The 7 Best Greek Islands to Visit This Summer (2024)

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Ultimate Greek Islands Travel Guide

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Inside: The best Greek islands to visit whether you’re looking for epic beaches, history, amazing nightlife (or all of the above!).

With a backdrop of turquoise waters and pristine beaches, the Greek Islands are one of the world’s most incredible travel destinations. 

But there are SO many beautiful islands to explore! Somewhere around 6,000 in fact, though less than 200 are actually inhabitable. 

If you’re planning a visit to the Greek Islands this summer, you may have a terrible time deciding which island (or islands!) to visit. Not to worry, I can help! 

Ultimate Greek Islands Travel Guide

Planning a trip to Greece in 2024?

From the most spectacular beaches to the tastiest treats to try, here’s everything you need to know to plan your trip to the Greek Islands!

How to Choose a Greek Island

Choosing the perfect Greek island for your summer vacation boils down to what you’re after.

Do you want sun-soaked sandy beaches or vibrant nightlife? How about fascinating ancient ruins or a decadent culinary scene? With the Ionian and Aegean seas cradling islands like lively Mykonos, historic Rhodes, or serene Naxos, each island has something unique to offer. 

So, I hate to break it to you, but there’s no single answer to which Greek island is best.

The best Greek Island for you depends on what you enjoy on a holiday. The islands are grouped into “families” across two different seas (Aegean and Ionian) and they differ widely.

So first, let’s briefly get to know the island groups.

Get to Know the Greek Island Groups

Greece boasts several island groups, each with a unique vibe. Here are the primary island groups and the islands each group is best known for:

The Cyclades

Round the World Trip Greece
Santorini

The Cycladic Islands are what you picture in your mind when you think of Greece: white-washed villages, blue-domed churches, and spectacular beaches. These popular Aegean islands are the most visited islands in Greece. The Cyclades enjoy a solid tourist infrastructure and abundant flight and ferry connections.

Whether you’re looking for the perfect destination for a honeymoon, a family summer vacation, or an all-night party scene, you’ll find it in the Cyclades. This group’s main islands are Santorini, Mykonos, Naxos, and Paros.

Ionian Islands

Corfu Town Corfu Greece
Corfu Town

The Ionian Islands boast lush vegetation, dramatic coastlines, and a mix of Venetian, French, and British influences in their architecture. Dotting the Ionian Sea, they’re known for stunning beaches and a family-friendly atmosphere.

The most popular Ionian islands are Corfu, rich in history and great for history buffs; Kefalonia, famous for crystal-clear waters and the idyllic Myrtos Beach; and Zakynthos (Zante), home to the iconic Shipwreck Beach that you’ve no doubt seen in images of Greece.

Dodecanese

St Paul's Bay Lindos Rhodes
Rhodes

Located in the southeastern Aegean Sea (closer to Turkey than mainland Greece), the Dodecanese islands are known for medieval castles, ancient ruins, and sun-soaked beaches.

Though the name translates as “the twelve islands” there are actually 15 major islands and more than 100 other smaller islands. The most visited are Rhodes, Patmos, Kos, Symi, Samos, Tilos, Kalymnos, Leros, and Chios.

Saronic Islands

Close to Athens, the Saronic Islands are great for short trips and offer a mix of beautiful beaches, historical sites, and traditional architecture. Salamia is the largest island but wealthy Athenians favor the islands of Hydra and Spetses for their summer homes.

Nicknamed the “Hamptons of Athens” Spetses caters to a polished crowd. Hydra is known for its well-preserved architecture, the total absence of cars, and an artistic vibe. Aegina is famous for its Temple of Aphaia and pistachio groves. And Poros offers lush scenery, a charming town, and proximity to historic sites on the mainland.

Sporades

The Sporades group consists of 24 islands known for their lush landscapes, clear blue waters, and peaceful environment. The Sporades are perfect for nature lovers and a quieter getaway.

The island of Skiathos has a lively nightlife scene and some of the best beaches in the region. Skopelos is most famous as the filming location for “Mamma Mia!” And Alonissos, home to a marine park, is ideal for those seeking tranquility and natural beauty.

How to Get Around the Greek Islands – Flights or Ferries

The city of Athens is the gateway to the islands and where most international flights arrive. But there are flights from major European cities directly into the larger and most popular islands like Santorini, Mykonos, Crete, and Rhodes. These islands all have international airports. 

