The 8 Best Greek Islands and Every Reason You Need To Visit Them

From nature lovers to foodies, travelers love the variety of the Greek Islands. Here are your best bets no matter what you love to do when traveling.

Mykonos, Crete, Santorini… choices commonly thrown at travelers considering an excursion to the Greek Islands. While these are beautiful destinations, they are suggested because they are the places that receive a great deal of attention due to the fact that they’ve been discovered and turned into touristy destinations. But with over sixteen hundred islands, choices abound.

Why not pick one or more of these other, less crowded islands for a getaway? From active adventures to relaxing with a glass of wine, there are islands for every taste that insiders know and might not be willing to share. Here are the secrets to planning a perfect Greek Islands getaway.

#1 Evia – A Natural Wonder on Many Levels


Ask any Athenian their favorite spot to visit in the islands and you’ll most likely here Evia in the list. The island, the second largest, offers several different types of treats to visitors. An archaeological hotspot, there are ancient monuments on Evia that will be interesting to anyone, but especially ancient history buffs. Despite study, some mysteries remain like the “dragon houses.” These twenty large structures were hand-built without mortar and yet still stand today.

Don’t just stop your exploring at the dragon houses, though. Also plan to visit Kerasia, a small mountainous village on Evia. The geological record here is impressive and well-preserved both in the natural fossil forest and the museum of mammal fossils.

Take a ferry to the small island of Skyros, which is under Evia’s control. Here you will find tiny ponies that can only be found on this island. Children may ride them with their parents’ permission or simply enjoy the views of nature and the ponies.

No trip to Evia is complete without watching the tides. Sound boring? It’s not! Because of the structure of the earth around Evia, the tides rush in and out in an amazing display of one of the many wonders of our planet. Trela Nera, or “Crazy Waters,” doesn’t only happen here in Evia but it is an easy place to observe the dramatic switching in tides. The best place to view it is near the sliding bridge.

#2 Patmos – Religion and Relaxation


Whether you’re Christian or not, chances are you’ve heard of the Book of Revelations. This section of the Christian Bible’s New Testament outlines the end of the world, or Apocalypse, and was supposedly given to John The Revelator by God, directly, in a cave on this island. While Revelation paints the end of the world with seven signs and matching symbols, your trip may not be quite as dramatic; however, you can observe the cave where it is believed these visions were shown to John.

Besides a pilgrimage for Christians, Patmos offers a selection of varied beaches from those with crazy cold waters to warm water beaches all accessible on the same islands. Depending on what you like in a beach, you can find it in Patmos. There are beaches where sun worshippers head to see and be seen but then others where you may see no one. In addition to sandy beaches, there are also pebble beaches, some of which contain rare multi-colored pebbles. You can learn more about Patmos’ beaches by talking to your travel agent or doing research online using the island’s official website.

#3 Karpathos – Walking in the Footsteps of the Ancients


Found between Crete and Rhodes, Karpathos gives travelers a glimpse of true Greek history. While only accessible by four wheel drive vehicle or boat, Olympos is the place you want to visit. Here, villagers still wear traditional clothing and live in traditional housing (sugar cube houses). You can view the architectural history of Greece in the old roads lined with buildings straight from the past. The mountains are windy and there are waves so in addition to seeing the history of Greece and getting a picture of what it has looked like through the ages, you can also head to the beach for kite sailing and other adrenaline-inducing sports.

The best way to see the island is by walking and hiking. Travelers can immerse themselves in the beauty of the island on solitary walks or take tours to learn the folklore of the island from experts while on guided tours. There are even vacations that can be planned that include 8 days of walking tours on the island. If you want, you could plan your entire trip as a walking tour of Karpathos or mix it with another island that offers something in which you are interested.

#4 Antipaxos – For the Beach Bum in all of Us


With fewer than 100 residents, Antipaxos’s draw is its beaches. Whether sandy or pebbled, large or private cove, the island is mostly beach. Antipaxos has some of the clearest, most beautiful waters in the world.

There are residences on the island, so consider checking out home-sharing and home-rental sites for the rare and special opportunity to rent a home on the island. This is often an economical choice that will allow you the feel of home, ability to cook using local ingredients, and make you feel like a local. You can also stay on nearby Paxos and make day trips by ferry to this island. Besides enjoying the beach, check out the wineries. On nearby Paxos, you can purchase the wines produced on Antipaxos.

#5 Zakynthos – Talk to the Animals


If you want to feel good about your vacation and yourself, consider volunteering to help with an environmental, conservationist group to do something like protect sea turtles. If you are a traveler who thinks about the footprint you leave, you can offset it through activities like this. There are other opportunities on other islands but unique to Zakynthos is the chance to work with the sea turtles.

