Flying Direct to Greek Islands
Sailing from one island to another in Greece sounds like an idyllic way to spend a vacation, but when you're pressed for time, nothing beats flying. TPG Contributor Jessica Spiegel gives us an overview of Greece's main island groups and those islands within each that have airports. Opa!
Despite how small some of the Greek islands seem, many of them have airports with at least seasonal service from mainland Greece or elsewhere in Europe. In many cases, the only regular flights to and from these airports are on Aegean Airlines or Olympic Air, both of which connect with Athens. When there are other options (useful for anyone who's starting a trip outside Greece), those are noted below.
Keep in mind that many of the airlines listed are smaller, regional carriers that may not fly from the largest airport in a given city. Pay attention to airport names so you'll know whether you need to high-tail it from London Heathrow (LHR) to make your connecting flight at Gatwick (LGW) or Stansted (STN).
Also note that flying from the Greek islands back to Athens is almost always more expensive than flying to the Greek islands, so if you have the time, you might want to fly into the island of your choice and then sail back to the mainland.
Southeast of the mainland, the Cyclades (pronounced kick-LA-dess, if you're Greek) are roughly 220 islands—not all of them inhabited—spread around the Aegean Sea. Smaller airports in the Cyclades include Astypalaia (JTY), Milos (MLO), Naxos (JNX), Paros (PAS), and Syros (JSY), all of which have regular flights from Athens on Olympic Air.
The southernmost of the Cyclades, Santorini is home to whitewashed buildings and gorgeous blue domes poised high above the sea, an island formed by the eruption of a volcano thousands of years ago. Santorini Thira Airport (JTR) has regular flights from Athens on Aegean Airlines and Ryanair, along with seasonal service on British Airways, Air Berlin, Alitalia, easyJet, Austrian Airlines, Condor, Finnair, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Thomas Cook Airlines, Transavia.com, and Thomson Airways.
One of the larger Cyclades, Mykonos is known for its colorful doors, iconic 16th-century windmills, and lovely beaches. The Mykonos Airport (JMK) has regular year-round flights from Athens on Aegean Air, and the rest of its air traffic is seasonal. It's served by airlines such as British Airways, Alitalia, Air Berlin, Austrian Airlines, easyJet, Condor, Scandinavian Airlines, Thomson Airways, and Transavia.com.
Read our review of the Hotel Belvedere in Mykonos
The Ionian Islands are mostly found to the northwest of mainland Greece in the Ionian Sea, but there is one straggler off the tip of the Peloponnese. There are seven main islands, with several smaller ones among them. The airport on Kithira (KIT) has regular flights from Athens on Olympic Air.
Corfu is one of the largest Ionian Islands, with an important place in Greek mythology and a UNESCO-listed old town. Ruled at various times by the Venetians, French, and British, the island bears the architectural stamps of each, including palaces built by the nobility. Corfu International Airport (CFU) gets flights from Athens on Aegean Airlines year-round, while flights on Aer Lingus, Air Berlin, British Airways, easyJet, Air France, Alitalia (starting in August 2015), Austrian Airlines, Condor, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Swiss International Air Lines, Ryanair, Thomas Cook Airlines, Thomson Airways, Transavia.com, and TUIfly are seasonal.
The largest Ionian Island, Kefalonia (or Cephalonia), has mountains at its center and gorgeous beaches on all sides. The island is excellent for outdoorsy types, and even those who plan to spend most of their time on the beach should check out the beautiful Melissani Cave on the lake of the same name; the water inside the cave is lit from below, giving it an iridescent blue quality. The Cephalonia Airport (EFL) has year-round service from Athens on Aegean Airlines, and seasonal service on easyJet, Air Berlin, Austrian Airlines, Monarch Airlines, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Ryanair, Scandinavian Airlines, Thomas Cook Airlines, Transavia.com, and Thomson Airways, among others.
Lefkada is technically connected to the Greek mainland via a long floating bridge, but it's still an island. Visitors love its beaches, its windsurfing, and its charming towns, and its high cliffs are supposedly where the poet Sappho leapt to her death. Aktion National Airport (PVK) gets year-round flights from Athens on Aegean Airlines, plus seasonal flights on carriers like British Airways, Air Berlin, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Condor, Finnair, Thomas Cook Airlines, and Transavia.com.
Many of the beautiful Venetian buildings of Zakynthos were destroyed in a 1953 earthquake, but the lush island remains alluring for visitors who enjoy its beaches (including one with a shipwreck that remains on the sand) and Blue Caves. Zakynthos is also known for the endangered loggerhead turtles that use its shores as a nesting ground. Zakynthos International Airport (ZTH) has regular flights from Athens on Olympic Air all year long, and its flights on Air Berlin, Austrian Airlines, easyJet, Condor, Finnair, Thomas Cook Airlines, Thomson Airways, Ryanair, Monarch Airlines, and Transavia.com are seasonal.
