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With 6,000 different islands sprinkled across the Aegean and Ionion Seas, Greece is the perfect vacation spot if you’re searching for photogenic whitewashed buildings, miles of stunning coastline and gorgeous beaches.
Although 227 of the 6,000 islands are inhabited, just two seem to get all the fame: Santorini and Mykonos. While these spots are gorgeous, there are still 225 islands out there just waiting for intrepid travelers. If you want to escape the crowds and discover the real Greece, add these pristine Greek islands to your bucket list.
With crumbling white villages and a Venetian castle perched atop a mountain overlooking striking blue waters, this butterfly-shaped island is a dream. Although there are tourist facilities, Astypalea isn’t the most modern of destinations, so expect a true escape: relaxation, rest and a taste of slow Greek living.
Don’t miss: An excursion to the traditional windmills in the village of Chora.
Getting here: Flights on Sky Express run between Astypalaia Island Airport (JTY) and Athens (ATH).
Without the noise and pollution of scooters and cars, it’s no surprise that Hydra has a reputation for being a retreat for creatives like musicians, writers, actors and artists. Head here to enjoy the tranquil sea views and the iconic, boxy architecture that inspired Greek artist Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika’s cubist style. The Athens-born artist once had a villa on the island.
Don’t miss: Wandering around the many art galleries.
Getting here: Catch the ferry from Athens, or book a helicopter to Kivotos and then take a five-minute sea taxi transfer to Hydra.
As the largest Greek island, Crete is probably an island you’ve already heard of. While the north of the island sees plenty of tourism, exploring the southern part of the island is a real adventure. Pass through the rocky gorges of the White Mountains to reach quiet villages and deserted beaches. History buffs have to visit the Palace of Knossos, an archaeological site some think may be Europe’s oldest city.
Don’t miss: Exploring the winding, bougainvillea-lined streets of Chania or watching the sunset at Elafonisi Beach.
Getting here: Fly into Heraklion International Airport (HER) from European hubs like Milan (MXP), Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG), Paris-Orly (ORY), London-Gatwick (LGW); or fly into Chania Airport (CHQ) from London-Gatwick (LGW), London-Stansted (STN), Lyon (LYS) and Nice (NCE) on EasyJet.
Naxos is romantic destination ideal for honeymooners. Think: long hikes with your significant other, getting lost in the winding alleyways of the villages and continuing along dusty trails. At the end, you’ll be rewarded with expansive sea views and, if you head to the southwest coast, a never-ending stretch of sandy beach. Windsurfers and kitesurfers should hit the west coast in the afternoons when the winds blow in.
Don’t miss: Seeing the sanctuary of Dionysus, the god of wine, or a sunset from the Temple of Apollo.
Getting here: Fly to Mykonos (JMK) on EasyJet, Vueling or British Airways from a variety of European hubs, then ferry over to Naxos. You can also fly from Athens (ATH), or take the ferry from Athens or other islands like Amorgos or Santorini.
With just 12 square miles of land, Folegandros is tiny. In fact, it’s hard to imagine sunsets so magnificent can be seen from such a small spot on the map. Be prepared to visit hidden beach coves by donkey or boat — the only way reaching some of the best spots. This sleepy island is reminiscent of Santorini, but without the pricey glamor and overtourism. However, you don’t have to forgo all the comforts of home — you can stay at an SPG Design property, like the Anemi Hotel.
Don’t miss: Zigzagging up the mountain to see the Panagia Church at sunset.
Getting here: Fly to Santorini (JTR) on EasyJet, British Airways, Thomas Cook or Aegean and then ferry over to Folegandros. You can also ferry from Athens, but the trip can take up to six hours and you may encounter rough seas.
Make sure to look up from your iPhone when your ferry pulls into Symi and the colorful Gialos Harbor. If it seems similar to Italy’s Amalfi Coast, that’s because the neoclassical style was actually created by the Italians, so the island sports a more bold, Italian Riviera-style rather than the whitewashed Santorini look. The best beaches are reached by boat, and you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for seals in the surrounding waters. Just be sure to get an early start, before the day-trippers from Rhodes flock to Symi.
Don’t miss: Climbing the Kali Strata, a set of 500 steps that runs through Symi’s main village.
Getting here: Fly to Rhodes (RHO) from various European hubs on airlines like Jet2, Eurowings, EasyJet, Ryanair or Condor and then take a ferry to Symi.
7. Zakynthos (also known as Zante)
One of the greenest Greek Islands, this destination is primarily known for its stunning landscape, which also includes some fabulous beaches. The most noteworthy is Shipwreck Beach (also known as Navagio Beach), featuring a rusted shipwreck washed up on the white sands and framed by towering, rocky cliffs that plunge into the Ionian Sea. These waters are home to many sea turtles, which you can spot snorkeling at Gerakas Beach or at Zakynthos National Marine Park.
Don’t miss: Heading out to the Keri cliffs in the south of the island. You can even take a boat out to visit the Keri caves.
Getting here: Fly to Zakynthos Airport (ZTH) from Athens (ATH) or take a ferry from Peloponnese. EasyJet also offers flights to ZTH from European cities like Milan, Liverpool and London.
Known as Greece’s holy island, travelers interested in religious history should visit the Cave of the Apocalypse — this is where John of Patmos supposedly wrote the Book of Revelation. Patmos’ charm goes beyond its historic and religious sites, though the volcanic landscape does add to the quiet spirituality of the island. Small, hidden beach coves can be found around the island, as well as traditional taverns that serve Greek fare for extremely affordable prices.
Don’t miss: Hiking to the top of the hill to visit the Monastery of St. John — the views alone are worth it.
Getting here: It really feels like Patmos is off the beaten path, because it is! Expect to take an eight-hour ferry from Athens to reach this holy paradise. Or, fly to Kos (KGS) from several European hubs on EasyJet, Thomas Cook, Condor or Jet2, and take a ferry from there.
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