The Greek Islands are a popular holiday destination especially with Europeans. Tourists come here for all sorts of reasons. There is a feeling of escapism that other southerly mainland European holiday destinations don’t have. Also it is possible to see several different islands in just one holiday, adding variety to your travels!
Getting to the Greek Islands
Some of the larger Greek islands have airports. If your chosen island does not have an airport, your journey will involve a ferry transfer from an island that does. It takes roughly 5 hours to fly to the islands from the UK, depending how far south your chosen Greek island lies. In some cases you can fly to Athens on the Greek mainland and drive over a bridge to your island. There are links at the end of this article that take you to Greek Island booking agents and Greek Ferry companies.
Greek Island Coastline
There are well over 1000 Greek islands and islets; under 300 of these have habitants.
Some islands sit off the Greek coast and some off the Turkish coast. Greece’s coastline is larger than that of any Mediterranean country. It is also one of the top 20 most popular world-wide coastlines. The sea surrounding the Greek Islands is either the Ionian or the Aegean sea.
Get some ideas here of what the Greek Islands have to offer you. Find out which Greek islands you can conveniently hop from and to.
So join me now on my journey around the Greek and Turkish coastline!
Greek Island Activities
Just some of the things you can see and do on the Greek Islands are:
- Sunbathe (summer only-the islands get cold in the winter!)
- discover world war 2 Greek and Italian history
- do watersports
- eat and drink Greek specialities
- visit mountain villages
The most popular Greek Island Groups
The majority of the Greek Islands belong to a specific ‘collection’. There are six of these collections or groups. And then there is the large and very southerly Greek island of Crete that stands alone. Some smaller islands don’t belong to any particular group and are scattered near the Greek mainland. Discover here some of the best known Greek Island groups and the prettiest islands belonging to them.
Corfu, Zante and Kefalonia are probably the best known of the Ionian Greek island group.
This collection of islands has a mild temperate climate. They get the most rainfall of all the groups and are therefore are the most lush. For this reason you’ll find some beautiful green scenery in the Ionians.
The Ionian cluster as you would perhaps expect, sit in the Ionian sea. They lie between Greece and Italy.
Did you know Corfu one is wetter in the winter than London?!
Corfu has more of a British feel than the other islands in this Ionian group. The other Ionians have more of an Italian vibe.
Find out things to do in Corfu from and olive oil workshops to cruise trips round the islands.
Kefalonia became popular with tourists following ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ (first a book, then a film). The island’s proper name is Cephalonia, which is how the Greeks refer to it.
This island has a backdrop of rugged cliffs. It also has some of the best, quiet, beautiful sandy beaches.
It’s a 3 hour boat trip between Corfu to Kefaloni
Things to do in Kefalonia
The Cyclade Islands
The Cyclades group of Greek Islands lie south-east of Athens in the Central Aegean Sea. Characteristically, this group of Greek isles are barren and rocky. This group incorporates the party island of Mykonos. Santorini is the most Southern island of this group. Lesser known, less commercialised islands in the cluster are Naxos and Ios.
Santorini can feel commercialised with all the visiting cruise liners but is still beautiful. White-washed buildings and it’s famous landmark church are perched on the hill. The prehistoric archaeological site of Akrotiti is also on Santorini.
The beaches in Santarini have white, red but mostly black sand as a result of past volcanic activity.
Things to do in Santorini
Island Hopping in the Cyclades
Santorini to Mykonos is probably the most popular island hop route in Greece.
You can also island hop easily between Santorini, Naxos and Koufonisia. Koufonisia has some beautiful beaches and there are hikes of around 2 hours to do. Other popular and easy hops within this island group are between Mykonos to Paros and Naxos.
Mykonos is Party Central. Try the Scorpion Club and The Sweet Irish Dream Club.
If you want a buzzing island, but a little less full-on than Mykonos, try Skiathos. Bear in mind though, Skiathos is still a major package tour destination.
The Dodecanese Group
The word itself means 12 in Greek so it’s probably no surprise that 12 islands belong to this group. Situated on the South-Eastern side of Greece and to the South of Turkey, these islands hug the Turkish coast. They lie further South than the Cyclades but are similar to them because they are barren and rocky.
