How to choose the right Greek island

BY Richard Mellor

1st Jan 2015 Travel

How to choose the right Greek island

There are 227 inhabited Greek Islands, and visiting them all would take months. Instead, use our handy guide to decide the best isle for you.

The trick with choosing a Greek island is settling on which qualities matter most to you. While Corfu scores for beaches and hiking, it can lack in tranquility. Mykonos might boast wonderful restaurants, but where are the affordable hotels?

Decide which attributes are non-negotiable, and you’ll have a much shorter, er, shortlist.



A view of Oia, Santorini

The Cyclades is Greece’s quintessential island group, and contains two of its real A-Listers in Santorini and Mykonos. Both have a bit of everything: tavernas, immense scenery, beaches, chichi towns, tufty windmills and whitewashed buildings.

They’re well connected to mainland Europe, and have superb hotels. Unfortunately, all these assets mean both are rarely empty, and space can be hard to find. Prices are also comparatively higher.

The same is true, albeit to a lesser extent, for gorge-ridden Crete—Greece’s biggest island— plus castle-guarded Rhodes, ever-popular Corfu and spunky Lesbos.



Evening draws in on Kos

If your preference is for bars and burning the midnight oil, try Ios or Kos, both of which lure international crowds with their flashy bars and big-name DJs.

Mykonos and Santorini offer the same decadence but with more elitism, and Lesbos and Paros—also known for its windsurfing—offer less-brash boogie opportunities.



Mirkri Vigla beach on Naxos

Almost every Greek island comes with a beach or ten, although it’s worth establishing if these are sand, shingle or pebbles.

If quieter, powdery shores are your priority, point your parasol towards Naxos, Milos, Lipsi or Lefkada. None are exactly unknown, but they lack the hordes of Santorini and Mykonos and visitors in June or September should enjoy some space.

Busier, but not jam-packed, beach paradises are forest-fringed Skiathos (great for nudists), Kefalonia— home of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, and home to beautiful harbour town Fiskardo—and picture-postcard Zakynthos, which also excels in activity sports, as does undeveloped Karpathos.


Diving and snorkelling

Snorkelling in Zakynthos

Scoring highest for underwater pursuits are Zakynthos and Milos, thanks to abundant dolphins and deep-sea fish. Paros and remote Kastellorizo (Megisti) are great snorkelling shouts.



Mountains in Crete

Again, hikes are possible on most islands, exploring inland villages and mountains to find teetering monasteries or wild canyons.

Crete’s varied terrain—windmill-dotted flatlands to craggy peaks—makes it the best bet, including its famous Samaria Gorge. Leafy Naxos’ inland paths connect temples and orchards, while the Sporadic isle of Alonnisos delights wildflower-lovers.



Cycling is a great way to get around several islands

If gently undulating country roads are your poison, try bucolic Evia or busier Kos, both of which are well set-up with bike-rental outfits. More rugged is Thasos, home to steep forest tracks, and Crete, simply by dint of its size.


Scenery or photography

The volcono on Nisyros

There are wondrous natural sights on almost every shore, but some are particularly incredible. The south-eastern retreat of Nisyros has an active volcanic caldera riddled with smoking fumaroles, while quiet Amorgos boasts Greece’s sheerest cliffs.

As far as caves go, the standouts are Kefalonia’s Melissani Cave, looking porthole-like to the sky, or Antiparos’ stalactite and stalagmite cavern, reached via an immense man-made staircase.



The House of Cleopatra on Delos

You can’t make the trip and avoid the Byzantine monasteries, walled Old Towns—take a bow, Rhodes—and Venetian architecture; this is Greece, after all.

The standout island, however, is dinky Delos. Having once been dedicated to Apollo, it boasts shrines, mosaic-ridden ancient dwellings, fifth-century temple and vast theatres. You can’t stay, but daily ferries run from adjacent Mykonos.



A quiet beach on Fourni

Willing to stint on accommodation and services in favour of blessed quietude? Then consider beachy Fourni or meditative Gavdos, below Crete and Greece’s southernmost isle.


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