#6 Thasos – Active Times on a Year-Round Island

Beautiful fit young woman hiking up a mountain and enjoying at the view on the island of Thassos Greece

Thasos is not just a place to go to enjoy beaches during summer. It’s a great location year-round and offers many options for those who enjoy active vacations. Known for biking, Thasos offers easy rides for casual riders and more challenging rides for road bike enthusiasts. There is also an extensive amount of mountain biking on trails specifically designed for biking and also mule and donkey trails.

Travelers who enjoy activities other than cycling will appreciate the island’s opportunities for hiking, walking, off road driving, and horseback riding.

#7 Naxos – Music To Your Ears


Beautiful ruins tower throughout your views but the true gem of this island is the focus on the traditional music of Greece. Children and adults dress in traditional attire and play and sing the old songs that have been passed for generations. Visitors are encouraged to join in and to try the traditional drinks of the island which include wine.

No matter when you’re on Naxos you can enjoy free live music at the local tavern any night of the year. To Elliniko regularly gets rave reviews from visitors to the island.

#8 Lipsi – A Naturalist’s Dream


For those who enjoy nature au naturel, the Greek islands offer several clothing-optional beaches. What the insiders know is that despite the “No nudity allowed” sign at the boat drop at Lipsi, an excursion to the lone tree beach gives way to private, beautiful natural opportunities. Outside of the high season it is possible you and your party will be the only one on the beach.

Be forewarned, the trip to this beach is not easy, but is well worth the effort.

A few notes on nudity for those who are interested in trying something new. It is important to consider several factors before stripping down. First, if there is a prohibition on nudity that is posted where you are, it’s best to stay clothed in order to avoid problems with the authorities. Also, when there are children, it is best to err on the side of caution – watch what the locals are doing and follow accordingly.

Naturalist beaches are a chance to enjoy the feeling of your body in nature but are not synonymous with sexuality. Sex in public places is illegal in most places in the world, including Greece. This can get you arrested, deported, or worse. Don’t be stupid.

There you go. These are among the best Greek islands to visit that aren’t as crowded but are equally amazing.

Top Ten Tips for Traveling the Best Greek Islands – Understand the Culture

  • Be Assertive – The Greeks are assertive and, especially in the islands, you’ll be one of the minority. Most shops do not have lines and instead the most assertive customers get taken care of first. This does not mean to be rude or to push, but if you’re ready and there is an opportunity to get to the counter, take it.
  • Loosen Your Agenda – Any trip to Greece will quickly be set off course with too tight of an agenda. Multiply every time estimate you’re given by three in order to avoid serious backups right from the start.
  • Understand Cold Dinner – Often, dinner is served lukewarm. It’s very warm in Greece and the food offers a nice contrast; it also complements the flavors and brings out the best in them. Do not ask for your food to be heated further.
  • Show Respect – Greece is a Christian nation and many of its inhabitants are religious. This does not mean you have to be a believer, but you should be respectful of those who choose to observe. There are many churches and inhabitants regularly pray. If your sight-seeing takes you to churches, be sure to behave and dress appropriately. Cover up, spit out your gum, shut off your cell phone, and watch your language.
  • Put Yourself Out There – Greeks are family-oriented and not as open to visitors as many other Southern Europeans. However, if you take the time to smile and say hello, Greeks will warm up to you quickly and you might make a new friend. Greeks are happy to help but do not like to be bothered so be sure to use your best manners. As with any other trip, hop on Forvo and learn a few pleasantries in Greek prior to heading out. It goes a long way when you great someone in their own language!
  • Be Careful what You Ask for – Greeks are natural debaters. If you ask for something, keep it quick and move along, otherwise you might find yourself moderating an argument.
  • Pack Smart – If you are island hopping, don’t over-pack. You will be going from place to place and having to pack and repack, and lugging around huge bags will be difficult. Use a capsule wardrobe by picking one color scheme and having pieces that can be layered. Keep the shoes and accessories to a minimum.
  • Carry Cash – While there are ATMs in many restaurants, Greeks prefer to deal with cash and some merchants will not be able to swipe your card. Have cash in a variety of denominations so that you don’t have to worry. Also, if you choose to visit the more remote islands, plan your usage wisely as you may not find an ATM. The Euro is the official currency of Greece and personal cheques are not accepted.
  • Look Both Ways – Greek drivers are likely to speed and not follow the rules. Be mindful when walking that you look both ways and cross with extreme care – especially when you have children in tow. In the same vein, tuck away your wallet and other valuables. Crime is low but pickpocketing does occur in crowded places.
  • Stay Smart – While a trip to the islands to relax may make you encouraged to use substances to aid in this, it is imperative to know that Greek has some of the harshest drug laws in the world. Marijuana and other “light” drugs are not tolerated and can end with harsh penalties even for tourists. Be smart and do not purchase or use drugs while visiting Greece.

About the author

Nancy K.

When I’m not busy writing my next travel article, you can find me showing America to exchange students, hiking, cycling or planning my next vacation. My favorite destination is anywhere I haven’t been yet! You can follow or, better yet, talk to me on Twitter and G+.

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