Your Master Guide To All Greek Islands And How To Pick One

Your Master Guide To All Greek Islands And How To Pick One

Published On: October 10, 2020Last Updated: May 14, 202421 min readBy

☞ Table of Contents:

Everything you need from a guide to the Greek islands. How many Greek islands are there? More than 6,000 but only a couple of hundred are inhabited.

What are the best Greek islands to visit in the winter?

Islands in the south of Greece for better weather and with a large permanent population for easy accessibility.

Is April a good time to visit the Greek islands?

Yes, April is a great time to visit the Greek islands. The best weather is in the southern Aegean like Crete, Kos, Karpathos and Rhodes.There are less crowds but more Greek tourists due to the Easter celebrations.

The number of inhabited Greek islands varies between 150ish to 220ish depending on what size you consider an island to be. While all of them are stunning, some of them will fit your style of travelling more than others.

This guide was created to help you pick which of the Greek islands most suits your preferences, so let’s begin. We suggest grabbing a pen and paper to note down the islands that sound most like you as you go through the article.


What Complex of Greek Islands To Pick or How To Combine Them

When you begin researching what island you want to visit in Greece, the easiest way to proceed is to narrow down which complex or cluster of islands you prefer. While there is no reason you can’t combine islands from different clusters, to do so you may need to add extra dates just for travelling to and from a location, which increases the cost and cuts down on the actual holiday time.There are 6 different complexes of Greek islands and some that belong to no category.

1. Eptanisa

The Ionian Sea is home to the first cluster which is also called Eptanisa, or 7 islands. This includes Corfu, Paxos & Antipaxos, Ithaka, Lefkada, Kefalonia and Kythira. Kythira is located under the Peloponnese Peninsula and while it is grouped together with the 7 islands it is under the administration of Athens. These islands share a lot of characteristics, like the Venetian architecture seen in houses, castles and churches, the lush greenery and turquoise waters.

2. Cyclades

The Cyclades is another complex of Greek islands which translates to circle due to the way the islands form a protective barrier around the sacred island of Delos. While the Cyclades counts more than 220 islands, only a handful are inhabited. The primary island list includes Amorgos, Anafi, Andros, Paros, Antiparos, Koufonisia, Milos, Naxos, Mykonos, Santorini or Thira, Kythnos, Kimolos, Kea, Ios, Folegandros, Serifos, Sithnos, Sikinos, Syros, and Tinos.

The Cyclades are famous for their distinctive architecture, the whitewashed cube shaped houses that are built close to each other usually at a high point for protection against intruders and the windmills which once were used to mill grains but now are mostly a tourist attraction.

3. Dodecanese

The Dodecanese complex of islands is another number-name, but while it translates to “twelve islands” there are fifteen major islands of the more than 100 in the area, that are included in the list. The location of the islands is between the Cyclades and the coast of Turkey. The largest of all the islands is Rhodes. There is also Symi, Tilos, Astypalaia, Kalymnos, Karpathos, Kasos, Kos, Leros, Nisyros, and Patmos. As well as the smaller Kastellorizo, Lipsi, Halki and Agathonisi. As the largest and most popular island, Rhodes is a good option to fly into and then set out to explore the other islands if you so choose. For off season travel, options may be limited so you need to give yourself more time to reach from one island to another.

4. Northern Aegean

The Northern Aegean islands are as the name states further up the north Aegean coast. They are Thasos, Samothraki, Lemnos, Lesvos, Chios, Ikaria and Samos. As well as the much smaller Psara, Fournoi, Agios Efstratios and Oinnousses. Most of the islands in the North Aegean are bigger in size but less popular holiday destinations with the exception of Ikaria that has become a mecca for “panigyria” the Greek religious festivals where people dance until the early hours of the morning. Island hopping between these islands is not easy and ferries to these islands are often slower and travel during the night.

5. Sporades

The name of the next group of islands is Sporades meaning “scatterred”. It is often used to describe four islands located close to the east coast of mainland Greece, however, the name applies to a lot of other islands outside of the Cyclades. The four islands that are inhabited are Allonisos, Skopelos, Skiathos and Skyros. During the summer high season there are regular ferries departing from the mainland. Flights can be organized for Skiathos Airport that receives both domestic and charter flights from some European countries. A much smaller airport operates in Skyros island that is located a fair distance away from the other three. You can only find domestic flights from Athens and Thessaloniki here.

