Greek Islands Travel Guides and TipsPlan your island hopping the smart way
Which Greek Islands To Visit First?
Why are most people dreaming to visit only Santorini and Mykonos? There’s much more to Greek island hopping than spending one week in Mykonos, three days in Santorini, and perhaps another week in Crete before embarking on your flight back home. Greece holidays require more than a few days, that’s for sure. Even if you were to stick to the mainland, you can still visit some of the islands near Thessaloniki, for instance.
There are over 6000 Greek islands, out of which 227 are inhabited. Most of the Greek islands are located in the Aegean Sea and they are grouped in five clusters plus two distinct islands (Evia and Crete) that don’t belong to any group.
If you want an amazing off the beaten path Greek island hopping experience, you should try to find out more about smaller islands such as Kos, Kea, Milos, Amorgos, and Ios. You may also want to take a trip to Corfu to see the beautifully preserved Venetian town of Kerkira, the refreshing Achilleon Palace with its beautiful gardens and the Love Canal in Sidari.
If you want parties and nightlife, but you also want to visit several islands, consider adding to your bucket list some of the Greek islands that include Mikonos, namely the Cyclades.
If you’re keen on visiting Corfu, check out the Ionian Islands, as that’s the group Corfu belongs to.
Always plan your Greek island hopping with the ferry timetable and the map of Greece in front of you. Also, keep in mind that there are many Greek island with airports, so you might be able to fly between islands to save time.
Main Greek Islands Groups
The Greek islands are split in six main groups by geographic location:
- The Cyclades: Mikonos, Santorini, Syros, Sifnos, Serifos, Naxos, Paros, Antiparos, Delos, Amorgos, Milos, Folegandros, Sikinos, Tinos, Anafi, Andros, Ios, Kea, Kythnos, Kimolos, and several minor islands such as Donousa, Koufonisia, Makronisos, Schoinousa, Gyaros, Eschati and Irakelia. The Cyclades count about 220 islands, many of them uninhabited.
- The Sporades: there are only four inhabited islands in this group: Skiatos, Skopelos, Alonissos, Skyros, out of a total of 24 islands
- The Dodecanese: Rhodes, Kos, Kalymnos, Kastellorizo, Symi, Pserimos, Telendos, Karpathos, Tilos, Leros, Patmos, AstipaleaKassos, Halki, Nisyros, Lipsi, Agathonissi
- The Argo-Saronic or Saronic Islands: Aegina, Hydra, Dokos, Poros, Spetses, Salamis (Salamina), and Agistri (also known as Angistri or Agkistri)
- The Ionian Islands Group: Corfu, Zakynthos, Kefalonia, Lefkada, Paxi (Paxos), Kythira, Ithaki (Ithaca)
- The North Aegean Islands: Thassos, Levsos, Samos, Limnos, Chios, Samothrace, Ikaria
Some of the Greek islands aren’t included in any of the above mentioned groups. These islands are Crete and Evia.
Also, Gavdos, a beautiful Greek island located just below Crete, in the Lybian Sea, isn’t included in any of the above groups.
Now let’s see some details about each of the Greek islands groups mentioned above.
The Cyclades are the first to come to mind when thinking about Greek islands. Their characteristic architectural style, with white walls and blue roofs attracts millions of visitors from all over the world. The most known islands in this group are Santorini and Mykonos. Other lesser known ones are Amorgos, Anafi, Andros, Folegandros, Ios, Kea, Kythnos, Milos, Naxos, Paros, Sifnos, Serifos, Sikinos, Syros, and Tinos.
There are ferries from Piraeus going to most of these islands. One exception is Andros, which is connected by ferry to Rafina. The other exception is Kea, where you can get to by taking a ferry from Lavrion. Both Rafina and Lavrio are a short drive away from the Athens airport and they can be reached by KTEL bus or by taxi.
The Sporades are located in the Aegean Sea, along the east coast of Greece. There are 24 islands in this group, but only four of them are inhabited: Skiatos, Skopelos, Skiros and Alonissos.
