Top 10 Greek islands for first-time visitors

When you think of Greece you think of amazingly blue crystal clear water, white sand beaches, and white cube-like buildings. Greek islands are pearls of Mediterranean, and it is hard to decide which one to choose for your vacation, especially if you are visiting this gorgeous country for the first time.

Greece has somewhere between 1200 and 6000 islands, although only about 200 of them are inhabited. One of the ways to see more islands at once is island-hopping. You can book a tour at your destination of choice and dedicate at least a day to sightseeing via boat.

Another time-saving way to visit Greece is on a cruise ship. Many companies, including MSC, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and others, are offering cruises around the islands or Mediterranean cruises that include Greek islands. Cruising can be luxurious, but there are also options for low-cost cruises, last-minute deals, or least expensive cruise lines you can check out.

To help you decide where to travel in Greece we made a list of the top 10 Greek islands for first-time visitors or those of you who haven’t been in Greece too many times:

Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric from Pexels

(1) Santorini is one of the most picturesque islands in Greece with recognizable white buildings, blue windows, and donkeys. Oia is the village that cruisers usually take you to, but if you choose to stay for several days you can also visit other villages like Fira, Pyrgos, or Emporio.

Oia has many great restaurants with an amazing view, but also some other interesting locations like St. Nicholas Island Cliff where you can go jumping and swimming, Byzantine Castle Ruins, and Oia-Fira hike that offers breathtaking views.

If you like nightlife Fira is the place for you. It is also a cultural center where you can see a show in White Door Theatro, or visit the Museum of Prehistoric Thera. In Fira, there is also a bus station where you can catch the bus if you want to see other parts of the island on your own.

Interesting to see are Akrotiri Lighthouse, Red Beach, Black Beach, and hot springs. To the hot springs and a volcano, you can get only by boat, so for this, it is best to book a tour. Sailing around the island is always a good idea.

Photo by jimmy teoh from Pexels

(2) Mykonos is a dream come true for every traveler that loves Greek architecture, small hotels with private pools, and long walks while watching the sunset. On a first look, the island doesn’t have a lot of vegetation and everything looks just plain white. Until you come closer and realize that this is a Mediterranean paradise you dreamed about.

The town of Mykonos is also known as Chora, which literary means “town” in Greek. Amazing restaurants, clubs, and white sand beaches are all located in the town or walking distance from the center. This stylish island is well known for its cosmopolitanism and it is a recognized and favorite destination among LGBTQIA+ community.

“The Island of the Winds” is popular among celebrities, honeymooners, cruise ship passengers, and many more. You’ll find many local restaurants with traditional food, seafood, but also popular cuisines like Italian, Oriental, etc. Some of these restaurants can be pricey, but you are paying for the view as well, right?

Take photos by the windmills in Little Venice. Climb to the viewpoint and capture all the rooftops. Visit unique small churches around the island. Walk by the Townhall and the castle situated above the harbor. Museum-lovers will like the Archaeological, Folklore and Maritime Museums. And if you like shopping there is Matoyánni Street, lined with brand name stores, charming cafés, and stylish restaurants.

Photo by Erik Karits from Pexels

(3) Rhodes island is definitely one of the most popular summer destinations in Europe. With it’s Old Town that is listed as World Heritage Site and incredibly rich history, this island attracts all kinds of travelers and history geeks. Another name the island is known for is “The Island of the Knights”, named after the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, who ruled the island from 1310 to 1522.

If you know the story of the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, you know how important this island was in ancient times. Nowadays, here you can have great food, wine, sailings, and enjoy summer in the Mediterranean style.

If you are looking for attractions to see in Rhodes, start with the Archaeological Museum of Rhodes, Monolithos Castle, The Village of Lindos, and Acropolis of Lindos. Do not skip the Old Town of Rhodes where you’ll walk the narrow streets, shop at fancy stores, and try out Greek traditional food specialties.

This big island has many beaches and small bays. You can rent a car or a scooter if you want to travel around and see them all. Swim at St. Paul’s beach, Tsampika beach, or Anthony Quinn beach. If you need a break from the beach pay a visit to the popular Kallithea Thermal Springs.