6. Saronic Gulf

The Saronic Gulf islands are the ones located closest to Athens. They are Aegina, Salamina, Poros, Hydra, Spetses, Agistri, and Dokos. These islands are ideally located very close to the mainland and can be reached from Athens with high speed ferries, that often take less than 1 hour of travel. The gulf offers protection from the wind and so these islands also make ideal options for off season or winter destinations, even if the sea is not warm enough to swim in. There are plenty of day cruises leaving Piraeus port that visit Hydra, Poros and Aegina which is an ideal option if you have extra days in Athens.

7. Crete and Euboea

Two islands that don’t really fall under one category are Crete and Euboea. Crete is the largest island in Greece and it could be a separate country all together with its distinctive accent and traditional mantinades (a short of limerick with 15 syllables that locals can expertly whip up within seconds, either accompanied with music or when communicating with each other), the diverse natural scenery, with gorges, lakes, some of the best beaches in Greece and strong local flavours that make it a favourite destination for all. Euboea or Evia as is pronounced in Greek is the second largest island, however, it is seldom thought of as one, due to the two bridges that link it to the mainland.


Best Greek Islands To Visit In The Winter

Dodecanese: Rhodes

Cyclades: Mykonos, Santorini

Saronic: Hydra, Poros, Aegina, Salamina

Other: Crete, Euboea

Greece has long marvelous summers and sunny winters but the temperature can still plunge to freezing temperatures especially on the northern part and high altitude cities like Thessaloniki and Kastoria. While less common, we have seen plenty of Greek islands and beaches covered with a dusting of snow throughout recent years.

That is because you are more likely to find restaurants and attractions open, there is a lower chance to be stuck on the island due to rough seas (if you were taking a ferry) and there is a large medical center in case of accidents.

  • Tip: The best Greek islands then to visit in winter would be the one’s that have an airport, are considerably big and that have a steady amount of permanent residents throughout the year.

Best Greek Islands To Visit In April or May

Dodecanese: Rhodes, Kos, Karpathos, Patmos, Kalymnos

Cyclades: Mykonos, Santorini, Paros, Naxos, Tinos, Milos, Syros, Sifnos, Folegandros

Eptanisa: Corfu

Other: Crete

The months of April and May are when spring starts to make its presence known. The temperature is mostly mellow and ideal for outdoor activities and excursions and there is a lesser chance of a crowd wherever you go. They also tend to be some of the cheapest months to travel in! In addition, travelling to Greece in April is special due to the number of festivities and events that surround Easter. The island of Chios hosts the Easter Rocket Wars, where two churches compete for the most impressive fireworks of the night. Mykonos and Santorini lack the summer crowds so you are more likely to run into locals and see the everyday rhythm of Greek people. While most Greeks don’t venture into the sea until June, plenty of visitors will find the waters pleasant and refreshing.

  • Tip: The dates for Orthodox Easter change slightly every year so plan ahead if you want to combine your trip with some cultural experiences.

Best Greek Islands To Visit In September or October

Dodecanese: Rhodes

Saronic: All of them

Cyclades: Mykonos, Santorini, Paros, Naxos, Syros

Eptanisa: Corfu, Kefalonia

Other: Crete

Summer may technically finish on the 31st of August but if you choose to spend September in Greece, it will still very much feel like summer days. The days are long, warm and there is often little chance of rain. Islands like Rhodes and Crete still average close to 30 degrees C (84F) and you will find most other Greek islands hovering around 23 degrees. The end of the summer season in late September also brings lower prices and far less crowds for those that prefer quiet beaches.
  • Tip: If you wish to combine multiple islands on your visit to Greece in September or October make sure to pay close attention to ferry schedules since a lot of the routes are cut down substantially.

Best Greek Islands To Visit Close To Athens

Saronic: All of them

Cyclades: Mykonos, Santorini

Other: Euboea

The Saronic islands are the best option for visitors that can’t venture too far away from Athens. Whether you are short on time or just prefer to spend more of your holiday at the beach rather than on a plane or boat, the Saronic Gulf islands offer glamour, tradition, aesthetics and unique experiences that are sure to captivate you. An island-hopping tour can also be a good option to see more islands within a short period of time, like the popular Aegina, Poros and Hydra tours. However, fast ferries departing from Piraeus port, can also take you to the ever popular Mykonos and Santorini. SeaJets and Golden Star Ferries offer the fastest option from Piraeus to Santorini, that take approximately 5 hours. The slower and less bumpy ride for those prone to sea sickness takes approximately 8 hours. There are usually more than 3 ferries leaving Piraeus towards Mykonos during the summer and at least 1 during the winter.