If you’re arriving in Greece via Athens, I know it’s tempting to head straight for the Greek Islands.

But before you depart Athens…

If this is your first trip to Greece, you absolutely must spend at least a few days exploring the city’s incredible historic sights. I know, I know, the Greek Islands are enticing. But Athens is literally the birthplace of Western civilization. And that’s pretty darn impressive. If time is short, here’s a foolproof one-day itinerary:

How to Spend 24 Hours in Athens

Within island groups, the islands are well-connected by regular ferry service and that’s the best way to get around. However, if you’re visiting two islands in different island groups, you’re typically better off flying. Most flights will have a connection in Athens but it’s still the fastest way to move between the island groups. 

Blue Star Delos Ferry Athens Paros
Blue Star Ferries, Greece

Of course, while flights can be more efficient, I love taking ferries in Greece. There’s just nothing like a scenic ferry ride across the mesmerizing Ionian or Aegean Sea. And it’s typically quite a bit cheaper than a flight.

My Top Ferry Tips

  • I avoid fast ferries like Seajets. They can be a rough ride (take your seasickness meds!) and are the first to be canceled due to high seas.
  • Instead, I prefer the big ferries like Blue Star Ferries. They are less expensive and more reliable.
  • Upgrade, upgrade, upgrade. Whenever possible, upgrade your ferry ticket to business class for a better experience at a reasonable upcharge.

Either way, booking tickets in advance is wise, particularly in the high-season months of June to August.

Tip: The absolute best site for booking ferries in Greece is FerryHopper.com.

Now that we’ve covered each island group and how to travel between islands, it’s time to talk about the best islands to visit in Greece. 

So let’s dive in…

The Best Greek Islands to Visit

Whether you’re looking for history, adventure, or tranquility, there’s a perfect island waiting for you in Greece. The summer months are the best time to visit the islands. But May to June and September to October are my favorite months. Avoid the high season months of July and August if you can. 

Here are my top picks for the best Greek islands to visit this summer.

1. Crete

Chania Crete Greece
Chania’s charming harbor, Crete

With luxury, 5-star hotels, and charming Venetian old towns like Chania and Rethymnon, there’s plenty to fall in love with on Crete. The largest Greek island, Crete is a mini-Greece by itself. If you only have time to visit one Greek Island but want to feel like you’ve seen them all, visit Crete. It’s also the best place to visit if you’re visiting Greece in the winter months since it doesn’t shut down for the season as many of the islands do.

From jaw-dropping pink beaches and endless turquoise seas to charming seaside villages and the outstanding archaeological site of Knossos, Crete truly has it all. Just be prepared to spend a lot of time in the car to see it all. The beautiful village of Chania makes an excellent home base to explore Greece’s largest island.

Where to Stay

Crete is a huge island with hotel options to suit any budget. Chania’s picturesque Venetian harbor and historic old town make it my favorite place to stay on the island. For the best hotels with a 5-star harbor view, these are my three favorites:

Best Things to Do

Read More: Things to Do in Crete Greece (Plus the Perfect 5-day Crete Itinerary)

2. Santorini

Oia Santorini Sunset Greece
The sunset view from Oia

The top choice for honeymooners around the world and with good reason, Santorini is a romance novel in island form. With breathtaking views, romantic sunsets, and luxury accommodations, I consider this the one island in Greece that should be on every Travel Bucket List. There’s just nothing else quite like it anywhere in the world. 

Legendary Santorini is not just Greece’s most popular island to visit, it’s also the most expensive, especially during the peak season months of July and August. The island’s popularity is well deserved, Santorini is simply stunning. While it’s not especially known for beaches, Santorini owes its dramatic beauty to one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history over 3,000 years ago. The eruption created an enormous sunken caldera surrounded by gigantic cliffs. Atop those cliffs, beautiful white-washed villages and churches with blue domes carved right into the rock.

Santorini caters to a sophisticated adult crowd so it’s perfect for a romantic getaway. It’s also world-famous for epic sunsets. Santorini is Greece’s most expensive island to visit, but it’s worth it. If you’re on a budget, plan to spend just a night or two and then move on to a more affordable island.

Where to Stay

Santorini is famous for 5-star luxury hotels, especially in picture-perfect Oia. But don’t worry. If you’re on a budget there are a few great affordable hotel options, too. When we visited for the first time on our Round-the-World honeymoon, Santorini’s most popular honeymoon hotels like Katikies Santorini and Charisma Suites were well beyond our budget since we were traveling for 3 months. 

