Dreamy harbours, ancient ruins, rugged landscapes and all under a baking sun. But which Greek island is for you?
That’s not easy when there are no fewer than 227 inhabited islands (out of more than 6,000 in total). The temptation is to combine two, three or even four on one trip.
The U.S. author Henry Miller once declared that ‘It takes a lifetime for someone to discover Greece, but it only takes an instant to fall in love with her’.
With that in mind, we’ve picked seven of the best island-hopping adventures . . .
Treble the pleasure
Kefalonia, Ithaca and Zakynthos
Island-hopping: It’s a 40-minute sail from the port of Sami to Ithaca (pictured above), a tiny, quiet, rugged island 18 miles long
There are regular flights to this Ionian trio just off the mainland. Kefalonia, made famous by Louis de Bernieres’ Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and 2001 film of the same name, is the largest of the group, yet utterly charming, with fir tree forests, lush countryside and dainty fishing villages. Take a subterranean boat tour to the lake in the cave at Melissani with its aquamarine water and magical light formations.
It’s a 40-minute sail from the port of Sami to Ithaca, a tiny, quiet, rugged island 18 miles long. The mythical home of Ancient Greek hero Odysseus, has a slower pace of life. Enjoy scenic walking trails, archaeological ruins, and quiet villages where locals sit and watch the world go by.
End the trip with a visit to Zakynthos, a three-hour ferry ride via Sami. A hybrid of the two, with plenty to see beyond the bustling main town and the shipwreck at the beach of Navagio.
How to do it: Fly to Kefalonia from the UK with Jet 2 (returns from £136; jet2.com). and back from Zakynthos with Easyjet (returns from £48; easyjet.com). Stay at the White Rocks Hotel (doubles from £132, B&B; whiterocks.gr) on Kefalonia, the Perantzada Art Hotel (doubles from £98; perantzadahotel.com) on Ithaca, and the Lesante Classic (double from £93, B&B; lesante.gr) on Zakynthos.
Closest to Athens
Poros, Hydra and Spetses
This cluster forms part of the Argo-Saronic islands, the closest group to Athens and loved by elegant, weekending locals who catch the ferry from the mainland port of Piraeus.
Poros only just makes it to island status, separated from the Peloponnese by a 350m strait — but it’s a 55-minute ferry ride. It’s actually two islands: the volcanic rock of Sphairia and the pine-speckled Kalavria. Climb up the stairs of the restored clocktower for staggering views, best seen at sunset.
Six miles south, the whitewashed houses of Hydra’s only town, trickle south towards the harbour. A preserved national monument since the 1950s, the buildings all retain a traditional 19th-century style, infusing it with a charming, timeless beauty. It’s also entirely traffic-free.
Spetses, 12 miles southwest, is more lively with seafood restaurants, a vibrant square and upmarket elegance. From its harbour , Dapia, take a horse-drawn carriage tour.
How to do it: Sunvil (sunvil.co.uk) has a ten-day trip to Poros, Spetses and Hydra from £1,207pp, including return flights from London Gatwick, transfers and B&B accommodation.
A glorious sail
Mykonos, Paros, Santorini and Naxos
The best way to explore this cluster of the Cyclades is on a small group sailing trip. It starts and finishes on Mykonos in the north, dropping anchor at Paros, Naxos and Santorini, with a few smaller islets along the way.
Famous for its 16th-century windmills and 20-plus beaches, from swathes to secluded bays, Mykonos has a glamorous reputation.
On Naxos, the largest and most fertile of the Cyclades, you’ll find soaring mountains, sandy beaches and the iconic marble gate ruin of the Temple of Apollo.
On Paros, to the west, visit the Venetian ruins and wander through the town to the Byzantine Church of 100 Doors, which is a 4th century Byzantine masterpiece.
Further south, Santorini is one of the most striking settings, with its famous white cubiform houses clinging to its cliffs. Take a day trip to Nea Kameni, a tiny island inside a vast volcanic crater.
How to do it: G Adventures (gadventures.co.uk) has a ten-day Sailing Greece tour on a 52ft yacht, from £804pp, excluding flights. EasyJet flies from London Gatwick to Santorini, April to October, from £87 return (easyjet.com)
Walk and talk
Schinoussa, Koufonissi and Amorgos
Koufonissi sits between Amorgos and Schinoussa and is comprised of two islets: the inhabited Ano and uninhabited Kato
These islands, part of the lesser Cyclades, lie off the typical island-hopping routes, meaning you’ll get to see them minus the usual throng of holidaymakers.
