As mentioned in my last post, I'll be visiting Greece in September, with a short stay in Athens followed by 10 days on Naxos and a few days on Santorini. Choosing where to go among some 230 inhabited islands isn't easy, but I did learn a lot during my research which I wanted to share with you.
While there is no one perfect island for everyone, the best to visit really depends on the type of traveler you are and what you're hoping to experience.
For me personally, the top priorities are the chance to get to know the locals with a more authentic stay rather than spending my time in a touristy resort, as well as scenery, historic sites and outdoor activities. Nightlife and shopping definitely aren't priorities for me.
First, decide what you hope to experience, and then consider what some of the top islands have to offer. To help you out, I've included a varied selection of some of the more popular isles recommended by other travelers, and a few lesser-known gems as well.
I'll start with Naxos, the island I chose to spend most of my time on during this trip. The largest in the Cyclades, it's said to be the best when it comes to experiencing authentic village life and outdoor activities like water sports and hiking. It offers classic Greek island ambiance, with whitewashed homes and Venetian mansions, and boasts long stretches of beach as well as mountain villages and ancient ruins. There are 46 traditional villages on the island, and each one has a bakery or cafe, as well as a square where locals sit around the tables sipping coffee and chatting.
Naxos also has a hilltop castle that dates back to the 13th century, and an archaeological museum. It doesn't get near as many tourists as some of the more popular islands like Santorini, and it's a lot more affordable too. I scored an apartment (Iliada Studios) with a kitchen overlooking the sea for only about $70 a night through Booking.com, and it has rave reviews.
Pretty much everyone has heard of Santorini, and most want to go, if they haven't already. It's a place I just couldn't miss, famous for offering some of the most breathtaking scenery on the planet. The sunsets are said to be legendary, while the caldera is filled with brilliant, clear turquoise waters and the villages cling to the tops of the cliffs. It is more expensive and more touristy, but it's also a must experience that's renowned for romance. As I'm going alone, that was actually a bit of a concern, but Santorini isn't just for couples, there is said to be something for everyone, including outdoor adventure and relaxation.
I chose Kalestesia Suites in Akrotiri for my stay - not cheap but for a panoramic sea view on Santorini, definitely a good value at under $200 a night.
Mykonos is often referred to as Greece's answer to Ibiza, but without the attitude. It's especially popular for its nightlife and beach parties. The island is also very busy in the summer months, when the narrow alleys are so packed with people they're nearly impossible to get through without flowing with the crowd.
The scenery is said to be gorgeous, with whitewashed houses and flowered balconies, windmills and churches.
Milos is for beach lovers, famous for having some of the best beaches of all the Greek Islands. The southernmost island in the Cyclades, it has more than 75 beaches of all different types and is also known as the island where the Venus de Milo was discovered. There are whitewashed Cycladic villages, outstanding cuisine, and jaw-dropping sunsets too. I came very close to choosing Milos, but looks like I'll be saving it for another trip.
Rhodes is for history buffs, jam-packed with historic sites like the Temple of Apollo and the Acropolis of Lindos. The Old Town is one of the best preserved in all of Europe, consisting of strong walls, a magnificent castle, lovely paths and elegant stone mansions. It's also quite picturesque, with the town of Lindos featuring sugar-cube-like houses that spill down to the glistening turquoise bay.
Nature lovers are drawn to Ikaria, which is mostly made up of a towering mountain. There are miles of hikes for enjoying the landscape that includes forest, rivers, lakes and farmland. After taking a trek you can even soothe sore muscles in the warm mineral waters of Therma.
Crete is one of the largest and most populated Greek Islands, offering a little bit of everything, including plenty of restaurants, shops and an exciting nightlife as well as historic sites and the opportunity for outdoor adventure like horseback riding and hiking.
Koufonisia is tucked between two larger Cycladic islands, Naxos and Amorgos, made up of two small islets that are separated by a narrow sea channel. One is uninhabited, and the other is home to a population of less than 400. Definitely my kind of place! Although I'm not going to be staying overnight, I do plan to take a sailing trip here from Naxos. Everyone walks or bikes as there are no real roads, but there are those famous whitewashed houses with blue windows. winding alleyways, flowery courtyards and blue domes, as well as a few restaurants and accommodation options. You can even camp on the deserted isle for free.
Have you visited the Greek Islands? Do you have a favorite? I'm looking forward to reporting back my experience, with lots of pictures included!