INSIDE: The only guide to the Greek Islands you’ll ever need. From how to get there and when to go to the best Greek island for you. It’s everything you ever wanted to know about the Greek Islands (plus one thing you probably didn’t!).
Table of contents
- INSIDE: The only guide to the Greek Islands you’ll ever need. From how to get there and when to go to the best Greek island for you. It’s everything you ever wanted to know about the Greek Islands (plus one thing you probably didn’t!).
- Why visit Greece & the Greek Islands?
- What’s it like to visit Greece right now?
- Is Greece open for tourism?
- What are the current entry requirements for Greece?
- Do I need a Covid test to enter Greece?
- I’m fully vaccinated, do I still need a Covid test to enter Greece?
- Will my US vaccine card be accepted in Greece?
- Can I get a Covid test in Greece for my return flight to the US?
- Will I have to wear a mask while visiting Greece?
- First Stop: Athens
- Best time to visit the Greek Islands
- How to get from Athens to the Greek Islands – Flight or Ferry?
- Island Hopping in Greece – Flights or Ferries?
- Best Greek Islands to Visit
- The best Greek Island for you?
- Best Things to Eat, Drink & Buy in the Greek Islands
- Greek Islands FAQ – What to know before you go!
Why visit Greece & the Greek Islands?
Oh, where to start?
Let’s start at the beginning. The beginning of western civilization, that is.
The Greek capital of Athens is, of course, considered the cradle of western civilization. With a recorded history dating back 3,400 years, Athens was the heart of ancient philosophy, literature and even architecture. The well-preserved ancient sites in Greece are a true marvel.
In fact, Greece is home to a whopping 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Many of those are scattered across the Greek Islands, like the Palace of Knossos on Crete and the island of Delos (birthplace of Apollo) in the Cyclades.
But there’s so much more to Greece than just incredible historic sites. From crystal-clear waters and pristine beaches to rugged mountains and dramatic cliffs, Greece is simply a brilliant destination. The Greek culture is rich and vibrant and the people are warm and welcoming. And there’s no better way to experience the true beauty of Greece than with a trip to the magical Greek Islands.
But I’m probably biased…
The Greek island of Mykonos was the first place I ever traveled overseas. (Let’s just say it was a LONG time ago.)
I was instantly smitten. And that one trip inspired a lifetime of wanderlust. Now, with 10 round-the-world trips and more than 175 countries under my belt, the Greek Islands still rank as one of my Top 3 absolute favorite places in the world (the other two are Thailand and Italy).
There are just so many beautiful islands to explore!
Somewhere around 6,000 in fact, though less than 200 are actually inhabited. Since that first trip to Mykonos, I’ve returned to Greece more than 20 times, yet I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.
So, if you’re planning your very first trip to the Greek Islands (or just your first trip during a worldwide pandemic), here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know.
And at least one thing you probably didn’t – but I’ll get to that later! (If you truly can’t wait, jump to the FAQ.)
What’s it like to visit Greece right now?
My husband and I just returned from a 2-week trip around the Greek Islands. We visited 6 islands within the Dodecanese and Cyclades island groups. I can honestly say it was absolutely fantastic. Perhaps the best trip I’ve ever taken to Greece.
Why? Because there’s hardly anyone there!
Yes, tourists are slowly trickling back. But with cruise ships and most group tours still on hiatus, you’ll have no crowds to fight. Even on popular Santorini, the crowds were probably half what they were on my last visit. For once, sunset in Oia wasn’t a full-contact sport…bliss!
Surely, that will change in the next few months, especially once the cruise ships resume. But right now is a fabulous time to visit Greece.
Is Greece open for tourism?
Yes! Greece reopened to international visitors (including those from the US) on May 14, 2021. Restaurants are open, hotels are open, and the Greek tourism industry is anxious and enthusiastic for visitors to return.
What are the current entry requirements for Greece?
It’s actually pretty simple, especially if you’re fully vaccinated.
