Your Ultimate Summer Guide To The Most Popular Greek Islands
The Greek islands are wonderful places to spend a European holiday, full of good food, incredible views and clear blue water. However, it can be intimidating trying to decide which island to visit. There are around 6000 islands in Greece, 227 of which are inhabited, and at first glance all of them appear as picturesque as each other.
Look a little closer though, and you’ll see that each island has its own specific strengths, whether you’re after sunny beaches, invigorating hikes, or somewhere to dance the night away. Here’s a guide to a few of the most tourist-friendly Greek islands, as well as a few hotels and restaurants to check out.
It’s almost obligatory to start any list of Greek islands with Santorini. Also known as Thira, if the Greek islands were the Brady Bunch then Santorini would be Marcia. This beautiful island is a very popular tourist attraction, as it’s a great all-rounder with no shortage of things to do. However, it’s most popularly known as a holiday spot for couples.
This Greek island offers up sunsets, wineries and the secluded Eros Beach for a romantic getaway, as well as jet-skiing, hiking and the aptly-named Red Beach if you’re looking for some action. Santorini also has fishing, museums, and the Akrotiri archaeological site, a settlement destroyed by a volcano in the 16th century.
Where to stay on Santorini: For a luxurious, romantic experience, check out Grace Hotel at Imerovigli. Located on a clifftop, most of the rooms have private pools from which you and your partner can take in a magnificent ocean sunset. If you’d prefer a water view that won’t blow your budget, try Zoe Aegeas in Oia, Santorini’s most famous town. Oia itself is also ridiculously photogenic, characterised by white buildings, narrow streets and blue-domed churches.
Like Santorini, Paros is located in the Cyclades, a group of islands southeast of Greece’s mainland. Also like Santorini, Paros can get quite busy as it is popular with tourists. However Paros isn’t as frequently visited as Santorini, giving the island a more laid-back feel.
Travel + Leisure readers voted Paros the best island in Europe to visit in 2018, and it’s easy to see why. On top of warm beaches Paros has an active nightlife, so you can spend your days lazing on the sand and your nights with a drink and some live music. Paros’ nightlife features more quiet cafes than pumping dance clubs, but regardless of your preferences there’s always somewhere to go.
Paros is also a good destination if you want to go island-hopping, as it’s smack in the middle of the Cyclades.
Where to stay on Paros: Located in Parikia, the capital of Paros, Blue Mare Villas offers luxury villa accommodation as well as a pool bar. A more affordable option is Paros Palace Suites, which offers a selection of suites and rooms and also has a pool bar.
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Naxos is also located in the Cyclades, only a 20 minute ferry ride from its neighbour Paros. The largest and greenest island in the Cyclades, Naxos should be your Greek island of choice if you’re after soothing waves and abundant plant life. Naxos’ beaches are some of the most relaxed among the islands, and its fertile mountains and valleys create a wonderful environment for hiking.
Once you’ve had your fill of white sand you can visit Naxos’ ancient Greek ruins, such as the Temple of Delian Apollo and the Temple of Demeter. Demeter’s marble temple was partially restored by archaeologists in the 1990s, so visitors can now see its general footprint.
Where to stay on Naxos: Villa Marandi Luxury Suites in Stelida has a private beach for exclusive guest use and, like many of the Greek island’s best hotels, a calming view of the Aegean Sea. For more modest countryside accommodation, Saint Vlassis Hotel is around a 10 minute drive away in Naxos Town.
Where to eat on Naxos: There isn’t much in the way of fine dining on Naxos, but what is available is more than fine. The cosy Stelida Restaurant in Stelida serves fresh, contemporary seafood dishes on white tablecloths, while more traditional, homemade food can be found at O Vasilis in Melanes.
If you want to party, Cyclades’ Mykonos is the place to go. While Paros is for those who want a quiet drink and a calming view, Mykonos is where you’ll clubs filled with people dancing until dawn. This Greek island has a reputation for glamour and a pumping nightlife, and is the place to go if you want to get a little wild.
Mykonos is also a star destination for queer travellers. The island has a few popular gay bars such as Jackie O’, but the real attraction is the island’s overall LGBTIQ-friendly attitude. From its beaches to clubs to hotels, Mykonos is regarded a safe place for people who are openly queer, making it a pretty good place to pick up as well. If you’re looking for a holiday fling, Mykonos could be a great island to visit.
Where to stay on Mykonos: If you’re after for luxury you have to consider Mykonos Grand Hotel and Resort in Agios Ioannis Diakoftis, which is equipped with a private beach, spa, and even telescopes for stargazing. Alternatively, Hotel Artemis in Agios Stefanos is a charming family-run hotel right by the beach.
Where to eat on Mykonos: Book a reservation for quiet and innovative M-Eating in Mykonos Town, which has been called the best restaurant in Mykonos. That’s no small feat as Mykonos Town alone is also home to Funky Kitchen, which serves up delicious seasonal Greek dishes.
The largest of the Greek islands, Crete is located in the group of Cretan islands to the south of the Cyclades. This island is interesting for history and Greek mythology buffs, as it’s the setting of famous myths such as the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. Knossos, a huge Bronze Age archaeological site that includes a 14,000m2 palace, is just a ten minute drive from the capital of Heraklion.
If you’re more interested in sand and surf when it comes to sightseeing, Crete’s pink beaches on the western end of the island offer great shots for your Instagram. This seasonal phenomenon occurs in spring and early summer, when the sand at both Balos Beach and Elafonisi turns a pale pink hue due to crushed oyster shells and coral.
Where to stay on Crete: St. Nicolas Bay Resort Hotel and Villas in Agios Nikolaos is an hour’s drive from Heraklion, but considered one of Crete’s best luxury hotels, complete with spa and charter boat. Agios Nikolaos also hosts Candia Park Village, a more affordable, family-friendly option.
Where to eat on Crete: If you’re staying in Agios Nikolaos, you can’t go past Migomis Piano Restaurant for fine dining, relaxing music and water views. Then for a friendly, filling meal, try the family-run To Pareaki.
If you’re down for a summer holiday to Europe, check out its other best islands.
(Image: Santorini, Hello Lightbulb / Unsplash)