For our Anniversary we’ll be cruising the Greek Isles for two weeks starting in late August. While stops at Santorini and Mykonos are always favorites, this cruise is filled with many smaller ports that folks aren’t as familiar with. I’m scouring my resources to find interesting excursions to take in Spetsai, Paphos, Limassol Cyprus, and Agios Nikolaos Crete.
But you don’t have to cruise to visit the small islands, and I’ve had many clients do a trip of island-hopping around Greece. Beyond the usual suspects, I’d like to suggest some other smaller islands to explore if you want to enjoy a different vibe and pace…
Beyond Mykonos and Santorini: Exploring Some of the Smaller Greek Islands
How many Greek islands can you name? We all know the main ones. Crete, Rhodes, Mykonos, Santorini, Corfu. You get the idea. But did you know that there are more than 1,200 islands in total across Greek territory? And 227 of these are inhabited by people. This means that your typical Greek island hopping cruise barely scratches the surface, there are numerous hidden gems waiting to be explored out there in the Aegean Sea.
In this article, we’ll introduce you to some of the smaller Greek islands which you have probably never even heard of, but which are all worth adding to your vacation itinerary.
Located between the islands of Santorini and Milos and boasting just 760 inhabitants, Folegandros is a bit hard to get to, which makes it extremely inviting to those who want a more authentic visit. Folegandros is definitely off the beaten path for most tourists, so there are few packaged activities. You are rewarded with a quiet island with small picturesque villages, with a variety of sights like the Kastro medieval fortress, Ecological and Folklore Museum, and the small Panagia Church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, located in the hills on a zig zag path.
What makes Folegandros so attractive though, is its gorgeous rural scenery and blissful beaches. There are just three small settlements on the island, connected by a paved road. The rest of the island is largely natural, perfect for exploring.
Emerald waters and few crowds combine to make the island the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing day of sun, sea and sand. The island is one big community too, the locals all know each other and are extremely welcoming to visitors.
When you’re done relaxing on the beach, heading into the small medieval town of Chora is sure to be a pleasant experience, with whitewashed buildings and tiny boutique restaurants in which to enjoy a traditional meal. Explore Ano Meria, where the rural lifestyle makes it seem as though time stood still.
Hydra is located just a short boat ride from the Greek mainland, and therefore is an ideal destination for those looking to combine the rich history and culture of Athens, Olympia and Meteora with an island-hopping adventure in the Aegean.
One of the best things about Hydra is there are no cars or scooters! With everyone getting around by walking or donkey or using a boat to get the other parts of the island, Hydra feels like that idyllic Greek island you have in your mind.
There are numerous ways to enjoy your time on the island. A hike to the top of Mount Eros rewards the climber with stunning views over the rest of Hydra and the sea.
Wandering the fabulous cobblestone streets and alleyways, checking out the various shops and tavernas, is always a relaxing and inviting activity.
The star cultural attraction on the island is the Lazaros Koundouriotis Historical Mansion, housed in the former home of one of the key players in the Greek struggle for independence. Displaying original furniture, artwork and artifacts owned by the important Koundouriotis family, it is well worth a visit during your stay on Hydra. And it goes without saying that the island offers numerous wonderful beaches too.
Symi is one of the most southern Greek islands, nestled next to Rhodes, not far from the Turkish mainland. It is a great option for those who have been exploring the cultural sights of Turkey on vacation and now desire a few days island hopping in Greece.
The island was once a wealthy trading port, rivaling even the colossus of Rhodes next door. And much of this former glory can still be seen in the dazzling Neoclassical architecture. Plenty of this survives today, evident in the island’s Gialos harbor, with beautiful, multicolored mansions rising up from the waterfront and the streets.
Today’s visitors to Symi can admire the view over the port of Gialos as they explore the small Castle of Symi, which fell into the hands of the Turks during a 1522 invasion of the island. There’s also the iconic 18th century Monastery of the Archangel Michael Panormitis, which is still home to some of the island’s faithful monks – it is sometimes even possible to rent their cells for those who’d like to experience an authentically Greek style of accommodation!
Symi is a fairly mountainous island, which makes some of its wonderful beaches quite inaccessible. In fact, some can only be accessed from the water, by boat. Nimporio, Lapathos and Agia are some of the best options here, sure to offer a relaxing beach break, undisturbed by crowds.
These three islands are just a handful of the lesser-known wonders which make Greece such a fun country to explore. There are plenty more options. Naxos is known for its wind and calm waters, perfect for windsurfing. Aegina is the little visited island closest in proximity to Athens, which can easily be covered in a day from the Greek capital. Kythira is dominated by the gorgeous Venetian Castle of Chora. And Serifos is one of the country’s most sparsely populated islands, boasting a plethora of amazing beaches.
Whichever islands you decide to include on your Greek vacation, you’re sure to discover a rich history, intriguing architecture and gorgeous beaches, not to mention amazing food, friendly locals and reliability beautiful weather.