Euboea, the second largest island that you can reach by car, is only one hour from Athens and has incredible beaches, fantastic fish taverns and a rich history. Due to its size it may not feel like an island but you should dedicate at least 3 days to exploring this area.

  • Tip: The port of Rafina is another excellent option for those travelling to Mykonos.

Best Greek Islands To Visit For Nature Lovers

Dodecanese: Nisyros, Rhodes, Kalymnos

Eptanisa: Corfu, Cephalonia, Lefkada, Kithyra

Cyclades: Andros, Sifnos, Tilos, Milos

Other: Euboea, Crete

Sporades: Skyros, Allonisos

Northern Aegean: Samothraki, Chios

If your ideal holiday destination includes hiking, climbing, exploring and traversing gorges then you have a lot of wonderful options to discover. Islands on the Ionian coast are known as some of the lushest and greenest in the country. The incredible Melissani Cave in Cephalonia is magestic while neighbouring Corfu and its mountainous terrain is covered in olive groves. In the Cyclades consider Andros who boasts one of the best hiking trails as well as Sifnos and the aptly named Sifnos Trail Project that started in 2015 and now has completed more than 100km of signposted hikes for visitors to enjoy.
  • Tip: If you want to explore nature consider travelling outside of July or August because the temperature can reach more than 40 Celsius making it uncomfortable and even dangerous to be under the sun the whole day.

11 Smallest Greek Islands To Visit

Dodecanese: Patmos, Nisyros, Kastelorizo, Halki, Lipsi

Eptanisa: Paxos Antipaxos

Cyclades: Koufonisia, Anafi, Folegandros

Saronic: Agistri

Northern Aegean: Fournoi, Psara

Visiting some of the smaller islands has both advantages and disadvantages. Almost all of the smaller islands lack airports and as such you will need to travel to a bigger island and then catch a ferry or else take a longer journey on the ferry from Piraeus. Some may take more than 15hours but they almost always travel over night and you can book a cabin. However, once you get there, smaller islands will reward you with their lack of tourists and authentic representation of life. You may be able to witness customs and traditions that you wouldn’t be exposed to elsewhere and taste local flavours that are truly homemade.

  • Tip: If you have booked an international flight from Athens airport always plan to be back in the capital a few days in advance to avoid delays or strikes on the smaller island ferries.

11 Biggest Greek Islands To Visit

Dodecanese: Rhodes

Eptanisa: Zakynthos, Cephalonia, Corfu

Cyclades: Naxos

Other: Crete, Euboea

Northern Aegean: Lesvos, Chios, Lemnos, Samos

The biggest island by far is Crete island. It is twice as big as the second largest island Euboia. Most of the other big islands can be found in the Ionian Sea. If you want to travel to one of the bigger islands of Greece you will be rewarded with more options for accomodation and activities and most of the times a smoother and more comprehensive infastructure for tourism compared to the tiny Greek islands. Most of the islands with a static population all-year-around will have a medical centre, but if you have specific health problems, it pays to inquire ahead of time.

  • Tip: The biggest of the Greek islands like Crete and Euboia will certainly require for you to have a car. So, plan for that within your budget.

Dodecanese: Rhodes

Cyclades: Mykonos, Santorini, Milos

Other: Crete

Eptanisa: Zakynthos, Corfu

What suits one traveller will not suit another, so don’t rely only on the Greek islands that first come to mind. While undoubtedly beautiful and amazing destinations that we would always recommend, the most famous islands of Greece tend to get a bit overcrowded. If your heart is set on one of these islands and you are not a fan of crowds try to plan for late spring or early autumn. Your wallet will also thank you. The sweet-smelling Mykonian nights through cobblestoned labyrinths and stupendous sunsets of Santorini, will be there waiting for you!

  • Tip: Because Crete is twice as large as the second largest island, Euboia, it is possible to visit in peak season and still find quiet beaches. To do that, head out of Chania and Rethymno and choose smaller towns on the east side of the island.

Greek Islands That Have Airports

Dodecanese: Rhodes, Kos, Astypalaia, Kalymnos, Karpathos, Kasos, Leros

Cyclades: Mykonos, Santorini, Milos, Paros, Naxos, Syros

Sporades: Skyros, Skiathos

Other: Crete

Northern Aegean: Samos, Lemnos, Lesvos, Chios, Ikaria

Eptanisa: Zakynthos, Corfu, Cephalonia, Kythira

All of the “biggest islands” you can find in the above section have airports. The bigger islands will also have more frequent routes, especially during the off season, and you can often find good deals. In comparison, the smaller and less popular islands have charter flights that may only operate during the busiest months and even then come with a hefty price tag. There is always one airport per complex of islands, however, with the exception of the Saronic Gulf islands. These islands are served by Athens International Airport and Piraeus port, from which they are only a couple of hours or less away.

