Greek Islands: the complete travel guide

Island Guide for Dummies!

You close your eyes, spin the globe, and your finger points to Greece. And, what now? Let’s explore together some of the 227 inhabited islands per group and find travel tips about the budget, transportation, and ferry schedules to the Greek islands. Ready to hop on the ferry?

See here the list of the main Greek island groups:

The village of Plaka in sunset, Milos

Sunset from the village of Plaka in Milos

The diverse Ionian Islands

Scattered off the western coastline of central Greece and to the south of Peloponnese, the Ionian archipelago comprises large and small islands. The group consists of 14 islands in total. However, only 7 of them are the largest and most popular islands of the group:

  1. Zakynthos or Zante is home to the worldwide famous Navagio (Shipwreck) beach, gorgeous cliffs, and lush landscapes.
  2. Ithaca, the home of Odysseus (Homer's Odyssey), is famous for its many waterfalls. Hop on the ferry from Patras to Ithaca in 3.5 hours or from the port of Kefalonia in 25 minutes.
  3. Corfu, with heavenly pine-framed beaches and the popular Liston Square, is the capital of the Ionian islands. The Igoumenitsa - Corfu ferry will take you to the island in less than 1.5 hours.
  4. Kefalonia is known for the amazing quality of its local wines, idyllic beaches, glittering caves, and fresh seafood. Take the ferry from the port of Patras and reach the port of Sami in less than 3.5 hours.
  5. Lefkada is famed for its stunning, white-sand beaches and turquoise waters, popular among windsurfers.
  6. Paxi (or Paxos) is a small island with the picturesque, little capital of Gaios. Jump on the ferry from Igoumenitsa to Paxi and explore the heavenly beaches of Paxi.
  7. Kythira, with the Venetian Castle above the Chora of Kythira, the island's capital.

You will need at least 4 days to explore each of the largest islands of Corfu, Lefkada, Kefalonia, and Zante while you can spend a day on the smaller ones. For the largest islands, it is best to rent a car or a scooter to move in total freedom and explore Venetian castles, ancient churches, and secret coves.

You can also go island hopping and spend a day exploring Antikythera, Antipaxi, Ereikousa, Mathraki, Othonoi, Meganisi or Strofades which are the lesser-known islands of the Ionian archipelago.

The best time to visit the Ionian Islands is from June to September when the weather is sunny and warm. Especially, during July and August, the temperatures are high and the water is just perfect for summer dives and worry goodbyes. 

Tip: the average budget for two people to the Ionian Islands is €200 per day. This budget includes accommodation costs for 2 adults in a hotel, lunch, drinks, and entertainment.

The coasts of Porto Timoni and Limni surrounded by greenery in Corfu

The idyllic coasts of Porto Timoni and Limni in Corfu

The majestic Cyclades

The Cyclades are undoubtedly the most famous island group in the Aegean Sea. The archipelago includes many islands so we better focus on the major ones. Among the most popular islands of the Cyclades are:

  • Mykonos is best known for its photogenic Mykonos town and its vivid nightlife. You can take the Piraeus - Mykonos ferry that runs twice daily and reach the popular island in 3,5 hours.
  • Santorini, the windswept, volcanic island with its blue domes and the scenic white-washed houses. What are you waiting for? Catch the ferry from Piraeus to Santorini to enjoy its unique sunsets over the caldera.
  • Milos, with its endless pirate tales, impressive catacombs, picturesque fishing villages, and lunar landscapes. Take the ferry from Piraeus to Milos and dive into the mesmerizing waters of the instagrammable Sarakiniki beach. 
  • Syros, with the picturesque capital of the Cyclades, Ermoupolis and idyllic beaches is just 3 hours from Athens. Jump on the Piraeus - Syros ferry and take a stroll through the labyrinthine streets of Ermoupolis.
  • Paros, renowned for its cosmopolitan and exciting nightlife is less than 4 hours if you travel by the Piraeus - Paros ferry.
  • Naxos, popular among kitesurfers and windsurfers and its impressive Portara (doorway) of the ancient Temple of Apollo worth the 5-hour trip by ferry from Piraeus to Naxos.

The weather in the Cyclades during summer is hot with an average maximum temperature of 32°C. However, during July and August prepare to feel the breeze of the meltemia, strong summer winds that are not the best for sailing boats. 

Also, the best way to get around Santorini, Mykonos, and Syros is on foot or by bus while Milos, Paros and Naxos require a car to explore. You will need 4-5 days to fully explore the islands of the archipelago. The Cyclades is the most popular and the most expensive Greek island group. Santorini and Mykonos are the most expensive islands on the list with  €300-€350 per person per day. 

Tip: ferries also depart from the port of Piraeus to Crete, to the port of Heraklion and Chania. Piraeus - Crete ferries usually depart late in the evening and travel during the night. 

Houses of Cycladic architecture in Santorini

White-washed houses of Cycladic architecture overlooking the sea in Santorini

The lush Sporades

The Sporades are an archipelago along the east coast of the Aegean Sea. They consist of 24 islands, only 4 of which are permanently inhabited:

  • Skiathos is known for its amazing beaches, natural ambiance, cosmopolitan aura, and Skiathos vivid nightlife.
  • Skopelos is the island where the wedding scenes of the famous movie "Mamma Mia: were filmed. It has towering cliffs and pine-studded forests and turquoise waters.
  • Alonnisos, with the breathtaking Peristera ancient shipwreck, has the first underwater museum in Greece.
  • Skyros is famous for its lush landscapes and laid-back vibe, its ceramics, handmade furniture, and the special interior architecture of its houses.

