Greece includes 6,000 islands and islets scattered in the Aegean Sea to the east of the Greek mainland, and in the Ionian Sea to the west. Only 3% or 227 islands are inhabited. There are six island groups to know about, with most located in the Aegean Sea: The Saronic islands which are the nearest to Athens; the Cyclades; Dodecanese; Sporades; and Northern Aegean Islands. The Ionian islands, of course, are in the Ionian Sea on the west coast of Greece facing Italy. Each of these groups is unique in character, architectural style, influences, and things to do. The islands are the main characteristic of Greece and an integral part of the country's culture through the ages.
The top 10 most visited Greek Islands are: Santorini, Mykonos, Corfu, Rhodes, Crete, Zakynthos, Naxos, Paros, Skiathos, and Kos.
The Saronic islands are very popular because they are the closest Greek islands to Athens. Aegina, Poros, Hydra, and Spetses have developed a lot in tourism over the past years, while Agistri is not that famous but remains a true gem to explore. The crystal water, the relaxing atmosphere, and the long history are the most distinctive characteristics of Saronic Greece. Poros is great for sailing, Hydra has amazing architecture, Spetses stands out for the elegant mansions and Aegina is ideal for family vacations. How to Get There: by ferry from Pireaus
Aegina is one of the most popular tourist destinations as it is the closest island to Athens (only 16.5 nautical miles from the port of Piraeus). Aegina is located in the heart of the Saronic Gulf, near the islands of Poros and Agistri, Aegina Greece is one of the most popular islands for quick getaways, thanks to its proximity to Athens! Many ferries from Athens depart from Piraeus port and arrive there in less than an hour. Agia Marina is the most popular seaside resort on the island, while more secluded places to visit are Souvala, Vagia, Marathon, and Perdika. The most popular ancient monument is the Temple of Athena Aphaia, a Doric temple sitting in the center of the island. Other important sites, apart from the Temple of Athena Aphaia, are the Temple of Apollo and the Temple of Ellanios Zeus. Where to Stay: LaLiBay Resort & Spa
Hydra is one of the Saronic Islands of Greece, located in the Aegean Sea. In the 1950s, Hydra became a center of artistic creation for many artists who used its magical scenery as the main theme of inspiration. Many famous movies were also shot on the island, including the Boy on a dolphin (1957) starring Sophia Loren and Phaedra (1962) starring Anthony Perkins and Melina Merkouri. Where to Stay: Hotel Leto
Poros is a small Greek island-pair in the southern part of the Saronic Gulf, about 58 km south from the port of Piraeus and separated from the Peloponnese by a 200 m wide sea channel, with the town of Galatas on the mainland across the strait. Where to Stay: Dimitra Boutique Hotel Port Poros
Spetses is an upscale affluent island in Attica, Greece. It is included as one of the Saronic Islands. Until 1948, it was part of the old prefecture of Argolis and Corinthia Prefecture, which is now split into Argolis and Corinthia. In ancient times, it was known as Pityussa. Where to Stay: Poseidonion Grand Hotel
The Cyclades is a group of Greek islands, southeast of the mainland in the Aegean Sea. It centers on uninhabited Delos, considered the birthplace of Apollo, and home to some of Greece’s most important archaeological ruins. Many of the islands are popular holiday destinations, known for their beaches, ancient sites, rugged landscapes and traditional blue-and-white stucco towns overlooking the sea. Five of the top 10 most visited Greek Islands are located in the Cyclades: Santorini, Mykonos, Crete, Naxos, and Paros.