Skiatos is the only island in the group that has an airport. It has daily flights from and to Athens, as well as some international ones. From Skiatos, you can get to the other Sporades islands by ferry.
Skopelos is famous because this is the shooting location of Mamma Mia, the famous movie featuring ABBA. This makes it appealing to many.
The Dodecanese Islands
This group includes the islands that are close to the Turkish coast. There are daily ferries from Piraeus going to Rhodes and stopping on several other islands along the way. The journey takes about 15 hours, so you may want to choose an overnight journey and book a cabin to get a good night rest.
If you want to save a day, you can fly to Rhodes from Athens. Once you get to Rhodes, take a ferry to another island or set your base here and explore the region. There are ferries that go to Marmaris, on the southwestern coast of Turkey.
The Saronic Islands
Aegina, Hydra and Poros are the most known islands in this group. They are located in the Aegean’s Saronic Gulf, at very short distance from the mainland. There are many boats getting here from Piraeus, as well as day trips offered by local tour agencies.
The Ionian Islands
These islands are off the west coast of Greece, in the Ionian Sea. This group consists of six islands: Corfu (Kerkira), Paxos (Paxi), Zante (Zakynthos), Lefkas (Lefkada), Kefalonia and Ithaca (Ithaki).
Corfu and Zakynthos have airports, so you can fly in from Athens. Lefkada is accessible by car or by bus, as it is almost connected to the mainland. You can reach the other islands by ferry. There are many day trips to Paxi from Corfu.
The North Aegean Islands
This group is located in the northern part of the Aegean Sea, and it includes Thassos, Lesvos, Chios and Samos, among many other small islands.
Thassos is only a short ferry ride away from the mainland. Levos has an airport and it is reachable from Athens, Thessaloniki, and some other cities in Europe.
Crete is the largest island of Greece. What makes it different than any other region of Greece is the cultural heritage that dates from the Minoan Empire, about 2000 years B.C.
Heraklion is the largest airport in Crete. There’s another smaller international airport in Chania. There are daily flights from Athens to both airports, but you may be able to get here directly from other cites in Europe. Don’t forget to check out low cost companies in Europe, as they have some very interesting options in terms of pricing and timetables.
You can also get to Crete by ferry. From Piraeus to Heraklion, the journey takes almost nine hours. Although the economy class ticket guarantees you a seat of your own, I strongly suggest that you book a cabin. The overnight ferry is full of people sleeping on two or three chairs, as well as on the floors.
Crete can offer you anything you may want from a vacation. You can hike, you can enjoy the sandy beaches, the swimming and the snorkeling, but you can also go on off-road adventures or explore the ancient vestiges and towns.
What Is the Easiest Greek Island to Get to From Athens?
Just one hour from Piraeus, Aegina is the easiest Greek island to reach from Athens. Kea is also one hour away from Athens by ferry. Boats to Kea depart from Lavrio.
Greek Islands Hopping Planning Tips
I’d encourage you to give up island hopping in favor of spending more time on one island. Nonetheless, if time doesn’t allow for that, you may have to visit groups of several islands during one trip. Even so, there are so many of them that a lifelong of vacations wouldn’t be enough to see them all. In order to visit more islands without giving up on leisure and fun, plan your trips in detail before you come to Greece.
First of all, think about the island you’d like to visit first and work your way up from there. If, for instance, you want to see Crete, you may choose to visit also Naxos and perhaps Mikonos during the same trip.
Consider the size of each island and the main objectives to visit, in order to assess the number of days to spend in each place.
Sometimes, you may find it more convenient to set base on one island and take day trips to the nearest others. To give you one example, you can spend a few days on Naxos and plan a one day trip to Mykonos without having to spend the night over there.
Consider flying between islands instead of taking a ferry. This isn’t always going to work, but you’ll find some interesting options.
If you go off-season, check the ferry schedules, in order to ensure you have the needed connections to hop from one island to the next on your specific dates.
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