Ah, the Greek Islands! The white homes with cute blue trimmings, narrow streets and vine-covered terraces, not to mention breathtaking sunsets. Can the islands really be this beautiful? They can. Each outcrop – stretched across the Ionian, Aegean and Mediterranean seas – has a unique character. Don’t know where to start? We’re here to help: here’s four islands with different vibes that await you as soon as you step off the ferry.
Good times… in Mykonos
Just north of Paros, rests the relatively small island of Mykonos. Its nickname is “The Island of the Wind” but, perhaps more commonly, also “The Ibiza of Greece.” Hot sun, beachside bars and an island-wide attitude of fun and acceptance create the ideal recipe for a good time.
This reputation for fun makes Mykonos very popular with tourists, so you can expect to run into plenty of other travelers while you explore, especially when you’re out on the town as the island is loaded with bars and clubs filled with socializers, but the good news is that the crowds are less come fall. Whether you favor a scene-y spot like the Paradise Club, or you’re on the lookout for a quieter cocktail hour at Belvedere Bar, the vast variety guarantees a good time, regardless of your style.
If late nights mean you’ve run out of steam come morning, catch up on some rest at one of the beautiful beaches, like Panormos – it’s a little off the beaten track but well worth the journey. Then, hop on a boat in Mykonos town and swing by the fascinating archaeological site at Delos (guided tours are available for the non-expert history enthusiasts).
Where to stay in Mykonos
Take a Dip… in Zakynthos
Boasting over 120km of coastline, Zakynthos – once nicknamed “The Flower of the East” by Venetian merchants, is known for it’s incredible beaches and clear water. It’s a great destination for avid divers, possibly the best in all of the Greek Islands. If you haven’t taken the plunge into scuba diving quite yet, but you’re eager to learn, there’s a number of certified scuba schools on the island, making it an ideal place to get your feet wet.
For a beach worthy of your new camera, make the trek to Navagio (Shipwreck) Beach, only accessible by boat (or parachute). With crystal clear turquoise waters and a white ocean floor, it’s a place that’s once seen, never forgotten.
If you come up for air and make your way inland, you’ll discover remnants of Zakynthos’ unique history. Although the island was inhabited as far back as the neolithic age, most of the island’s infrastructure was destroyed by an earthquake in 1953. However, a few legendary structures survived, such as the St Dionysios Cathedral. History and art buffs should check out the Byzantine Museum of Zakynthos, which houses works from the 12th-19th centuries.
Where to stay in Zakynthos
Feel the love… in Santorini
What is it about Santorini? The endlessly charming, low-lying houses made for two, the flowing wine, the winding and hilly streets that offer incredible views, and the unbelievable sunsets have captured travelers’ hearts for centuries. The southernmost of the Cyclades group of islands, Santorini is the furthest island from Athens and boasts a hot desert-style climate, with sun drenching the beautiful stone patios from early April to late October.
The volcanic soil provides ideal conditions for the unique Assyrtiko grape, the cornerstone of the island’s small but flourishing wine industry. Once sun-dried, Assyrtiko mixes with Aidani and Athiri grapes for the island’s classic (and strong!) dessert wine, “vinsanto”. Take a wine tour and explore the island’s varied varietals for a unique taste of Greece.
Below the cliffs of Akrotiri you’ll find Red Beach, known for its unique deep red sands and beautiful sunrise displays. You can enjoy a sunset dinner at Kastro restaurant – try the succulent cherry tomatoes.
To top off your trip to Santorini, make sure to stop for dinner one evening in Oia, considered one of the best places in the world to watch the sunset. Find a clifftop to your liking and enjoy the show with other sunset-seekers.
Where to stay in Santorini
Something for Everyone… in Crete
Crete is the biggest of all the Greek Islands, and as a result, has plenty to offer holiday-makers. Its natural landscape alone, with mountains for hiking, valleys lined with olive groves, and numerous beautiful beaches, could keep your vacation agenda filled for a month.
For the history lovers, the museums and ancient ruins are plentiful. The towns of Chania, Rethymon and Heraklion all have good museums, most notably the Historical Museum of Crete located in Heraklion. And while the ancient ruins of Knossos is the most popular architectural site on the island, a day trip to Spinalonga Island will leave you fascinated. A former Venetian fort and also once a leper colony, it’s is only a short boat ride away from mainland Crete and has great beaches for swimming after a tour of the ruins.
To get your adrenaline pumping, Crete’s mountains offer invigorating hikes and walks, especially on the island’s west side with deep gorges and high mountains. If you’re new to hiking, try the Gorja de Imbros. Experts can feel the burn on the much longer Samaria gorge hike. For an activity with slightly less altitude, horseback riding along the beach is fun for the whole family.
Foodies looking for an authentic experience won’t be disappointed either. Agriculture is a big industry on the island, which means an abundance of delicious fresh food. Start your day at a local “kafeneion” to get a taste of Cretan mornings with a good strong coffee. Come dinner time, authentic Tavernas offer local favorites including delicious lamb, rosemary roasted potatoes, and of course, the best feta cheese you’ve ever tasted.
Where to stay in Crete