The climate of the Sporades is the Mediterranean with mild autumns and hot, sunny summers. The temperature of the sea is still cold in May and cool in June. However, it becomes high enough for swimming from July to September when it reaches 25°C

To really appreciate the beauty of the islands and explore them in depth, it would be best to spend at least 3 days in each of them. You can move around by bike, bus, motorbike or even water taxis. You can use the red bus route in Skiathos that takes you to all the amazing beaches, take a water taxi to move around the island of Alonissos, or rent a car to comfortably move around Skopelos.

Related to the ferry routes connecting the Sporades to the mainland, several connections are operating from the port of Volos all year round while there are 3-4 weekly connections to the Sporades from Thessaloniki during the summer months.

Tip: the average daily budget is €85 per person for the Sporades. This budget includes accommodation costs in a hotel, lunch in a local restaurant, drinks, and entertainment.

The crystalline waters of Banana beach in Skiathos

Golden sand and turquoise waters in Banana beach, Skiathos

The magical Dodecanese

Moving on to the Dodecanese (meaning 12 islands in Greek) is in reality far more than 12. Among the most popular ones are:

  • Rhodes is the largest island of the Dodecanese. You can take the ferry from Piraeus - Rhodes with its medieval castles, wineries, beaches, and a stirring nightlife scene.
  • Kos has a rich history and amazing archaeological sites. To explore the beauties of this island take the Piraeus - Kos ferry
  • Patmos is also known as the “Island of the apocalypse”. Take the Piraeus - Patmos ferry, swim on idyllic beaches and explore hiking trails.
  • Astypalea is known for its butterfly shape and its castle.
  • Leros, with Italian influences in its architecture since it was once an Italian naval base.
  • Kalymnos is famous for its sponge fishing industry.

The remaining islands are Agathonisi, Chalki, Karpathos, Kasos, Leipsoi, Leros, Nisyros, Symi, Tilos, Kastellorizo, and Chios.

The best time to travel to the Dodecanese islands is from May to September when the weather is hot and perfect for beach swimming. If your goal is a chocolate tan under the sun, the warmest month in the Dodecanese is August with an average maximum temperature of 30°C.

The best way to explore the island group is by scooter. Most islands have narrow streets and medieval alleys it is very easy to drive around on two wheels.

Tip: the average daily budget is €65 per person on your trip to the Dodecanese. However, Rhodes is more expensive than other islands of the archipelago with an average budget of €90 per day, including accommodation, food, and entertainment.

The medieval old town of Rhodes

A medieval alley in the Old Town of Rhodes

The picturesque Saronic Islands

Let’s hop on the next archipelago on our list! The Saronic Islands are located between the peninsula of Attica and the northeastern coasts of Peloponnese. The most popular of this group are:

  • Hydra is famous for its fine architecture and its pebbly beaches. You can jump on the ferry from Piraeus to Hydra to explore its captivating character.
  • Spetses is known for its lovely architecture and its nautical and cultural tradition. It is easy to reach by the Piraeus - Spetses ferry, departing daily from Athens.
  • Aegina is popularly known as the island that first mint coins in Greece and is well-known for the most delicious peanuts. If you want to try a crepe with divine peanut praline, then catch the Piraeus - Aegina ferry.
  • Poros with its stunning clock tower built in 1927 and its picturesque architecture is only 1.5 hours from the port of Piraeus with daily Piraeus - Poros ferry connections.
  • Agistri is a small pine-clad island, ideal for nature lovers. If you’re into hiking, take the ferry from Piraeus to Agistri and explore the island’s best hiking trails. 

The Saronic Islands, including Dokos and Salamis, are ideal for island day trips from Athens year-round. If you’re thinking of spending a few days in Athens before catching a ferry to the islands, ferry routes from Piraeus to the Saronic Gulf operate with multiple daily departures.

The best period to visit travel the Saronic Islands is from April to September with great temperature, sunny days, and romantic nights. However, in June the sea is still cool so for warmer waters visit the island group in July and August.

The best way to move around the Saronic Islands is to rent a scooter. However, keep in mind that in Hydra there are no vehicles allowed

Tip: the average budget (hotel, food, entertainment) per person to the Saronic Islands is around €75 per day.

The stone windmill of Hydra

The stone windmill of Hydra overlooking the Saronic Gulf

The amazing North Aegean Islands

The main islands in the northeastern Aegean Sea are:

  • Samos, the birthplace of the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras
  • Ikaria, with its carefree attitude and the panigiria (dance and music festivals in August)
  • Lesbos, the third largest Greek island known for its delicious local products such as cheese and ouzo
  • Lemnos, with a strong husbandry tradition, sun-soaked beaches, and world-famous wine
  • Chios, also known as “the Mastic Island”
  • Samothrace, well-known for its beautiful waterfalls
  • Thasos, its wine with its distinctive apple aroma and its marble quarries

The best time to travel in the North Aegean Islands is from July to early September when the weather is hot and the best way to explore the island group is by scooter. We recommend you to spend 3-4 days in the islands of North Aegean Islands to better know the place, explore the stunning beaches, mingle with the locals, and feel the Greek hospitality (philoxenia).

Tip: the North Aegean Islands are less expensive than the Cyclades so if you’re traveling on a budget and looking for a low-cost vacation, you found the right island group for you. You will need around €60 per day to cover your accommodation. 

 The fishing village of Armenistis in Ikaria

 The picturesque fishing village of Armenistis in Ikaria

By now, you must already know that all Rhodes lead to Greece (come on, it was a good one!). Book your ferry tickets at the same price with the ferry companies online on Ferryhopper and live your myth in 1, 2, or more Greek islands.

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