Crete is the largest and most populous (670,000) of the Greek islands, and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, and Corsica. Crete rests about 100 miles south of the Greek mainland. Where to Stay: Blue Palace, a Luxury Collection Resort, Elounda
Delos is an uninhabited Greek island and archaeological site in the Aegean Sea's Cyclades archipelago, near Mykonos. The mythological birthplace of Apollo, it was a major religious center and port during the 1st millennium B.C. The island's ruins encompass Doric temples, markets, an amphitheater, houses with mosaics and the iconic Terrace of the Lions statues. The Archaeological Museum displays statues excavated from the site. How to Visit: from Mykonos
Folegandros is a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea that, together with Sikinos, Ios, Anafi and Santorini, forms the southern part of the Cyclades. It has only 765 inhabitants. Where to Stay: Avaton Folegandros Hotel
Ios is famous for its amazing beaches and lively party scene. In addition to its nightlife, Ios has many more less-known aspects to offer, from beaches with shimmering waters to picturesque clifftop villages with narrow alleys. Ios is easy to reach by ferry from Athens and more specifically, the ports of Piraeus and Rafina. It is also connected to many other islands, including Santorini, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros and Crete, creating an opportunity for island hopping you simply can't miss! The closest international airport is on Santorini island. Where to Stay: Liostasi Hotel
Milos is a volcanic Greek island in the Aegean Sea, just north of the Sea of Crete. Milos is the southwesternmost island in the Cyclades group. The Venus de Milo and the Asclepius of Milos were both found on the island, as were a Poseidon and an archaic Apollo now in Athens. Where to Stay: Domes White Coast Milos
Mykonos is an island in the Cyclades group in the Aegean Sea. It's popularly known for its summer party atmosphere. Beaches such as Paradise and Super Paradise have bars that blare thumping music. Massive dance clubs attract world-renowned DJs and typically stay open well past dawn. Iconic landmarks include a row of 16th-century windmills, which sit on a hill above Mykonos town. Where to Stay: Santa Marina, A Luxury Collection Resort
Naxos is a Greek island in the South Aegean, the largest of the Cyclades island group. Its fertile landscape spans mountain villages, ancient ruins and long stretches of beach. The namesake capital (also called Hora or Chora) is a port town filled with whitewashed, cube-shaped houses and medieval Venetian mansions. Kastro, a hilltop castle dating to the 13th century, houses an archaeological museum. Where to Stay: Ammothines Cycladic Suites
Paros is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea best known for its beaches and traditional villages. Parikia, the bayside capital, is a boating and transportation hub for the Cyclades region. It's also home to the Panagia Ekatontapiliani, a landmark Byzantine church from the 4th century A.D. The north coast's Kolimbithres is a beach where naturally sculpted rocks form swimming coves. Where to Stay: Parocks Luxury Hotel & Spa
Santorini is one of the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea. It was devastated by a volcanic eruption in the 16th century BC, forever shaping its rugged landscape. The whitewashed, cubiform houses of its 2 principal towns, Fira and Oia, cling to cliffs above an underwater caldera (crater). They overlook the sea, small islands to the west and beaches made up of black, red and white lava pebbles. Where to Stay: Katikies Santorini
Sifnos is a Greek island in the Cyclades island group. It’s fringed by sandy beaches such as Chrysopigi beach in the southeast, home to the striking white Chrysopigi Monastery. The long, shallow Vathi beach sits in a protected cove in the southwest. Sifnos is known for its traditional pottery and there are many small pottery workshops in villages like Vathi and Kamares, the island’s main port in the northwest. Where to Stay: Elies Resort
Tinos is a Greek island situated in the Aegean Sea. It is located in the Cyclades archipelago. The closest islands are Andros, Delos, and Mykonos. It has a land area of 194.464 square kilometres and a 2011 census population of 8,636 inhabitants. Where to Stay: Orion Tinos
The Sporades group is located in the northwest Aegean Sea. Four of the islands - Alonnisos, Skiathos, Skopelos and Skyros - are inhabited.
