Aside from the capital, Athens, and the second largest city, Thessaloniki, Greece offers numerous places for tourists to visit. With its rich history, some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, a great number of islands (227 inhabited) and the nation’s cultural heritage, this is one of the best places to visit in the world.
No matter how long you’re staying, it will never be enough to see everything that deserves your attention. Even though it is hard to decide which places are more worth visiting than the others, this list presents the top 10 islands you must visit. Read on and decide which one will be the next on your list.
Crete is the biggest island in Greece and it constitutes the region of Crete with the surrounding islands. The capital, as well as the largest city on this island is Heraklion. This island is perfect if you are after crazy nightlife, but also if you just want to relax and enjoy the sun and the beaches while staying in a luxury hotel, privately-owned apartment or in a campsite. Crete offers a great deal of sites that you can visit, like the Minoan sites of Phaistos and Knossos (Europe’s oldest city), the classical site of Gortys, the Venetian castle at Rethymno, the Venetian old city and port of Chania, and the gorge of Samaria. The largest natural palm forest in Europe, the Palm Beach of Vai, is also situated here. If you ever get bored, you can visit some of the neighboring islands: Gramvousa (the pirate island), Chrysi (the largest natural Lebanon cedar forest in Europe), Spinalonga (the Venetian fort and leper colony), Koufonisi (uninhabited island, covered with Minoan, Roman, and World War II ruins). While on Crete, you should definitely visit some of the small villages located further from the sea in order to get the feeling of the real Greece and try some of the local specialties.
Kefalonia, the largest of the Ionian islands, is widely known for its beaches, especially Myrtos Beach, and its natural beauty. The natural features you must see on this island include: the underground Melissani Lake, the Drogarati caves, the capes – Cape Atheras, Cape Agios Georgios and Cape Kounopetra, and the Koutavos Lagoon in Argostoli. If you liked the movie Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001), you should definitely visit Kefalonia, since the movie was shot there.
Zakynthos is a part of the Ionian islands and is the third largest. The most famous attraction is the Navagio beach, with its white pebbles, surrounded by turquoise waters and accessed only by boat. You can sail along the shore from Keri to Skinari, admire the amazing rock formations and arches, and also visit the numerous “blue caves” around Cape Skinari. Another unique thing you can do here is to visit Small Xigia beach and swim in the water rich with sulphur. The underwater springs make this place a natural spa. Zakynthos is the prime nesting area for Loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta). If you are lucky enough, you can see the hatchlings trying to get to the sea on Gerakas Beach during August, and if not, you can always see them in a marine park.
Mykonos is a part of the Cyclades group of islands. It is known for its nightlife, beaches and windmills. During the day you can enjoy the old town and its numerous shops, as well as the mills and galleries. You should also get ready for the night, because you will witness legendary parties throughout the whole island. If you are looking for a more relaxed vacation, this is not the place for you, because the parties go all night long.
Santorini is the southernmost member of the Cyclades group of islands, and was ranked the world’s best island in many magazines and on travel sites. While the hot desert climate might be the only drawback of this incredible island, you can enjoy the amazing landscape, shaped by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and taste some great wine like the sweet and strong Vinsanto. The architecture is similar on all the islands of the Cyclades group – cubical houses made of whitewashed stone. The unique features are the extensions of houses, dug sideways or downwards into the ground. These rooms provide coolness in the summer and warmth in the winter, and are used as living quarters or wine cellars.
This island in the Cyclades is located only 144 km from Athens. Ermoupoli, the capital of the island, stands on a hill, with white houses cascading down to the harbour. Numerous churches, amazing architecture (neo-classical mansions), Vaporia (part of the town where the sea captains lived) and many cafes make this city worth a visit. Ano Syros, the second town of Syros, built by the Venetians at the beginning of the 13th century, is just a walk away from Ermoupoli. The town offers a medieval atmosphere with the Catholic cathedral of Saint George, located on the top of the hill which offers a view of the several neighbouring islands of Mykonos, Naxos, Paros and Tinos.
7. Skopelos and Skiathos Islands
These islands are part of the Sporades group of islands. If you are looking for the unspoiled Greek charm, then Skopelos is the island for you. Since there is no airport on the island, it can be reached by hydrofoil from the neighbouring island of Skiathos. The main attraction is the chapel of Agios Ioannis Prodromos, built on top of a rock, and it is open only once a year.
Skiathos lies to the west of Skopelos and is divided in half by the island’s port. Amongst other attractions, you can also visit: Skiathos Castle, Old Monastery of Panaghia Ekonistria and the museum, which is the home of Greek writer and poet Alexandros Papadiamantis.
Hydra is one of the Saronic islands, and is separated from the Peloponnese only by a narrow strip of water. To fill your days here, you can enjoy the beautiful beaches, numerous churches and monasteries. The most interesting thing on this island is that there is no traffic and almost no lights at night. So, you can enjoy the gorgeous starry sky while taking a break from the noisy cities. The only way to go around the island is on foot, or riding a bicycle or a donkey.
Rhodes, the largest of the Dodecanese islands, is also known as the island of the Knights, because of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, who once conquered the land. The island is famous worldwide because of the massive structure, the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Today, this is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. The main attractions on this island include: the Grand Master’s Palace, which was built by the Knights of Rhodes, but was later used as a fortress when the Ottomans came, and the Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent, dedicated to the Sultan’s victory over the knights. Rhodes also offers great beaches, including Afandou, Ladiko, Tsambika and others.
Samos is a part of the North Aegean region. This is where the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, the philosopher Epicurus, and the astronomer Aristarchus of Samos were born. Once you get tired of the beaches, wine and food, you can visit Potami Waterfalls, Ephalinos tunnel and the historical site of Heraion. As for the museums, there is the Archaeological Museum and the Wine Museum.