What is it about spending the summer island hopping in Greece that seems so romantic. I think its a combination of the small villages, sandy beaches, spectacular sunsets and delicious food, that make it an ideal holiday destination. A place to truly relax, unwind and enjoy yourself. I have been lucky enough to visit Crete, Santorini, Hydra and Poros. Each island was different and provided a unique experience. As summer is fast approaching in Greece (and winter has well and truly arrived in the southern hemisphere, so why not chase the sun?!) I did a little research and gathered some advice from my cousins on the mainland on how to plan the perfect summer island hopping in Greece. I can already picture sitting at a taverna, sipping a cold drink, watching the sunset over the neighbouring island in the distance and listening to the sound of the water lapping on the shore and a bouzouki gently strumming.
What are your favourite Greek Islands?
The Greek Islands
With thousands of islands to choose from the hardest part of planning your summer island hopping is choosing which islands to visit! Island season is limited to the months between Orthodox Easter until mid-October, though some of the large islands are still accessible in late October, so be sure to check your dates when planning your holiday. July and August are peak season and such accommodation tends to book up fast, in addition to prices skyrocketing! When choosing places to eat, try to avoid restaurants in the main tourists strips, the prices are always more expensive and the food less authentic.
The Cyclades Islands is a group of more than 200 small islands in the Aegean Sea that consists of some of Greece’s most popular islands including Santorini and Mykonos. This cluster of islands gets its name from the position of the islands, which form a circle around the sacred island of Delos. The area is seeped in Greek mythology. According to legend the God of the Sea, Poseidon, turned the Cyclades nymphs into islands as punishment. While Santorini and Mykonos have a lot to offer (you can see my photo diary from Santorini here), be sure to explore some of the other islands and discover the treats they have to offer. Do not miss Byzantine footpaths in Paros, or visiting the the birth place of Apollo and Artemis in Delos and the breathtaking landscape of Naxos.
The Northern Aegean Islands consists of five large islands, and eight smaller ones. Think hot springs and fortresses, surrounded by sparkling waters. At Limnos explore volcanic rocks, relax at the thermal springs at Ikaria, find out if the strongest ouzo can really be found on Lesvos, discover medieval history on Hios and archaeological sites on Samos.
The Saronic Islands in southern Greece are close to the mainland and are easily accessible from Athens. If you only have time to visit only one Greek Island make it Hydra. Get lost in the romance of the cobblestoned streets and travel back in time to this island that doesn’t allow cars, but instead uses donkeys as the main form of transportation. For lush vegetation and tradition mansions head to Poros, on a day trip to Agistri from Athens or Aegina, or find a wonderful family holiday designation in the island Aegina.
The Sporades Islands, located in the northwest Aegean is full of hidden treasures and natural beauty. Get lost in Skiathos where many great writers found inspiration, or visit one of it’s many historic churches, meet the Mediterranean Monk Seals that call Alonissos home, step onto the set of Mamma Mia that is the island of Skopelos or relax at the Nifi Natural Springs on Skyros.
The Dodecanese Islands are one of the most popular groups of islands in Greece where you can discover archeological sites and stunning Byzantine monuments. The Old Town of Rhodes presents an insight into the glory days of the Byzantine Empire, stroll the harbour of Symi and discover its brightly coloured buildings or spend some time exploring the volcanic island of Nisyros and the monastery of Panagia Spiliani.
The Ionian Islands are a group of islands that feature seven principle islands. Corfu, the second largest of the islands, is often described as the Emerald Isle for its beauty both on the land and the sea, discover the homeland of Odysseus on Ithaca , unwind on some of the best beaches in Greece on Lefkada, sample wine of Kefalonia, or venture into the caves and castles of Kythira.
Crete, an island like no other offers everything you could want in a Greek holiday. It’s main city, Heraklion, is as vibrant as any of the large cities on the mainland, while Chania offers spectacular views from the Venetian harbour (my photo diary from Chania can be found here), while Rethymnon offers tranquility and incredible historical sites.
Ferries: The easiest way to get around the Greek Islands is with a ferry. Ferries depart regularly from the mainland from Athens and Thessaloniki as well as between the islands. The main ferry companies are Blue Star Ferries, Anek Lines, Hellenic Seaways and Dodekanisos Sesways. I highly recommend pre-booking ferries, especially if you are travelling in July and August, particularly when travelling to some of the smaller islands where ferries timetables are more limited.
Flights: Some of the larger islands, Crete, Mykonos, Santorini, Warpaths, Samos, Skiathos, Kos, Kefallonia and Zakinthos and Corfu, have international airports to which budget airlines like easyJet fly to and from.
Most of the islands are well serviced with buses, especially the larger islands, and there is always the option of a donkey ride!
Each island offers something unique and has many sites worth visiting. Here are just a few of those experiences and sites.
- Arkadi Monastery, Rethymnon, Crete
- Church of Panagia Evangelistria, Hora, Mykonos
- Palace of St Michael and St George, Corfu
- Go dancing, and not just at a club on Mykonos, but at a taverna where you can discover the beauty of Greek culture through Greek dancing. Many of the islands have their own unique music and dances that date back hundreds, and often thousands of years.
- Old Venetian Harbor, Chania, Crete
- Temple of Aphasia, Aegina
- Spend a day on the beach, any beach, they are all beautiful. The best can be found on Crete, Lipsi, Kefallonia, Skiathos and Mykonos
- Kea Lion, Loulida, Kea
- Temple of Demeter, Sangri, Naxos
- Discover Greek history on Rhodes, Delos, Corfu or Patmos
- Try all the local foods you can!
- Plateia Miaouli, Ermoupoli, Syros
- Go diving or snorkelling on Karpathos, Milos, Paros or Kastellorizo
- Palaio Frourio, Corfu
- Enjoy the spectacular sunset on Oia, Santorini
- Temple of Apollo, Aegina
- Shipwreck Bay, Zakythos
- The UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the Island of Delos
- Go fishing, you can learn a lot about the sea and about life from the old men who take the art of fishing very seriously