Greek Islands travel guide
2 MINUTE SUMMARY
Finding out exactly how many islands there are is like trying to get your head around the Greek alphabet. To most people it remains a mystery. And in some ways that is how we love it. Because, as visitors, we know that there will always be a new island to discover, an ancient trail to hike or yet another beach that makes you blink twice just to check it’s not an Hellenic hallucination. There are in fact between 1,200 and 1,600 islands, although only 227 are inhabited.
Think of this Greek Islands travel guide as the prologue, the beginning of your journey – be it sailing around the Cyclades, beach hopping on Ithaca or saluting the sun on Skyros. Whether you are dreaming of myths, mountains, myriad beaches or marine life, let the dramatic land and seascapes unfold.
The Greek Islands are...
where writers have escaped to for years. Gerald Durrell, Rupert Brooke, Sappho and Homer. Because they understand beauty.
The Greek Islands are not...
all wrapped up in the refugee humanitarian crisis. The affected islands are in the minority.
Greek Islands map & highlights
MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TIME
The largest Greek island is Crete, followed by Evvia, Lesvos and Rhodes. Divided into clusters, they are better known as the Sporades to the east, Cyclades to the south east, the Dodecanese over near Turkey, the Ionian Islands west of the mainland and the Argo-Saronic, tucked in the middle of them all. Ranging from the volcanic Santorini, the ancient mountainous hiking paths of Ithaca or Lefkada to the remote artists’ retreats of Skyros, you can sail, hike, hail or bike around them. Whichever you choose, each proffers its own mythical quality and epic experiences.
Greece’s largest island packed with small communities and magnificent hiking landscapes. Such as the White Mountains, snow dusted until spring when they explode into a frenzy of wildflowers. The epic cleft of Samaria Gorge beckons hiking pilgrims annually. Throw in the island’s superb food, beaches and history, from the Minoan Palace of Knossos to memories of Venetian, Byzantine, Moorish and Ottoman settlers.
The seriously sensual cluster make for many a ship ahoy, as this is sailing central. However, most islands also offer spectacular hiking landscapes. Walk to the Cyclades’ highest peak, Zas on Naxos, or its orchard-filled Tragea Valley. Traverse the unforgettable volcanic caldera on Santorini, or ancient paths across Paros and Syros. Bring binoculars and bathing suits; coves and dolphins are omnipresent.
At over 100km2 and with 3,000 residents, Ithaca isn’t tiny but this legendary home of Homer’s Odysseus is worth the journey. Vathi, the main town, is a traditional, waterfront treat, with summer sailors competing for moorings. The only dilemma is choosing which beach to go to. Gorgeous shingle coves such as Gidaki which, like many, is only accessible by boat. Or Filiatro, where olive trees dip down to proffer shade.
Karpathos is like the subtly exquisite diamond hidden between two stonking great emeralds of Crete and Rhodes. It also has the island of Saria as part of its municipality, so it’s like a beautiful ‘bogof’. Because it’s remote, it has preserved not only many of its traditions in terms of local dress, customs and dialect but also its wilderness: the mountains’ flowers and plants proffering a veritable botanical blowout in spring.
One of the main Ionian Islands, connected to the mainland by a causeway, this is another ‘wander and wild swimming-lust’ location. With ancient footpaths leading into traditional mountain villages perched around its highest peak, Stavrota (1,158m), it’s an Hellenic hiking haven with ancient oak Skaros forest, valleys watered by falls and natural springs as well as the Gira lagoon, home to flamingos and pelicans.
Part of the Dodecanese chain, and one of the largest Greek islands, Rhodes is very popular for family vacations. Look beyond its reputation of runaway resort-doms and rampaging tourists in Faliraki –mere blips on this map of historical and natural marvels. Sail away from the crowds to the likes of Afantou or Ladiko beach, hike through the Valley of the Butterflies (really) or scuba dive at St Paul bay in Lindos.
Skyros is the most remote of the Sporades Islands, and has become famous for those seeking a haven to be mindful and creative. Attracting writers, yogis and artists to drink in the healing powers of its quiet beaches, hillwalking and fine food in its idyllic island main town of Skyros. It’s beyond mindful really because you’d be out of your mind not to go there if you have half the chance.