Set in the Aegean Sea, the 160 Dodecanese Islands—only 26 of which are inhabited—are much closer to Turkey than Greece. Many of the islands are rich in history, including little Patmos, where Saint John was exiled and wrote the Biblical Book of Revelation. The airport on Kalymnos (JKL) has regular flights from Athens on Olympic Air.
Once home to the Colossus of Rhodes—one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—Rhodes remains one of the biggest of the Greek islands, with plentiful beaches and a medieval old city that's been declared a UNESCO Heritage Site. Rhodes International Airport (RHO) has year-round flights from Athens on Aegean Airlines and Ryanair, and from Munich on Aegean Airlines. Other flights—on Aegean Airlines, Air Berlin, British Airways (starting in April 2015), Alitalia, Condor, easyJet, Monarch Airlines, Ryanair, Thomas Cook Airlines, Thomson Airways, Transavia.com, and TUIfly—are seasonal.
Kos has long stretches of inviting beaches and ancient ruins, and its formerly huge, ancient Greek marketplace was an important part of a vast trading network. The Kos Airport (KGS) gets flights from Athens on Aegean Airlines year-round, with seasonal routes on Air Berlin, British Airways, easyJet, Condor, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Monarch Airlines, Ryanair, Thomas Cook Airlines, and Thomson Airways.
Located roughly between Rhodes and the huge island of Crete, Karpathos shares close, historical ties with both. The main pastime on this island (for visitors, at least) is hanging out on the lovely beaches—just take care to find out which ones are susceptible to high winds, which make them decidedly less calming. The Karpathos Airport (AOK) has year-round service from Athens on Olympic Air, and seasonal service on Air Berlin, Arkefly, Scandinavian Airlines, and Transavia.com.
A collection of uninhabited rock outcroppings and tiny islands, the Cretan Island surround Crete, and island large enough that it has two airports from which to choose.
Crete's main airport is Heraklion (HER), with year-round service from Athens on Aegean Airlines. The other flights—on carriers such as Air Berlin, Alitalia, British Airways, Austrian Airlines, Arkefly, easyJet, Condor, Monarch Airlines, Lufthansa (beginning May 2015), Norwegian Air Shuttle, Swiss International Air Lines, Thomas Cook Airlines, Thomson Airways, Transavia.com, and TUIfly—are seasonal.
The island's smaller Chania International Airport (CHQ) serves year-round flights from Athens on Aegean Airlines, Olympic Air, and Ryanair, and from Munich on Aegean Airlines. Seasonal service is on easyJet, Austrian Airlines, Condor, Ryanair, Scandinavian Airlines, Norwegian Air Shuttle, and Transavia.com, among others.
Crete appears on our list of emerging European destinations for 2014
Set to the north of the Cyclades and Dodecanese, most of this group is closer to mainland Turkey, and includes the sub-groups of the Sporades Islands and North Aegean Islands. The airport on Skyros (SKU) has regular flights from Athens on Aegean Airlines, and the airports on Ikaria (JIK) and Skiathos (JSI) have regular flights from Athens on Olympic Air.
Just four miles from the Turkish coast, Chios has long been a producer of the traditional Greek mastic gum and home to an 11th-century monastery that's now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Chios Airport (JKH) gets year-round flights from Athens on Aegean Airlines, and seasonal flights on Austrian Airlines and Transavia.com.
One of the larger islands in the northern Aegean, Lesbos (also spelled Lesvos) is historically important as the birthplace of several Greek poets and writers—including Sappho. The island is a major producer of ouzo, and visitors love its beaches and picturesque villages. Lesbos' Mytilene International Airport (MJT) services year-round flights from Athens on Aegean Airlines, plus seasonal flights on Air Berlin, Austrian Airlines, Aegean Airlines, Thomas Cook Airlines, and Transavia.com.
Agriculturally rich Lemnos is primarily flat, with plenty of beaches, the ruin of an ancient theatre, and a medieval fort and a castle in Myrnia, the island's main town. Lemnos Airport (LXS) has year-round service on Aegean Airlines from Athens, as well as seasonal flights on carriers like British Airways and Thomas Cook Airlines.
Just north of the Dodecanese Islands, one mile from the Turkish coast, Samos has an ancient history of wine production, and today still produces Muscat. The remains of a Temple to Hera is the island's UNESCO-listed site. The Samos Airport (SMI) has flights on Aegean Airlines from Athens all year, along with seasonal flights on Air Berlin, Austrian Airlines, Thomson Airways, and Transavia.com.
Are you hoping to visit the Greek islands this year? In the comments below, we'd love to hear about your plans!