Are you thinking of visiting the islands in Greece? Here’s a comprehensive guide to 10 Greek islands you won’t want to miss!
The best thing about the greek Islands is that there is something for everyone! Whether you are looking for a luxury beach holiday, to discover Greek history and culture, or a budget Greece island trip you will likely find that one or more of these islands are for you!
Planning a trip to the islands in Greece can be overwhelming! Especially when you realise how many beautiful islands there are to discover! Over the last few years, I have made a few trips to Greece, visiting both the Cyclades (Santorini, Ios, Mykonos etc.) and the Dodecanese (Kos, Symi, Samos etc.). Although I have loved all of my visits the the islands, there have definitely been a few islands that have stuck out to me! In this guide I have included some more popular well known islands such as Santorini and Mykonos, as well as smaller less touristy islands such as Symi!
So here are the top 10 islands in Greece to visit!
This Greek Islands Guide includes:
- How to travel between the islands in Greece
- The Cyclades
- The Dodecanese
- Greek island itinerary ideas
How to travel between the islands in Greece
It is super easy to get around the Greek Islands. You can fly to a few (such as Kos, Rhodes and Santorini) but the best way is usually by ferry. The majority of ferry routes start in Athens and go through many of the islands and then return the same route. This makes it easy to island hop, the hardest part is just working out the routes and which days you can travel to where.
Another great way to get around would be to do a tour. Tours are great if you are travelling alone or for the first time and want to make new friends. The tour company take care of most of the planning for you and you meet a lot of people in a similar situation! I know Top Deck, Contiki and Bus About do really great tours for younger people between the ages of 18 and 35!
The easiest ways I have found is using Rome to Rio, a site where you can see transportation options between places, to work out the ferry connections. I actually use this site to work out distances and routes on every trip I take! Then I usually go to Direct Ferries to work out which days everything is possible and with which companies as they sell tickets for all the island links in Greece. It is worth double checking these prices with the prices on the individual ferry company websites as they can vary in price and the options are sometimes different (for example travelling by food vs with a car vs a cabin). The tickets can sell out quite easily so its definitely worth booking these in advance!
The Top 10 Islands in Greece
Islands in the Cyclades
Ios is known as the party island of the Cyclades and Greece. It is home to a number of bars, clubs, and beach clubs, most of which are open all day and all night. This is a great place to visit if you are young and looking for a place to party, or a solo traveller looking to make some friends. Along with the party scene, Ios is also the home to many incredible beaches and swimming spots. However, you do need access to a scooter or a car to reach most of these spots! The island has a total of 7 taxis which can make getting to the distance spaces quite difficult, and even if you book a taxi it is common that it comes and ends up picking up different people. We enjoyed our time on Ios, as part goers, but I would probably not return any time soon as I am now more of a slow going traveller.
We had a really hard time getting around here because it was hard where we were staying to access a bus and didn’t want to hire scooters or anything. One time we went to Pathos Lounge to watch the most amazing sunset (they play music in sync with the sun dipping over the horizon and everyone claps when its happened), but afterwards struggled to get back. We called our a taxi but when it arrived it picked up other people instead and we ended up stranded having to walk back.
Finding places to party in Ios is super easy! After the sun has gone down, most people go out to dinner or pre drinks at their hotels and the real party starts around 11pm! It was a really strange feeling walking around at midnight with all of the shops still open like it was the middle of the day. Finding where to go was easy, most places charged around 5 euros entry but it was so worth it!
Mykonos is one of the most beautiful islands in Greece, known for its white and blue streets and beautiful boutique shops. Along with the town, it is also home to so many beautiful beaches and small restaurants. Mykonos has also got quite a big party scene, with a lot of beach clubs and bars around the island. Some of these are in the main town, but most of them require taking the bus, or a taxi. There are around 10 taxis total in Mykonos so it can be very difficult to catch one in the middle of the night when you are trying to return to your accomodation. Mykonos is definitely a place for everyone, and I would recommend adding it to your itinerary no matter what sort of trip you are on!
In Mykonos we went to Tropicana Beach Bar/ Paradise Beach Club which are both a nice place with sun chairs to spend the day, and then around 4pm a beach party starts up at the bar with a lot of dancing and fun! We also walked around the cliffs (a really beautiful 10 minute walk) to SantAnna which is a more luxury beach bar with a swim up pool bar! This was a really nice place for a swim!
Milos is my favourite Greek Island. It is home to some of the most beautiful beaches, all with completely different characteristics. You need a car or scooter to explore this island, but they are quite cheap to hire. There is a local bus route, however they don’t run very regularly so you can’t see much of the island if you are only staying for a short time. If I could go back to one island, it would be Milos. It was magical discovering all of the beaches and local restaurants.