All passengers on international flights arriving in Greece must show a negative molecular COVID-19 test (PCR) or proof of vaccination or recovery. Proof of recovery is defined as a positive test result in the past 2-9 months.
Arriving passengers may also be subject to random testing via rapid tests. However, when we arrived we did not notice anyone being selected for random testing.
All passengers on incoming international flights to Greece will also need to submit a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) one day before arrival (no later than 11:59pm on the day prior to your flight). The PLF generates a QR code that you’ll show on your phone when you enter the country, along with your test result, vaccination card, or proof of recovery. Only one PLF form is needed per family.
Note: Allow extra time for transfer flights or ferries from Athens to the Greek Islands. I would recommend a minimum of 2 hours for a connecting flight and 3 hours for a connecting ferry. The additional QR code and test/vaccination verification do slow the arrival process down a bit.
Do I need a Covid test to enter Greece?
Yes, unless you are fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 in the past 2-9 months. If not, you’ll need to obtain a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours prior to entry into Greece. Your test results will be verified by the airline at check-in. Children under 6 are exempt from the testing requirement.
You can find more info on the Greek Tourism Authority website.
I’m fully vaccinated, do I still need a Covid test to enter Greece?
No. You’ll just need to show your vaccination card when you check-in for your flight and again when you land in Greece and clear immigration.
Will my US vaccine card be accepted in Greece?
Yes, US CDC vaccination cards are accepted as proof of vaccination for entry into Greece. All vaccines currently being used in the United States are accepted (Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson + Johnson/Janssen).
Can I get a Covid test in Greece for my return flight to the US?
Yes, there are a few ways to go about this. You can arrange to be tested at your hotel (for a fee, of course). There is also a testing facility inside the Athens airport.
Aegean Airlines offers a testing option with testing centers in Athens, Rhodes, Mykonos, Crete, Corfu, and others (unfortunately not Santorini, but you can find more info on Santorini testing here). The cost is EUR 50 for a PCR test and EUR 20 for a rapid test. You’ll just need to show a confirmation number for at least one Aegean flight in Greece (international or domestic).
Check with your hotel in Greece as well, they can often provide info on the best local testing option.
Will I have to wear a mask while visiting Greece?
Yes and no. On airplanes, ferries and other indoor confined spaces, yes, you’ll still need to wear a mask. And technically, a mask is also still required outdoors.
However, in our recent experience on the islands, adherence to this rule varies widely by island. For example, on the Dodecanese islands of Rhodes and Symi, almost no one wore a mask outdoors and the policy was not enforced.
However, on Milos, Paros, Naxos, and Santorini (in the Cyclades), we saw a bit more mask-wearing outdoors. And our hotel clerk in Milos warned us that there was technically a EUR 150 fine for not wearing it (though he didn’t know of anyone who’d actually been fined). On those islands, we kept our masks handy walking around town and put them on any time social distancing wasn’t possible.
On our boat trip to Kleftiko in Milos, the crew wore masks for the entire journey but passengers were able to remove them and enjoy the day.
The bottom line? In our two weeks traveling around the Greek Islands, we were never told to put our masks on. (Of course, we wore them indoors or anywhere we were in close proximity to other people.) Honestly, it wasn’t that much of a hassle. And it’s a small price to pay to travel again.
But enough already about Covid protocols and entry requirements…let’s get back to the fun stuff!
First Stop: Athens
Though it’s tempting to head straight for the Greek Islands, the city of Athens is the gateway to the islands and where most international flights arrive. There are flights from Europe directly to the most popular islands like Santorini, Mykonos, Crete, and Rhodes. But it’s most likely you’ll be landing in Athens.
There’s plenty to see and do in Athens. And from a historic perspective, it’s an absolute treasure. You’ll definitely want to plan some time here either before or after your stay in the islands. Two days is generally sufficient but you can see a lot in just one.
Read More: How to Spend 24 Hours in Athens
Tip: Plan for a Sunday so you can catch the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Syntagma Square.
