We are seriously struck by wanderlust and even though much of our adventures include a road trip, there are also so many more places in the world we’ve loved visiting, and those places require flying – usually overseas. Europe is a natural choice for us having many relatives living throughout the continent, but topping our list has to be visiting Greece. Having relatives who live in Greece, it’s always nice to see them all, but with every trip, we also love to visit at least one of the Greek islands, especially the ones we haven’t visited yet.
The Greek Islands are renowned for their stunning landscapes, rich history, and warm hospitality. From the romantic sunsets of Santorini to the vibrant nightlife of Mykonos, and the ancient wonders of Rhodes, each island offers a unique blend of beauty, culture, and adventure. We have traveled to Greece on many occasions, and although the mainland of Greece is absolutely beautiful, there is something enchanting about the Greek islands.
Although there are some similarities between the islands, each has its own uniqueness that makes visiting them a special experience. It’s no surprise one of the travel locations on many people’s Travel Bucket lists is Greece and the Greek islands. The vistas, history, charm, food, and hospitality are so magnetic that it keeps people wanting more after visiting.
The Greek Islands are divided into 6 groupings: Ionian, North Aegean, Northern Sporades, Saronic, Cyclades & Dodecanese. Each group has its own uniqueness, given their location and all are worthy of visiting. Attempting to visit them all is a monumental endeavor only reserved for the fortunate. We have visited islands mainly located in the Cyclades & Dodecanese (and Crete) and in this guide, we’ll take you on a journey through our favorite islands located in those groups: Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes, Paros, Patmos, and Crete. Read on for information on the top attractions, activities, and hidden gems that make these destinations so captivating and desirable.
Santorini: A Paradise of Romance and Spectacular Sunsets:
To reach Santorini, you can fly directly into Santorini National Airport from major cities in Europe or take a ferry from Athens or other nearby islands. In addition, many cruise ships make Santorini a common stop. Once on the island, public buses, taxis, and rental cars are available for transportation. Additionally, consider renting an ATV or a scooter to explore the island’s narrow streets and hidden corners.
Santorini is famous for its iconic white-washed buildings, blue-domed churches, and breathtaking sunsets. Explore the picturesque town of Oia, known for its charming streets and panoramic views of the caldera. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the ancient ruins of Akrotiri, a Minoan Bronze Age settlement preserved in volcanic ash. Indulge in the local cuisine, savoring traditional dishes such as fava, tomato keftedes, and fresh seafood. For beach lovers, the black sand beaches of Kamari and Perissa offer a unique setting for relaxation and swimming.
Make sure to bring a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and a water bottle. Many areas like the main walking path leading up the mountain offer little shade, so it gets quite sunny and hot. The views from these areas are worth the effort, however.
Keep an eye out for the hidden gem of Santorini – The village of Pyrgos, located in the heart of the island. Its traditional Cycladic architecture, narrow alleys, and panoramic views make it a charming and less crowded alternative to Oia.
Mykonos: The Greek Island Party Capital with Stunning Beaches
Mykonos is accessible by flights to Mykonos Island National Airport from major European cities or by ferry from Athens or other Greek islands. The island itself is easily explored on foot, but you can also rent a car, ATV, or scooter for convenience. Public buses and taxis are available for transportation to different beaches and attractions.
Mykonos is famous for its vibrant nightlife and cosmopolitan atmosphere. Start your exploration in Mykonos Town, where you can wander through the narrow streets of the Old Town, lined with chic boutiques, art galleries, and stylish cafes. Visit the iconic windmills overlooking the town, capturing the perfect Instagram-worthy moment. It’s worth seeking them out in the maze-like paths leading up to them. Discover the trendy beach clubs along Paradise Beach and Super Paradise Beach, where you can party under the sun or relax by the azure waters. For a quieter beach experience, head to Agios Sostis Beach or Fokos Beach, known for its serene ambiance and crystal-clear waters.
Explore the quaint neighborhood of Little Venice in Mykonos Town, characterized by its colorful buildings and balconies that hang over the sea. Enjoy a cocktail at one of the waterfront bars and witness the magical sunset views.
Rhodes: Where History Comes Alive
Rhodes is one of the furthest islands from Athens. You can fly into Rhodes International Airport from a variety of European cities or if you are up to it, a ferry from Athens is also possible, but that can be upwards of a 15-hour trip. If you are planning on making Rhodes part of your travel plans, you can island hop, making Rhodes the last island, so each segment is shorter. Also, cruise ships are another way to explore multiple islands, including Rhodes. Once on the island, public buses, taxis, and rental cars are available. Exploring Rhodes Town and many of its historic sites can be mostly done on foot, while rental vehicles are ideal for venturing to other parts of the island.
Rhodes is a treasure trove of ancient history and medieval charm. Begin your journey in Rhodes Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where you can wander through the medieval streets of the Old Town and visit the impressive Palace of the Grand Master. Explore the ancient Acropolis of Rhodes and the ruins of the Temple of Apollo. For a beach getaway, head to the picturesque village of Lindos, known for its white-washed houses and the ancient Lindos Acropolis perched on a hilltop. Enjoy a refreshing swim at Tsambika Beach or explore the natural beauty of the Seven Springs. Be sure to visit the Temple of Athena Lindia, which overlooks the sea in a magnificent vista that is hard to beat.
Seek out the hidden gem of Rhodes, the Valley of the Butterflies. This enchanting nature reserve is home to thousands of colorful butterflies, creating a magical and tranquil atmosphere.