Luckily, I discovered a great option in Imerovigli that turned out to be perfect for us, the Prekas Apartments. On a more recent trip, we also found another gem, Kasimatis by La Perla. A bit more expensive than Prekas, but it was still an affordable option (by Santorini standards) and our room had a hot tub on the terrace!

Best Things to Do

Santorini’s must-see highlights include:

  • Sunset in Oia: It’s an iconic experience, the sky painted in hues of orange and pink against the backdrop of whitewashed buildings and the Aegean Sea. However, it’s also the most popular thing to do on the island and can often be considered a full-contact spot, especially when cruise ships are in port. If you prefer your sunsets without a massive crowd, this Santorini Luxury Caldera Sunset Cruise is a great choice.
  • Hike the Volcano: We loved this 3-hour Santorini Volcano and Hot Springs Cruise Tour on our honeymoon. 
  • Visit the Red Sand Beach: Santorini isn’t known for great beaches but this is one of the island’s most unique.
  • Akrotiri: Visit the ancient Minoan settlement that was the inspiration behind Plato’s story of Atlantis. 

Read More: How to Plan the Perfect Santorini Honeymoon (on a budget!)

Bottom Line: If you’re headed to the Greek Islands, this is one island you absolutely can’t miss. Even if you only stay a night or two and move on.

3. Mykonos

Little Venice Mykonos
Sunset from Little Venice, Mykonos

Mykonos holds a special place in my heart and I will always consider it my favorite Greek island. Not only was it the first Greek island I ever visited (more than 20 years ago!) it was the first trip I ever took overseas. When I got my first glimpse of this beautiful island it was LOVE. AT. FIRST. SIGHT. 

From the well-preserved windmills that welcome you to the harbor to the magical sunsets from Little Venice, Mykonos is pure Greek island perfection.

Back in my single days, there was nothing better than a summertime girls’ trip to Mykonos. Beach all day, dance all night. Sleep. Eat. Repeat.

Of course, now that I’m a married lady, my travel tastes have changed a bit and I enjoy exploring the more laid-back Greek islands. But if you’re looking for a FUN island to visit with a tireless nightlife scene, pack your bags and head straight to Mykonos.

Where to Stay

My favorite place to stay on Mykonos is in the main town (Chora) at the lovely Marietta’s Apartments near the windmills. It’s budget-friendly and sparkling clean, and many of the rooms have incredible sunset views of the windmills. But if you prefer something on a gorgeous beach, I also like the Petasos Beach Resort and the Petinos Beach Hotel

Best Things to Do

  • Visit the Ancient Island Delos: This nearby island is the birthplace of Apollo and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s the island’s top day trip and the Mykonos Sail Cruise to Delos & Rhenia is the perfect way to visit and also enjoy a day on the water.
  • Soak up the sun at Mykonos’ renowned sandy beaches: From the family-friendly shores of Psarou and Platis Gialos to the lively beach bars of Super Paradise, there’s a perfect beach for everyone. 
  • Dance the Night Away: Legendary for its nightlife scene, Mykonos has everything from seaside nightclubs to late-night beach parties under the starlit sky. 

Read More: The Meaning of Mykonos: The Island That Inspired a Lifetime of Wanderlust

4. Naxos

Best Naxos Tours Greek Islands
Naxos

Known for its family-friendly vibe, this jewel in the Aegean Sea is a serene escape with a touch of ancient wonder. Its calm, pristine shores make it a great place for a family vacation. 

Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades islands and it gets my vote as one of the most well-rounded Greek islands to visit. There’s so much to see and do. From terrific Naxian cuisine to brilliant beaches to fascinating historic sites, Naxos has it all. The island’s west coast is home to a string of picturesque beaches like Plaka and Aliko Beach. 

Visitors to Naxos are greeted by the Portara, a massive marble doorway that is the only structure still standing from the unfinished Temple of Apollo. It’s one of the island’s top archaeological sites. The winding streets of Naxos Town (Hora) are a labyrinth of great shops and restaurants. Naxos is the best pick for foodies because the island still produces much of its own food (a rarity in the islands). 

Where to Stay

The best hotel in Naxos is the Naxos Rock Villas. Each villa here has a full kitchen and a huge terrace with a generous-sized private pool. 