6 Things to do in Athens
Obviously, the Acropolis is the number one draw. But here are a few of my favorite things to do with a day or two in Athens:
- Acropolis – This famous ancient citadel towers over the city of Athens and includes a number of Classical landmarks like the Parthenon, The Propylea, and the Temple of Athena Nike. It’s a bit of a grueling hike on a hot day so wear comfortable shoes and bring water. Open daily, hours and ticket info can be found here.
- Plaka neighborhood – Stroll the delightful tree-lined streets of the Plaka. With oodles of restaurants, family-run shops, and cafes, it’s a great place to cool off after a visit to the Acropolis.
- The Changing of the Guard – Located at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Syntagma Square. There’s a small changing of the guard ceremony every hour on the hour. But the big official ceremony happens on Sundays at 11:00am and it’s well worth planning your day around.
- Panathenaic Stadium – Built for the 1896 Olympics, this U-shaped stadium is a modern replica of the Panathenaic Games in 330 BC. During the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, the stadium was the finish line for both the men’s and women’s marathons.
- The Temple of Olympian Zeus – Situated east of the Acropolis, there’s not much remaining of this once vast temple complex. But what’s left standing is still impressive enough to add to your day’s itinerary.
- Temple of Poseidon in Cape Sounion – If there’s extra time, don’t miss a day trip out to the coast to visit this gleaming white temple towering dramatically over the sea. Located 45 miles south of Athens, the temple boasts stunning views over nearby islands on a clear day.
Best time to visit the Greek Islands
The tourism “season” in the Greek Islands runs roughly from early April to mid-November. I’ve visited the islands just about every month of the year and for my money, the best times to visit are May and September/October.
During those shoulder season months, you’ll find lower hotel rates, better availability, and fewer crowds and cruise ships. And the weather is still amazing. Expect temps in the 70’s and cloudless sunny days.
Worst time to visit the Greek Islands
If you want to visit the Greek Islands at the most crowded and expensive time of year, visit in July or August. These are the most popular months for cruise ships and tour groups. Not to mention most of Europe goes on vacation in the month of August and many of them head straight to the Greek Islands thanks to direct, low-cost flights.
Can you visit the Greek Islands in the winter?
While many hotels and restaurants in the Greek Islands close in the winter months (from mid-November to late March), you can still visit most of the islands in the winter. Due to its mild climate and year-round infrastructure, Crete is a good choice for winter travel in Greece.
The quieter winter months are also a great time to have the historic sites of mainland Greece (like the Acropolis) all to yourself. Just keep in mind that flights and ferries are less frequent during the colder months.
How to get from Athens to the Greek Islands – Flight or Ferry?
From Athens, you have two options to get to your island destination – flight or ferry. Both are easy and affordable, so it’s really just a matter of preference.
Flights in Greece – Aegean Airlines & Olympic Airlines
Aegean Airlines is the flag carrier of Greece and the largest Greek airline. Though Olympic Airlines used to be a separate company, today it is 100% owned by Aegean, meaning both airlines are one and the same. It’s a bit confusing since they still maintain separate websites and aircraft branding. But you’ll find the exact same schedules and prices on both sites.
Ferries in Greece – The ports of Athens
Ferries in Greece are excellent and a lovely way to travel. From Athens, both large (slow) and small (fast) ferries depart for the islands from one of three ports:
- Piraeus – This is the largest port in Athens and offers the most ferry connections to the islands. It’s approximately 7 miles from downtown Athens (a 20-minute drive by taxi) and 31 miles from the airport (a 40-minute drive by taxi, cost EUR 50-70). There are also frequent bus connections from the airport (cost EUR 6, travel time is at least an hour). Piraeus is the best option if you’re already in the city.
- Rafina – The second largest port in Athens, Rafina is further from the city but only 10 miles from the airport. So it’s the most convenient port if you’re transferring directly from the airport to a ferry. A taxi from the airport costs EUR 25-35 and takes about 20 minutes. Or there’s a public bus (KTEL) that runs approximately every hour for EUR 3. The ride takes about 40 minutes.
