Greece has 227 islands, no two of which are the same except for the brilliant blue waters and world class beaches. Here’s where you should go, and what you should do
If you’re going to visit only one Greek island ever, Santorini would be your best choice. With white- sculptured villages nestled atop steep volcanic cliffs that plunge into the deep-blue Aegean, breathtaking views, and one of the best sunsets in the world, it is not difficult to see why. It is a paradise for anyone who wishes to soak up the Greek Island mystique, whether they be photographers, hikers, artists or shoppers. Its beaches are black-and-red volcanic sand. Kamari is the most popular, with a great boardwalk of hotels, bars and cafes.
The largest of the Greek islands, Crete’s distinct local culture is apparent in its wonderful old towns like Chania and Rethymno. There are deserted beaches (especially on the south coast), unspoiled mountain villages and, by far, the best food among all Greek islands. The cuisine relies heavily on herbs, olive oil and seasonal produce. Try the fasolakia, fresh beans cooked gently with olive oil and tomato. Or, if you are adventurous, snails with cracked wheat.
A cross between Capri and Ibiza, Mykonos easily boasts of the best beaches and the craziest nightlife in the country. The sleepy fishing towns on this paradise-island gave way to the jet-set party lot years ago; today, it has settled into a mainstream tourism destination. Be sure to visit Chora, the capital, with its shops, restaurants, bars, galleries and white-washed alleys with grape vines and bougainvillea dripping down walls.
Hydra is easily one of the prettiest Greek islands, with unique and well-preserved architecture. Many famous people made Hydra their home, and their houses dot the hills surrounding the harbour. Cars and motorbikes are banned on the island, mules being the transportation of choice for tourists. Some of the beaches can only be accessed by sea-taxi, but the harbour is where most people go to swim. This is an island geared for relaxation, rather than nightlife.
Louis de Bernière’s worldwide bestseller ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ (and later the movie) which was set on the island, turned its tourism industry upside down with the depiction of its natural beauty and clear sapphire waters. Myrtos is its most popular beach, but the stunning natural beauty of this island away from the coast is the show-stopper. The two main towns are Lixouri and Argostoli (that fiercely rival each other), while Sami and Fiscardo villages are where the movie was set and a must-see.
This northern Ionian island has influences ranging from Venetian to French, Italian and British. Corfu Town, with its two fortresses, is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. The locals vote Glyfada as the island's best beach. Palestrikaeo, with its pine-covered hills and hidden coves, is definitely Corfu at its most scenic. To the southwest, you have Agio Giordos and Agio Georgios, two excellent beaches that are connected by a beautiful, scenic, mountain road.
One of the northernmost islands, Skiathos is a carpet of pine trees that reach the sea and fringe its deep-blue coves. Koukounaries Beach is one of the prettiest and busiest in all of Greece. The stand-out feature of Hora, the capital, is pretty white houses with red roofs encircling the harbour. Big Banana Beach, a long sweep of white sand, is popular for is beauty and tranquillity, but does not offer many facilities.
Once home to the ancient Colossus, Rhodes today is noted for its wonderful medieval town and capital, Rhodos (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). There are a number of museums to get your cultural fix between days on the beaches and hedonistic nights out. The island of Rhodes is also considered the most charmingly urbane island of them all. For stunning bays and coves, and an imposing acropolis overlooking them all, visit the delightful village of Lindos, 52 km away.
Just a short ferry ride from Santorini, Ios is famous as a party island and for Mylopotas Beach, thought to be one of the finest in Greece. Enjoy the numerous watersports on Mylopotas, and wine and dine at its varied multi-cuisine restaurants. Maganari, a beautiful isolated beach, is where you go to get away from civilization for a few hours, lolling on its pristine white sands and swimming in its turquoise waters. One of the beaches is named No Windy Beach, a hint that the others are not quite as sheltered.
This is where the tourists come looking for the 'real Greece', with a fine mix of nightlife. A beautiful mountainous island with fertile valleys and beautiful beaches, Sifnos boasts of 365 churches and monasteries, plenty of fine-dining and the finest pottery in the country. Platiyialos is one of Greece’s most beautiful beaches, and is excellent for snorkelling. The Sifniots are considered the finest cooks in the country. The island’s main attraction is Platys Gialos—a little beach village where the street-signs are all in Greek.
Considered to be almost a country in itself, Lesvos boasts of olive groves, pine forests, and abundant fish-life. The varied landscape includes mountains, pristine beaches and two inland seas with their unique eco-systems (in fact, one of the finest places in Europe for bird-watching). For history buffs, there are medieval castles and ancient Greek ruins. Enjoy thermal springs and spas, monasteries, traditional villages and donkey treks on this delightful island.