Ancient ruins and jaw-dropping beaches: discover our guide to the best Greek Islands.
The Greek Islands evoke dreamy visions of golden sunsets, impossibly clear sea waters, ancient ruins, pebbly beaches and glorious, mouthwatering cuisine. With more than 200 Greek Islands to choose from, it can be a mammoth task to narrow down which to add to your travel bucket list. Plan your next escape or make it an epic island-hopping adventure with our round-up of the best Greek Islands to visit.
The largest Greek Island: Crete
History buffs and amateur archaeologists need to add the Greek Island of Crete to the top of their list. The island was home to the first advanced society in Europe during the Bronze Age, the Minoan civilisation – so there’s no shortage of jaw-dropping historical discoveries. Visit the Palace of Knossos (the capital of Minoan Crete) and the Heraklion Museum for a deeper insight into the island’s fascinating past.
As the largest of the Greek Islands, Crete offers plenty to see and do. For sun-soaked days, roll out a towel on Elafonisi beach. For a dose of culture, explore the rural villages. And for an incredible gastronomic experience, be sure to try sarikopitakia (cheese pie), fried snails and loukoumades (Greek donuts) – all Cretan specialties.
Where to stay: In five-star beachfront luxury at Minos Beach Art Hotel.
The ultimate sunset: Santorini
No Greek Island is more iconic than Santorini. Its famed white-and-blue buildings cascade down the cliffside, turquoise waters lap at blackened volcanic sand coastlines and labyrinthine pedestrian streets conceal shopping boutiques and local eateries. Hire a quad bike and zip across the island, following long stretches of roads that encircle the island’s perimeter, and discover hidden beaches and breathtaking viewpoints.
Nothing beats a sunset at Oia. Get to the village’s famous spot near Oia Castle early to secure a prime view. Then, just let the sky work its magic: as the sun inches closer to the ocean, a collective silence of anticipation hangs over the crowd, waiting for that moment the fiery orb finally slips below the horizon. It’s not uncommon for appreciative applause to break out once this happens.
Where to stay: In cliffside luxury at Nobu Hotel Santorini.
Party vibes and buzzing nightlife: Mykonos
Mykonos, Ibiza, St Tropez. What do these islands have in common? Glamorous pool parties, fashionable beaches, world-famous restaurants and a vibrant bar and nightclub scene. Head into Mykonos Town (Chora), where you’ll snap that perfect Instagram shot of the famous seven windmills of Mykonos, whitewashed houses and cobbled alleyways.
Take an amble down Matogianni Street, a narrow alleyway shadowed by vivid climbing bougainvillaea, where you’ll find souvenir shops and jewellery boutiques by day and tavernas serving up mouth-watering souvlaki and gyros by night. When the sky turns dark, neon party lights turn on as nightclubs open their doors. Major-league DJs play bone-jangling sets, super-club dance tracks lure partygoers from across the island, and tropical cocktails are the drink of choice. In Mykonos, every night is a celebration.
Where to stay: Discover new heights of cliffside luxury at Myconian Panoptis Escape.
Spectacular beaches and a UNESCO-listed Old Town: Corfu
The beauty of Corfu is undeniable. Here, you can go beach hopping across some of the most awe-inspiring stretches of sand you’ll find in the Greek Islands. Must-visit beaches include Agios Georgios for family-friendly fun and windsurf enthusiasts, Agios Stefanos for beach bliss away from the crowds, and Longás for sunsets and beachside taverna dining.
The UNESCO-listed Old Town is sandwiched between two Venetian fortresses that withstood attacks by the Ottoman Empire in the 1500s. Wander the town, with its myriad pedestrian streets and narrow alleyways, and peruse the medieval squares, old churches, Achilleion palace and Cathedral of Saint Spyridon. Don’t forget to pop into a traditional taverna to try the famous Corfu dish, sofrito: thin slices of beef cooked with white sauce, garlic, white wine, vinegar and parsley.
Where to stay: Find all-inclusive bliss at Grecotel LuxMe Costa Botanica.
Ancient Greek ruins and a family-fun beach: Kos
It becomes almost commonplace to stumble upon Greek ruins during your days on the blissful island of Kos. The ancient physician Hippocrates spent some of his career training on Kos at the Asklepion during the fifth century. Visit these archaic columns, built in honour of Asclepius, the god of medicine.
Be sure to pop by Agora, once the commercial hub of Kos, located just steps from Nerantzia Castle. For a blast of family fun, go north to Tigaki Beach. Here, you’re never far from your next great meal, with local tavernas cropping up like trees, while the crystal-clear waters are perpetually calm and safe for swimming.
Where to stay: Discover your next stay with our curated collection of Kos offers.
Glorious shipwreck coves and hidden caves: Zakynthos
The Greek Island of Zakynthos (also known as Zante) is a treasure trove of wonders, from its white-sand beaches to the natural beauty of the Greek National Marine Park and its abundance of sea turtles. The island is best known for Navagio (Shipwreck Cove), a gleaming white beach cradled by limestone cliffs. Here you’ll find the remains of the MV Panagiotis, a container ship that ran aground in 1980. See the cove from a higher vantage at Navagio Beach View, or board a boat cruise from Porto Vromi, Agios Nikolaos Port in Volimes or Zakynthos Town to see the shipwreck at eye-level.
At the northern tip of the island at Skinari harbour, you’ll discover boat departures for the Blue Caves, a magnificent set of limestone sea caves and natural arches accessible only by water. On arrival at the caves, jump into the milky blue waters and gaze up at the flickering blue lights bouncing off the cave walls – simply magic.
Where to stay: The opulent Porto Zante Villas & Spa.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out Uncover Greece’s Best-Kept Secret: The Peloponnese Peninsula.