  • Disclaimer: Due to tourism and changes in the economy of Greece, information in this section may change. If you have information regarding an airport in the Greek islands or have spotted a mistake please contact us so we can make the necessary amendments.

Best Greek Islands For Party Lovers

Sporades: Skiathos

Cyclades: Mykonos, Ios, Paros

Other: Crete

Eptanisa: Zakynthos

Some of the Greek islands feature prominently on the radar of party lovers! Mykonos and Crete in particular have long been favourites for people that prefer to sleep during the day and party all night. Every island attracts a different crowd as though people organically started to favour one over the other and a niche market was created. In Crete you will find all-inclusive resorts that are a favourite package holiday for Brits in the summer. Mykonos was once called the Ibiza of the Aegean but now has achieved a spot of its own on the throne of nightlife entertainment and is LGBTQ+ friendly. Skiathos and Paros is where a lot of Greek students have their first away from home adventures.

  • Tip: Even the above mentioned “party-islands” have a lot to offer for people that do not enjoy all-night outings. Try to stay away from the “Chora” or main village of the island or visit during the off season.

Best Greek Islands For Families

Sporades: Skyros

Dodecanese: Symi, Kos, Rhodes

Cyclades: Naxos, Sifnos, Syros, Andros, Paros

Other: Crete, Euboia

Eptanisa: All of them

For family friendly Greek island destinations location might be the biggest determining factor depending on how many kids or families are travelling, their ages and for how long. The biggest islands on the list like Rhodes, Crete, Cephalonia, Corfu and Lefkada (in the Eptanisa) have more options for family resorts and are better connected with flights. If you don’t want to spend more than a couple of hours in a ferry to reach an island and would rather fly, then the list above is a very good starting point. The complex of Eptanisa is another ideal choice, with lots of green and shade, adequate size to offer options for all and great accomodation options and well connected to the rest of Greece.

  • Tip: Kythira island is technically part of the Eptanisa complex but you will find it under the Peloponnese peninsula away from the Ionian Sea. You can read more about family travel in Kythira here.

Best Greek Islands For Couples & Romantic Holidays

Dodecanese: Symi, Astypalaia

Cyclades: Santorini, Naxos, Milos, Amorgos, Folegandros, Mykonos, Koufonisia, Paros,

Saronic: Aegina,Hydra, Spetses

Eptanisa: Paxos Antipaxos, Corfu

Most destinations can become romantic if you visit them with the person that makes your heart flutter! Even so, some places seem to have a bit of extra magic in the air. The way the dark purple light hits the sea and the colour palette of the architecture join together to create a veil of romance that is hard to resist. Santorini is undoubtedly one of these places; a unique destination that is ideal for couples. If you are a fan of the sugar cube houses and colourful bougainvilleas then the Cyclades are a great option. Mykonos, Santorini, Naxos and Paros will be the busiest during peak summer season so if that is something you wish to avoid Folegandros and Amorgos or Astypalaia in the Dodecanese are exceptionally beautiful spots.

  • Tip: Folegandros and Amorgos are great options if you also want to see Santorini for a few days. Ferry tickets are frequent during summer and only last 1 to 3 hours depending on the vessel.

Most Expensive Greek Islands

Dodecanese: Rhodes

Cyclades: Naxos, Santorini, Mykonos

Other: Crete

Eptanisa: Cephalonia, Zakynthos, Corfu

It is hard to answer this question without knowing the travel style of each visitor. But since people tend to ask for the “most expensive Greek islands” we will try our best to answer it. The most popular and biggest islands tend to also be the most expensive. Santorini and Mykonos are definitely at the top of the list. The demand is high, supplies, food are brought in from the mainland and drinking water from the tap is not possible. One exception in regards to size are the islands of the North Aegean that see far fewer international visitors than the Cyclades or the Ionian islands.

  • Tip: Popular islands may have higher costs in accomodation but are easier and cheaper to reach than others. Smaller far away islands may have no airport and require more than 12hours in a ferry to reach. You should pick whatever sounds best for you!