In Naxos Town, the Grotta Signore Apartment is a fabulous choice. It’s right on the sea with Portara views and a short walk from shops and restaurants.

Near Plaka Beach, my favorite hotel options are the Seaside Naxos Holiday Villas and the budget-friendly Amodari Studios on the Beach.

Near Agios Prokopios Beach, I love the impeccably designed Virtu Suites. Or, for a more affordable beachfront option, the Liana Beach Hotel & Spa.

Best Things to Do

For more great tour ideas: 7 Best Naxos Tours for the Ultimate Greek Experience (2024)

Read More: 7 Reasons Naxos is the Best Greek Island (for Pretty Much Everything)

5. Paros & Antiparos

With vibrant beach bars and stunning beaches, Paros has a lively, cosmopolitan vibe. Just a 10-minute ferry ride away, sister island Antiparos is quiet and serene with unspoiled beaches and total tranquility. Together, they embody the very best of the Greek Isles. 

Ferries arrive at Paros’ main port town (Parikia), which isn’t quite as charming as its counterparts on Mykonos or Naxos. But the chic fishing village of Naoussa on the northern coast makes up for it. Naoussa is home to the island’s poshest seafood restaurants, hotels, and shops and it makes a great home base.

When it comes to beaches, Paros has plenty of great choices. The most unique is Kolymbithres with its fascinating rock formations. 

Read More: 5 Reasons to Fall in Love with Paros Greece (Hint: Antiparos is one)

Can’t Decide Between Naxos and Paros? I can help:

Greek Island Showdown: Naxos or Paros – Which one is BEST for You?

Where to Stay

I prefer the Naoussa area as a home base on Paros. The Parilio Hotel Paros is a stylish resort located between Naoussa and Kolymbithres Beach. It’s a great choice for couples or anyone looking for a little luxury on Paros. For a little more space, the Porto de Calma is a roomy sea-view 2-bedroom apartment in the heart of Naoussa. 

In Parika, the family-owned White Blossom Hotel has large, modern suites and apartments and is a great choice for families.

But my favorite hotel on Paros is the Anna Platanou Suites. Located near Pounda (ferry departure point for Antiparos), rooms here have spacious terraces with a hot tub that is actually private (unlike most hot tub suites on Santorini at twice the price). The sunset views from the hotel are stunning, the pool is a serene escape, and the staff is just delightful. 

Best Things to Do

  • Explore the best beaches of Antiparos: This 7-hour Antiparos & Despotiko full-day cruise from Paros is the most popular day trip on Paros. This sailing cruise visits several picture-perfect remote beaches on Antiparos and the nearby island of Despotiko. 
  • Dine and shop in Naoussa: Perched directly on the sea, Naoussa is home to the island’s poshest seafood restaurants, elegant cocktail bars, and trendy shops.
  • Discover the hilltop village of Lefkes: The original capital of Paros during the Middle Ages, Lefkes is one of the island’s loveliest villages. If you’re not up for driving yourself around the island, this Full-Day Paros Island Bus Tour is a great way to visit all of the island’s best sights (including Lefkes) in a single day.

For more great tour ideas: The 5 Best Paros Tours You Don’t Want to Miss (2024)

6. Milos

Milos Greece Sarakiniko
Sarakiniko Beach, Milos

One of Greece’s most up-and-coming destinations, tiny Milos has long been a favorite among Greeks themselves. But it’s slowly emerging on the tourism scene so go now, before everyone else does! With more than 70 unique beaches, Milos wows visitors with perhaps the most dramatic coastline in all of the Greek Islands.

The island’s most photogenic beach is Sarakiniko, which looks more like another planet than a typical sandy beach.

Don’t miss a boat trip out to Kleftiko, a cluster of white cliffs and rock formations with hidden caves to swim through. The lunar landscape of Sarakiniko is the island’s most famous beach but Papafragas and Tsigrado are also postcard-perfect and well worth a visit.

Where to Stay

The few hotels on Milos are primarily located in the main port town of Adamas, the hilltop capital of Plaka, or the seaside town of Pollonia. But there are also some located close to the popular beach areas. 

