With over 220 inhabited Greek islands out of over 6,000, there are pros and cons of choosing one to visit at any time of the year. There are pros because there are so many islands to choose from, all with their own unique style. This can also be a con because which one should you settle for?
My article, 7 Gorgeous Greek Islands You Must Visit, can help narrow that process down, yet my tenure in this beautiful country has unearthed even more stunning locations. Some are large with excellent infrastructure, good flight links, and often more than one port. Others are tinier, offering a more traditional experience, whilst taking a little more time and patience to reach — always worth it.
Here I share with you why these six beautiful Greek islands are my favorite in Greece. I’ve deliberately chosen a cross-section of touristy ones, yet not lacking in authenticity to lesser-known ones — at least to the majority of international tourists. Come and be tempted enough to whip out that credit card and book your trip to visit Greece as soon as possible.
Greece’s southernmost island, and largest, Crete has two main airports — Heraklion and Chania — for domestic and European routes as well as ports in those cities too. This makes it a popular destination year-round. Despite its touristy crowds — particularly in the summer months that are attracted to Crete’s many beaches and mountain villages — Crete remains a favorite of mine because it offers such a variety of things to see and do.
Want to flop on the beach all day? No problem. The remote beach of Elafonisi in the southwest corner of the island, with its shades of pastel-pink sand and azure waters will make you feel like you’re in the Caribbean. Balos Beach, framed with the rugged scrubland and hills, is another favorite. You’ll often see its white sands and blue waters adorning Crete travel brochures.
If hiking’s more your thing, the famous Samaria Gorge — nestled within White Mountains National Park and the most famous and longest trekking gorge in Europe at 10 miles — is best hiked in the cooler spring and fall months.
Lovers of history and tradition will love the Venetian harbor, explore the old cobbled streets of Chania, and marvel at one of the oldest lighthouses in the world. The lesser-visited town of Rethymon has an equally impressive, if not bigger, harbor where the colorful fishing boats and Venetian architecture will have you snapping away with your camera.
Let’s not forget Greek mythology and a visit to the Palace of Knossos — 3 miles from Heraklion. It’s the capital of Crete where you can discover the ancient Minoan civilization, thought to be even older than Ancient Greece. A boat trip from the exclusive Elonda or the fishing village of Plaka takes you to the unusual island of Spinalonga — now long abandoned but originally a leper colony until 1957. See the stone houses still standing, some even with their lace curtains still intact.
One thing’s for sure, Crete does not disappoint as an island to visit. Read more about Crete here.
In the southeast Aegean Sea, the Dodecanese Islands are known for their medieval castles, Byzantine churches, beaches, and ancient sites. The capital of this island chain is Rhodes. Despite its large size — attracting many visitors throughout the year due to its international airport with many domestic and European flights — there are several hidden treasures to be found on this eclectic island.
You can’t miss the Old Town of Rhodes — a UNESCO World Heritage site and a continuously functioning old town, meaning people still live and trade behind and within its castle walls. Dating back to the 14th-century knights of Saint John’s time, you’ll find over 200 streets and alleyways, many cobbled and meandering, designed to confuse invading pirates of the past.
Treat yourself to a stay at your choice of several unique boutique hotels in the Old Town to really immerse yourself.
Marvel at the architecture found along the Street of the Knights and the Palace of the Grand Masters, or take a stroll atop the ancient castle walls. Wear sturdy shoes!
Heading out of the ancient Old Town and driving inland will bring you to the pine forest of Profitis Ilias. Here, you’ll find the abandoned mansion, and intended summer home, of Mussolini, the Italian dictator. The forest itself sits at a peak of 2,618 feet above sea level and offers spectacular views. It makes for a beautiful day trip away from the crowded beaches.
Read more about reasons to visit Rhodes. Especially with its ease to get to, put Rhodes on your list of favorite Greek islands to explore.
Lying off Greece’s western coast in the Ionian Sea are the Ionian Islands, one of the most popular being Corfu, or Kerkyra in Greek, which is very near the Albanian Coast. It’s rugged, mountainous, and surprisingly lush and green due to the high rainfall during the winter months. You can also find several luxurious resorts along the coastline.
Boasting an international airport accepting domestic and international flights and a large port means it does get busy — like any Greek island with such transport hubs. Similar to Rhodes and Crete, however, there are hidden spots to find away from the tourist crowds that will make you fall in love with this sickle of an island (the shape of Corfu resembles a sickle).