Alonissos is famous for its natural beauty, amazing beaches and authentic atmosphere. It is one of the best destinations to visit in the Sporades island group. Its picturesque capital Chora offers spectacular sea views of the Aegean and its other villages, such as Patitiri, Votsi, Roussoum Gialos and Steni Vala are great for families or couples seeking a quiet and peaceful setting. Where to Stay: The Infinity 180 Luxury Suites and Spa
Skiathos is best known for its beaches and buzzing, youth-driven nightlife scene. The action centers around Skiathos Town, where bars and restaurants spill onto sidewalks along the old harbor and Papadiamanti street, the main pedestrian thoroughfare. Between town and the airport are many open-air, waterfront clubs. Where to Stay: Kassandra Bay Resort
Skopelos was the primary location for Mamma Mia! with some scenes shot also on the island of Skiathos. Both Skopelos and Skiathos are part of the Sporades islands. Where to Stay: Natura Luxury Boutique Hotel
Skyros is known for its beaches, jagged coastline, sea caves and seaside villages. Skyros town, or Chora, is in the forested northern part of the island. It has white cube-shaped houses and the remains of a Venetian kastro, or castle on a crag above the town. Where to Stay: ALERÓ Seaside Skyros Resort
NORTH AEGEAN ISLANDS
The North Aegean Islands are near the Turkish coast and include: Samos, Ikaria, Chios, Lesbos, Lemnos, Agios Efstratios, Psara, Fournoi Korseon, and Oinousses.
Chios is the fifth largest Greek island, situated in the northern Aegean Sea, and the tenth largest island in the overall Mediterranean Sea. The island is separated from Turkey by the Chios Strait. Chios is notable for its exports of mastic gum and its nickname is "the Mastic Island."
Icaria or Ikaria, is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, 10 nautical miles southwest of Samos. According to tradition, it derives its name from Icarus, the son of Daedalus in Greek mythology, who was believed to have fallen into the sea nearby.
Lemnos is known for its beautiful sandy beaches, but if there's one beach that stands out, it's Keros. It lies at the heart of a Natura 2000-protected ecosystem, within a tranquil 3km wide bay blessed with shallow water and constant meltemi winds that make ideal windsurfing & kitesurfing conditions.
Lesbos (also called Lesvos or Mitilini) is a Greek island in the northern Aegean Sea off the coast of Turkey. It’s famous as the birthplace of the ancient Greek poet Sappho. Lesbos is also known for its ouzo (an anise-flavored liqueur). Capital city Mitilini is home to the University of the Aegean and the Teriade Museum, whose modern art collection highlights Greek artists.
Samos is a Greek island in the eastern Aegean Sea, separated from Turkey by the mile-wide Mycale Strait. It was the birthplace of mathematician Pythagoras and philosopher Epicurus, and is known for producing sweet Muscat wine. On the southeast coast, the remains of the ancient port of Pythagoreion include the underground Eupalinian aqueduct, built in the 6th century B.C.
The Dodecanese, in the southeastern Aegean Sea near the Turkish coast, is a group of Greek islands known for their medieval castles, Byzantine churches, beaches and ancient archaeological sites. On the largest island, Rhodes, the medieval Street of the Knights and Palace of the Grand Masters show Byzantine and Ottoman influences. Kallithéa and Ialissós are popular beach resorts, and Lindos’ acropolis has panoramic coastal views.
Astypalea - The Venetian Castle on the top of a hill and the beautiful windmills are just two of the traditional Greek scenes you can expect when you visit Astypalea. The beaches are just as stunning as the main town, and you might even be lucky enough to find a cove all to yourself.
Kos is known for its abundant sandy beaches. It’s also rich with Greek and Roman landmarks, particularly in and around Kos Town. This harbor town is dominated by the 15th-century Neratzia Castle. South of the castle are the Ancient Agora ruins, with a temple, shrine and columns. The 3rd-century Casa Romana villa has lavish mosaics. Where to Stay: Astir Odysseus Kos Resort & Spa
Rhodes, the largest of Greece’s Dodecanese islands, is known for its beach resorts, ancient ruins and remnants of its occupation by the Knights of St. John during the Crusades. The city of Rhodes has an Old Town featuring the medieval Street of the Knights and the castlelike Palace of the Grand Masters. Captured by the Ottomans and then held by the Italians, the palace is now a history museum. Where to Stay: Casa Cook
Symi is known for its beaches, an annual music festival and for the harbor at Symi Town, surrounded by colorful neoclassical houses. On the southwest coast, the 18th-century Monastery of Archangel Michael Panormitis is a major Greek Orthodox pilgrimage site with a Byzantine museum.