Probably the most familiar of the Dodecanese islands are Rhodes and Kos. Rhodes is one of the most Southerly of the Dodecanese collection and Kos sits North in the group. Both of these islands have their own airports.
Greek traditional tavernas and fishing villages make Leros popular with island hoppers.
This island belonging to the Dodecanese group is only accessible only by boat. Take a ferry from Piraeus Port, Athens which will arrive at Agia Marina, Leros.
Mussolini the former Italian leader pumped cash into Leros. Italian architectural influences are notable here. Many buildings were destroyed in the 2nd world war but have now been restored.
Visit the ‘war tunnels museum’ near Lakki to find out more about how the 2nd world war effected Leros. A shipwreck and war plane still lie off it’s coast. Places to visit on Leros include Pandeli fishing village, Alinda beach and Gourna bay.
The Sporades Islands
This cluster of Greek islands are in the North Aegean Sea, further East than the other groups.
Perhaps the islands in this group are not so well-known as those in other groups. Skiathos is a major tour destination and then there’s quieter Alonissos. Skopelos became more popular following the ‘Mamma Mia’ film (the first one) which was filmed here. By the way, Mamma Mia 2 was shot in Croatia.
Island Hopping between the Sporades
It’s a fairly easy island hop between Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos. While Skiathos is a major package tour destination, it’s also famous for it’s pine forests. Skopelos and Alonissos both have a classy feel about them and ferries travel regularly between them.
Skyros is the most southerly of the Sporades islands. It’s well worth a visit, but a little more difficult to get to. You can take a 40 minute domestic flight from Athens airport or travel from Thessaloniki airport in Crete. In high season you can get a ferry between Alonissos and Skyros.
The North-East Aegean Islands
The North-Eastern Aegean Islands are located near Turkey and include the island of Lesbos. Samos is a beautiful island in this group and a good choice if you want to go mountain trekking or visit mountain villages.
The Saronic Gulf Islands
The Saronic Gulf cluster of Greek Islands are located near mainland Greece, off it’s Eastern coast. They are less well known. Poros for example is part of the group
The Greek Island of Crete is the furthest South and is a single island and the largest. It’s not part of any group. It stands alone and is practically a country in it’s own right! It’s well-known for it’s gastronomy. Fried snails are a local dish (chochlioi boubouristi); so too are Cretan cheese pies (kaltsounia). You can also sample soft, creamy Cretan cheeses and wash it all down with the local brandy-Raki and Tsikoudia!
Heraklion is Crete’s capital. Chania and Rethymno are the other biggest towns with most amenities.
Getting to Crete
Flights go direct to Crete during the summer season. Crete has 3 airports: Heraklion, Chania and Thessaloniki.
At other times of year you can access Crete by flying to Athens. From Athens fly to Heraklion. The other alternative is to take a ferry from Piraeus port in Athens to Heraklion port in Crete. Heraklion port is the overall busiest Greek port. Expect the ferry trip to take 6-8 hours.
Crete has some of the best historical sites worthy of a visit. The most important of these is Minoan, Palace of Knossos buried under volcanic ash when Thera erupted. Like many buildings that get covered in ash after a volcano, it was preserved by the ash and found intact. It is fortunately easily accessible from Heraklion Port in Crete if you are just here on a day trip.
The only problem with Crete is that it’s not easy to navigate between the historical landmarks on the island.
Things to do in Crete
Experience the Greek Islands
And here are a few ideas about which Greek Island to visit to experience your favourite activities.
- Kos is great for biking
- The Samaria Gorge in Crete is the place to go if you’re into hardcore hiking. Certainly not for the faint hearted, as it’s a 7 hour hike down a gorge.
- If you want to hang out like a hippie and do some yoga, Skyros is the island for you.
- Camping fans can try Karavomilos beach campsite
- Korrisson Lagoon in Crete is where to do birdwatching.
- Lefkada and Koufonisa islands provides the good breezes for watersports
- Samos island is a good starting point if you want a day trip to Turkey
Planning your ferry trip
If you are thinking of planning a trip to the Greek Islands, Olympic Holidays are Greek specialists.
Best time to holiday in The Greek Islands if you want the best chance of good weather is between May and the end of September.