Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Just about everyone has heard of popular Greek islands such as Santorini and Mykonos, with their images splashed across postcards, brochures, the Internet, and Greek tourism commercials. Of course, that’s why they’re far busier with some of the thickest tourist crowds and often incredibly pricey too. If you prefer something more tranquil where you’ll have opportunities for peaceful contemplation along with stunning scenery, consider one of the more off-the-beaten-track Greek islands instead. These are all well-worthy of your bucket list.
YOU'RE ALL SET!
Look out for our newsletters in your inbox soon.
Folegandros is just a short ferry ride from Santorini and features similar Cycladic architecture with whitewashed buildings splashed with colorful flowers and churches with brilliant blue domes, but it provides an entirely different kind of experience. The port is too small for those massive cruise ships, and there are no high-end boutiques, fine dining restaurants, or vehicle traffic. Parts of the island don’t even have electricity. It’s the place to go for unspoiled beaches with pristine white sands framed by crystal-clear cobalt waters, ideal for a secluded swim. Enjoy the bohemian feel while strolling narrow streets and alleyways that are like taking a walk through another time. Traditional tavernas offer tasty cuisine, often with local delights like homemade matsata.
Elafonisos is a tiny island that offers something very unique: the oldest-known submerged town in the world, Pavlopetri. It’s ideal for snorkeling with such good visibility there’s no mask needed. You’ll find one of the most photogenic beaches in the country here too, Simos, with soft white sands and water that ranges from aquamarine to sapphire, making it look as if it’s in the tropics. Elafonisos is all about a relaxed, laid-back escape, with friendly locals and plenty of peace and quiet as there are only about 600 residents.
Nestled between Crete and the Greek mainland, Kythira has long been a crossroads of sailors, merchants, and conquerors. The hillside capital is home to a Venetian castle that can be accessed by strolling the whitewashed lanes and you’ll find more than 30 beaches, spectacular waterfalls, and rugged gorges. It’s said to be the birthplace of the Goddess Aphrodite, and just like her, she’s bound to capture you with jaw-dropping beauty.
Ithaca is globally renowned as the mythical island of Odysseus. A small island, as soon as you set foot on it you’ll understand why he wanted to return quickly in Homer’s Odyssey. It’s surrounded by turquoise and emerald water, fringed with postcard-perfect beaches and secluded coves. There are family-run tavernas serving fresh-caught seafood and plenty of opportunities to chat with locals for a more authentic Greek island experience.
Situated just off the coast of Paros Island, Antiparos is a little-known gem, perfect for that “secret” island escape. Look forward to surreal blue lagoons and secluded beaches in an unspoiled Greek island paradise. While wandering the main street, you’ll notice that the shops aren’t the touristy kind with cheesy knickknacks and t-shirts, but high-quality, often unique items. The pristine streets, so clean you can comfortably walk barefoot, are also lined with tavernas, cafes and homemade ice-cream parlors,
Amorgos boasts unspoiled nature with over 600 different plant species. Many are used for the mouthwatering dishes served in the local restaurants and tavernas. Some have their own organic gardens for the ultimate farm-to-table dining experience. The diverse terrain includes hidden coves with crystal blue water for swimming, diving, snorkeling, and other water sports, along with mountains and caves. Despite its laid-back feel, there are plenty of things to do – just exploring the Chora, one of the prettiest in the Greek islands, makes for a lovely afternoon. There are surprises around every corner from an impressive monastery and picturesque churches to ancient relics.
While Greek artists discovered Serifos long ago, the island isn’t well-known outside of the country, with relatively few foreign tourists arriving. Chora, the main town, is a tumble of white-washed buildings that cling to the mountainside while the port town of Livadi is like the Greek island towns of old, ideal for sipping strong Greek coffee while chatting with some of the locals. Of course, there are plenty of beaches too, wonderfully clean and uncrowded.
There are no mega-resorts or anything of the kind on Koufonisia. Instead of umbrellas, the local Tamarisk trees are used for shade. There’s not even a need for a vehicle as everything can be reached on foot, including the island’s half-dozen beaches. It has a Bohemian vibe with visitors still camping on the beaches during the summer months while many of the 400 or so residents still make their living by fishing. Pori beach is an idyllic spot with white sands and pale blue waters, while the rocky islet of Keros is just offshore, an archaeological site where some 350 broken figures from 2500 BC were uncovered.
Despite its surreal beauty, Milos is a volcanic island that’s remained wonderfully unspoiled. The southernmost in the Cyclades, this is the spot where the famous Venus de Milo statue was discovered. The breathtaking shoreline includes over 75 beaches, with everything from pebbly and shell-covered to black and white sands, while striking chalk-white rock formations contrast stunningly against the sea, in shades that range from vibrant green and deep emerald to translucent blue. Milos also offers a rich history, whitewashed Cycladic villages, and friendly locals.
Paxos, also referred to as Paxoi, is a tiny island treasure just a few nautical miles from the southern shores of Corfu. One of the least commercialized of the Ionian Islands, it’s said to have been the hideaway for the god Poseidon and boasts a myriad of colors, from a surreal aquamarine sea to incredible beaches. Gaios, the port and capital, has a labyrinth of narrow streets with Venetian architecture and an enticing square for people watching. In the restaurants, you’ll often find high-quality Greek fare that has some Venetian influences from homemade souvlaki to pastas. It’s the kind of place where time moves slowly, ideal for sipping a beverage in a waterfront cafe, watching the local fishermen haul in their catch.
Kythnos is about as off the beaten path as it gets, a place that seems as if it’s from another time, where no one locks their doors and everyone seems to know each other. It’s an ideal island for an authentic experience but there’s another reason to come – natural hot springs. In fact, during the Middle Ages, it was called Thermia due to their presence. You’ll also find a cave with multicolored stalactites, the Panaghia (Virgin Mary) church with a miracle-working icon, gorgeous lakes, and exceptional culinary offerings.
Alonissos features rugged landscapes and is surrounded by smaller islands. Its waters are part of a National Maritime Park and a refuge for dolphins, rare seabirds, and the Mediterranean monk seal. The remote interior is a patchwork of olive groves, orchards, and pine trees, providing the perfect spot to immerse yourself in nature. The colors are arguably what makes it so magical, from the sea to the lush greenery, and even during the high season, it’s a peaceful place to be.
Ikaria is one of the world’s five Blue Zones, places where people live longer and healthier. It’s not all that surprising, because, with beauty like this, it’s very hard to leave. There’s a low-key, relaxed vibe that melts stress away, plenty of healthy local fare from abundant fresh fruit and vegetables, to fish and seafood. Farm-to-table was practically invented here. The history is colorful and the scenery to-die-for, with natural hot springs, rugged mountains, ancient forests, and amazing beaches like Nas, one of the most beautiful in the country. Messakti Beach hosts the Ikaria Surf School where you can book a surfing lesson or just relax at one of four beach bars.
Lipsi is one of the Dodecanese isles, tucked between Patmos and Leros. It’s one of the last bastions of Greece before reaching Turkey’s Turquoise Coast. There’s only one village here, with lots of blues and whites, while the interior is made up of eucalyptus- and olive grove-dotted hills. The beaches tend to be small stretches, with Platis Gialos and its many trees, or pebbly Hohlakoura, two of the most popular. From the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, enjoy breathtaking views along with traditional art and culture.