Offering stunning beaches, dramatic coastlines and a Mediterranean climate, it’s little wonder the Greek Islands are one of the world’s top destinations. Home to some of the oldest European civilisations, the islands boast unique archaeological sites and fascinating local traditions. Whether you want to explore Greek heritage, lounge on a remote beach or dance the night away – there’s an island for everyone. With 6,000 islands to choose from, each offering their own beauty and charms, we’ve narrowed it down to a list of 10 Greek islands to visit in your lifetime.
Once a small, humble island without electricity, everything changed for Mykonos in the 1950s. The arrival of the likes of Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and other Hollywood stars saw Mykonos become the favoured holiday destination among the rich and famous. Now renowned for its cosmopolitan atmosphere, the island continues to draw stars to its sun-drenched beaches, stylish bars and buzzing nightclubs.
One of the island’s most photographed spots is Little Venice, which features 18th century homes set precariously on the edge of the sea. Many of the houses have been converted into bars and restaurants, offering stunning views of the Aegean from their balconies. The island’s other iconic attraction is its windmills, facing the sea and lit up at night – they also make for a beautiful photo opportunity.
Thought to be one of the most romantic destinations in the world, Santorini is famous for its whitewashed buildings, towering cliffs and breath-taking sunsets. It is without a doubt one of the best Greek islands to visit. Located in the Cyclades Islands, Santorini’s dramatic landscape was the result of a huge volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. The centre of Santorini sank, leaving behind a caldera (or crater) with lofty cliffs along the east side.
Santorini’s iconic villages are set along this caldera, featuring Cycladic architecture and a range of luxury resorts. The most famous villages are Fira, the Island’s capital, and Oia in the north. Offering stunning panoramas of the Aegean Sea, infinity pools and volcanic-sand beaches, its no wonder this island is one of the most popular honeymoon destinations in Greece.
Inhabited since the Stone Age, Rhodes is the largest and historically most important of the Dodecanese islands. The island is most famous for its Old Town, consisting of a maze of cobbled streets, ancient statues and fountains. It’s one of the best preserved medieval settlements in the world and was UNESCO World Heritage-listed in 1988. Protected by a stone wall, the Old Town contains the famous Street of Knights and Palace of the Grand Masters.
Other ancient sites include the Acropolis of Lindos. At 116 metres above sea level, you can admire the picturesque village of Lindos and the impressive Doric Temple of Athena Lindia. Besides its fascinating history, Rhodes also offers abundant beaches, crystal-clear waters and buzzing nightlife.
Located in the heart of the Aegean Sea, Paros is the perfect island for sun worshippers. Famous for its golden sands and turquoise waters, you’ll find beaches that are small, large, secret or well-known. Kalogeros, Kolymbithres and Santa Maria are just some of the island’s unique beaches to choose from.
For those who love sea sports, the island is famous for kitesurfing and windsurfing. Paros has long-held international tournaments, with lessons available for beginners at Chrysi Akti or Pounta beach. There’s also plenty of good walks, diving and the beautiful island of Antiparos is just a 10-minute ferry ride away.
One of the lesser-known Greek Islands, but also one of the best Greek islands to visit, Skiathos remains largely unspoilt. The island boasts stunning natural beauty, with lush pine forests, crystal-clear waters and more than 60 gorgeous beaches. The most famous of which is the Koukounariés. Located in the island’s southwest, this beach was named the third most beautiful in the Mediterranean.
Nature lovers will be delighted by walking trails passing through some of the most beautiful parts of the island. Scenes from Mamma Mia were filmed in Skiathos Town and the pedestrianised Old Harbour is best for evening entertainment.
Located close to the Turkish coastline, Kos is awash with ancient ruins. Kos Town mixes Ottoman and Venetian architecture, with top sights including the Ancient Agora, Roman Odeon and the medieval Castle of the Knights. The Archaeological Museum of Kos is also well-worth a visit, with extraordinary displays of famous Greek monuments and splendid artwork.
The islands most famous site is the Asklepion, an ancient healing temple sacred to the god Asclepius. Positioned on top of a hill, the site offers panoramic views over Kos Town. And with over 290 kilometres of coastline, there’s more than enough beaches to relax on once you’re done sightseeing.
If you’re hoping to find authentic Greek culture, look no further than Karpathos. You’ll find women still wearing traditional dress and men harvesting their crops with scythes. During the island’s local festivals and feasts, musicians play the bagpipes, lauto and lyre whilst singing in the style of their ancestors.
Visit the time-forgotten village of Olympos, where ancient dialects are kept alive. A living museum, the village is renowned on Karpathos for its long-lasting traditional customs. The island also boasts wild mountains, blue coves and golden sandy beaches, with beautiful trekking trails taking you to places unreachable by car. Karpathos is one of the best Greek islands to visit if you’re after the real Greece.
Located on the western side of the Cyclades, Milos is renowned for its spectacular landscapes and is certainly one of the best Greek islands to visit on holiday. Due to the island’s volcanic origins, the coastline is incredibly diverse with white beaches contrasting against red, orange and pink rocks. Home to exotic rock formations, emerald waters and caves seeped in stories of pirates, Milos has one of the most exciting coasts of all the Greek islands.
Must-visits include the astonishing lunar landscape of Sarakíniko, the most photographed spot on the island. Although Kléftiko is only accessible by boat, it offers excellent diving in secluded rocky caves and crystal-clear waters. Also boasting mysterious catacombs, great seafood and boutique hotels, Milos is definitely a Greek island you should visit in your lifetime.
Just because you’ve not heard of Symi, doesn’t mean it isn’t one of the best Greek islands to visit. It’s hard not to be amazed by little Symi’s colourful harbour. Framed by stately neoclassical buildings that rise on all sides, Gialos harbour retains its old-world charm. Enjoy the waterside cafes and restaurants and get a feel for the slower pace of island life from the locals.
Attractions in Symi Town include the Timiou Prodromou Monastery, the Fish Market and the Clocktower. Shops sell an array of traditional handmade items such as ceramics, jewellery, honey and local artists’ paintings. Also, if you venture out of the town, you’ll soon find wonderful beaches offering fantastic snorkelling thanks to the crystal clear waters and abundant sea life.
The only Greek island reachable by car, Lefkada is connected to the mainland by a small causeway. It’s considered the ‘Caribbean of Greece’ due to its exotic blue waters. And surrounded by impressive cliffs and lush greenery, its beaches continue to amaze visitors.
The western coast is home to some of the island’s best beaches including Porto Katsiki, Kathisma and Egremni. Visitors can also enjoy the Lefkada’s interior, with its green hills, timeless villages and wild olive groves. The marina in Lefkada Town also hosts a variety of waterside cafes and bars.
There are so many hidden gems in Greece, as well as the popular main islands. Some of the best Greek islands to visit are the ones you’ve never heard of, so make sure you do your research before booking a trip!
Check out our island-hopping group tours to experience the beautiful Greek isles for yourself.