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Our guide to the Greek islands

Written by
Alex Carey, Melania Siriu, Hanna Fischer & Murray Mitchell

Greece has it all - historic cities, delicious cuisine, the sparkling Aegean sea and wonderful islands.

This Mediterranean country is home to 16,000 kilometres of coastline and around 6,000 islands, so there are plenty of island getaways to choose from.

Sometimes, all this choice can become overwhelming, so our experts have put together this guide to the Greek islands to help you determine which island best suits your needs.

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Folegandros: For off the beaten track travellers

Sandwiched between the romantic islands of Santorini and Milos, Folegandros is an undiscovered beauty that is home to the beautiful beaches, breathtaking coastal landscapes and wonderful cuisine that are so synonymous with Greece. This island is perfect for travellers looking to get off the beaten path, as sightseeing opportunities are replaced by whitewashed houses, charming fishing boats and dramatic landscapes. There’s a laid-back vibe across the island, which particularly extends to the main town of Chora.

Karavostasis, Folegandros Island

The island’s main settlement, Chora is a charming town set atop a cliff, with breathtaking views over the sea. You’ll feel as though you’ve travelled back through time as you wander the island’s cobbled streets. With picturesque squares, homely tavernas and quaint shops, Folegandros is the perfect place to escape from the stresses of modern day life. Don’t miss out on the chance to sample matsáta (the island’s national dish) – a delicious pasta dish served with rabbit in a tomato sauce. The best time to explore Folegandros’ untouched shores is from May to September, when the temperatures and tourist infrastructure both truly come to life.

 

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Santorini: For honeymooners

For most travellers, the mere mention of Santorini conjures up images of whitewashed houses, blue-domed roofs and romantic getaways. This postcard-perfect island has indeed been charming its visitors since it was first formed over 3,000 years ago, and today the island is one of the most popular spots in Europe for honeymooners. It’s not hard to see why – sheer cliffs, stunning beaches and pretty villages all come together to create the perfect place for a couples’ getaway. The best time to visit for complete seclusion is either May or September, when the weather is still warm but the crowds have not yet descended on the island. 

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The island’s most famous feature is the delightful town of Oia – beautiful pastels, famous windmills and a ruined castle add a real sense of charm to this rugged landscape. The most romantic time of day is sunset, when the twinkling lights of the town really stand out against a sea of whitewashed walls. Santorini is also a great choice if you’re after a little slice of history, as the ruins of Bronze Age settlement Akrotiti are beautifully preserved and available to explore. The island delivers for oenophiles too, with a small but flourishing wine industry. 

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Crete: For culture and history

Crete is often thought of as the perfect family getaway, but the island also has an incredible culture and heritage to discover. The island’s history dates back centuries, with Crete being home to the Minoans (Europe’s earliest civilisation) and the birthplace of legendary Zeus. The island’s cities are an amalgamation of cultures; Crete spent its early years under the rule of everyone from the Venetians to the Turks. 

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To relive the legends of the past, we recommend exploring the complex at Knossos, the capital of Minoan Crete, and wandering through the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion. The exhibitions here span an impressive 5,500 years, so provide a fascinating insight into times gone by. It’s also well worth exploring the medieval town of Rethymno with its impressive fortress. Beyond history, Crete is also home to the dramatic landscapes, beautiful beaches and sparkling turquoise waters expected of any Greek island – it really is the best of both worlds!

Old ruins in Spinalonga island, Crete, Greece
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Paros: For families

As the second largest Greek island after Crete, there’s plenty to discover on dynamic Paros. Paros has a truly diverse offering for families, with so much to explore here. In Parikia, the island’s capital, travellers can peer into old churches, wander through cobbled streets and stay in pristine white houses contrasted against delicate floral displays. For those with an interest in Byzantine history, the historic Panagia Ekatontapiliani – or Katapoliani for short – is also a must see.

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The beaches on this island are fun for children, with the most famous – Kolymbithres – consisting of beautifully sculpted granite rock formations. These unique structures are well over 7 million years old, and today they provide the perfect playground for old and young families alike. Paros is also a popular destination for thrillseekers, as there’s plenty of watersports on offer. Wind and kite-surfing are high on the agenda here, and the beaches of Tserdakia and Chryssi Akti are favourite spots for surfers. Whether you spend your time here enjoying the paradisiacal beaches, delving into the island’s history or getting active, Paros is sure to be a family favourite. 

 

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Spetses: For Greece without the crowds

At just 27 square kilometres (10.4 square miles), Spetses is the island to visit if you want all the history, beauty and charm of Greece without any of the crowds. Just 4,000 people live here, and the quiet atmosphere is reflected amongst the wonderfully peaceful streets. Spetses has cemented its position as a favourite weekend getaway for wealthy Athenians, and now a handful of breathtaking boutique hotels are dotted around the island.

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Spetses is a wonderful place to disconnect from modern day life, as private automobiles aren’t allowed in town. Horse-drawn carriages, bicycles and mopeds transport visitors to a bygone era, while piazzas surrounded by cafés offer endless opportunities for a spot of respite. Outside of town, the island is surrounded by rustic beaches, secluded cloves and wonderfully transparent Aegean water. To avoid crowds, visit this picturesque island in June or September, outside of the core Easter and summer periods. 

Feeling inspired? Our expert travel designers are always on hand to help you plan your next trip to Greece's wonderful islands.

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