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The best Greek islands to visit

By Martha Hales

The definition of an island can vary, but if you include all its islets, Greece has a mind boggling 6,000 islands scattered throughout the beautiful blue sea. 

Many of us dream of an island hopping adventure in Greece, cruising the waters between a clutch of beautiful destinations each with their own flavour and character. These thousands of islands are strewn over a vast area and it makes far more sense to plan to tour a group of islands which are not too distant from each other, ensuring you don’t spend all your time travelling. 

Which is the most beautiful island in Greece?

But which islands to choose among so many? Here’s a trio of tried and tested routes that offer contrasts in culture and landscapes from one island to the next.

The Cyclades

A windmill in Santorini, Greece

The Cyclades is a central group of islands in the Aegean Sea that share a charm and beauty which epitomises the appeal of an island hopping holiday in Greece. Rustic windmills and pretty ports greet you as you pull into each isle, and further exploration reveals delightful beaches, delicious cuisine and welcoming locals. 

Mykonos in Greece

Mykonos is the best known destination in this group, and with its characterful old town, lovely coastline and chic nightlife it makes an appealing stop. 

Taverna in Paros, Greece

Paros and Antiparos are similarly pretty but more low key, while Naxos enjoys a greener and more mountainous landscape and some fabulous beaches for watersports. 

Santorini is undeniably stunning, with its cliff top towns framed against the deep blue sea beyond, but it can be very popular. The quieter islands of the Cyclades group, including Folegandhros, Andros and Milos are havens of quaint villages, deserted coves and simple pleasures.

The Dodecanese

Rhodes, island in Greece

Anchored by the large and popular islands of Rhodes and Kos, the Dodecanese make an ideal destination for Greek island hopping. Rhodes has a lot to offer history fans, not least the acropolis of Lindos and a wonderful and well preserved capital at Rhodes Town.

Nearby Symi has an unmissable harbour of colourful villas stacked up the hillside, while fertile Kos has a long history of cultivation, so seafaring is less prominent here than other Greek islands. 

Known for its great beaches and tourist facilities, the island of Kos nevertheless offers some interesting historic monuments and inland it still retains all its charm. Leros and Patmos, in contrast, are smaller and quieter, with some hidden gem beaches and atmospheric villages.

The Ionian islands

Corfu Town in Greece

Greener and more Italianate than the islands of the Aegean, the Ionian islands are set apart from the rest, flanking the west coast of the mainland from the Albanian border to the Peloponnese. 

Corfu is a fascinating mix of Venetian influence and classic Greek scenery and culture, and outside of the major tourist hubs there are plenty of peaceful coves and inland the mountains make a good destination for hikers. 

The capital, Corfu Town, is an elegant and historic city with lovely architecture and a clutch of interesting forts and museums. Corfu is a bit separate from the other Ionian isles so the best group for an island hopping trip are Lefkada, Kefalonia, Ithaki and Zakynthos. 

lefkada island in Greece

Lefkada is an easy first stop as it has a road connection to the mainland. The undeveloped and scenic coastline is a verdant delight, and the dazzling beaches are a highlight.

Kefalonia is a calm and beautiful island, not overrun with visitors and with a distinct character and landscape, famously portrayed in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. The most southerly of the group is Zakynthos, home to the famous shipwreck beach - subject of a thousand postcards - and though there are some sizable beach resorts the island has a quieter side too.

Kefalonia in Greece

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