We stayed in Adamas, the main town of Milos. It is really close to the port, the bus station and has some really good restaurants and a nice beach around! I would definitely recommend eating at O! Hamos! Taverna it was amazing! The food was delicious and the place itself felt like a secret garden tucked away on the main street!
In terms of hiring a car, I would try and do this in advance if you can, however as we hadn’t planned to have a car we just went into a few rental companies when we got there and were lucky enough to find something. The fuel was relatively cheap and we were able to see pretty much everything we wanted within a few days!
The best beaches to visit are:
- Sarakiniko (a MUST see)
- Agia Kiriaki
- Papafragas beach and caves
Santorini was the original dream destination. You see all the photos of the white houses on the hill, with luxury swimming pools looking out into the mediterranean and the famous “Santorini sunset”. And it was truly a beautiful place, however, not at all like I expected. I thought Santorini was going to be a pretty small island with locals running businesses against the shoreline and nothing really commercial or on a big scale. I know now that this was a silly thought to have about one of the most popular tourist destinations, but just warning everyone else who might think this (especially after basing their holiday off Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants) it is definitely not. The island is home to so many luxury resorts and expensive hotels with infinity pools coming out of caves that you often see all over instagram, especially in the town of Oia. We stayed in Fira, a slightly less expensive area of the island, still with houses on the hillside and beautiful shops and views. On Oia, there are not so many streets that you are allowed to walk down as most of them are private for hotel guests only, whereas, in Fira you can pretty much walk everywhere and enjoy the small streets on the hillside. There are buses that go all over the island for quite a cheap price, however, if you want to see everything and be able to visit the beaches around the island then I would definitely recommend hiring a scooter. The buses are not so regular and in peak season you can be waiting in line for 3 or 4 buses to pass before there is space to get on.
Santorini sunset is gorgeous, but it is also packed with people as you can see below. We managed to find a poolside club on our second day, where it was much less busy and easy to find a spot to view the sunset (Lioyerma Lounge Cafe Pool Bar). We also loved Lycabettus Restaurant in Oia, it is right on the cliff so has an incredible view and the food is to die for! Definitely try the zucchini fritters and the stuffed tomatoes they are A M A Z I N G!
I would definitely go back to Santorini, but next time I would do it differently. I think this place works best for people with a big budget, who can afford to stay in the luxury apartments in Oia. I would hire a scooter and spend the days exploring the island and the beaches rather than just the towns themselves. If you are going on a low budget, I would recommend Fira as a place to stay, I would just say try to avoid peak season and make sure you are staying somewhere close to a bus stop.
We visited Paros after Mykonos, and to be it felt like a smaller version of a similar island. Paros is also an island of white lined streets with blue door and gorgeous flowers everywhere! Paros, however, is my favourite of the two islands. Everything here is on a smaller scale, with many more locally run businesses. We stayed in Parikia, the main town on the island, and it was gorgeous! The shoreline in front of the beach is covered in restaurants, in the perfect position for the sunset. It is super easy to get around the island and there are so many boat trips that are definitely worth going on, to popular spots like the emerald water.
Naoussa is a beauiftul seaside town on the other side of the island. A lot of boat trips go from here out and around Antiparos. We did one of these group boat tours and it was amazing! You can also have tours of the island if you don’t have any transport of your own and don’t fancy the bus. These vary in price but they are usually around $100 per person for full day around the island.
The Dodecanese Islands
Kastelorizo is a small island, around 30 minute ferry ride from Kas, Turkey. It is the most picturesque fishing village I have seen, with close knit colourful houses cluttered along the shoreline. This is often a stop off if you are travelling from Turkey to any Greek Island, as they have a bigger passport control area here. It is a magical place, even just for a stop off and a short walk around the town. It is quite small so you are able to see it all in the span of a few hours, but you could stay for a few days more and use the time to relax and get into the Greek Island life. Accomodation here is sparse but if you book far enough in advance it will be easy to find. This island is covered in cafes and restaurants and pool bars to sit and relax in the sunshine. I would definitely go back here and probably for longer next time.
Kos is a beautiful island with so much history. It is one of the bigger islands, with a big main town. We stayed in the town of Kardemena, which I would probably not recommend unless you are going for a cheap weekend in more of a resort style area. From here, there are not really any good tours around the island, the beach is pretty average, and there is little to actually do. If I were going again, I would definitely stay in Kos town, nearer the port. From Kos town there are so many boat trips, historical sights and island tours you can do.