The Ionian Islands lie off the west coast of Greece facing Italy, in the Ionian Sea. The northernmost island, Corfu, has an old town with Renaissance, baroque and classical architecture. Corfu also features the 19th-century Liston, a promenade on the central square, with arcades and cafes. The 15th-century Old Fortress is nearby. The Palace of St. Michael and St. George is home to the Museum of Asian Art. The seven largest and most popular islands of the group include Corfu, Zakynthos, Ithaca, Kefalonia, Lefkada, Paxos and Kythira.
Corfu, an island off Greece’s northwest coast in the Ionian Sea, is defined by rugged mountains and a resort-studded shoreline. Its cultural heritage reflects years spent under Venetian, French and British rule before it was united with Greece in 1864. Corfu Town, flanked by 2 imposing Venetian fortresses, features winding medieval lanes, a French-style arcade and the grand Palace of St. Michael and St. George. Where to Stay: Angsana Corfu Resort & Spa
Ithaca - The beautiful island of Ithaca is famous as the homeland of Odysseus (Ulysses), the hero of the Homeric poem Odyssey. Ithaca is the land where the faithful Penelope waits patiently twenty years for her husband to return from the Trojan War. Ithaca, Ithaki or Ithaka is a Greek island located in the Ionian Sea, off the northeast coast of Kefalonia and to the west of continental Greece. Ithaca's main island has an area of 96 square kilometers and had a population in 2011 of 3,231. It is the second-smallest of seven main Ionian Islands, after Paxi. Where to Stay: Perantzada Hotel
Kefalonia is an island in the Ionian Sea, west of mainland Greece. It's marked by sandy coves and dry rugged landscapes. Its capital, Argostoli, is built on a hillside overlooking a narrow harbor. Kefalonia's indented coastline is made up of limestone cliffs, bays and short strips of white sand, like Myrtos Beach in the north. Many beaches are only accessible on foot or via narrow twisting roads. Where to Stay: Eliamos Villas Hotel & Spa
Lefkada is a Greek island in the Ionian Sea, connected to the mainland by a causeway. West coast beaches like Porto Katsiki and Egremni feature sheer cliffs and turquoise waters. The east coast is known for its traditional villages, including the seaside resort of Nydri. In the north, Lefkada town is the island's gateway and capital. Vassiliki, in the south, attracts windsurfers. Where to Stay: Porto Galini Seaside Resort & Spa
Paxos is a small island and is limited with the types of things to see and do. The whole appeal of islands like this is to enjoy an idyllic, laid back vacation exploring the coves, caves, beaches on the island and at the surrounding islands during the day and enjoy quiet dinners in authentic tavernas at night.
Skorpios was primarily known as the private island of the late Greek shipping billionaire Aristotle Onassis. The island is washed by the waters of the Ionian Sea and is located off the west coast of Greece. As of 2011, the population of the island was 5 people. Skorpios Island has been bought and is now becoming an Ultra Luxury Resort
Zakynthos is a Greek island in the Ionian Sea and a well-known summer resort. The harbor city of Zakynthos is the capital and major hub, centered around waterfront Solomos Square. Popular beaches like Agios Nikolaos, Alykanas and Tsilivi offer swimming and water sports. Accessed by boat, Navagio beach is the site of a famed 1980 shipwreck resting in a sandy cove framed by cliffs. Where to Stay: Porto Zante Villas & Spa - The leading villa resort in Europe