Island Hopping

Off the coast of mainland Greece, sprinkled in assorted shapes and sizes across the crystal clear waters of the Aegean and lonian Seas, are more than 1,000 islands, each wreathed in colorful beaches and blanketed by breathtaking landscapes.

Most of the islands are uninhabited, but more than a few are populated in varying densities and frequented by visitors from all over the world. There are so many Greek islands that every kind of world traveler—nightlife seekers, nature fanatics and culture connoisseurs—is sure to find the perfect island to explore. Each island offers a different flavor of the Greek experience from bustling cities to unhurried mountain villages, but all offer a side of Greece, both historic and modern, you won’t soon forget.

It’s best to begin with one of the most popular and widespread amenities Greece offers—beaches. What island vacation is complete without long hours strolling and lounging on sandy beaches, dancing across azure waters on boat or board, and diving through an underwater paradise that redefines the notion of brilliance? In Europe, there is no better place for such sunny adventure than the thousands of miles of coastline claimed by Greece and its islands. They’re some of the cleanest in the world and are a top attraction for even the locals.

The preeminent Greek beach visit reaches its apex on the islands of Skiathos and Milos. A member of the Sporades islands in the northwest Aegean, Skiathos offers 60 beautiful beaches like the famous Koukounaries, known for its golden sand, lush forest and lagoon of Strofilia. Volcanic activity gave Milos a number of unique features including underwater caves for diving, thermal springs for relaxing and 80 beaches for sun-loving fun. Topping the list of Milos beaches is Kleftiko where rocky cliffs once made the perfect hideout for pirates. Today the crystal waters and massive rock formations here make for unforgettable sailing and perhaps some amateur treasure hunting

The island of Santorini also boasts a large number of beaches; however, volcanic activity here has made for a colorful variety of sand and rock formations. Black sand and pebble beaches, like the family-friendly Monolithos and the cosmopolitan Kamari, occupy the south side of the island. Head to the east side of the island for seclusion and impressive rock formations, or head south for a short hike to the island’s famous Red Beach where red rock formation offers stunning ambiance. But Santorini is more than just colorful beaches; this Greek island is also an active volcano whose caldera rests beneath the surface of the water. As you bask in Santorini’s rich culture and history in places like Fira, Santorini’s capital, know that you are simultaneously hanging out on the rim of this great volcano. Many towns like Oia, Imerovigli and Firostefani sit atop towering cliffs and give visitors a romantic perspective of a Greek sunset.

The largest of the Greek islands, Crete, offers nature enthusiasts the limestone peaks of White Mountains’ National Park that dominate the western region of the island. The valleys, canyons, rivers, and peaks around the remote city of Rethymno add to the medieval character of this unique settlement. Urban sightseeing comes alive in the Heraklion region where archaeological sites intermingle with quaint villages, olive groves, vineyards and more breathtaking geography. Pristine beaches and lavish resorts await your arrival at the eastern end of Crete and make a great launching point for the smaller, uninhabited island of Spinalonga, formerly used as a leper colony with the structural remains to tell the story.
Another popular Greek island is Rhodes, the largest of the Aegean’s 12 Dodecanese Islands. Mixing medieval castles and natural wonders, Rhodes easily draws a large crowd throughout the year and likewise proclaims itself the most beautiful island in Greece. A visit to the Valley of the Butterflies, a stroll through the green, lush nature of Seven Springs, or a day of sun at Ladiko’s Gulf are sure to persuade the harsh skeptics and captivate the worthy believers.

If your time in the Greek Isles is abbreviated and your choices limited, you can’t go wrong spending your days amidst a group of islands called the Cyclades. Here you will bask in sandy beaches stretching out below characteristic white and blue architecture that adorn each island and backdrop a lively traditional Greek culture. The most popular of the Cyclades is Mykonos, a cosmopolitan center dotted with colorful fishing boats, historic churches, museums and shopping districts, 18th century mansions in “Little Venice” and a collection of beaches that battle for the most beautiful in all of Greece. From Mykonos, the Cyclades offer an abundance of island options. Collect yourself in the solitude of Folegandros and beauty of Anafi. Make the short pilgrimage to Tinos, the religious center of the country, or stop over at the picturesque island of Kea to visit a truly secluded Greek beach. And although uninhabited, the sacred island of Delos near the center of this circle of islands is heavily populated with archaeological sites that represent a striking account of Greek history.

Historic hiking trails and lively nightlife options make the Cyclade islands of Paros and Ios popular destinations for many young island hoppers. The Byzantine Léfkes-Pródromos trail on Paros is a cobblestone trail that winds through the island’s countryside, linking villages and natural scenery with a hiker’s quiet reverie that draws them back nearly 1,000 years when the trail was built. After a day of scaling the mountains of Íos, island hoppers can cut loose at some crowded venues along the streets and beaches of this Greek paradise.