- Lavrio – The smallest of the three ports, you’re less likely to utilize Lavrio but there are some ferry options from here. It’s also the farthest from both the city and the airport. A taxi from the airport costs approximately EUR 55-75.
Note: All drive times are estimated assuming no traffic. That’s almost never the case in Athens so be sure to give yourself plenty of time.
Tip: FerryHopper.com is the best site for searching itineraries and booking ferries within Greece.
Ferries in Greece – Big & Slow vs. Small & Fast
There are dozens of ferry companies operating in Greece but primarily, you’ll be making a decision between a large, slow car ferry (like Blue Star) or a smaller, fast ferry (like Seajets). Let’s compare the two:
Blue Star Ferries
The Blue Star ferries are ubiquitous within Greece, they’re the workhorses of the Greek Islands. Blue Star can get you just about anywhere you want to go for an affordable price. Their fleet consists mainly of large, cruise-ship-like ferries with tons of space and amenities including some with sleeping cabins for longer trips.
Blue Star ferries do offer WiFi onboard for a fee. It’s EUR 3 for 3 hours and the speed is decent (comparable to in-flight WiFi). It’s mostly open seating on the Blue Star ferries. But there are some areas with comfortable “airline-type” seating that can be reserved in advance.
Is it worth upgrading to business class on the Blue Star Ferries?
We upgraded on our recent trip between Naxos and Santorini on the Blue Star Delos and I think it was worth it. There were plenty of comfortable seats available in the cafe areas of the economy deck. But the business class tickets were a minimal increase in price and allowed access to a separate lounge/cafe area on the ferry with waiter service.
Seajets Fast Ferries
Seajets ferries serve the Cyclades and Crete with modern, high-speed vessels. Though the fast ferries are (obviously) a faster way to get from Athens to the islands, they’re not as reliable as big ferries like Blue Star since they are far more likely to cancel in high seas or winds. They can also be a rougher ride and typically cost 2 to 3 times the price of the big ferries.
On board, seats are pre-assigned at booking and there is a café, but no WiFi.
While you’re weighing the pros and cons of flight versus ferry and slow versus fast, there’s one more thing to consider.
How to avoid labor strikes (hint: you probably can’t)
Greece is notorious for labor strikes and they can often affect flights, ferries, taxis, and more at various times. I once landed in Athens after a 10-hour flight only to discover my connecting flight to Mykonos was canceled due to an airline strike. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to grab a seat on the next ferry from Piraeus.
A few years later, I had the same experience landing in Athens during a ferry strike. That time I had to book a last-minute flight (which was not cheap). So, let’s just say it’s probably easier and cheaper to switch to a last-minute ferry than a last-minute flight.
But the moral of this story is it’s a roll of the dice.
With one exception. You can always count on a labor strike every year on May 1st to commemorate May Day. Never, under any circumstances, book a flight or ferry within Greece on the first of May. It’s fine to be in Greece over that date, just don’t plan to travel around.
Island Hopping in Greece – Flights or Ferries?
Flights are definitely more expensive. But if you’re traveling from one island group to another (for example, from the Dodecanese to the Cyclades) flights make more sense since most ferries connect through Athens adding many hours to your travel time.
If you’re flying between islands, there’s a 90% chance you’ll also be connecting in Athens. Very few islands have direct inter-island flight connections. Though there are a few, like Crete to Rhodes.
The case for ferries
For me, if the ferry ride is less than 5 hours, I choose the ferry. It’s just less of a hassle than dealing with 3 airports. We actually ended up on a 7+ hour ferry ride between Milos and Paros on our recent trip (thanks to a fast ferry cancelation). And though I was dreading it, it turned out to be lovely! The time passed in flash and we got to see lots of pretty islands along the way.
