The Greek islands are a magical blend of beautiful beaches, diverse countryside, rich history, and delicious food. The Aegean islands are situated in the Aegean Sea, with mainland Greece to their north and west, Turkey to their east, and the large island of Crete to the south.
Most of the Aegean islands are Greek, and the others are Turkish. The islands are divided into groups such as the Cyclades and the Saronic groups. Each island has its own distinctive character, and while some have their own airport and get extremely popular during the summer months, others are more “off the beaten track” as they must be reached by boat from other islands and consequently remain quieter even in the peak season.
The best news is that there is definitely an Aegean Island that will suit you perfectly. So let’s get to know the islands of the Aegean and find out what are our top picks. Spoiler alert: they are lesser known, small island gems that will surprise you in the best way possible.
See the Aegean Islands on the map.
What are the Aegean Islands of Greece?
There are over 1,400 Aegean islands large and small, one more beautiful than the next. Before deciding which ones to explore on your next trip, get to know your island groups:
North-eastern Aegean Islands:
Saronic Islands (A small group close to Athens):
Cyclades (Large group, southeast of mainland Greece):
Sporades Islands (meaning “scattered”):
The two largest Aegean islands that do not belong to an island group are:
Best Aegean Islands to put on your bucket list:
The best Aegean Island is the beautiful Karpathos, the second largest in the Dodecanese located just a one-hour domestic flight from Athens. For those who prefer traveling at a more leisurely pace, there are ferries arriving at the island’s main port of Pigardia from the Athenian port of Piraeus.
Karpathos is an island of contrasts with tree-lined mountain slopes, gorgeous sandy beaches, and lovely traditional villages with lively tavernas serving excellent island cuisine – which includes delicious dishes slow-baked in wood-fired ovens. There is the island’s Manouli cheese to sample, which is impressively good, and the wines from the villages of Othos and Volada. Apella, the island’s best beach, is lined by pine trees and has pale golden sand and clear azure water – perfect for snorkeling.There are many similar beaches with sunbeds and parasols and a gently shelving seabed that makes them ideal for children. If you prefer to enjoy some water sports, there is good windsurfing at Markis Gialos and kite surfing at Agrilaopotamos. The island is also gaining popularity with hikers and climbers.
Visiting the island’s villages is fun, and one of the most enchanting is Olympus where time really has stood still! The villagers can still be seen wearing their traditional costumes and sitting in groups in the shade, chatting away as they embroider, while the men are in their workshops crafting musical instruments.
Olympos is known for its row of windmills which are a particularly good vantage point for watching the sun set. At 500m, Othos is the highest village on the island with great views and a traditional village house to view. There are various boat trips to enjoy, including one to the isolated islet of Saria which is a Natura-2000 protected area.
The butterfly-shaped Dodecanese island of Astypalea is the perfect place for a relaxing holiday with beautiful beaches, snowy white cubic buildings, great boat trips, and leisurely meals that can last the whole evening. The island has two distinct halves that are joined by a narrow stretch of land less than 100 meters in width. The western part of the island is known as Mesa Nisi, meaning ‘inner island’, and the eastern part is Exo Nisi, ‘outer island’.
Chora, the pretty main town, is perched on a rock and has a Venetian castle that overlooks the traditional port of Pera Gialos. There are numerous winding streets with flower-filled balconies and little shops to explore. From Pera Gialos, there are many different boat trips to remote beaches like Koutsomitis and Kounoupes that are two islets joined by a sandy strip. Visiting Drakos cave by boat is also fun as there are impressive stalagmite and stalactite formations.
Immersing yourself in island life is great, and discovering the local cuisine is definitely an important part! There is lambriano as a main dish to try, which is stuffed and roasted goat, lentil-based arntista, and poungia (little phyllo pastry pockets filled with cheese). Lambrokouloura are delicious biscuits that are flavored with locally produced saffron. The dish that is truly irresistible is xirotigana, which are fried dough rings drizzled with local wildflower honey.
Skiathos is part of the Sporades archipelago of islands in the north-west Aegean. This small island is known for its lovely beaches, beautiful pine woods, and also for its racy nightlife! Skiathos Town is the main town with a delightful old harbor fringed by bars and restaurants with tables spilling onto the pavements. Between the town and the island’s airport, there are numerous waterfront clubs for sitting, relaxing with a cocktail, or dancing until breakfast.
The island has great beaches, and for those who want to do more than stretch out on the sand, the beaches on the southern coast offer a variety of water sports too – including banana rides, paragliding, and water skiing. If you love scuba diving, Skiathos is ideal as it has underwater caves and reefs to explore. There are sea caves on the northern coast that can be visited on a boat trip.
It is a great island if you like trekking as it is criss-crossed by ancient pathways that take you to secluded beaches, monasteries, and hilltop villages. There are also monasteries, castles, and museums to visit, so there is rarely a dull moment on Skiathos.
Located just two hours from Athens by ferry, the Saronic island of Hydra has been a haven for writers and artists – including Leonard Cohen – since the 1950s and more recently, with many A-Listers, earning it the nickname of ‘the St Tropez of Greece’.
The main town is elegant with large merchants’ houses and cobbled streets that tumble down the hillside to the Old Port. Everything can be explored peacefully and easily as all motor vehicles are prohibited on this idyllic island, and the main mode of transport is donkey!
In the 18th century, it became an affluent island as its commercial fleet traded with countries far and wide. The perfect way to explore the island is either on foot or horseback, and there are plenty of opportunities to do this. There are 300 churches and six monasteries, but the most important is the Monastery of the Assumption of Virgin Mary in the center of the harbor in the main town.
There are several museums to visit and the beautiful fishing village like Kamini. Rafalia’s Pharmacy is one of the oldest in Greece and exactly how it has always been, with scores of jars and bottles for all types of medication, stored on large wooden shelves – amazing to see! The island has numerous beaches for lazy moments, and the Sunset Restaurant in Kamini is definitely the place to be as the sun starts to sink in the sky.
This lovely island in the western Aegean (close to Skiathos) is never going to be the same since it was revealed to the world in the ABBA movie Mamma Mia! There is no airport on the island, so a ferry from Thessaloniki or another Greek Island is the only way to reach it.
The island has two main towns; its capital is Skopelos Town (known as Chora), and the second main town is Glossa near the harbor of Loutraki. Both towns have distinctive red-roofed buildings. Chora has steep narrow streets and countless pomegranate trees! At the top of the town is the Venetian castle (Kastro), and it’s worth the climb for the view.The island is one of the greenest Greek islands because its interior is forested. Amongst its many attractions are more than 100 churches, and of course, the one everyone wants to see is Ayios Ioannis Kastri – the ‘Mamma Mia church’! Another popular place to visit is Sendoukia, which is situated in the middle of the island, close to its highest point. Sendoukia is said to be the ancient graves of three pirates.
For relaxing days, there are lovely beaches – but they are all pebbled, which is great if you don’t like sand getting everywhere! With no sand, the waters around the island are crystal clear and ideal for diving and snorkeling, and there are boat trips to other islands with the chance of seeing dolphins, seals, turtles, and whales.Like all islands, Skopelos has its foodie specialty, and this is Skopelos Pie, which is a light batter swirl filled with cheese and spinach.
While we have focused on some of the lesser-known islands of the Aegean, of course, there are the popular islands of Crete, Kos, and Rhodes to consider as well as the favorite islands in the Cyclades group such as Santorini, Mykonos, and Paros. It really can be hard to make a choice when there are so many lovely islands to visit – no wonder so many visitors opt to island hop!
This article originally appeared on My Dolce Casa and was syndicated by MediaFeed.
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