like Naxos, it has excellent beaches and traditional whitewashed villages worth visiting. Like Mykonos, it has a lively nightlife, trendy clubs, and great restaurants. Travel Maestro tip: Naxos and the celebrity hideaway Antiparos are easy day trips by frequent passenger ferries.
The Greek Island of Crete is the largest in the country. The island is a bit smaller than the Big Island of Hawaii or Puerto Rico. It is dry and mountainous but cut by flowing streams and has many sandy beaches. Historical sites here date civilization back 5,000 years and today it draws millions of vacationers from around the world every year.
- Heraklion is the city nearest the airport and ferry port. Visit the Archaeological Museum there before visiting the must-see Knossos site.
- The picturesque Old Town of Chania on the north coast of the western end of Crete is a walled city with nearby beaches, waterfront tavernas, and tiny alley shops. Stay here if you want to hike the Samaria Gorge about an hour’s drive away.
- On the northeast coast of Crete, Agios Nikolaos is a charming fishing town offering good beaches for swimming, leisurely dining, and a less boisterous nightlife.
- Nearby, Elounda is also a former fishing village, but it has grown into the luxury hotel coast and playground for wealthy Greeks and foreigners. Do take a tour of the former leper colony island of Spinalonga.
When to Go Where
The peak season for the Greek Islands is during the hottest months (July-August). For packed clubs and beaches, Mykonos will be in full swing. Quieter islands like Antiparos, Naxos, and Paros have shorter seasons but are fully open in high summer.
Just before and after the peak season (May, June, September) you can enjoy lovely weather, fewer crowds, and lower cost.
For both winter (December-February) and shoulder seasons (March-April, October-November), Crete and Santorini are good choices (and they pair well together). Both have plenty to do, even off-season.
These are only a few of the many Greek Islands you can explore but are good ones to start with. It’s sure to be a memorable and tasty trip! When you are ready to plan your island-hopping adventure, be sure to contact a Covington vacation advisor for assistance.