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Our Guide to the Best Greek Islands to Visit

Written by
Hanna Fischer

Published on: October 3rd, 2019

Last modified: July 28th, 2023

Greece is a place that everyone should visit at least once. But which is the best Greek island to visit? If you're looking for an active family vacation head to Crete, for romance Santorini is a great choice, Mykonos is your best bet for vibrant nightlife and Spetses offers small town charm.

With literally thousands of islands to explore, your options are varied. Each offers a unique combination of the country’s endless charms: ancient history, vibrant culture, delectable cuisine, pristine beaches and so much more. Fortunately, you don’t have to pick just one island. You can easily travel between them via ferry or even flight. The bustling Greek capital of Athens is the perfect jumping-off point from which to start your trip, although you might want to spend a few days exploring it as well.

With everything that Greece has to offer, there’s no wonder that it’s one of our top places to visit in 2023. But if you’re not sure where to go first, we’ve got you covered. Here’s our ultimate guide to the best Greek islands to visit, whether you’re dreaming of a romantic getaway or a fun-filled family trip.

When Is the Best Time to Visit the Greek Islands?

 

April and May (late spring) and October and November (early autumn) are the best times to visit Greece if you want to avoid large crowds. These months promise nicer temperatures and fewer tourists than the busy summer season, so you can explore the islands in peace and comfort.

If you don’t mind heat and crowds, however, July and August have their own charms. You can experience one of Greece’s many summer festivals, from the August Moon Festival to the spectacular panigyria parties honouring patron saints. During this time of year, we highly suggest heading to a lesser-known island like Samothráki, Thássos or Folegandros.

Which Greek Island to Visit?

 

The Greek islands are awash with culture, history, cuisine and adventure. We’ve compiled a list of our favourite islands and what they are best for. And their proximity to each other and the ease with which you can get from to the other means there’s no need to limit yourself to just one or two.

1. Best Greek Island for Active Family Adventures - Crete

Crete is the largest of all the Greek islands, and its array of activities makes it ideal for families. If you’re ready for an adventure, you can hike through Samaria Gorge National Park or the forests of Lasithi. Learn the fascinating history of the island at Knossos Palace and the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, or visit Spinalonga – a former leper colony.

Ruins of Ancient Knossos Palace at Crete island, Greece

Beyond its history and dramatic landscapes, Crete is also a wonderful place to relax. It’s full of sandy beaches that are perfect for kids, and is also known for its fantastic food and wine. The beautiful Blue Palace is a luxurious seaside resort with views of Spinalonga, while the nearby Domes of Elounda is a slightly smaller hotel with plenty of activities for the little ones. Crete can be reached by ferry or by air. 

Hiking in the Canyon Samaria in Crete, Greece

2. Santorini – Best Greek Island for Romantic Trips and Honeymoons

If it’s your first time visiting Greece, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Santorini. This iconic island is where you’ll find some of the country’s most recognisable scenery. Picture windmills and whitewashed buildings with blue-domed roofs, tumbling down cliffs toward the sparkling sea. It’s easy to see why this is such a popular destination for couples’ getaways.

Church and cemetery in Exo Gonia on the island of Santorini in Greece.

The postcard-worthy town of Oia is home to wonderful shops and restaurants with stunning views of the caldera, plus exclusive accommodation like Canaves Oia Suites. You can take a sunset cruise around the island, or visit one of its vineyards for a unique tasting. Make sure to sample the local Assyrtiko wines, which are made from grapes grown in volcanic soil. You can get to Santorini by air or ferry.

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3. Best Greek Island for Relaxing Trips - Paros

The second-largest of all the Greek islands, Paros is the perfect choice for a peaceful escape. It’s well suited to both couples and families, with an authentic atmosphere where time seems to move more slowly. Spend some time exploring the local villages, where you can wander through cobblestone streets among stark white houses and colourful flowers.

parikia-old-town-greece

Paros boasts top-notch beaches that are good for all ages. You can climb through the ancient granite rock formations of Kolymbithres or try out water sports like kite-surfing. The island also has great food and accommodation options, from the sophisticated Cosme and Parilio hotels to The Rooster, a lovely retreat located on the neighbouring island of Antiparos. Ferry is generally the most popular way to reach Paros, but you can also fly. 

Stone pattern of Kolymbithres beach of Paros island in Greece

4. Best Greek Island for Beaches - Milos

Incredible food and beautiful beaches are scattered throughout the Greek islands – but Milos is our top pick for the best of both worlds. Its idyllic landscape is considerably less crowded than those of the more popular islands, with dozens of gorgeous beaches like Kleftiko and Sarakiniko. You can take a day cruise to reach some truly remote and untouched spots.

Panoramic view of the pictorial Kleftiko cove located at the south coast of Milos island, Cyclades, Greece

The culinary capital of Milos is Pollonia, a charming fishing village on the island’s northeastern tip. Take a food tour to taste the best local dishes, or head to Paliochori beach to try food that’s cooked underground in volcanic sand. The exquisite Melian Boutique Hotel and Spa is an ideal place to relax with a cocktail, or indulge in fresh seafood on the picturesque terrace. Milos is easily accessible by both plane and ferry.

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5. Best Greek Island for Small Town Charm - Spetses

The tiny island of Spetses is home to around 4,000 people, making it one of the best places to experience the beauty and culture of Greece without any crowds. It’s a favourite getaway among wealthy Athenians, with a handful of delightful boutique hotels catering to visitors. To make the most of the island, visit outside of the main holiday periods (Easter and summer).

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The main town is full of tranquil squares, cafes and Neoclassical buildings. You can stay at the elegant Poseidonion Grand Hotel to immerse yourself in the island’s history, and enjoy the unusually quiet streets – there are no private cars allowed in the town. Make sure to explore the secluded beaches and coves nearby, which are connected by walking trails. There is no airport in Spetses, so the best way to get there is by ferry.

6. Best Greek Island for Nightlife - Mykonos

The island of Mykonos is world-famous for its buzzing nightlife scene, but that’s not all it has to offer. If you want to be surrounded by glitz, glamour and good times, it’s an easy choice. That said, it’s also replete with breathtaking views and traditional architecture, from red-domed houses to old churches and windmills.

This island’s popularity means there are plenty of luxurious places to stay, but we’re partial to Mykonos Blue and Grace Mykonos. Both of these impeccably designed hotels offer unbeatable comfort and dazzling views. It’s also worth mentioning the island’s many beach clubs, where you can take in both its natural beauty and its legendary party atmosphere. Mykonos has an international airport, but is also connected to Athens by ferry.

7. Best Greek Island for an Authentic Experience - Folegandros

If you want to get off the beaten track, Folegandros is the Greek island for you. It’s located right between Santorini and Milos, and offers much of the same appeal as its neighbours. What sets it apart is the fact that it’s mostly undiscovered, providing a rare chance to experience the authentic local lifestyle. You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped back in time.

folegandros-beach

The medieval clifftop town of Chora is a maze of cobblestone streets and laidback squares. Pop into a cosy taverna to try the local specialty: matsáta, a traditional pasta dish. Folegandros is also full of alluring beaches and impressive landscapes. To find our favourite view, climb the stairs to the mountainside church of Panagia for an unforgettable sunset. The closest airport to Folegandros is on Santorini, but the island can be easily reached by ferry.

The famous Church of Panagia high on the island of Folegandros.

Travelling Between the Greek Islands

A trip to Greece is all about island hopping if you want to make the most of your stay. There are so many islands and towns to discover and we can help make sure you don’t miss out on the best.

When it comes to ferries, the time it takes to get between many of the islands ranges from 45 minutes to two hours. Santorini, Mykonos, Milos and Crete are all easily reached by ferry from Athens’ Piraeus port.

Some of the islands even have their own airports, so it’s possible to fly to and from Crete, Mykonos, Milos, Paros, Santorini and a handful of others.

We’ll plan your route between the islands to help make your Greek adventure a truly memorable one.

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