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The nation of Greece is made up of approximately 1,400 islands (230 of them inhabited), which are dotted with historic sites, excellent eateries and some of the most gorgeous beaches in the Mediterranean. These exotic islands lure thousands of tourists each year with their postcard-perfect views and outdoor adventures, but with so many islands to choose from, trip planning can be a challenge. These are the essential Greek islands to visit for all kinds of travelers and a little bit about each unique and awe-inspiring destination.
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Mykonos is a cosmopolitan and picturesque destination in Greece with winding streets lined with unique boutique shops, art galleries, and authentic restaurants. Stroll the streets of Mykonos to experience the very best of traditional Greek architectural character. Popular with A-list celebrities, Mykonos often comes up when discussing the best nightlife scene in Greece. You can kick off your evening with seaside drinks at sunset before checking out the nightclubs, where the crowds pack in later at night.
Crete is one of the largest islands in Greece, and it’s also densely populated. This is a convenient place to find a variety of hotels, restaurants and shops without having to travel too far. However, Crete is also a great place for nature-lovers since it’s easy to access mountain climbing, horseback riding, and hiking trails in this area. With lots of historical and architectural sites and top restaurants as well, Crete has a little bit of everything and is an excellent stop for first-time travelers to Greece.
Santorini is one of the most photographed destinations in the Greek islands because of its dramatic landscapes and beautiful sunsets. The streets in Santorini are carved into a high cliff that overlooks the site of an ancient volcanic eruption. This is one of the most popular and crowded tourist destinations in the Greek islands, and it enjoys an exciting nightlife scene as well. Make sure to visit the Red Beach, which seems to resemble the landscape of the planet Mars, and the towering rock structures at Eros Beach.
The Greek islands certainly have no shortage of beaches, but some of the very best are located along the shores of Milos. The beaches here are incredibly diverse because some have white sand, some have black sand, some have shells, and others are rocky and jagged. There are dozens of beaches in Milos, and many of these are only accessible by boat. Make sure to check out Sarakiniko, Paliochori, Tzigrado, and Papafragas beaches to get a sampling of what Milos has to offer.
To experience true Greek village life, head to Naxos, the largest island in the Cyclades. There are 46 villages on Naxos of varying sizes, and each one has a village square and either a bakery or café to check out. You’ll find lots of sheep, goats, cattle, gardens, and farms in Naxos, and the southwest facing coast is the biggest draw for tourists. Sample some locally-made jams and crepes before setting off on a hiking adventure to the Routsouna waterfall.
Visit Hydra to see the enviable stone mansions that overlook the harbor and enjoy an unspoiled authentic Greek visit. Many donkeys still roam the streets of Hydra, and the island’s quaint charm isn’t ruined by hordes of tourists. This is a great place to find a quiet and authentic dinner and chat with some local residents. Although Hydra is not known for its beaches, it’s an ideal place for walking and hiking mapped scenic routes.
There are so many romantic spots throughout the Greek islands, but Folegandros is one of the best places for couples to honeymoon and celebrate their love. This island remains less crowded than many of the others, making it a peaceful escape in a picture-perfect setting. This is also a popular destination for artists and writers looking to gain a little creative inspiration.
Rhodes is a must-see destination for history buffs from all over the world. This Greek island is located near the Turkish border and has lots of historic sites including the Temple of Apollo, the Governor’s Palace, and the Acropolis of Lindos. You can find plenty of Turkish influence in Rhodes, as well as beach resorts and friendly local villages. You can also explore the Modern Museum of Greek Art and the Palace of the Grand Masters to learn more about the history of Rhodes.
Syros is a tiny island that is a little off the beaten path and has a little bit of everything. You can find relaxing beach resorts, local agricultural communities, a busy cosmopolitan capital, and historical ruins here. This is a great place to listen to traditional Greek music in public venues.
Filled with charming towns and cobblestone streets, Paros is a picturesque Greek island that has many ferry connections to other islands in the area. This is also a great place to experience the nightlife scene since there are plenty of bars and nightclubs near the beach. You can find crowded popular beaches, remote peaceful beaches, and even windsurfing competitions along these shores. Paros is well known in the Greek islands for its constant wind that is perfect for windsurfing and kiteboarding. The winds are most intense in July and August, and the popular water sport areas are Pounda, Golden Beach, and New Golden Beach.
Ikaria is another Greek island that is perfect for the nature-lover in your travel group. Most of the island is made up of a towering mountain that has surprising geographic diversity. While hiking in this area, you’ll enjoy natural landscapes of forests, rivers, lakes, and farmland. Local experts have written hiking guides around Ikaria and suggest that weary hikers soak their sore muscles in the healing mineral waters of Therma.