As far as ultimate holiday destinations go, it’s hard to go past the Greek Islands.
The beaches are world-class, the food is beyond delicious, the history is rich and the people are warm. And yet, recommending one Greek Island – let alone an itinerary – can be tricky. It’s highly subjective. Some people love the beach; others prefer the mountains. You may want to fill your days visiting museums, while your partner is already asleep at the thought of it. There are night owls and there are morning people… you get the picture.
The key to finding the right Greek island is knowing what you like and where you can find it. Then it’s just a matter of booking your trip.
If you’re seeking adventure, check out Naxos
Naxos is the largest island within the Cyclades – and is also the windiest! Thanks to a strong northerly wind (known as Meltemi), the summer months see this island become a playground for kite- and windsurfers. The most popular beach to get your adrenaline pumping is Mikra Vigla on the southwest of the island, but areas like Laguna, Agios Georgios, Agios Prokopios, and Plaka all offer lessons and equipment to hire.
If you’re looking for the perfect sunset, Santorini (obviously)
You’ve heard it, I’ve heard it and the two million tourists who travel there each year have heard it: Santorini has the best sunsets. And while it may be tempting to bypass Santorini for something less touristy, don’t. This is a bucket list item that’s worth the crowds. The most popular (and arguably the best) place to experience the sunset is in Oia, on the northern tip of the island. If you go here you’ll want to arrive an hour or two early and be prepared for many tourists and many selfie-sticks. My preferred viewing location is in Fira – Santorini’s capital. The caldera here has equally impressive views and slightly fewer people.
If you want to party, look no further than Mykonos
Just like Santorini, Mykonos isn’t exactly a secret. And for good reason: the food is incredible, the beaches are pristine and it is, unashamedly, The Party Island. However you like to party – lounging at a beach bar, enjoying drinks with a view, or dancing on a table at 3am – you will find it in Mykonos. The options are endless but for a first-timer I’d suggest Scorpios for an incredible beach bar, The Scandinavian Bar for a mixture of bar and nightclub, and Scarpa for incredible cocktails.
If you love architecture, get yourself to Syros
The Cyclades Islands are known for quintessential Greek architecture – think white walls, blue domes and windmills. And Syros, the capital of the Cyclades, has all of this and more. The reason Syros is such a treat for lovers of architecture is the mixture of styles on offer: Cycladic, medieval and neo-classical. If this sounds up your alley, don’t miss the city’s Town Hall, which is located near the port of Hermoupolis at Miaouli Square. Be prepared to spend a whole day here. Not only is this building one of the most impressive town halls in Greece, but it is also home to the Archaeological Museum of Syros.
If you want to relax on the best beach on earth, visit Kefalonia
I’m always a bit wary of these recommendations. One person’s ‘Best Beach’ will have another asking “Where are the day-beds?”. But I proceed with a recommendation nonetheless: Myrtos Beach in Kefalonia. To me, what makes Myrtos special is the dramatic scenery surrounding it; it’s a little cove nestled at the base of two mountains. My advice is to go early to avoid the afternoon crowds and take some good beach shoes – like many beaches in Greece, what appears to be white sand is actually white pebbles.
If you’re into food, head to Sifnos
Sifnos is famous for having some of the finest food in Greece. The sleepy streets are filled with the scent of freshly baked pastries, the local restaurants lovingly prepare traditional slow-cooked stews, and the fishing villages will have you eating the freshest fish you’ve ever tasted. For a range of local bakeries and traditional restaurants, head to the main towns of Kastro, Artemonas, or Apollonia. You can’t go wrong.
If crowds fill you with dread, seek shelter in Folegandros
Let me begin by saying, if big crowds spike your heart rate, you may want to avoid any Greek Island in the summer months. But even if you do travel in peak season, it’s possible to find pockets of calm. My tip is Folegandros – a small island that, due to being a little out of the way, tends to be a quieter option. Take some time out and get lost wandering the streets of Chora; this little town has no cars or motorcycles, which make it perfect for exploring.
If you want to take a step back in time, Corfu’s the place (and also Santorini!)
There is no shortage of incredible history in Greece, which makes it hard to suggest just one island. So I’ve gone with two. First up is Corfu, thanks to its UNESCO-listed Old Town. Begin your visit at the old fortress and then immerse yourself in the rich history by exploring the old town’s beautiful streets.
Santorini also gets a mention because it is home to Akrotiri, a prehistoric settlement that was covered in ash following a volcanic eruption. Walking into the archaeological site is breathtaking and is an absolute must for history lovers. And anyone really.
Now that you’ve found your perfect island (or islands), you need to plan how you’ll get there. Intrepid runs some great sailing tours around the Cyclades islands and Ionian Islands. Let the adventure begin!