Are you planning a Greek island cruise for 2022 or beyond? It can be tough to decide which islands to visit, and which to leave off your itinerary. This is because there are more than 225 inhabited islands to choose from in the country. And the chances are you’ll be able to visit no more than three or four on your trip, unless you’ve got a very long holiday planned! To help you narrow down the choices, we’ve selected the two best Greek islands to visit for a variety of different personality traits. So whether you’re a lazy beach bum at heart, or you’re looking to delve into the rich history of Ancient Greece, we’re going to recommend the best Greek islands to visit for you.
For beach bums: Crete
This is Greece, and the standard for beaches is very high. Whichever islands you visit, you’re sure to find plenty of beaches to relax on. But we think Crete, Greece’s largest island, has the juiciest offering. Elafonissi, on the south coast of the island, is regarded by many as the best beach in the whole country. The sand is tinged pink by crushed seashells and two shallow lagoons are perfect for a dip, especially if you’ve got children with you. Matala beach boasts golden sands and plenty of caves to explore. And the secluded northern beach of Balos, best reached by boat, was a favourite of Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales. White sands and turquoise water await those who make the trip. And the water is generally calm enough for safe swimming.
And in second place: Paros
One of the Cyclades Islands, Paros is less familiar in name than other Greek islands. But it boasts a great mixture of busier, lifeguarded beaches near hotels, and quiet, secluded beaches, perfect for a relaxing escape. Kolymbithres beach is characterized by pretty granite rock formations and clear water. And on the eastern side of the island, Golden beach can get busy in summer but it’s perfect for a family holiday, with plenty of good hotels, restaurants, and other amenities nearby.
For first-timers: Santorini
It’s probably the most famous Greek island of them all, and if you could only visit one, this is the one you’d pick. Santorini has it all. Gorgeous black lava sand beaches, pretty hilltop whitewashed villages, enduring traditional culture, an active volcano to climb, mouthwatering food, beautiful wines, and calm seas, protected by the half-sunken volcanic caldera. The majority of pre-planned Greek cruises will visit Santorini. And you’ll certainly regret it if you are visiting Greece for the first time and leave the ‘Wine Island’ off your itinerary. There’s a reason that all of our Greece sailing tours visit Santorini!
And in second place: Naxos
If for some reason you didn’t fancy Santorini, then Naxos is another Greek island that has it all. Plaka and Aliko are both world-class beaches, and there’s a good breeze on the western coast which makes Naxos a great destination for water sports such as kitesurfing. Couples can enjoy a romantic sunset at the Portara, nicknamed the Great Door. This huge marble arch is all that survives of an ancient Temple of Apollo, dating back to approximately 530 BC.
For foodies: Corfu
From souvlaki to gyros, Greek food is a key factor in many travellers decision to visit the country. Fresh, simple food that never fails to amaze. Many Greek islands have their own signature dishes, and Corfu is no different. It’s one of the Ionian Islands off the western coast of mainland Greece and its cuisine is influenced largely by English, Italian and Mediterranean food. Local dishes include sofrito – a beef dish, fried with plenty of garlic and onion. And porpetas are Italian-style meatballs, cooked in a tomato sauce. For dessert, you’ll want to try mandoles, caramelized almonds with meringue, as well as a variety of local jams made from plants such as the locally-growing kumquat.
And in second place: Kefalonia
Another of the Ionian Islands, Kefalonia is particularly well-known for its wine. A huge variety of different grapes grow on its slopes, including Robola and Mavrodaphne. Thirsty visitors to the island can enjoy wine walking trails and tasting tours, all whilst sampling some of Kefalonia’s beautiful scenery. And the food isn’t bad either!
It’s no secret that a number of Greek islands have been heavily developed to cater for the high number of tourists who visit. Wildlife and nature have been replaced with hotels and restaurants in certain places, but there are still plenty of spots to embrace your wilder side. Tucked away in the northeastern corner of the Aegean Sea, Samothraki is closer to mainland Turkey than Greece. It is more popular with domestic Greek tourists than international travellers. But they are missing out on a beautifully peaceful place. Mature oak forests and clear waterfalls and pools dominate the island. And its beaches are far more natural and quieter than those on the bigger islands.
And in second place: Alonnisos
The busy, heavily manufactured beaches of some of Greece’s more popular islands are not conducive to a natural experience. Sure, you’ll see a few fish when you put your snorkel on, but that’s about it. The Aegean island of Alonnisos is one of Greece’s few remaining wild enclaves. The marine park here was established in the 1970s to protect the rare Mediterranean monk seal. And it is now home to one of the most complete marine ecosystems in Greece. The water is reportedly cleaner here than anywhere else in the Aegean, thanks to decades of protection. As well as the seals, divers or boat trippers can spot coral reefs teeming with fish. There are also common dolphins, turtles, and even sperm whales in the reserve.
For history buffs: Delos
The tiny island of Delos is located just off the coast of Mykonos and is a popular day-trip destination for travellers to the island, as well as nearby Naxos and Paros. The island is home to one of the most important mythological and archaeological sites in Greece. An ancient sanctuary was built here around 1,000 years before it was first described in Greek mythology as the birthplace of the gods Artemis and Apollo. Now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, ancient attractions such as the theatre, House of Dionysus and Temple of Isis can still be seen. There’s also a Terrace of the Lions, dedicated to Apollo, which draws comparisons to the mighty Avenue of Sphinxes at Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt. Excavation work on the island is still going on today.
And in second place: Crete
Crete simply has to feature in our list for history buffs, because it is home to the Palace of Knossos, where Theseus fought the minotaur in one of the most well-known Greek legends. The ruins of the palace are spread over an incredible 20,000 square metres, and it is well worth taking a couple of hours to visit the site. The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is also worth visiting for those interested in the rich ancient history of Greece.
For thrill-seekers & fitness fanatics: Rhodes
Rhodes is another of those Greek islands that has it all. Visitors can lounge on endless beaches, explore the pretty old town, enjoy a glass of local wine, and watch the sunset over nearby Turkey. But the island also offers a few unique experiences for those looking to get their blood pumping. At Seven Springs, there’s a 186-metre tunnel that those brave enough can crawl through to reach a pretty lake. And off the coast of the village of Lindos, there are some amazing sea caves to swim into. Rhodes is also one of the best Greek islands to visit for hiking, with trails to the 2,000-year-old Lindos Acropolis and a steep 350 step climb to the Tsambika Monastery, for a perfect view of the sunset.
And in second place: Andros
Andros is a quiet island in the Cyclades that is becoming increasingly popular with hikers. This is largely thanks to the Andros Route, a 100km trail that runs from the north to the south of the island. Passing through lovely countryside and ancient stone architecture, it’s a beautiful route. And the local authorities are working hard to conserve the natural environment and encourage sustainable tourism.
So now you know which are the best Greek islands to visit for you! If you’re setting sail from Athens, then Crete, Paros, Santorini, Naxos, and Mykonos are some of the most popular islands to visit. But there are plenty of others you can combine as part of an itinerary. If setting sail from Turkey then the Aegean Islands including Samothraki are much more accessible. We have a great selection of Greece tours and island-hopping cruises, with visits to all the main islands and plenty of free time to explore or flop down on the beach. Alternatively, check out our range of Turkey sailing holidays, many of which include visits to some of the Greek islands.