The best hotel on the island is the Cave Suites Milos. Located close to Sarakiniko Beach, this new hotel is a 5-star option in a sea of lovely 3-star hotels. The White Rock Milos Suites is located in Adamas town with plenty of shops and restaurants within a short walk. It’s a great choice for families with apartments as large as 3 bedrooms. My favorite budget hotel option is the Hotel Ippocampos Studios. Located just outside Adamas town, it has bright, spacious rooms and great sunset views. 

Best Things to Do

  • Explore the Sea Caves of Kleftiko: To truly appreciate the dramatic beauty of the coastline, a boat trip around the island is an absolute must. And a boat trip out to the sea caves of Kleftiko makes for a terrific afternoon. This 8-hour Small-Group Full-Day Cruise with Snorkelling and Lunch is my pick for the best way to see the best of the stunning coastline of Milos.
  • See Sarakiniko Beach: The island’s most iconic beach, a visit to Sarakiniko is a must. With vast white rock formations sliced by the turquoise Aegean Sea, the whole landscape is truly out of this world. For the adventurous, there are even a few good cliff-jumping spots nearby.
  • Visit the traditional fishing village of Klima: Milos is dotted with small, charismatic fishing villages but the largest and most iconic is Klima. The village is made up of colorful residences called “syrmata” dug right into the soft rock.

Read More: 5 Best Things to Do on Marvelous Milos Greece (2024)

7. Symi

Symi Greece
Symi, Greece

Just far enough off the tourist radar, Symi’s pastel-hued harbor is a sophisticated retreat for a romantic getaway. You can’t help but be charmed by the tranquil locals-only vibe on this beautiful island. It’s a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of nearby Rhodes. 

Accessible only by ferry, Symi is a popular day trip from Rhodes. But it’s well worth an overnight stay or more. When the ferry arrives in Symi’s pastel-colored harbor, you’ll want to stay forever. And while it lacks white sandy beaches, Symi’s colorful neoclassical beauty is a true gem. On the north side of the island, the Panormitis Monastery is one of Symi’s best sights.

Where to Stay

My favorite place to stay on Symi is the charming EOS Studios apartments run by delightful host, Sevasti. The apartments have plenty of space, a small kitchen, strong wifi, and a roomy terrace with a million-dollar view over the harbor.

Best Things to Do

  • Visit the Panormitis Monastery: Dedicated to Archangel Michael, the patron saint of seafaring Greeks, the Panormitis Monastery is considered one of the most beautiful in the Aegean Sea.
  • Take a Circle Island Boat Trip: The popular Poseidon boat trip visits some of Symi’s most beautiful coves including Agios Georgious Beach. Backed by a dramatic cliff making it completely inaccessible by land, this perfect little sliver of white sand is lapped by cerulean waters.

Read More: Sparkling Symi is the Best Greek Island You’ve Never Heard Of

Bonus Greek Islands Worth a Visit!

Rhodes

Rhodes is a classic Greek mix of beaches, historical sites, and nightlife. Rhodes Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with medieval fortresses connected by car-free cobbled streets. The island’s most scenic town is Lindos.

Lindos Acropolis Rhodes Greece
Acropolis – Lindos, Rhodes

The white-washed village is framed by a beautiful arc of sandy beach below and a dramatic Acropolis circa 300 BC above. Don’t miss a stop at the brilliant blue waters of St Paul’s Bay (which is best viewed from the Acropolis).

Read More: How to Make the Most of 24 Hours on the Greek Island of Rhodes

Corfu

Corfu is a great option for anyone seeking lush scenery complimented by exquisite Venetian architecture. Great for families, especially the island’s north shore which offers warm, calm waters for swimming.

The most sophisticated Ionian island, Corfu is a large island with great beaches and plenty to see and do. But Corfu’s best asset is the fabulous Venetian-influenced Corfu Old Town (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site).

Saranda Albania
Saranda, Albania from Corfu

Bonus: If you’ve always wanted to visit Albania, a ferry from Corfu is the easiest way to do it.

Read More: How to Visit the Albanian Riviera from the Greek Island of Corfu

Wrapping Up the Best Greek Islands

From the crystal-clear waters of the Aegean Sea to the rich history embedded in the ancient ruins, choosing the best Greek island to visit is a tough choice. But thanks to direct flights and frequent ferry service between islands, you don’t have to settle for just one. Why not visit at least two different islands on your visit to Greece?

So whether you’re after the quiet charm of a small island or the vibrant streets of a sophisticated nightlife scene, there’s a Greek island perfect for you.

Happy island-hopping!