Regardless of whether you choose a slow or fast ferry, don’t make any important plans on a ferry travel day (like an outbound flight at your arrival destination). Ferries are notoriously late due to weather or have last-minute schedule changes.
Best Greek Islands to Visit
So now we get to the good stuff. Which Greek Island to choose?
There’s no single answer. The best Greek Island for you totally depends on what you’re looking for in a holiday. The islands are grouped into “families” across two different seas (Aegean and Ionian) and they differ widely.
Best Greek Islands for Beaches
Nearly every Greek island has few terrific beaches. But for truly epic beaches, try these:
- Crete – When it comes to incredible beaches, it’s hard to top the pink sands of Elafonissi Beach or the blue lagoon of Balos
- Naxos – The island’s southwest coast is home to a string of empty, picturesque beaches like Aliko Beach
- Milos – The lunar landscape of Sarakiniko is the island’s most famous beach but Papafragas and Tsigrado are also postcard-perfect
- Kefalonia – Backed by steep limestone cliffs, Myrtos Beach is considered one of Greece’s best
- Lefkada – Due to its tropical-like turquoise waters, Lefkada is often called the “Caribbean of Greece”
- Zakynthos – Home to the iconic “Shipwreck Beach” that is forever immortalized in travel brochures for the Greek Islands
Best Greek Islands for Couples
For couples and honeymooners, one island gets all the love, but there are plenty of Greek islands perfect for romance:
- Santorini – The top choice for honeymooners around the world and with good reason, Santorini is a romance novel in island form
- Symi – Just far enough off the tourist radar, Symi’s pastel-hued harbor offers a sophisticated retreat for a romantic getaway
- Hydra – A favorite with yachties, this vehicle-free oasis is a relaxing escape just a 2-hour fast ferry ride from Athens
- Koufonisia – A favorite secret escape of Santorini residents, tiny Koufonisia charms with low-key beach bars and simple, tranquil accommodations
- Crete – From luxury, 5-star hotels to Venetian old towns like Chania and Rethymnon, there’s plenty to fall in love with on Crete
Best Greek Islands for Families
Truly, just about all of the Greek Islands are family-friendly. Even those known for nightlife, like Mykonos. Traveling with the whole family? Here are my top choices:
- Naxos – Known for its family-friendly atmosphere and great beach resorts
- Rhodes – The white-washed village of Lindos with its impressive Acropolis and shallow, clear waters makes a great home base
- Crete – Yep, still Crete. For a history lesson, explore Europe’s oldest civilization at Knossos, the CretAquarium is also a kid-friendly favorite
- Corfu – Especially the island’s north shore which offers warm, calm waters for swimming
The best Greek Island for you?
With more than 100 inhabited islands to choose from, I won’t attempt to cover them all.
Instead, I’ll focus on the islands I love the most and can personally recommend. Expect this list to grow in the coming years!
As Greece’s largest island, Crete is practically a country unto itself. There’s a good reason the diverse island of Crete made every “best” list above. 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.
The Dodecanese are actually closer to Turkey than Greece. 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 an Chios.
These two are my favorites (especially tiny Symi!):
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 the Lindos. 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).
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, it will literally take your breath away. 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.
The Cycladic Islands are what you picture in your mind when you think of Greece. White-washed villages, blue-domed churches, and spectacular beaches. The Cyclades are the most popular and most visited islands in Greece. The islands 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.
They’re also my favorite of the Greek island groups and the one I’ll focus on most here. Let’s dive in…
Legendary Santorini is Greece’s most popular (and most expensive) island to visit. And that popularity is well deserved, Santorini is simply stunning.
The island owes its dramatic beauty to one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history more than 3,000 years ago. The eruption created an enormous sunken caldera surrounded by gigantic cliffs. Atop those cliffs, beautiful villages are literally carved right into the rock.
Santorini caters to a sophisticated adult crowd making it perfect for a romantic getaway. It’s also world-famous for epic sunsets. And yes, it’s Greece’s most expensive island, but it’s worth it. But don’t worry, if you’re on a budget there are a few great affordable hotel options:
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.