Paros: A Hidden Gem of Authentic Beauty
Paros can be reached by ferry from Athens or other nearby islands. The main port, Parikia, is well-connected, and public buses and taxis are readily available for transportation. Renting a car, ATV, or scooter allows for more flexibility in exploring the island’s picturesque villages, beaches, and hidden corners.
Paros exudes authentic Greek charm, with its traditional white-washed look and architecture, idyllic landscapes, and undeniable hospitality be the locals. Discover the charming village of Naoussa, known for its narrow alleys, whitewashed houses, and vibrant nightlife. Explore the historic town of Parikia, where you can visit the Byzantine church of Panagia Ekatontapiliani and stroll along the waterfront promenade. For beach enthusiasts, Golden Beach and Kolymbithres Beach offer crystal-clear waters and breathtaking rock formations. Don’t forget to indulge in the local cuisine, including the famous Parian cheese and freshly caught seafood.
Venture off the beaten path to the village of Lefkes, nestled in the heart of Paros. This picturesque village offers undeniably stunning views, traditional architecture, and quaint tavernas serving local delicacies.
Patmos: A Spiritual Haven and Hidden Gem
Like Rhodes, Patmos is located quite a distance from Athens. To include Patmos in your island-hopping adventure, you can take a ferry from other Greek islands, such as Rhodes or Kos. Alternatively, you can fly into Kos International Airport and then catch a ferry to Patmos. The ferry connections may vary depending on the season, so it’s advisable to check the schedules in advance.
Patmos, often referred to as the “Jerusalem of the Aegean,” is a tranquil and spiritually significant island. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, perched atop the hill in Chora. Explore the Cave of the Apocalypse, where the biblical Book of Revelation is believed to have been written by Saint John. The cave is a place of pilgrimage and reflection for many visitors.
Besides its spiritual significance, Patmos offers stunning beaches and charming villages. Spend a day at Psili Ammos Beach, known for its crystal-clear turquoise waters and golden sand. Discover the picturesque village of Chora, with its white-washed houses, traditional tavernas, and breathtaking views of the Aegean Sea.
While exploring Chora, look out for the hidden gem of the Simantiri Mansion, a beautifully preserved 17th-century house that provides a glimpse into the island’s rich history and culture.
Crete: A Journey Through Myth and Nature
Fly into Heraklion International Airport or Chania International Airport, the two main airports on Crete, from various European cities. Again, cruise ships and ferries are also options to get to the island. From there, you can rent a car to explore the island at your own pace. Public buses are also available for getting yourself between major towns and attractions.
Crete, the largest of the Greek Islands, offers an abundance of experiences for nature lovers and history enthusiasts alike. Explore the awe-inspiring Samaria Gorge, a national park known for its dramatic landscapes and diverse flora and fauna. Immerse yourself in history at the Palace of Knossos, the legendary Minoan site that gives a glimpse into its ancient civilization. Relax on the stunning beaches of Balos, famous for their turquoise lagoons and pristine white sand. Discover the charming villages of Crete, such as Chania and Rethymno, and experience the local vibe. With their Venetian architecture and narrow alleys filled with traditional tavernas, the villages give a glimpse into the contagiously simple lifestyle.
Don’t miss the chance to visit the lesser-known island of Spinalonga, situated near Crete. This former leper colony is rich in history and offers a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere.
Transportation between the islands can easily be done by ferry services. You can choose between high-speed ferries for quicker travel times or traditional ferries for a more leisurely experience. Comfort on the ferries varies from standard to business class and also sleeping cabins. They all have some snack and food options onboard, and some even have sit-down restaurants. You can purchase tickets in advance, using online sites, or you can purchase them at several shops that advertise Ferry tickets for sale – The prices are the same when purchasing. Be wary of anyone selling tickets on the street at a deep discount, because you may end up buying counterfeit or invalid tickets.
Several ferry companies operate routes between the islands. Here are some of the top ferry companies that serve the Greek Islands:
Blue Star Ferries:
Blue Star Ferries is one of the largest ferry companies in Greece, offering connections to many Greek Islands, including the islands covered in this post. They provide both high-speed and conventional ferry services.
Hellenic Seaways is a popular ferry company operating in the Greek Islands, offering a wide range of routes and connections. They have a comprehensive network connecting major islands like Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes, Paros, and Crete.
SeaJets is known for its high-speed ferry services, providing quick and efficient transportation between the Greek Islands. They offer routes to various islands, including Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes, Paros, and Crete.
Aegean Speed Lines:
Aegean Speed Lines specializes in high-speed ferry services, connecting different Greek Islands. They offer convenient routes to several popular destinations, including Santorini, Mykonos, and Rhodes.
ANEK Lines operates conventional ferries and connects various Greek Islands. They provide regular services to destinations like Crete, Santorini, Rhodes, and Paros.
Dodekanisos Seaways focuses on ferry routes within the Dodecanese island group, including destinations like Rhodes and other islands in the region.
It’s important to note that ferry schedules and availability may vary depending on the season. It’s recommended to check the official websites of these ferry companies or consult with local travel agencies to get the most up-to-date information on routes, schedules, and ticket bookings, and to make the best choice for the type of seat/accommodation you desire.
Like all the Greek Islands, Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes, Paros, Patmos, and Crete offer a wealth of experiences and attractions for travelers seeking natural beauty, rich history, and warm Greek hospitality. Immerse yourself in the enchanting atmosphere of these islands. Indulge in the local cuisine, and create memories that will last a lifetime. Each island has its own unique charm, and exploring them will reveal the true essence of Greece’s island paradise. The relaxed Greek lifestyle is truly contagious and will leave you wanting more once you visit. So, pack your bags, embrace the spirit of adventure, and embark on an unforgettable journey through the captivating Greek Islands. Opa!