Photo by Mitchell Orr from Unsplash

(4) Crete is very close to Rhodes and you can easily visit one island when staying at the other one. This is the largest and the most populous Greek island and 5th largest island in the Mediterranean. Even though you can visit this island with a cruise ship or on a short sailing excursion, we recommend you chose this island for a longer stay and your starting point to exploring the area.

Famous for the Minotaur legend and birthplace of Europe’s first evolved society this island will make you fall in love with it. As a place where you can go for a hike, to the beach, walk through the old town or enjoy buzzing nightlife, Crete has to offer something for everyone. Hotels are situated all around the island, and plenty of them have private and quiet beaches.

Driving around the island will take you to small villages, where you can meet locals, try wine, food, and enjoy peaceful landscapes. If you are into hiking, Samaria George is the most popular trail. This 16 kilometers long trail is one of the must do’s of the island, especially if you like forest, mountain tops, and viewpoints.

Other attractions to see in Crete are the Palace of Knossos, Rethymno’s Old Town, Iraklio Archaeological Museum, Hania’s Old Town, and others. Swim at Elafonisi beach, Vai beach, or Chania beach that will remind you of the Caribbean.

Photo by Calin Stan from Unplash

(5) Corfu is one of the busiest islands in Greece. The mass tourism has taken a toll, but you can still enjoy quiet beaches if you want to drive outside of the main tourist areas or book a hotel with the private beach. As one of the closest islands to the mainland, this is also one of the most accessible islands.

Start your visit by visiting many museums and art galleries around the island. To list some of them: Antivouniotissa Museum, Municipal Art Gallery I, Corfu Museum of Asian Art. Other tourist attractions are the fortress Palaio Frourio, Achilleion Palace, and Palace of St Michael & St George.

If it is your first time in Europe, you maybe don’t know how common nudist beaches are. Don’t be surprised to see nudists even at the most popular beach like Myrtiotissa beach. Visit also Agi Triada, Alipa, Agios Spyridonas, and other beaches of the Paleokastritsa area.

In the First World War, as well as other wars of the 19th and 20th centuries, Corfu was a sanctuary for many militaries, like French, British, and Serbia. In the Serbian Museum of Corfu, you can learn about the intriguing history of WWI, and how the Serbian army and many civilians were saved by the French army on this island.

Photo by Evan Verni from Unplash

(6) Kefalonia is what you are looking for if you want to see wonderful nature alongside beaches with Iroquois water. Mountains, capes, bays, and inhabited islands nearby are open for adventurers who want summer exploration. When you are tired and ready for a little sunbathing stop by gorgeous sandy beaches along the way.

The island is in the hearth of an earthquake zone and in 1953 almost everything on the island was destroyed by the devastating earthquake. Still, all the hotels, towns and villages are built in classic Greek style and you can enjoy unique Greek experience.

Some of the most beautiful natural areas are Melissani Lake, the Drogarati caves, and the Koutavos Lagoon in Argostoli. Take a tour or drive by yourself to visit these phenomenal places around the island.

There are so many beaches on the island that you can drive to a different one every day of your visit. On the west coast go to Mega Lakos, Xi, or Agio Kiriakis. On the east coast, the best are Skala, Antisamis, and Sami. When visiting the south coast go to Lepeda, Ligia, or Lourdas beach.

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar from Unplash

(7) Zakynthos is the most recognizable by the shipwreck photo like the one above. But don’t let that photo fool you, this is definitely everything but an empty island. A famous shipwreck is accessible only by boat. On the other hand, the city of Zakynthos is very busy and popular among young tourists who are looking for colorful nightlife.

Like with every other Greek island, this doesn’t mean that families cannot enjoy the island. It is always a matter of hotel and a location you choose for your vacation when it comes to Greece. Many hotels and resorts are isolated and you will need a ride to go to the city.

