My favorite Greek Islands are Santorini, Thassos, Rhodes, Crete, Corfu, Samothraki, and Naxos. In my honest opinion, these are the cream of the crop!
But to be fair, the Greek Islands in general are a dream place for many travelers seeking azure waters and sandy beaches. Winters are mild, especially in the island groups dotting the heart of the Mediterranean. It’s hard to choose a favorite island. (That’s why I chose 7!)
Traveling to the Greek Islands is a good choice to skip the cold winters in other parts of Europe. However, reaching these places is not always so easy. During summer, busy ferries work all day long to reach some of the remotest islands of the archipelagos.
How Many Greek Islands Are There?
There are about 6,000 islands in Greece, but only 227 have people living on them. In a nutshell, the numerous Greek Islands are divided into seven groups:
- The Saronic Gulf Islands that dot the waters near Athens’s bay.
- The Cyclades that are in the middle of the Aegean Sea.
- Crete is a singular island but the biggest one among the numberless scattered Greek Islands.
- The Dodecanese that border the Turkish sea-coast.
- The Northeastern Aegean Islands that sit near Mount Athos in the Halkidiki Peninsula.
- The Sporades near Athens that count less than 10 islands, with picturesque sceneries and shallow waters.
- The Ionian Islands that stand along the west coast of mainland Greece, in the waters of the Ionian Sea.
My Favorite Greek Islands
The most iconic island among the Cyclades, Santorini is known as one of the best Greek Islands for couples due to its romantic sunsets. Practically you can watch the sunset alone with your partner from almost anywhere along the island’s cliff edge.
The traditional towns of Fira and Oia feature picturesque whitewashed houses, built on the steep slopes of the caldera. In this vibrant and bustling places, the churches’ domes are painted in blue to mimic the color of the sea and sky.
The black-sand beaches and the wineries of the island are only a few of the highlights of Santorini. You can easily spend one week on the island and still not see everything.
Perissa, Perivolos, and Agios Georgios beaches are packed with lively bars, traditional Greek tavernas, and a wide range of water sports. The historic site of Akrotiri attracts not only historic lovers but also romantic couples who are curious to discover the Minoan architecture.
Anafi and Sikinos are two small islands located at a stone’s throw from Santorini. Venturing to these places, you will discover quiet and remote sites, off the tourist radar. Maybe this will become one of your favorite Greek islands too?
2. Thassos Island
Thassos is maybe the most popular island for summer holidays in the Northeastern Aegean Sea. The green island is very close to the mainland port of Kavala so the ferry ride takes less than one hour to reach Thassos.
The road that goes around the island stretches approximately 90km so you can easily drive the whole island in one single day. However, there are so many stunning and hidden places in Thassos, that you can stay on the island for many days and still not have seen all its hidden gems.
On the northeastern shores of the island, the Golden Beach and the Marble Beach are the most popular places for families with children. On the flip side, Cape Salonikos hides surprising coves with wild beaches on the southern shoreline.
Moreover, don’t underestimate the charm of the mountain villages of Maries and Theologos. Tucked away in the heart of the mountains, Theologos was the first Ottoman capital of the island during the Middle Ages and features well-preserved old houses built of stone.
3. Rhodes Island
Rhodes is the most accessible island from the Dodecanese group. Only 40km away from the Turkish port of Marmaris, Rhodes Town (the capital) can be visited on a one-day trip from Turkey.
The old town has narrow winding streets, a Turkish and a Jewish quarter as well as the Knights Quarter with the impressive palace of the Grand Master.
Circling the island by car, you will discover a tempting chain of beaches on the eastern shores of the island. Lindos is the second town of Rhodes and it features an acropolis perched atop a historic center packed with white-washed houses.
On the western side of the island, the ruins of the castle of Monolithos imposingly stand on a clifftop and remind of the times when the Ottomans ruled here.
4. Crete Island
Without any doubt, Crete is the biggest island among the Greek Archipelagos. Standing in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea (very close to Turkey and Egypt), Crete has a delicious cuisine, lively coastal towns, and remains of ancient civilizations.
Crete also has its own international airport and many low-cost companies run direct flights to Heraklion and Chania.
Heraklion is the bustling capital of the island, a mixture of modern architecture with strong local imprints. Near Heraklion, the archaeological site of Knossos recreates the days of the grand capital of Minoan Crete and features a big palace built of Cyclopean masonry.
The coastal old towns of Chania and Rethymno are the most enchanting ones of the island and definitely worth a visit.
But if you really want to explore the wild corners of Crete, then the Samaria Gorges are one of Europe’s longest canyons and can be hiked along a 16km-long trail through the gorges.
5. Corfu Island
Sitting at the border between Greece and Albania, Corfu is the perfect getaway for travelers seeking lush sceneries, pristine beaches, and traditional architecture.
Tourism resorts have developed particularly close to Corfu Town but other parts of the island have successfully escaped the crowds. Small Greek villages are scattered throughout the island while tempting beaches hidden in remote coves dot Corfu’s coastline.
Corfu town features world-class museums, medieval fortresses, and a genuine mix of Venetian, French, and British architecture.
12km south of Corfu Town, you must stop and visit the classic architecture and terraced gardens of the Achilion Palace. While exploring the western shoreline, don’t miss the resort area of Paleokastritsa. There you can discover an Orthodox monastery, swim in picturesque bays, and hike to delightful hilltop villages.
6. Samothraki Island
A small island in the Northeastern Aegean Group, Samothraki is full of ancient history, wild beaches, and narrow canyons.
Most of the beaches in Samothraki have pebbles but this doesn’t make the island less attractive for visitors. The island can be easily explored even in one or two days. However, for a deeper insight into the life of the island, plan to stay there a few more days to get a good opportunity to discover its deep gorges.
Standing at the foot of the mountains, Hora (the capital) is maybe the most developed settlement in Samothraki. Nearby, the Sanctuary of the Great Gods is the place where the famous Victory of Samothrace (now displayed in the Louvre Museum) was found.
But what makes Samothraki one of my favorite Greek islands is the great number of canyons which are interspersed throughout the island. The Fonias Canyon and the Xiropotamos Waterfall are easily accessible and don’t require special gear to explore the lower sections. So this is a great reason to actually go and discover their beauty without making any excuses!
7. Naxos Island
Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades group and is my favorite Greek island for families.
A 45-minute flight from Athens or about a 4-hour ferry ride will land you on its colorful shores. Naxos’ Old Town is beautiful and iconic with many narrow winding streets and interesting shops. There are plenty of places to stay near the Old Town such as Mike’s Studios (cheap and cheerful for larger families).
There are beautiful beaches such as Mikri Vigla Beach (one of the best Greek Island beaches around with some infrastructure but still quiet), Plaka Beach (a sandy beach gem), and Kastraki Beach (a 3km long sandy beach, quiet and good for walks).
In Naxos you have the option of doing a sailing tour, which offers you the chance of seeing dolphins, tiny magical beaches (one highlight is Paros), and of course, beautiful scenery. You could even jump off the boat and go for a swim!
Moreover the food on Naxos is incredible, with Yasouvlaki Naxos (Greek cuisine located in Naxos Town) and Glyfada Naxos Restaurant (beautiful Mediterranean/Greek cuisine located on Glyfada Beach) being particular highlights.
So if you’re looking for the best Greek Islands for families, Naxos is definitely the place to go!
What do you think of my favorite Greek islands? Do you agree with my list or not? Feel Mykonos, Symi or Zakynthos deserved a place? Feel free to comment below and share your thoughts! Happy Greek holidays!
Suggested next reading: How To Travel Santorini & Make It A Trip You Won’t Forget