Schinoussa, just south of Naxos, is tiny — three square miles — with isolated beaches and little for visitors to do except swim, walk or explore the small church of Panagia, built on a jetty above ancient ruins.
Amorgos, six miles east, is even more remote; a sliver of land with soaring mountains that are a haven for flora and birdlife.
Walking is a big attraction, with deep ravines, open hills and stepped paths that lead to little chapels dotted about.
Koufonissi sits between Amorgos and Schinoussa and is comprised of two islets: the inhabited Ano and uninhabited Kato.
HANDY ISLAND HOPPING TIPS
- The shoulder seasons, April until mid-June and September to October, are always pleasant, but some shops and restaurants shut.
- Ferry tickets can be booked in advance via Greekferries.gr, Ferries.gr and Ferryhopper.com. It’s worth paying extra to secure a seat, otherwise board early. n BUY an Interrail or Eurail Greek Islands pass which allows you to take either five or six trips in a month from £75; interrail.eu
- Prepare if you suffer from sea sickness — some routes between islands are surprisingly rough
- Use accommodation sites such as Booking.com or Airbnb.co.uk, rather than port-side hustlers offering rooms.
Hire a bike to reach the beaches and coves.
How to do it: Sunvil (sunvil.co.uk) has a ten-day trip with three nights on Koufonissi, three nights on Schinoussa and four nights on Amorgos, from £913pp, including ferries, flights and transfers.
Kos, Rhodes and Symi
These three islands are part of the Dodecanese group that lies southeast of the Greek mainland. Thought to be the birthplace of Hippocrates, Kos’s history and hot springs are two of its lures.
The Castle of the Knights of Saint John in Kos Town dominates the harbour and Bros Thermá, a natural hot spring a few miles away, is perfect for a theraputic dip.
About 70 miles southeast is Rhodes, the largest of the group.
Its capital, Rhodes Town, is one of the finest citadels in Europe, with palaces, castles and an acropolis.
At the other end of the island, is the enchanting hillside village of Lindos and its impressive ruins.
Finally, it’s a two-hour ferry ride to Symi, 20 miles north, where colourful mansions overlook the port, and quaint villages and harbourside tavernas dish up the freshest fish. There are plenty of trails for hikers, too, and the island is a real paradise for snorkellers.
How to do it: Olympic Holidays (olympicholidays.com) offers a nine-night trip around Kos, Symi and Rhodes from £795pp, including flights and transfers.
Nature at its best
Serifos, Sifnos and Milos
Serifos has charming, whitewashed houses and churches set against a wild interior, peppered with hiking trails
Another group within the Cyclades archipelago, these islands offer an alternative for those who want to explore, rather than just bob or bathe along their shores. Serifos has charming, whitewashed houses and churches set against a wild interior, peppered with hiking trails.
Sifnos, eight miles southeast, is a pretty, green island with a tradition of pottery; it’s known for casseroles baked in clay-fired pots. Take the winding path to the Church of the Seven Martyrs in Kastro village, perched atop a rocky outcrop. The volcanic island of Milos, about 20 miles south, has a wealth of beaches, the most impressive being Sarakiniko’s white rock formations.
How to do it: Inntravel (inntravel.co.uk) has a ten-night Enchanting Cyclades holiday from £950pp, including B&B accommodation, walking maps and notes. Aegean Air flies from four UK airports, including Manchester, from £132 return (aegeanair.com)
Take a chance on us
Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos
Skopelos has more than 350 churches and chapels, the most notable being The Church of Agios Ioannis Kastri which featured in Mamma Mia
These form part of the Sporades in the northwest Aegean Sea, all reached via the international airport at Skiathos.
Despite being only 12 miles long, Skiathos has more than 60 beaches, all accessible along the scenic bus route. There’s a bustling old town, a medieval castle and a dreamy restaurant in the old windmill overlooking the harbour.
Neighbouring Skopelos has more than 350 churches and chapels, the most notable being The Church of Agios Ioannis Kastri which featured in Mamma Mia.
For wildlife-lovers, Alonissos is a gem: it’s the largest marine protected area in Europe with potential to spot various sealife.
How to do it: Olympic Holidays (olympicholidays.com) has a 15-night Emerald Gems trip from £1,315pp, including flights and transfers.