We don’t need to tell you that the Greek Islands are some of Europe’s most popular destinations. They offer seemingly endless hours of sunshine, pretty sugar-cube towns, miles of beaches and many a picturesque pier to channel your best Mamma Mia tribute. Let’s take a look at 10 of the best.
Verdant Corfu is by far the greenest of Greece’s islands, its landscape covered by olive groves and cypress trees. Its striking capital, Corfu Town, is flanked by two imposing Venetian fortresses that sit above a UNESCO old town of winding cobbled streets contrasted with modern boutiques and bars. Head away from the built up areas and discover quiet coves and quaint villages atop steep mountain roads.
The 650 miles of coastline surrounding Greece’s largest island offers beaches aplenty with resorts such as Lyttos Beach, Aghios Nikolaos and Elounda boasting Blue Flag status seasides and plenty of buzz. It’s not all about the beaches though. The island has seen 4,000 years of civilization, being where the Minoans (Europe’s first advanced society) ruled. There are reminders of this civilisation across the island, most notably at the famous Palace of Knossos. And that’s not to mention the echoes of the Venetian and Ottoman takeovers that can be seen in the architecture of Crete’s villages and towns.
Rhodes is Greece’s most frequented island by British holidaymakers. But don’t be fooled into thinking its nothing more than beach resorts. Of course, there are countless white sandy beaches, yet for every built up and boisterous Faliraki there is a charming whitewashed village waiting to be discovered. And then of course there are the ancient ruins that Rhodes is famed for. Relics of the Trojan war jostle alongside Byzantine churches and Ottoman minarets across the island. Rhode’s gem has to be its medieval walled old town – be sure to take in the impressive view from the town’s shingle beach.
Santorini really needs no introductions. Its iconic cubist skyline, cascading down towards the turquoise Aegean Sea, has graced many a postcard, poster and tourist brochure. Quite simply, it’s stunning. Its maze of white buildings, perforated with old-fashioned windmills and blue-doomed roofs are the island’s main attraction, but make sure you dip your feet in the sea at one of Santorini’s volcanic grey beaches. Best way to get to them? Take a donkey ride.
Home to perhaps Greece’s most famous beach, Zante’s Smuggler’s Cove is another iconic photo op. Imposing white cliffs surround a small cove where the famous ship wreck lies. The rest of Zante is pretty spectacular too. Rolling hills dotted with lemon trees make up a large part of the island’s lush countryside, while along the south coast you’ll find a range of resorts ranging from slow-paced villages to vibrant 24-hour party zones such as Laganas. Visit in July and August when Laganas Beach becomes home to endangered Loggerhead Turtles. It’s one of the few opportunities in the world to see them nesting.
Kos Town, the island’s capital is an endearing hodgepodge of holidaymaker friendly beaches and bars, sitting alongside impressive Corinthian columns and a medieval castle. It’s a happy medium, not as wild as the notorious Kardamena, but still offering nightlife should you wish for it. The rest of Kos offers up miles of sun-soaked coastline and hillsides that are home to traditional villages and pine forests. It’s a good choice for a varied Greek holiday.
Famously the setting of the novel and film Captian Corelli’s Mandolin, it’s no surprise really that Kefalonia is bursting with silver-screen worthy backdrops. Despite the popularity of the aformentioned film, the island has managed to remain largely unspoiled by mass tourism and you’ll still discover quaint fishing villages and towns frozen in time. Make sure you visit Myrtos Bay, whose white pebbles and surrounding greenery are just waiting to be photographed. Or find seclusion in the rocky Kato Lagadi (pictured) that is a true rural paradise.
Combining glamour and hedonism, Mykonos is often referred to as the Greek Ibiza or St Tropez. For sure, it is the most cosmopolitan of the islands, and has been pulling in holidaymakers, party-goers and celebrities since the sixties. You’ll be able to spot all the makings of a Greek island, the quaint windmills, terracotta roofed churches and sleepy tavernas, but you’ll also not be short of designer boutiques, fusion restaurants and swish cocktail bars. And don’t even get us started on the beaches…
The smallest of the seven Ionian islands, Paxos offers all the charm of its larger neighbours without the crowds. There’s no airport, you’ll have to get a ferry to reach it, but for your efforts you’ll be rewarded with pebble beaches with crystal clear waters, endless olive groves and a trio of charming villages – Gaios, Lakka and Loggos – where you’ll be able to feast on fresh seafood and traditional Greek cuisine. If you are looking for a slow-paced holiday of days by the sea, followed by spectacular sunsets from the terraces of atmospheric tavernas, then Paxos is for you.
Home to some of the Aegean’s best beaches, Skiathos still manages to draw in the crowds despite its petite size. It has over 50 beaches, so there is plenty of space for you and your beach towel. The south being home to your archetypal golden sands while the north boasts quieter pebbled coves to explore. Similar to Mykonos, Skiathos Town is a bit of a celebrity hotspot, with a picturesque marina filled with yachts and VIP bars. You can still escape the bustle by heading out into the nearby countryside, where Koukounaries forest has great hiking trails and epic scenery.