Which Greek Island is Right for Me?
With thousands of islands to pick from, Greece has everything from tiny paradise atolls to charismatic islands such as Crete, where you can lose yourself in city life. No wonder Greece vacations are such a firm favorite with travelers.
Whether you’re in search of the perfect beach, a path-less-trodden or a place to revel in the region’s extraordinary history, this guide to Greece’s best islands will help you find the one that’s right for you.
Best for Beaches
During the Cretan summer, temperatures can exceed 86°F. Váï beach, on Crete’s eastern tip, boasts a definite Caribbean vibe, and is backed by Europe’s largest natural pine grove.
Paleóhora beach on Crete’s southwest coast consists of two beaches – Pahiá Ámmos and Halikiá. There’s also Elafonísi beach (below), with its turquoise lagoon and pink-tinged sands, and the tiny island of Spinalonga, just off the coast of Crete, which is known for its amazing views.
Kefalonia, one of Greece’s largest islands, is known for its exotic beaches. Myrtos beach, on the northern coast, is a favorite and Xi beach (below), in the south, has unique dark orange sands and shallow water, making it perfect for families.
Best for Watersports
Karpathos’s intricate network of reefs, shipwrecks and underwater caverns makes it perfect for diving. Diving has only been allowed here since 2006, and the crystal-clear waters allow you to spot all kinds of fascinating marine life. Afiartis Beach is great for windsurfing.
Milos’s underwater caves and World War II wreckages make it a diving hotspot. It’s also great for snorkelling, with the chance to see everything from cuttlefish to lobster. Canoeing and yachting is popular here, too.
Best for History
Rhodes boasts UNESCO World Heritage status and has a number of ancient ruins. The Lindos acropolis (below) predates the founding of ancient Rhodes in 408 BC, while the Rhodes Archaeological Museum has a fascinating collection of artefacts. Be sure to visit the island’s Old Town and the Grand Master’s Palace, a medieval castle with iconic Gothic architecture.
Legend has it that the Greek god Apollo and the goddess Artemis were born on Delos, and the island’s history dates back to the 3rd millennium BC. This island is a veritable treasure chest of ancient ruins – some of its most famous include the Sanctuary of Apollo, with its nine 7th-century BC marble lions that are said to guard the area, and the Sacred Harbour. There’s also the House of Cleopatra, the Temple of Isis, the Sacred Way and the House of the Poseidoniasts.
Corfu’s Venetian-style Old Town (below) is a delight to wander through, with its pastel-hued houses, and there are plenty of museums to visit here. The Archeological Museum of Corfu is closed for renovations at the moment, but the Byzantine Museum is equally intriguing, as is the Asian Art Museum. There are also two forts in Corfu that are worth visiting – the Néo Froúrio and the Paleó Froúrio.
Patmos is best known for the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian. Here, you’ll find medieval frescoes and arcaded courtyards, along with a treasury containing a number of Cretan artefacts. On your way up to the monastery, you should definitely visit the Cave of the Apocalypse, a sacred grotto said to be where Jesus spoke to St John, which he later recorded in the Book of Revelation.
Best for Foodies
If it’s seafood you’re after, Lesbos has it in abundance. It’s known for its sardines, which are often cooked with ouzo (the famous anise-flavoured aperitif has been produced here for over 200 years). Lesbos is also great for seafood – we recommend trying the salted fish, octopus and shellfish.
Aside from its iconic blue-domed churches and whitewashed houses, Santorini is also famous for tomato fritters, known locally as domatokeftedes, and fava bean mash. You’ll find plenty of seafood here, too.
Best for Getting Away From It All
Skyros is one of the most remote Greek islands, so you won’t run into too many tourists here. This island isn’t known for its beaches, but it’s ideal for immersing yourself in Greek culture and lifestyle.
With its olive groves, cypress trees and turquoise waters, Lefkada is another Greek island seemingly untouched by tourism. It’s popular for windsurfing and kitesurfing, and the islands of Meganisi, Kefalonia and Ithaka are within easy day-trip distance.