Tip: If you’re planning a trip to Santorini, check out SantoriniDave.com. Full disclosure: Dave’s my brother-in-law. He also happens to be the most knowledgeable human on the planet when it comes to Santorini.
Oh, lovely Mykonos…how do I love thee? Enough to visit 7 times over the years (so far). As I mentioned earlier, Mykonos was the first trip I ever took overseas and 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.
Read More: Mykonos Greece, Glorious Greece
Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades islands and it’s a well-rounded choice for any traveler. 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.
The winding streets of Naxos Town (Hora) are a labyrinth of great shops and restaurants. You’ll find some of the freshest and best food on Naxos since the island still produces much of its own food (a rarity in the islands). Along the west coast, spend a day exploring the series of sandy, picturesque beaches each more lovely than the last. Don’t miss a trip to the island’s interior to visit the hilltop village of Chalki, the original capital of Naxos.
Paros & Antiparos
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. Don’t miss a day trip to tiny Antiparos, just a quick 10-minute ferry ride away.
Tip: If you’re dying to try one of those fancy hotels on Santorini with a private hot tub on the terrace but the $1000/night price (cough) was a bit too steep, you can find similar hotels on Paros (and Naxos) for a fraction of the price. This one was a dream our recent trip.
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! The island’s most photogenic beach is definitely 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.
Sporades Islands – The Mamma Mia Islands!
If you first fell in love with the idea of visiting the Greek Islands while watching this 2008 musical, the Sporades Islands are a must! Mamma Mia was filmed mostly on the island of Skopelos and you can book a tour to visit the various movie locations around the island. Skiathos is another great island to explore in the Sporades.
Wealthy Athenians favor the Saronic islands of Hydra and Spetses for their summer homes. While neither is known for great beaches, they do have beautiful bays for swimming. Nicknamed the “Hamptons of Athens” Spetses caters to a polished crowd while mountainous Hydra is a haven for artistic types.
Located off the western coast of Greece, the Ionian islands are more lush and green than the drier Aegean islands. This is the best island group to escape the winds of the Cyclades and Dodecanese. They include 7 primary islands: Corfu, Paxos (or Paxi), Lefkada, Ithaca, Kefalonia, Zakynthos, and Kythira.
The most sophisticated of the Ionian islands, 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 (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Bonus: If you’ve always wanted to visit Albania, a ferry from Corfu is the easiest way to do it.
Best Things to Eat, Drink & Buy in the Greek Islands
Greek cuisine epitomizes the fresh, bold flavors of the Mediterranean. Expect salty cheeses like feta, bright red sweet tomatoes, succulent lamb, and creamy tzatziki. Here are a few things to try:
- Gyros – Happiness in a pita. Tasty gyros are a quick, affordable lunchtime staple.
- Souvlaki – Whether pork, lamb, or chicken, these meat skewers are Greece’s best fast food.
- Horiatiki (Greek salad) – Loaded with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, onions and topped with feta. No lettuce required.
- Dolmadakia – Grape leaves stuffed with ground meat.
- Moussaka – The classic Greek dish is oven-baked with eggplant, potato, and a savory layer of bechamel on top.
- Pastitsio – The Greek version of lasagna and my all-time favorite Greek dish.
- Loukoumades – For a sweet treat, don’t miss these donut-like balls soaked in syrup or honey.
While Ouzo and Mythos are the most common drinks to try, Greece produces some pretty amazing wines. And different islands are known for their own specific concoctions.
- Ouzo – Greece’s most famous alcoholic beverage, Ouzo is a dry, anise-flavored aperitif. It’s meant to be enjoyed on a sunny afternoon or during happy hour. In a cafe, Ouzo is often served in tiny bottles along with a small bucket of ice and glasses for sipping. It’s also typically accompanied by a few small plates of “mezedes” (Greek tapas) like nuts, chips, or olives. Don’t shoot it unless you want an epic hangover. It’s more of a cultural experience.
