Top 10 Greek Islands… off the beaten track

There are over 6,000 islands in Greece and over 200 of them are inhabited – so why stick to the most famous ones? Often, it’s a case of hopping just an island or two over – to idyllic Ithaca, perhaps, which happily hides in Kefalonia’s shadow, or to Cyclades islands even prettier than Santorini because they come with blue-shuttered villages and volcanic viewpoints but minus the thousands of sunset seekers.

Keep reading to discover our favourite less-visited Greek Islands.

1. Kythnos, Cyclades Islands

Kythnos is a weekend escape for Athenians looking for a breather, but practically unknown to international tourists. Spend a week here to explore Hora, the car-free capital, and mule paths that meander between hot springs, castle-topped headlands and half-buried temples. Leave time for the beaches too (there are over 50 of them) and idling in waterside tavernas that serve island-made honey, wine and cheese.

Our top trip: Greece walking vacation on Kythnos
See all our trips: Greek Islands vacations
Read more: Kythnos travel guide

2. Ithaca, Ionian Islands

Ithaca is the legendary home of Odysseus, but that’s where its fame seemingly ends. Most visitors to the Ionians head to Kefalonia, which lies a half-hour ferry ride across the water, leaving Ithaca to quietly roll out glassy coves made for scuba diving and snorkelling, seafood tavernas in Frikes harbour, and walking trails that meander from Byzantine ruins to villages. And all in an island that’s barely 30km from top to toe.

Our top trips: Ithaca luxury villa vacation and Kefalonia, Lefkada and Ithaca walking vacation
See all our trips: Greek Islands vacations
Read more: Ithaca travel guide

3. Patmos, Dodecanese Islands

Thousands of pilgrims head to Patmos to visit St John’s Monastery and the Cave of the Apocalypse – the cheerily named cave where John is said to have written the end-is-nigh Book of Revelation. Don’t worry, the rest of the island is decidedly less doom-laden. There are plenty of peaceful pebble and sand beaches, plus meadows bright with orchids in spring.

Our top trip: Greece island hopping cruise
See all our trips: Greek Islands vacations
Read more: Aegean luxury gulet cruising travel guide

4. Amorgos, Cyclades Islands

Mass tourism still hasn’t made its way to Amorgos, despite easy ferry links to Santorini and Mykonos. Indeed, the main town has hints of Santorini minus the crowds. Whitewashed houses have blue shutters and bright pink bougainvillea adorns doorways. At points, Amorgos is only 2km wide, so beach hopping is easy. The lengthy coastline also leaves lots of room for walking between rocky hills, Byzantine monasteries and hilltop acropolises that go back to Minoan times.

Our top trip: Cyclades sailing and walking vacation
See all our trips: Greek Islands vacations
Read more: Cyclades travel guide

5. Skyros, Sporades Islands

Skyros might be small, but it has some mighty mythical tales, with everyone from Achilles to Theseus swinging by its beach-dotted shores. Chora, the walkable capital, reveals a Byzantine castle, open-air theatre and folk art museum. There are some great bird-watching opportunities on Skyros too. The National Marine Park of Alonnisos lies just to the north – home to three species of dolphins, rare seabirds and Bonelli’s eagles, plus critically endangered Mediterranean monk seals.

Our top trip: Art vacation in Greece
See all our trips: Greek Islands vacations
Read more: Greece painting vacations guide

6. Syros, Cyclades Islands

Syros has the faded glamour of an island that used to be one of the wealthiest places in Greece. See the signs of its various heydays by wandering Venetian Ano Syros, the neoclassical streets of Ermoupolis and the ancient acropolis of Kastri. Hiking trails weave through the rocky northern cape; even here, there’s a beach at the end of almost every trail.

Our top trip: Cyclades walking vacation in Syros
See all our trips: Greek Islands vacations
Read more: Cyclades travel guide

7. Tinos, Cyclades Islands

Tinos is best known as a place of pilgrimage for people visiting the ornate Evangelistria Church. There’s even a red carpet that rolls out from port to church to smooth the journey of devotees making the climb on their knees. Architecture aficionados also journey here to admire the 1,000-plus Venetian dovecotes (more like dovecastles) and elaborate marble fountains that decorate many towns.

Our top trips: Andros and Tinos walking vacation
See all our trips: Greek Islands vacations
Read more: Cyclades travel guide

8. Karpathos, Dodecanese Islands

Karpathos lines up some of the most beautiful beaches in the Greek Islands, where you can kick back while sheltered by high-rise headlands. However, it’s the villages that really lay on the charm. Olympos is known as the Balcony of the Aegean – houses in sugary shades of citrus and mint stagger down the mountain, and big outdoor ovens are still used to cook bread and pasta. There are some curiosity-piquing activities on Karpathos too, with vacations combining walking, botanical workshops (depending on the time of year, there are orchids and peonies aplenty) and birdwatching.

Our top trips: Karpathos walking and botanical vacation and Karpathos walking and beach vacation
See all our trips: Greek Islands vacations
Read more: Karpathos travel guide

9. Serifos, Cyclades Islands

Serifos is one of the prettiest off the beaten track islands in Greece. It’s wreathed in myth too: the Cyclopes are said to have built the White Tower and Perseus set off from here to kill Medusa. Walking vacations are usually the best approach – they’ll take you through orchards and vineyards, across stone bridges and past abandoned iron ore mines. Even the main town, with its trio of windmills, is under a sleepy spell… at least until in-the-know Athenians turn up for their summer vacations.

Our top trips: West Cyclades walking vacation and Serifos hiking vacation
See all our trips: Greek Islands vacations
Read more: Serifos travel guide

10. Andros, Cyclades Islands

Hikers get to see a successful sustainable tourism project in action on Andros. Back in 2012, a group of volunteers restored the island’s network of walking trails in order to tempt a slow-paced type of tourism to gently support the island’s economy. And it’s working: you can now join a hiking vacation on Andros that takes in ancient footpaths that dip between remote mountains, secluded beaches and old water wheels – and all while supporting tiny guest houses and petite tavernas. Make sure to explore Hora (the main town) too; Greece’s first modern art museum overlooks the harbour.

Our top trips: Andros trail walking vacation
See all our trips: Greek Islands vacations
Read more: Cyclades travel guide

Responsible Travel would like to thank Greek National Tourism Organisation
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Photo credits: [Page banner: lupu robert ciprian] [4. Amorgos, Cyclades Islands: Zde] [7. Tinos, Cyclades Islands: grassrootsgroundswell] [10. Andros, Cyclades Islands: Ky0n Cheng]