The 9 Best Greek Islands, Big and Small
When picking the best Greek islands for your travels, one of the first things to consider is whether you want a “big island" experience or a “small island" experience? While the actual size of the island doesn't necessarily determine the ambience, in general, the bigger islands host glitzy resorts and lavish parties, while the smaller islands are sought out as an escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Whichever takes your fancy, here are our picks for the best Greek island experiences, small or large.
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Small Island Experiences
Sculptures of Cleopatra and Dioskourides in The House of Cleopatra, Delos Island
Area: 3 km²
Best For: Ancient ruins
This tiny island has no secluded beaches or quaint towns, yet it is among the best Greek islands for the history it offers. Almost entirely covered in ruins, some date back to the 3rd millennium BC. Roam among scarred and tipped columns, faded mosaics, pantheistic animal statues and preserved theatres. The island is a UNESCO site and there are no hotels, so this one is purely a day trip destination.
The village of Chora on Folegandros
Area: 32 km²
Best For: A Quiet Escape
Folegandros is one of Greece’s smallest, quietest islands. A 2011 census counted only 765 people living in the municipality. There’s no nightlife to speak of, just towering cliffs, quiet beaches, restaurants, cafes, the idyllic sound of church bells and the herbal smell of wild thyme wafting in from the hills full of colourful wildflowers. The only way to reach many of the island’s secluded beaches is by rowboat or hike. If you are ready to be truly at one with nature, get your gear off at Ketergo beach, a nudist beach reached only by boat.
Chora Town, Ios Island
Area: 109 km²
Best For: Cosmopolitan yet easygoing vibes
July and August are the party months for Ios and when herds of the young and beautiful flock to the Town Square to shake off their inhibitions and worldly concerns until dawn, only to wake up and do it all over again.
For those looking for a more peaceful break, however, the rest of the year sees Ios catering to a smaller island experience. Chora during the day is a tranquil Greek village full of fresh seafood restaurants and boutique stores set amidst the hillside sprawl of white cubist houses, connected by narrow stone-paved alleys and stairways. Its 75 km of white sandy beaches and turquoise coastlines earn Ios regular nods as the home of Europe’s best beaches.
You can hike in the mountains, enjoy watersports along the coast and explore the various bits of history, like an old Venetian castle and a prehistoric settlement, littered throughout the island.
Fishing Boat, Skyros Island
Area: 223 km²
Best For: Cozy
Skyros is one of Greece’s lesser-known islands, maybe even a well-kept secret. Crowds are thinner, but not because the island is in any way inferior to the rest. In some ways, Skyros is a quieter, cosier take on Crete. Like Crete, Skyros has lush forests, verdant mountainous, and some of the best, cleanest beaches in the Mediterranean.
Skyros Town climbs a large hill like giant white steps, with narrow cobblestone alleys and stairways woven between the buildings. At the top of the hill are an old, majestic medieval castle and a monastery which provides a great view over the town, the island’s shining coast, and the bright blue waters of the sea. You can rent a boat to explore Skyros’ seaside caves that glow blue from sunlight reflecting off the water inside.
If you visit during Easter, you can witness the unique and famous Carnival celebrations in the world, full of colourful costumes, catchy song and dance and the infamous goat dance.
Batsi Village, Andros Island
Area: 380 km²
Best For: Hiking
Despite its size, Andros offers travellers a small island experience with its quiet trails and peaceful beaches. Take a long walk among green mountains, bathe in bubbling springs amidst dense forest, and explore old ruins beside rushing waterfalls. On Andros, that’s all never very far from the Aegean’s wide, shocking blue horizon, which is always the perfect place to take a load off and catch your breath.
The main island is nearly 40 km long, and 16km at its widest, crossed with over 300 km of signposted footpaths that will take you from terraced mountaintop views to quiet white-washed towns nestled into seaside hills, to small, serene beaches where the only sound is the tide rolling in and out. In 2015, the European Ramblers Association named the 100 km Andros Route as Europe’s best trail.
Big Island Experiences
Oia village at night, Santorini Island
Area: 90 km²
Best For: Iconic Vistas and Volcanoes
Santorini is one of the most popular Greek islands, and it's oft-photographed blue and white buildings dripping down the hillside to the sparkling water have become emblematic of the Greek islands themselves. The body of water that Santorini partially encircles is a caldera lake - a water-filled crater from a volcanic eruption. The centre of the lake has a small island that still spews smoke and lava, and you can take a boat to see it for yourself. Volcanic activity also means hot springs, uniquely coloured beach sand, and mineral rich soil that fuels Santorini’s small but healthy wine industry.
The coastlines that encircle the lake are dotted with towns, whole clusters of stark white Greek architecture set right atop high sea cliffs, and their height and placement give some of the best sunset views in all of the Aegean Sea.
Visit Santorini between April and June, or September and October, to avoid crowds while still getting the best weather.
Little Venice, Mykonos Town, Mykonos Island
Area: 105 km²
Best For: Old Meets New
Glamorous Mykonos attracts hordes of hedonistic party-goers for the July and August season, with hip hotels and trendy bars popping up a mile a minute. If you're looking to avoid the worst of the crowds, Mid-May to June is the best time to visit. Another tip is to enjoy Mykonos' beaches and towns during the day, while most of the party-goers recover for yet another night of revelry.
Mykonos Town is a picturesque town of whitewashed houses, churches and steep lanes, all set by the sea’s gently lapping waters. Though fashionable restaurants and stores fill the streets, the strict building regulations have preserved the island’s original architectural character and style.
Kos Town, Kos Island
Area: 290 km2
Best For: Bike trails
Kos is the birthplace of Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine and creator of the Hippocratic Oath on which doctors swear to “do no harm.” The same can be said of the island itself, a vibrant dot in the sea where you can recover from life’s pressures.
The island is mostly small villages, ancient ruins, and secluded beach, all tied together with an extensive web of bike trails. The trails’ thoroughness and the island’s small hills make Kos the most bike-friendly island in Greece. Kos is also one of Greece’s busiest yachting ports, so it’s easy to sail into Kos’ azure coast and across the turquoise sea to other islands.
Area: 8,303 km2
Best For: Food
As Greek’s largest and most populous island, Crete might not at first seem like the escapist island hopper’s choice destination, but its rich history, culture and diverse landscape make it worth an extended visit.
From dense metropolitan cities to colourful and laid-back coastal towns, to small farming villages, you can see how over the years Turkish and Greek culture have blended into today’s Crete. You can taste it in Crete’s restaurant scene, which is known as the best out of the best Greek islands. Then you can see it in the ancient aqueducts and other archaeological sites that dot the island.
You can’t say the same about Crete’s vast mountains, forests, and gorges. They haven’t changed in millennia, and they loudly mark the landscape as deep, dramatic lines in the earth and towering, breathtaking snowcaps. Hike through one of Crete’s enormous gorges as it opens out to the island’s azure coastline and the Aegean’s clear horizon.
Big or small, you really can’t go wrong, whichever Greek islands you choose. They all have average temperatures that never go above 27°C and below 9°C, and they rain little outside of winter. To discover more of Greece's incredible Islands, click here to find out about our special offer on sailing the Greek Islands.