Authored by Ann Myers in Europe
Published on 09-24-2009
Picking ten top Greek islands is not easy. First, there are hundreds of Greek islands with 220 inhabited islands. Second, most of the Greek islands have something to make them attractive: beaches, sailing, snorkeling, wind surfing, bird watching, archaeological ruins, or medieval fortresses. So choose from the Greek islands by what you love best.
The crowds of the Greek islands can be avoided by visiting off season before mid-June or after mid-September. A lot of the facts below are gleaned from the Lonely Planet’s guide book Greece. A guide book such as this one will be immensely valuable to you in your Greek island travels because Greeks tend to steer tourists toward tourist areas.
Greek Islands in the Ionian Sea: Corfu, Lefkada and Ithaca
The Greek islands circle the mainland of Greece in a U-shape from the Ionian Sea off the west coast of Greece down to Crete and up into the Aegean Sea.
Corfu in the Ionian Sea is like other Greek islands in that it has been under the influence of many nationalities. The Greek island of Corfu has architecture and green hills. Beautiful sunsets can be viewed from the island’s western beaches. From Corfu be sure to island hop by hydrofoil to Paxi for a day of island exploration by scooter, taxi, or on foot.
As with Corfu the west coast beaches of Lefkada are splendid. Lefkada’s mountainous center is also worth exploring. A rental car may be useful as getting around this Greek island can be problematic.
In Homer’s Odyssey the Greek hero Odysseus finally comes to his island home Ithaca after twenty years of war and journeying. A ferry from Patra on the Greek mainland will get you there with a little less trouble. Ithaca’s small size and marked trails make it a great place for hiking.
Greek history and archaeology lovers may want to go to Crete above almost all other Greek islands. Iraklio, about midpoint on the north coast of Crete, is the capital city and a good starting point for a day trip to the Minoan ruins at Knossos. Since Crete is the furthest south of the Greek islands, if possible avoid the heat of the summer months.
The Cyclades in the Aegean Sea
The Cyclades is a group of islands which includes Andros, Mykonos, Santorini (Thira), Naxos and Paros. They are without a doubt the most popular of the Greek islands. Do some research to avoid the most touristy times, places and prices. Santorini, for example, a popular destination for weddings, is known for its black sand beaches and for being overcrowded. But off-the-beaten-path is possible on all Greek islands. Sample these Greek islands in a circuit.
Mykonos is for people who like people. Mykonos is also a good departure point for other Greek islands such as Delos. In ancient times the island Delos was a religious center for the Greeks.
Naxos is also in the Cyclades. In Greek mythology the hero Theseus dumped Ariadne on Naxos after she helped him kill the Minotaur. Second largest of the Cyclades islands, Naxos is not as overrun with tourists as Mykonos.
The Dodacanese in the Aegean Sea
Like the Cyclades the eighteen Dodacanese islands are close enough together to hop from one to another. Because of their distance from the mainland of Greece, there is not as much tourism on these islands.
Rhodes is the best base for exploring the Dodacanese. Although the Colossus of Rhodes no longer exists, thousands of years of history and culture are still evident in the towns of this Greek island.
Although Karpathos is a much loved Greek island, you may not wish to miss Patmos especially during Orthodox Easter. Patmos is where John the Divine in exile wrote his book of Revelation. It is an island of pilgrimage for many Christians.
Chios in the Northeastern Aegean
Chios is part of another group of Greek islands in the northeastern Aegean with Samos as the main starting point island for visiting them. Greeks believe that Columbus came from Chios.
Athens as a Base
Are you are a landlubber? Make day trips from Athens or the port of Piraeus to Greek islands just off the mainland like Aegina, Hydra and Evia. It is wise to read about these islands before going.
If you are adventurous, go north of Athens about two hours to the Greek island Evia. Evia is connected to the mainland by a bridge at Halkida. This second largest Greek island has accommodations from camping to spa resorts. If you are really game for an adventure, hike up Mt. Ohi near Karystos to see the ancient dragon houses.
From Evia you can continue into the Sporades, another island group with much to recommend it.
It could take a lifetime to get acquainted with all of the Greek islands. So start with the group of islands that appeals most to your vacation tastes and explore from there.