- Mythos – This refreshing lager is Greece’s most popular local beer.
- Greek wines – Greek wines are produced throughout the islands but some of the best are made on Santorini. Don’t miss a glass of Assyrtiko, a crisp, citrusy, dry white wine.
- Raki (or Tsikoudia) – On Crete, it’s all about raki, the island’s most popular concoction. The strong, aromatic brandy is made from crushed grape skins. It’s nearly twice the potency of Ouzo and it’s definitely an acquired taste. Proceed with caution. Full disclosure: I’m not a fan. But there was a time I didn’t like Ouzo so maybe it grows on you.
- Kitron – Produced only on Naxos, kitron is a local lemon-flavored liqueur (think ouzo with lemons, or Greek limoncello). Either way, I’m a fan.
- Greek Coffee – A strong, aromatic Greek coffee is the perfect way to start your day. It’s served in small cups and meant to be sipped slowly while the grounds settle.
Shopping: Best Greek Souvenirs
- Greek Key jewelry – Dating back to the architecture and decorative arts from the Greek Empire, the Greek Key symbolizes eternity and unity. The shops of Greece make everything from bracelets and necklaces to rings and earrings with the symbol and it’s a nice memento from Greece.
- Mati or “Evil Eye” – You’ll spot the black, white, and blue circular eye symbol everywhere in Greece. Wearing or carrying the evil eye with you is said to bring good luck and guard against misfortune (Sign me up, I’ll take 3).
- Greek honey – The most common sweetener in Greece, you’ll miss it when you leave. Best take some home with you.
- Olive Oil – Nicknamed “liquid gold,” Greece produces some of the best olive oils in the world.
Greek Islands FAQ – What to know before you go!
And just to be sure I haven’t missed anything essential to your happiness and enjoyment in Greece, let’s wrap things up with a little Q&A!
On the major islands, yes and yes. The smaller and less touristy the island, the more cash you’ll probably. Greece’s currency is the Euro and ATMs are widely available. Most hotels, restaurants, and shops will accept credit cards (primarily Visa & Master Card). But for smaller shops, cafes, restaurants, and even some hotels cash is preferred. As a general rule of thumb, I pay for anything under EUR 50 with cash.
Though the national language is Greek, English is widely spoken throughout the islands. In general, the more touristy the island, the more English you’ll find. But, it’s fun to learn a few Greek words to drop into conversation. Start your day with a cheerful “kalimera!” (good morning) or “yasas” (hello). And “parakalo” (please and you’re welcome) and “efharisto” (thank you) are always appreciated.
The voltage in Greece is 230V, 50Hz frequency. For Americans with 120V (single voltage) devices, you’ll need a voltage converter (expensive and heavy). However, for dual voltage devices that can run on either 110V or 220V (the vast majority of cell phones, tablets, laptops, etc), all you’ll need is an adapter plug like this one that I carry. Note: Most hairdryers and styling devices are single voltage. Every hotel will have a hairdryer, leave that at home. If there’s a styling tool you can’t live without, invest in one that’s dual voltage before you go.
Remember earlier when I said there was one thing you probably didn’t want to know about Greece? This is it. The party line on this is that Greek sewage pipes are 2″ in diameter while the rest of the western world enjoys the luxury of 4″ pipes. Just about every Greek toilet has a sign instructing you not to place any paper in the toilet. So, the obvious follow-up question is, “Where the heck do you put the toilet paper?” There’s typically a small bin with a foot pedal and a lid (thank God) placed next to the toilet. I won’t sugarcoat it. It’s a little gross. But you get used to it. Which is proof that you truly can get used to anything. For emotional distress related to bathroom visits, I recommend Ouzo.
And there you have it!
Everything you ever wanted to know about planning a trip to the Greek Islands (but were afraid to ask). After a mostly stationary 2020, it’s time to get back out there and make up for lost time.
And there’s no better place to start than the Greek Islands!