Summer is right around the corner and it seems the Greek Islands are on everyone’s radar! One of the most common questions I’m receiving lately is how to choose which Greek Island to visit. It’s important to note that there are actually over 6,000 Greek Islands, but only a handful that are well-known and convenient to get to from Athens.
Over the past few years we’ve traveled to a number of the islands. The white-washed facades and sunsets of Santorini and beaches reminiscent of the moon’s surface in Milos are two standouts. The best part about the Greek Islands is that there really is something for everyone — whether you’re after incredible Greek food, turquoise blue water and sandy beaches, picturesque towns, family-friendly activities or nightlife, or a combination of all of the above.
Read on for my tips on how to choose the best Greek Island to visit and a breakdown of each:
Quick Tips for Visiting the Greek Islands
May and September is shoulder season – less crowds, cheaper hotels. We prefer September because the water is warmest and the winds have died down.
Flights and ferries are best to get to the islands – book everything in advance, but know that weather can also delay and cancel transport.
Car, motorbike and ATV is the preferred mode of transport – you’ll have the freedom to explore more with an ATV or motorbike rental. Book in advance.
Left: Our Airbnb in Oia, Santorini (listing here); Right: postcard perfect views near the Byzantine Castle Ruins.
The most quintessential, romantic Greek Island of Santorini is known for picturesque views of white-washed facades and blue domes; perfect for those who want good food, unique hotels, cobblestone streets, shopping, and plenty to explore.
Best for: romance, trendy hotels, picture-perfect views.
Not good for: beaches and crowds. Santorini may have crystal-clear water, but most of the beaches on the island are rocky or overcrowded. Consider Milos if you’re after amazing Greek beaches.
Where we’ve stayed: this Airbnb in Oia with the most famous view of Santorini. Hands down one of my favorite stays to date.
Left: winding alleyways downtown Mykonos; Right: sunset on the south side of the island.
Often referred to as the party island, Mykonos has an upbeat vibe and attracts crowds throughout the summer with dance clubs and beach music. The picturesque downtown of Mykonos and the windmills are some of the most famous attractions on the island.
Best for: nightlife, sandy beaches, luxury hotels.
Not good for: restaurants. We’ve found the food on Mykonos to be catered to tourists and lacking in diversity. For an island with great cuisine and seaside dining, consider Paros.
Where we’ve stayed: Boheme Hotel. It’s a beautiful property close to Mykonos downtown. Breakfasts are amazing, as well as the views. Definitely on the pricier side, but great if you’re traveling as a couple and want to splurge.
Left: Sarakiniko Beach in Milos; Right: Tsigrado Beach.
Our favorite island, Milos has gained popularity in the past few years for its unique beaches, quaint towns, local food, and general laid-back atmosphere. It’s the perfect size with enough to explore on a week-long trip, but small enough to get around by ATV.
Best for: unique beaches, restaurants, boutique hotels, small towns.
Not good for: nightlife. Milos has some bars and and small clubs, but if you’re after the party scene you’ll want to head to Mykonos or Ios.
Where we’ve stayed: Asterias Boutique Hotel, a family-run property near the famous Sarakiniko Beach. Basic and affordable, but really all we needed since we spent all our time at the beaches!
Left: Turquoise bays in Ios; Right: sunset near Teatro Odysseas Elytis. Images credit + blog on Ios: Haylsa
Ios features a number of beautiful beaches, amidst classic Greek towns and a nightlife scene that attracts younger crowds. It’s a great option for a trip with friends, and conveniently located between Santorini and Naxos.
Best for: bars and restaurants, beach options, accessibility.
Not good for: honeymooners. If you’re after a romantic getaway, consider the sweeping views and luxurious offerings of Santorini. Or the more relaxed vibes of Milos.
Known for having amazing food and beaches, Paros is a crowdpleaser for couples, groups, and families. Long sandy beaches coupled with plenty of restaurant options and close proximity to its neighboring island, Antiparos, allow for lots of activities and nearby villages no matter where you choose to stay.
Best for: lots of beaches, day trips, diverse accommodations, restaurants.
Not good for: your only destination. While Paros has something for everyone, it’s not the most unique of the Greek Islands. Coupling it with somewhere like Santorini will provide the best of both worlds (uniqueness and accessibility).
Where we’ve stayed: this rental house in Paros with a group of friends – one of the most fun trips! Highly recommend Paros for group trips. We also stayed at the Cleopatra Seaside Homes – a series of local apartments converted into rentals just steps from one of my favorite beaches on the island.
Left: winding streets in Apiranthos; Right: views from Apollo Temple.
A short ferry ride from Paros, Naxos offers a beautiful seafront town on arrival, trendy hotels, laid-back beaches, and great opportunities to experience local culture. A drive around the island is a must, you’ll find picture-perfect mountain towns and remnants of medieval architecture and history.
Best for: landscapes, local culture, hotel options, beaches.
Not good for: diversity. We loved the authentic, easy-going feel of Naxos but it is best when combined with another Greek Island, like Milos for unique beaches or Ios for bars and restaurants.
Where we’ve stayed: Naxian Collection, one of the dreamiest hilltop properties with our own suite in front of the pool. If I went back, I would definitely stay at their sister property too, Naxian on the Beach.
Left: Shipwreck beach in Zakynthos. Right: caves along the coast. Images credit + blog on Zakynthos: hedonistit
This lesser-known Greek Island features one of the most incredible beach views, perched thousands of feet overlooking an old shipwreck. Zakynthos has beautiful beaches, cliffside views, local cuisine, and plenty of options for fun activities all over the island.
Best for: unique beaches, local food, nightlife, activities.
Not good for: families. Though there are parts of the island that allow for more family-friendly options, I’d recommend checking out Paros instead.
Left: Galifos beach in Folegandros; Right: sunset over the island. Images credit + blog on Folegandros: Andyjam
The small, charming island of Folegandros is quiet yet romantic. It’s fairly untouched — with local bakeries and tavernas, dramatic seaside views, and picture-perfect beaches that are perfect relaxing and taking in the Aeagean sun.
Best for: pristine beaches, relaxation, local culture.
Not good for: activities. Folegandros is very small and if you’re going for anything other than relaxation, you might get stir-crazy. Consider Milos or Paros if you want beautiful beaches and more things to do.
Where we’ve stayed: we ran into a bout of really bad weather late summer last year and our ferry to Folegandros was cancelled. We were planning to stay at Blue Sand Hotel in Folegandros. Fingers crossed we make it over there one day!
→ Other lesser-known Greek Islands worth checking out: Patmos, Kefalonia, Kímolos, Paxoi.
If you’re planning a trip to Greece, I highly recommend visiting more than one island. Combine a popular island like Santorini or Mykonos with a more unique one like Milos or Paros if it’s your first time. Don’t forget to venture out and get lost, no matter where you end up! That’s half the fun…
Did I miss a Greek Island you would recommend? Share it below! We might just end up there this summer…