The Inexpensive Greek Islands

Dodecanese: Nisyros, Symi, Karpathos

Cyclades: Kythnos, Sifnos, Kea, Kimolos, Serifos, Andros,

Northern Aegean: Ikaria, Thassos, Lemnos, Lesvos, Samothrace

Eptanisa: Ithaka

Other: Euboea, Aegina

Greece is in general a very affordable destination for international visitors. Mykonos and Santorini can still be visited on a budget but if you want the most bang for your buck and are not after fine dining or luxury accomodation there are a lot of options for you. One general advice is to look at the “Greek Islands With Airports” list above, and remove them from your list. Smaller, harder to reach islands will be more traditional, authentic and representative of the pace and lifestyle of Greek people. Reaching these islands, however, may require more planning especially if you want to island-hop.

  • Tip: In the most popular islands, locals that work in tourism work long hours from the start of the season in April till late October. If you want to meet and chat to locals try visiting smaller islands that are not dependant on tourism or come during the off-season.
greece women fresco Crete

Best Greek Islands For History Lovers

Dodecanese: Patmos, Kos, Rhodes

Cyclades: Naxos, Santorini, Delos

Northern Aegean: Lemnos, Chios

Eptanisa: Kythira, Corfu

Other Crete

For history lovers, Greece, in general, is full of traces of its ancient past. While most people know of the Parthenon in Athens and maybe the ancient theatre of Epidaurus, some of the Greek islands are home to imposing castles, ancient ruins and impressive monuments from different periods. Rhodes is home to the second most visited ancient site after the Acropolis in Athens. In Santorini, you can see the excavations that have been taking place at the Akrotiri peninsula that date back to the Minoan period. While in Crete, you will find the grand palace of Knossos that could very well be one of the earliest European cities.

  • Tip: Delos is an island that has been uninhabited since the 7th century AD. To explore this archaeological place you need to travel from one of the neighborhing islands, like Mykonos, Naxos, Paros or Tinos.

Best Greek Islands To Visit If You Love Watersports

Dodecanese: Karpathos, Rhodes

Cyclades: Naxos, Paros, Antiparos

Northern Aegean: Lemnos

Eptanisa Lefkada

Naxos is arguably the most well known destination in Greece for windsurfing and kitesurfing. If you want to get amongst the action, the nearby Paros and Antiparos also offer ideal wind conditions and organized clubs whether you are an expert or a new fan that requires a few lessons. In the Northern Aegean, the vast Keros Beach in Lemnos is a favourite for locals and visitors. The beach is on the east coast of the island and is always windy, so if you are not planning to kite or surf, this might not be for you.

  • Tip: If you want to experience the verdant landscape of the Ionian islands you should consider Lefkada. In addition to having some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Greece, Lefkada’s sandy Vassiliki Beach on the south coast, is the perfect spot for windsurfing enthusiasts.

Best Greek Islands To Visit If You Don’t Have a Car

Cyclades: Santorini, Anafi, Naxos, Koufonisia

Saronic: Hydra, Spetses

There are two reasons why you travel somewhere without a car. The first is that cars are strictly not allowed on the island, just like in the case of Hydra and Spetses. Alternatively you may wish to spend your holidays free of cars because you have no drivers licence or would rather skip the cost of hiring a car. If that sounds like you, the smallest islands of the list like Koufonisia, Anafi or bigger islands like Naxos that has good public transport is ideal.

  • Tip: Driving in Santorini is a good option for those that want the flexibility of exploring the whole island and are not scared to share the narrow alleyways with big tour buses. By not renting a vehicle you may need to stay around certain locations like Oia or Fira, or spend a bit extra on taxis and skip the hassle of finding a parking spot.

Most Insta-Worthy Greek Islands To Visit

Cyclades: Santorini, Mykonos, Milos

Other: Crete

Eptanisa: Kefalonia, Zakynthos

All of the Greek islands are incredibly beautiful! But it would hard to deny that some of them feature more prominently on Instagram feeds. As a result, there are certain images that have become iconic of these islands. In Mykonos, you think of the colourful houses of Little Venice getting bashed by the waves and that “alleyway” shot with the crisp white walls and Pinterest worthy cushions that look out to sea. Try to search for Santorini and we will be surprised if you don’t instantly spot a sea of blue church domes looking out at sunset light. And as far as Milos goes, the moon like reflections of the rocks around Sarakiniko beach are front and centre every time.

  • Tip: One of the most famous beaches in Crete is Elafonisi with its unique pink-hued sand. The up and coming competitor is Seitan Limania. A small beach that until recently was inaccessible, now is there to reward visitors that brave the steep and windy ride.

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