The island itself is beautiful, the beaches all have vibrant blue water and each beach holds something unique. My favourite was “Bubble Beach” – a place where air natural seeps up through the sand into the water making the sea almost like a jacuzzi. It is a lot of fun! There is also a cafe here and the option to do a lot of water sports!
You can also take day trips from Kos to near by islands such as Nisyros, the volcano island. These trips are really good value, and staying on Kos as a base is a great way to see more of the dodecanese islands without having to constantly move around!
I would say that Kos is a good base for people who enjoy the night life, but also want to see pretty beaches and explore the town. While it is definitely not one of my personal favourite islands, I would probably return one day and give it a second chance.
Samos is a beautiful island, and a well known low-key tourist destination, with many local businesses still running and not too many resort style accomodations. The island has a few main towns, each unique and as beautiful as the next, as well as some amazing beaches! It is super easy to get around the island by bus and the time tables are always on time and easy to follow. We stayed in the town of Karlovassi (as it was close to the port we were leaving on) which I probably would not do again as it was one of the smaller towns. It did have some really nice cafes but there is not much going on here. The accomodation we stayed at was beautiful though. It was a sort of shared house with a local family that we found on Airbnb and it has such Mamma Mia vibes! The island itself feels very agricultural, with rolling green hills and crops growing everywhere!
Vathy is another big town on the island. It is a nice stop for a walk around, with cafes and shops, and it is close to many of the islands best beaches. It is a good spot to stay if you are looking at mainly exploring the north of the island as it has really good bus connections.
My personal pick of where to stay would be Pythagorio. It is a very sweet town that feels exactly like you imagine the Greek Islands to be. All of the streets are cobblestone, with cosy cafes on every corner. You could just spend a day walking around the town itself.
Symi is my favourite island in the Dodecanese. When you arrive at the port, you are met by a hillside of colourful houses and busting restaurants along the shore line. The island has so many beaches and historical sights, and it is super easy to get around by bus and by boat. There are many boat charters in the port where you can buy different sorts of tickets, including hop on hop off day passes, half day cruises and day sailing experiences. We did a few of these and they were all amazing and really good value!
We stayed in the main town of Symi, just on top of the hillside. We found an amazing Airbnb on the top of the village in a more local part of the town. It was amazing here. We found out that we were staying during the “Symi Festival” and on a few nights we were able to join locals in the village square to watch a concert. It was so fun to see all of the children’s and mums getting up and dancing with each other in circles, it felt like such a local, authentic experience!
It was nice staying at the top of the island because it meant we got to walk down all the back streets every morning on our way down to the port. There are some really beautiful alleyways and buildings along the way!
If i could recommend anywhere to eat here it would be Taverna Zoe. It is on top of the village, owned by the most lovely lady and the food was to die for (the picture is down below).
Weirdly I took no photos in Syros, which is strange to me because I did really love this island! It is on the main route from Athens to a lot of the other islands, including Mykonos, Nasos and a few of the Dodecanese islands so it is quite a busy island. You probably need a scooter or car to make the most of Syros. There are buses that take you to a variety of beaches, but they don’t have a strict schedule and only run every few hours so it can be hard to see a lot of places in a short time. The town of Syros is really beautiful, with sandstone streets and boutique shops or small restaurants on each corner! I would recommend this island as more of a stopping point on your way through to other islands, rather than a place to visit in itself. It was great for a 2 day stop but I wouldn’t want to stay for much longer!
We stayed in an airbnb which was a room beneath the Syros Equestrian Centre, which was such an amazing experience!! It was really good value, they had a few pets we could play with as well as a big club house upstairs we could use. I would definitely recommend this place if you are on a budget. It was around a 10 minute taxi ride, and a 30 minute walk, from the centre of town but it was close enough to walk and the route is actually really beautiful too.
Cyclades (14 days):
- Mykonos (3 days)
- Paros (2 days)
- Ios (2 days)
- Santorini (3 days)
- Milos (3 days)
Dodecanese (10 days):
Fly into Rhodes and catch a ferry OR start your trip in Kas, Turkey! See my blog post here for why you should visit Turkey!
- From Turkey: Kastellorizo (just a stop off)
- Symi (3 days)
- Kos (2 days)
- Samos (3 days)
- Syros (2 days)
Luxury and relaxation (10 days)
- Fly into Rhodes and catch ferries to:
- Symi (2 days)
- Kos (2 days)
- Santorini (3 days)
- Milos (3 days)
The Best Weekend Escapes:
- Milos (4 hour ferry from Athens)
- Symi (12 hour ferry from Athens, 1 hour ferry from Rhodes)
- Santorini (2.5 hour ferry from Athens)