Many tours that you can take in Zakynthos include sailing to the isolated beaches and island, like Marathonisi Islet, Navagio (shipwreck beach), or Blue Caves. Other beautiful beaches to visit are Gerakas beach, Kalamaki beach, Porto Zero beach, and Spanzia beach. There are numerous other beaches that are also insanely beautiful and where you can go with a rent-a-car or a scooter.

While exploring the island take an opportunity to visit one of the monasteries and churches around the island. Church of Agios Dionyssios is walking distance from the port. the other famous church, Church of Agios Nikolaos Molos, was built in Venetian style and it is the only church that has survived the 1953 earthquake.

Photo by Matt Boitor from Unplash

(8) Lefkada is connected to the mainland by the floating bridge. The island is not too busy and you can always find a quiet corner where you can soak and enjoy the summer sun. The island has strong winds and some of the popular sports are windsurfing and kite surfing. You can also go diving, snorkeling, and sea kayaking on this island.

The island has gorgeous beaches with sparkling blue water, and some of the most popular ones are Porto Katsiki, Kathisma, Egremni, Agios Ioannis, and Vassiliki. Sailing around the island and visiting remote locations is another great thing to do with your family and friends.

Have a great sightseeing road trip on this island and visit ancient ruins, monasteries, lakes, and gorgeous natural attractions. Castle of Agia Mavra is a 13th-century castle built by the Franks. Sea Lakes are the lagoons in the old town of Lefkada. The waterfalls of Nydri are gorgeous waterfalls located in the mountains.

Other popular attractions to see are Agios Ioannis Antzoussis, Lighthouse, Monastery of Faneromeni, Santa Mavra, and more. There are several museums perfect for history lovers, including Orpheus Folklore Museum, Ecclesiastical Museum, and Archaeological Museum.

Photo by Skiathos Greece from Unplash

(9) Skiathos is a popular tourist destination with about 44 kilometers of coastline and over 60 beaches. Pine trees and stylish hotels are attracting people from all over the world to come here and have lonh walks, swim in sparkling water, and eat dinner with a million-dollar view.

Walk the streets of Skiathos in the evening and stoop by gift shops, bars, and restaurants. When looking for accommodation you can also find affordable townhouses for rent, and experience a charming Greek style of living. In the morning have a coffee in a small cafe near your house, and buy breakfast in the bakery.

If you want to see an incredible stone arch on Lalaria beach and enjoy swimming in crystal clear blue water, you will have to go there by boat. Other popular beaches are Koukounaries beach, Banana beach, Xanemos, Megali Ammos, Achladies, etc.

The island is home to many monasteries and churches that are there for centuries. In the town of Skiathos, you can visit the Church of Panaghia Limnia and Church of Tris Ierarches. Also, visit the Bourtzi Peninsula and Papadiamantis House Museum while walking around.

Photo by Jared Lisack from Unplash

(10) Kos island got its name in Iliad and it never changed since ancient times. It had a rich history with many influences like the Byzantine Empire, Ottoman Empire, Roman Empire, and Ancient Greece. Traveling to Kos is like traveling back in time.

When visiting the island take the opportunity to see smaller villages like are Kardamena, Kefalos, Mastihari, Marmari, or Pyli, and not just the main city of Kos. These charming villages will make a perfect road trip when you are looking for something more traditional and unique to see.

There are many ancient ruins to visit on the island. Asklepieion, the most important archaeological site on the island, was once used as a healing center. There are also Ancient Gymnasium, Ottoman Mosques, Basilicas of Saint Stephen, Ancient Agora, Nerantzia Castle, Casa Romana, and many more.

To relax visit one of the thermal spas, or go to the beach and enjoy the beautiful blue water and wonderful views. The best beaches are drive away from the town of Kos. Here are some of them: Mastichari Beach, Thermes beach, Agios Stefanos beach, Kardamena beach, and Marmari beach. Enjoy diving, snorkeling, or parasailing.

Published by Danijela Milovanović

I love capturing memories, with a camera and a pen.

6 thoughts on “Top 10 Greek islands for first-time visitors

    1. Yeah, Greece is full of tourists in the middle of the summer. It is the best to visit in early or late summer ☺️ but I love it anyway too

      Like

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