First and foremost, be sure to spend time exploring Corfu’s Old Town. The island’s architecture reflects its checkered past of Venetian, French, and British rule. Corfu Town, the island’s capital, boasts two Venetian fortresses. There is one of each in the Old and New Towns, the medieval lanes, and the cobbled streets, resembling a set of Game of Thrones.
From pebbly to sandy, organized with sunbeds, umbrellas, and water sports, to secluded beaches surrounded by pine forests and olive trees, there are many beaches and hidden coves/bays to choose from. Try Rovinia Beach on the northwest coast and explore by boat if possible.
Meat lovers will love the Corfu dish of sofrito — veal cooked in wine, garlic, and white pepper or simple “farmer-style” food such as zucchini or cheese pies. After all, before tourism, Corfu was — and still is to an extent — an agricultural island.
For me, Paxos is a hidden gem in the Ionian islands. To reach it, you have to take a ferry ride of up to an hour from Corfu. Or, as the island offers quite exclusive private villas, many also offer private sea taxi transfers.
There’s a range of things to see and do on this small 30-square-mile island. If you plan to just chill out in a less-crowded destination, you’ve chosen the right place. There are many beaches to choose from. Located in the south of the island, Mongonissi is a small island linked by a causeway just 2 miles from the capital, Gaios, with rocky vegetation and a small sandy beach.
At the northern tip of the island by the lighthouse, Plani is a windswept, wild beach with big rocks that can be seen from the lighthouse. Park up here and then walk down, or access it by boat.
A few minutes’ drive away from Faros, you’ll come to the picturesque traditional harbor of Lakka with good tavernas and blue water that makes Paxos a dream island.
The small harbor of Longos is notable for its old olive oil processing factory — now an exhibition space. It’s a great place to take a boat trip and anchor up for coffee or lunch.
The bustling new harbor town of Gaios offers many boutique shops, tavernas, gorgeous blue-green hues in the water, and a cool, laid-back vibe.
Overall, Paxos is a more sophisticated Greek island to visit and spend time, offering a relaxed alternative to the busier islands in the chain of Corfu and Zakynthos.
North East Aegean Islands
A tiny domestic airport connects this unique Greek island to the mainland, and Ikaria is well worth a visit.
One of five blue zones in the world, the island’s name stems from Greek mythology. Icarus, the son of Daedalus, made wings from leather to fly. Icarus created wax wings to fly higher and, despite his father’s warnings, flew too close to the sun and melted his wings, plunging him into the sea. Where he fell is supposed to be where the island formed.
You’ll find long stretches of beaches, wild landscapes, authentic people, and phenomenal food. It’s a blue zone due to the fact that it’s a place where inhabitants live the longest and healthiest lives — essentially “forgetting to die.” This is down to the environment that allows people to live and exercise outside more, have a strong community spirit, enjoy a plant-based diet with meat eaten in measure, and take frequent naps/siestas.
From sandy and pebbly beaches to wine-tasting tours and the unique mountain village of Christos Raches, there’s an abundance of experiences to be had in Ikaria, making it one of my favorite beautiful Greek islands. Here, the population sleeps in the daytime and opens up from 6 p.m. onwards.
The northernmost island in the Cycladic chain, Andros isn’t really on the international radar. The fact that it’s only a couple of hours by ferry from the Athanian port of Rafina makes for a perfect weekend getaway or longer. Also, its proximity to other Cycladic islands such as Mykonos, Paros, Naxos, and Syros makes it a perfect island-hopping base.
Greeks love coming to Andros for its lush vegetation and rugged landscape, plus the island boasts over 60 beaches, 40 of which are accessed by dirt or paved road, some best visited by boat.
The island has a rich maritime history and many shipowner families originate from Andros. This is evident in the grand mansions and architecture seen across the island.
You don’t need to be religious to appreciate the splendor of one of the six Byzantine monasteries. Year-round, Andros offers walking and hiking routes, many signposted and taking in the monasteries, ancient temple ruins, or views out across the Aegean Sea.
The fact that the island boasts a rich, cultural heritage — and has no airport — means Andros has escaped mass tourism and offers a more sophisticated, traditional Greek-island appeal.
If you’re planning a trip sometime soon, be sure to read up on all of our Greece content, including: