Greece “islands off the beaten path”.
Santorini and Mykonos may be on the bucket list of most of the travelers but Greece has dozens of islands where you can experience mesmerizing exotic beaches, traditional picture-pretty villages, and amazing culture and local tastes. Here, we’ve narrowed down our top ten where you’ll feel “the real Greek summer”!
If you want to escape the tourist hordes of Santorini, head to the alluring island of Folegandros, an hour ferry ride away. Located in the southwest part of Cyclades islands, this tiny rocky island is like a dot in the blue Aegean Sea offering amazing vistas, great tastes, brilliant beaches, and light-blue waters. When you reach the island by sea, the first place you’ll visit is Karavostasi, the laid-back traditional port village with a few tavernas, bakeries and cafes. The real gem of the island is Chora, the main and largest settlement of Folegandros, a medieval village with whitewashed houses, bougainvillea-filled alleys, totally perched on the edge of a 200m cliff. If you want to capture some of your best photos, follow the main zig-zag footpath that leads to the church of Panagia. From there you’ll enjoy superb views over Chora, the cliffs and the island’s hillsides.
Venus of Milos may be one of the most photographed and visited statues in the world, however, its birthplace, Milos island has nothing to do with mass tourism. Located in Cyclades, Milos, is definitely worth your attention and visit! Being a volcanic island, Milos offers extraordinary lunar landscapes, seaside settlements with multi-colored doors and windows and numerous azured beaches, some of them worldwide awarded. Simply, you cannot leave from Milos without relaxing on the pure-white naturally-carved rocks of Sarakiniko beach, going sailing to the ultimate vertical-shaped with arches cliffs of Kleftiko, wandering around the cobblestoned footpaths of Plaka and tasting amazing catch-of-the-day fresh fish.
One of the most underrated Greek islands, Naxos offers to the visitor a big variety of unique experiences. Being the largest island of Cyclades and only one hour from buzzing Mykonos, Naxos has a mountainous terrain with some of the most authentic Greek villages and a long coastline with some light-blue beaches. The first place you will behold when you arrive at the island is Naxos Chora, the main town of the island. A peaceful town, ideal for strolls around its waterfront and the neighborhood of Kastro, a hilly fortified district with a maze of scenic alleys. You should not miss visiting Portara, a massive ancient marble doorway located on an islet at the northernmost edge of Chora – actually the National Geographic logo’s inspiration! If you decide to hit the road you should pass from the wonderful beaches Agios Prokopios, Agia Anna, and Plaka, the medieval village of Apiranthos with its mouthwatering local tastes, and the giant Kouroi, the colossal statues of young men. Food lovers, here is the right place! Naxos is self-sufficient in vegetables and livestock, so be ready for amazing cheeses and local dishes!
Crete, the largest island of Greece may be a popular destination and a not-to-miss stop for the most of the cruises in the Aegean Sea, however, Rethymno, the third-largest island’s town is often off the standard touristic route, being skipped over by the tourists on their way from its counterparts, the well-known Chania and Heraklion cities. The charming town of Rethymno has it all; an amazing medieval atmosphere, a picture-pretty Venetian Harbor with its lighthouse and a network of cobblestone narrow alleys with Instagram-worthy architecture, fantastic food, and friendly locals. Stroll around the old town and discover the 16th-century Venetian Fortezza, many artisans’ workshops centuries-old fountains and more. And then, you can explore Rethymno region, a lush olive-tree mountainous area with traditional villages and the historic monastery of Arkadi.
It was during the 00s when the pristine tree-filled beaches and the whitewashed alleys of Skopelos played on Big Screens through the blockbuster funny musical Mamma Mia! However, a decade and more after, Skopelos still offers an unspoilt island life far from mass tourism. Little has changed here, the laid-back stroll around the Skopelos town with its 40 little chapels, the year-old mansions of noble locals and the kafeneion -the traditional coffee shops- been filled with old men who drink Greek coffee and play backgammon. Head out the main town and immerse yourself in the beauty of the photogenic traditional Glossa village, the charming Agios Ioannis Prodromos Monastery, famous for the Mama Mia wedding scene, and the paradise beaches of Milia, Panormos, Velanio and more. Skopelos is a great starting point for a few-day sailing to the nearby Sporades islands, home to the Mediterranean Monk Seal (monachus monachus).
Paxoi & Antipaxoi
Located on the Ionian Sea, the island complex of Paxoi and Antipaxoi is a tropical paradise of unparalleled beauty. With a maximum length of 13 km, Paxoi island is abundant in mesmerizing landscapes and turquoise beaches. Gaios, Paxoi’s capital, is a well-hidden harbor settled in a ‘fjord’ that is shaped by the islet of Agios Nikolaos and the main part of the island. Its old Venetian architecture, the forested-surrounded hills, and its naturally-blessed location display Gaios as one of the most scenic harbors of Greece. While you are there, enjoy amazing seafood dishes and especially, fresh lobster. Then, sail to Antipaxoi island, a true ‘Eden’ on Earth! Simply, you can’t resist on the beryl-colored beaches, their white pure sand and the fertile lush land covered with pines, myrtle, cypress trees and more.
In less than one-hour ride by ferry from the party-island, all-inclusive-resort Kos, you reach Nisyros, a small circular island in the Dodecanese. Actually, Nisyros is a volcano, an active volcano that easily you can visit and walk on the largest hydrothermal crater in the world, Stefanos that has a diameter of 300 meters. If you’re wondering what the moon’s surface looks like, you’ll find the answer here! Beyond the volcano, Nisyros has a couple of villages with a distinct traditional character. Walk along Mandraki’s promenade, the seaside capital of the island, mingle with locals in the artsy cute square of the hilly-village of Nikia and sample local tastes while overlooking the volcanic caldera from the charming Emporeio village. Definitely, one of the hidden gems of the Aegean Sea!
Despite being connected to Mainland Greece by a small drawbridge, Lefkada, one of the not-to-miss islands of the Ionian Sea, has little been affected by tourism. Why? Well, the beaches there are just some of the most spectacular in the world! Vast exotic beaches with white sand, imposing vertical-bright cliffs on the background and deep-blue and turquoise water compose an outstanding coastline. You should explore the “star’ of Lefkada, Porto Katsiki, as well the amazing beaches of Kathisma, Egremni and more. Then, spend your afternoon in Lefkada Town where numerous restaurants can fulfill your tasting desires by serving you fresh local yummy dishes.
Located in the Cyclades, Syros island is the origin of most Greek Shipowners and this is visible. Hermoupolis, the capital of Syros and Cyclades island complex, is full of wonderful mansions, imposing public buildings such as the monumental Apollo Theater and the Town Hall and iconic orthodox churches, such as the blue-domed Agios Nikolaos. On the opposite hill, the medieval village of Ano Syros is settled with its fortified citadel, the narrow cobblestone streets, and the Catholic churches. For centuries these two towns have been the centers for the Orthodox and Catholic communities respectively. While you are here during Greek Orthodox Easter, experience the unique traditional festivities celebrated both by the two communities. For sweet lovers, here you’ll taste the famous Syros loukoumia, soft sweets flavored with rose water, almonds and other dry fruits.
Patmos, one of the Dodecanese islands has to be proud of being the island of the Apocalypse. Here you’ll find the cave where St. John was inspired to write the Book of Revelation. Then, you can visit the monastery of St. John, an imposing citadel that is perched on the top of a hill and overlooks the island. But Patmos is more than its religious sites. Stroll around the pleasant Hora, the main town of Patmos and get lost in the labyrinth alleys with the archways and the windmills. Nowadays, Patmos is popular with summer jet-setters, so here, experience fine dishes of fresh seafood and signature cocktails on high-end restaurants and bars.
Which is your favourite Greek island?