With some 1,400 islands, 230 of which are inhabited, you’ve got many options when it comes to a Greek island vacation.
Each of the island groups, from the Dodecanese near Turkey to the famous Cyclades and the gorgeous Ionians, each island group has its own unique appeal.
What are the best Greek islands to visit?
Many visitors to Greece are surprised to find out that each Greek island is surprisingly different than the others. This can make it difficult to decide which ones to visit while you are there. Some of the best Greek islands to visit are:
Some islands are ideal for those who want to enjoy swimming from some of the most idyllic beaches, while others are jam-packed with historic sites.
Whatever you’re after, when you’re planning your trip, be sure to consider one or more of these especially enticing Greek islands.
One of the largest Greek islands at 3,200 square miles, Crete offers it all with diverse landscapes that include soaring mountains and rugged canyons for hiking as well as beaches with crystal-clear turquoise waters, including three extraordinary stretches with pink sands.
Discover fascinating ancient ruins like Knossos Palace, built by the Minoan civilization from 1700 to 1400 BC, and many museums like the Heraklion Archaeological Museum which displays artifacts that span five thousand years of history.
There are charming traditional villages to wander through and lively cities with a wide range of shopping venues, world-class dining, and nightlife.
Crete is one of the best islands for foodies.
With fertile soil and scores of microclimates, fruits and vegetables flourish, with restaurants here often serving true farm-to-table dishes.
It’s also renowned for its cheese, olive oil, and wine production, not to mention the fresh-caught seafood that’s readily available.
An island often included on travelers’ bucket lists, Santorini is definitely on the well-beaten path but the view that you’ll be presented with as the ferry glides into the port is worth the trip alone.
As it sits at the base of the dramatic caldera cliff, you’ll be gazing up at the nearly thousand feet walls.
After traveling the winding road to the top, you can explore everything from hilltop Oia with its whitewashed homes and blue-domed churches spilling down the rim of the ancient caldera to colorful beaches like Red Beach, looking as if it should be on another planet.
Santorini is also home to its own version of Pompeii, the prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri.
It was covered beneath 200 feet of ash following the massive 1646 BC volcano eruption.
The ash kept it well-preserved, providing a look at life on the island nearly 3,700 years ago.
The ancient Minoans lived here in two- and three-story homes that included underfloor heating, hot and cold running water, and even some indoor toilets.
The volcanic soil also produces some fantastic wines, with the chance to sample them while touring the many island wineries.
At the end of every day, you can join the crowds that gather to take in the legendary sunsets from the cliffs’ edge at Oia and many other vantage points along the caldera.
Mykonos is another one of the most famous islands, renowned for its beach parties, nightlife, upscale shops, fine-dining restaurants, and luxurious resorts.
The sands are powdery and white with everything from sunbathing to a wealth of watersports on offer.
Enjoy hiking, biking, and off-road tours too.
Summer is the time for the liveliest action, with many visitors spending their days at the beach capped off with sundowner cocktails before heading to the bars and nightclubs until almost dawn.
But if you come in late spring or early fall you can enjoy a more tranquil experience and idyllic weather too.
There are many other things to do on the island, including visiting the famous 16th-century windmills and boat tours to the sacred island of Delos.
Just a few miles away, it hosts some of the most extensive remains from the golden age of classical Greece, the 5th– and 4th-century BC, and some that are even earlier, including a theater, temples, statues, and mosaics.
North of Santorini and south of Mykonos, Naxos is the largest island in the Cyclades, a place where you can still find plenty of tranquility with some of the country’s most beautiful beaches. There are livelier stretches along with those that are practically empty, with soft white sands edging clear, calm blue waters that look like a swimming pool.
It’s a hiker’s paradise with mountainous terrain that includes Mount Zeus.
One can walk the steep winding trails alongside goats where only the songs of the birds and the bells jingling around the animals’ necks can be heard to take in a panoramic view at the top.
There are ancient sites to explore, including the Gate of Apollo Temple that greets visitors at the harbor entrance, and the ruins of the Temple of Demeter dating all the way back to 3000 BC.
Enchanting Chora is lined with narrow, marble-paved streets with Venetian architecture that includes a castle at the top, while restaurants here have become renowned for their sea- and farm-to-table fare, something that was highlighted on the late Anthony Bourdain’s food and travel show, “Parts Unknown.”
Paros is known for its lush valleys and rolling hills that are strewn with small churches and monasteries. It’s often described as one of the country’s best-kept secrets, although its Parian marble was used to create the famous Venus de Milo statue.
There are ancient monuments such as the sanctuary of Delian Apollo, but many come to enjoy the famously beautiful beaches.
There are options that offer watersports like diving and surfing and secluded stretches for sunbathing and quiet contemplation.
Paros Town, or Parikia, is the capital and main port.
It hosts a 13th-century Venetian castle and the famed Church of 100 doors that dates to the 4th-century as the island’s most important historic landmark.
Legend has it that the 99 doors were found but the one-hundredth won’t be discovered when Constantinople (Istanbul) is returned to Greece.
Another favorite island located off the mainland’s northwest coast, Corfu is one of the Ionian islands.
It offers striking beauty, rich history, and culture with modern sensibilities peacefully coexisting with ancient history.
You’ll find whitewashed fishing villages, majestic Venetian buildings, mouthwatering cuisine, and a nature lover’s paradise with postcard-perfect sandy beaches, bird-filled lagoons, and even cascading waterfalls.
It’s one of the best for diving, with the top spots on the northeast coast, around Othoni and Paleokastritsa.
The southernmost island in the Cyclades, Milos is renowned for its surreal beauty with a breathtaking shoreline that includes more than 75 beaches like Sarakiniko with its lunar-like landscape.
The chalk-white rock formations here are stunningly contrasted against a sea that ranges in shades from deep emerald to brilliant turquoise.
There’s a rich history and whitewashed villages to explore too.
Visit the ruins of an ancient Roman theater, the site where the Venus de Milo was discovered, and stroll through charming Plaka, with magnificent gulf and sunset views from its hilltop setting.
One of the must things to do is to sunbathe on the smooth, white volcanic rocks at Sarakiniko, enjoy the occasional refreshing dip in the sea, and soak in the natural hot springs strewn along the shore.
While Karpathos is often passed over, it’s ideal for those hoping to escape the crowds.
The second largest island in the Dodecanese, here you’ll feel as if you’ve taken a trip back in time.
In the remote, mountainous village of Olympos, the women still wear traditional attire while the maze of alleyways are lined with pastel-colored homes.
There are traditional tavernas for dining on delicious, authentic cuisine made with local ingredients and magical sunsets with glorious colors splashed across the sapphire sea.
The beaches range from secluded pebbly stretches and long, wide sands, many of which can be enjoyed all to yourself if you don’t mind a hike or a drive down a rather harrowing road.
Known as the “Knights’ Island,” Rhodes is the largest in the Dodecanese, offering a rich historical past.
It’s a top pick among history enthusiasts, with medieval Rhodes Town boasting some of the most well-preserved Venetian architecture in Europe.
That includes the castle-like Palace of the Grand Masters which now serves as a history museum.
A wealth of treasures can be found throughout the island, including a Minoan settlement and an ancient monastery.
Don’t miss a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Rhodes which showcases artifacts from the Roman, Mycenaean, and Hellenistic periods.
Nature enthusiasts can enjoy the Valley of the Butterflies, with walking trails for viewing countless colorful butterflies in the summer as well as beautiful sandy beaches, mountains, and waterfalls.