Greece is a place of much beauty and home to many wonders, both natural and man-made. Of special note are the thousands of islands, with over 200 of them being inhabited. Each island is special in its own way, from majestic ocean views to incredible natural scenery, and ancient history. There are sandy beaches, vacation spots, ancient ruins, and cultural hotspots to name just a few attractions. They have captured the hearts of tourists and those who have lived there since the days of antiquity.
Here are 5 of the most beautiful Greek Islands
Undoubtedly one of the most famous of all the Greek islands, Santorini is the remnants of a larger island that was destroyed during the Bronze Age in one of the biggest volcanic explosions in history. Once a circular island, the land that remains is the edges of the caldera. It is part of the Cyclades and sits roughly halfway between the Greek mainland and the island of Crete.
Officially named “Thera”, the island is more commonly known by its colloquial name of Santorini, a contraction of “Santa” and “Irene”, the name of a local cathedral in the village of Perissa. Whatever name the island goes by, however, doesn’t change the spectacular landscape, which forms a dramatic backdrop to any view on the island. The sheer cliffs and whitewashed towns form some of the most recognizable imagery in all of Greece, creating a unique splendor that draws tourists from all over the world to this, the most popular of all the Greek islands.
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Santorini is packed full of adventure. The picturesque towns offer the most stunning views of the surrounding landscape, and the black-sand beaches are an intriguing change from the usual ideas of what a beach should look like. There are hiking trails for those up for activity and resorts for those who would rather lounge in the sun.
One of the most beautiful of all the Greek islands, Naxos is the largest island within the Cyclades. Greeting visitors is the town of Chora, with its mix of Venetian and traditional Cycladic architecture, which surrounds a small bay filled with the iconic blue waters that typify the Greek islands. The waters around Naxos, in fact, are some of the biggest attractions, as the island is a popular spot for water sport enthusiasts. Naxos has perfect conditions for windsurfing and kitesurfing, while it boasts some of the most breathtaking coastlines in the entire Aegean.
One of the most beautiful beaches is Aliko/Alyko Beach, with its soft white sand and clear waters. Above the beach, among the sand dunes, is a cedar forest. The area around Aliko is not built up and is relatively off the beaten track, making it an excellent place for those wishing to take in the island’s scenery without having to deal with other tourists.
Naxos is a perfect place from which to do some island hopping as well. The smaller islands surrounding Naxos are filled with hidden beaches and charming scenery.
There is also a great cultural and historical pull to the island, and there are plenty of attractions from ancient and medieval times. Like many of the Greek islands, Naxos is home to many gastronomic delights, and no trip to Naxos is complete without sampling the delicious fare.
The famed island of Corfu, situated on the Ionian coastline off the northwest coast of Greece, is a literal paradise filled with a storied history and exquisite scenery.
Also known as Kerkyra of Corcyra, the history of Corfu dates back to Mycenaean times. It played its part during the period of Greek antiquity as a colony of Corinth, and the island is filled with ancient sites from this age. From 1401 to 1797, Corfu was part of the Venetian Empire and was a bulwark against the Ottoman threat. As such, it was heavily fortified. These fortifications, dotted all over the island, are an attraction to all those interested in the island’s history, and were instrumental in defending the island against Ottoman attempts to conquer it.
Corfu has a well-developed tourism industry, and it is easy to get around the island. There are hundreds of tourist attractions and activities that make the island an excellent spot for vacationers.
One of the main attractions for which the island is particularly well-known is the underwater sites. There are coral reefs, underwater caves, and shipwrecks that attract scuba divers and snorkelers. Of course, Corfu is a large island, and there is plenty of beautiful scenery on land too.
Corfu is a perfect travel destination that has almost everything. There is a thriving night scene for partygoers, while those seeking a more quiet experience can traverse the landscape via the numerous hiking trails or spend the day lounging on one of the stunningly magnificent beaches.
With a small population of just under 3000 people, Sifnos is an unassuming island. It sits in the center of the Cyclades and has a history of human habitation that goes back over 6000 years. Like all the Greek islands, Sifnos has beautiful views, sandy beaches, and many points of archeological interest.
The small port settlement of Kamares is where visitors get their first taste of the island of Sifnos, and it is indeed the taste of Sifnos that is celebrated to a high degree. The island is well-known for its culinary delights, in part due to it being the home of Nikolaos Tselementes, the forefather of modern Greek cuisine. From the moussaka to the island’s own chickpea stew, revithada, it’s impossible to find bad food on Sifnos. The small towns on the island are studded with inviting tavernas, and despite the seemingly quiet atmosphere of Sifnos, there is a bustling nightlife that revolves around food and drink.
Of course, food isn’t the only attraction on Sifnos. There are plenty of historical sites, museums, and churches. Hiking trails are all over the island and meander through the valleys dotted with groves of almond and olive trees, and hills covered in oleander and juniper.
While not as famous as Mykonos, Naxos, or Santorini, it does mean that Sifnos is a quieter place, which adds to its charm.
Situated on the southern tip of the Cyclades is the island of Milos. It is a volcanic island with many colorful vistas and sandy beaches. The exotic natural elements of Milos lure many tourists, but not in huge numbers like Santorini. One of the most exotic and stunning places on Milos is Sarakiniko Beach with its lunar landscape.
Volcanic beaches and red cliffs surround the island, along with many networks of caves, most of which can only be reached by boat. The most famous of these cavernous attractions are the Kleftiko and Sykia cave complexes on the far southwestern coast of the island. They are located only 3 miles away from each other, and thus they get the most visitors.
In addition to all the coastal cave networks, the coast also has many other spectacular sites, such as the Glaronisia, a series of cliffs created from hexagonal basalt rocks that were formed by volcanic activity around 700,000 years ago.
The island of Milos is also home to a series of catacombs, (re)discovered in 1844 and dated to the first century BCE. They were dug out of the rock and used by Christians who hid from their Roman persecutors.
For those interested in geology, Milos is a paradise. There are fascinating mines located throughout the island and are accessible to tourists. The disused sulfur mines at Paliorema are a popular attraction as they also include a beach covered in sulfurous yellow pebbles –- a particularly unique phenomenon.
The hot springs at Lakkos are a little-known attraction, very much off the radar of most tourists, and can be found in a 45-foot-deep cave. This little spa is one of the many hidden gems on the island.
Milos hosts a number of non-geological attractions as well. There is an ancient theater, the remains of a bronze age settlement, and numerous churches and museums, all of which make this Greek island very worthy of a visit.
Most Beautiful Greek Islands: Conclusion
The list of famous Greek islands is almost endless. Paros, Mykonos, Lesbos, Rhodes, and many others all deserve their own mention. The seas around Greece are full of hundreds of islands, some of which are huge with significant population centers, while others are little more than rocks jutting out of the ocean. Some are world-famous and attract millions of tourists, while others are small, rustic places that fly very low under the tourist radar, and make for attractive retreats for those looking for a more relaxed vacation.
The most beautiful Greek islands are dotted around the entire country and are marked as some of the most breathtaking places in the entire world.