7 of the Best Island Hopping Options in Greece
By Richard Jones
Despite having thousands of years of history and luring in travellers from Jason and the Argonauts to the cast and crew of the Mamma Mia! films, Greece is still one of the most under-explored places in Europe
Only a fraction of its 6,000 islands scattered across the Aegean and Ionian seas are known to tourists, and it would take you a lifetime to explore all of this magnificent archipelago.
Nevertheless, you can cover a lot of ground and get a taste of the country’s unrivalled beauty and culture by going island-hopping.
So whether you fancy wandering through cobbled streets, taking pictures next to the colourful cliffs, soaking up local culture in the bars and tavernas or relaxing on the soft sandy beaches, here are seven lesser-known Greek islands to explore.
It’s the holy grail for many travellers to Greece – a place where time has stood still, and where friendly locals welcome visitors like long lost friends. A trip to the tiny Dodecanese island of Halki begins in the blissful little port of Emborios, where pastel-coloured houses cluster around the horseshoe-shaped bay. Taverna tables are sprinkled along the quayside where colourful boats bob. It is not only the smallest inhabited island in the Dodecanese, but also one of the quietest, with around 300 permanent residents. There are several remote beaches leading out to the warm aquamarine sea, as well as monasteries, churches and chapels, some in ruins.
Island-hopping options – Rhodes
Sailing into the Symi harbour from Rhodes, visitors are greeted with a breathtakingly beautiful view of brightly painted neo-classical mansions tumbling down the hillside, traditional fishing boats and yachts. Yialos, the lower part of Symi Town, has a cosmopolitan feel and in summer there’s a lively buzz around the pretty boutiques, cafes, tavernas and bars. Chorio village is higher up from the quayside, and 350 or so steps are well worth the effort. The island in the south-east Aegean has dozens of small, often isolated, beaches tucked away in coves so you can choose a different beach every day.
Island-hopping options – Rhodes, Kos
From a stunning temple older than the Parthenon in Athens to the remains of a medieval village laid waste by a notorious pirate, a trip to Aegina is like stepping back in time. The island is perfect to start exploring the Saronic Islands, it has more than 20 beaches, a water park, lively resorts, traditional villages and great food. At its heart is Mount Oros, a towering volcanic mountain where it’s said a god once prayed for rain. Long ago, its main port Aegina Town, was one of the wealthiest in Greece. What remains are bustling narrow lanes, small shops and tavernas popular with locals, as well as a well-preserved temple to the goddess Aphaia.
Island-hopping options – Athens, Poros, Spetses
Separated from the mainland by a 350m strait – Poros is barely an island – so holidaymakers can enjoy relaxing on its beaches and touring the Peloponnese mainland whenever the mood takes them. Boats cross from Poros Town to Galatas so a good option is to hire a car or use the hourly bus service to explore further. The Heart Island’s coast is blessed with beaches ranging from bustling watersports centres to secluded bays fringed by forests. For days out, visit the 4BC Epidaurus, one of the finest monuments where productions of Classical Greek dramas can be enjoyed on Friday and Saturday nights during high season.
Island-hopping options – Athens, Aegina, Spetses
There is a truly ancient welcome to the largest of the Cyclades islands – a huge marble doorway, part of an ancient temple to sun god Apollo. Today, 2,500 years after this gateway was built, sun-worshippers flock to this sparkling star in the deep blue galaxy of the Aegean Sea. Crystal-clear waters, 100km of golden beaches, charming and historic villages, friendly people, ancient sites and stunning countryside are the ingredients that make this place so memorable. The island is rightly proud of its great local produce so look out for dishes with home-grown potatoes and locally made cheeses.
Island-hopping options – Santorini, Mykonos, Paros, Athens
If you dream of an unspoiled destination complete with stunning views and lush landscapes, a holiday in Alonissos could be just what you’re looking for. Scattered with forests, orchards and meadows, and a coastline of delightful coves, travellers can make the most of wonderful walking trails. Begin your holiday in Patitiri, a delightful town set in a serene bay and sheltered by steep cliffs. The area has a bustling harbour, with a selection of restaurants where you indulge in delicious local seafood. A regular ferry service provides easy access to the other Sporades Islands, including Skopelos, offering a unique Mamma Mia! experience.
Island-hopping options – Skiathos, Skopelos, Pelion Peninsula
Just an hour by sea from Corfu, the discreetly cosmopolitan Paxos is a tiny island, approximately seven miles long by three miles wide making it a good size to explore in a day. Gaios is the capital village and the atmosphere in the evening is quite lively during the high season. Just across the water lies Aghios Nikolaos, with its old Venetian castle, perfect if you want to leave Gaios on a day trip and go exploring. Great buys when in Paxos include pottery and ceramics, leather goods, jewellery, wine, olive oil and feta cheese. You can also go explore the world on and below the sea with scuba, snorkelling, and self-drive boats.
Island-hopping options – Corfu, Sivota, Parga
For bookings and more information on island-hopping in Greece, call 0208 492 6868 or visit olympicholidays.com