I first visited the Greek Islands while backpacking around Europe in the early 90s. I only visited one island, Corfu, but given a chance, I would have visited more. Our ability to move around the country was thwarted by a national strike that affected public transportation and the power company (every day the power would inexplicably go off for hours at a time). According to people running our hotel (The Pink Palace – no joke), we could continue to travel in the country, but we might find ourselves stuck somewhere in Greece. While that sounds amazing, we had other plans. Instead of moving on, we decided to go back to Italy and visit Cinque Terre. Yes, I know, boo hoo, poor me.
Transportation and power strike aside, the Greek Islands are gorgeous, surrounded by bright, beautiful blue water, and perfect for an ideal Mediterranean vacation. With more than 1,400 islands (230 inhabited) to choose from, it can be hard to decide which one to visit first. Here are eight islands that should be on the top of your list. You’ll notice The Pink Palace didn’t make the cut.
Best traditional village life
The island Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades island with just over 6,500 residents who live in mountain villages, along long stretches of beach, and among ancient ruins. Visit Naxos to marvel at medieval Venetian mansions, a beautiful port filled with whitewashed houses, and a 13th-century castle
Mykonos, also known as ‘The Island of the Winds’, is world-renowned for its vibrant nightlife. Little Venice and Paradise Beach are popular party destinations where clothing is optional, and the LGBT scene is robust. There is dancing everywhere, and parties last all night. In July and August, you’ll find the most tourists and the wildest parties.
Best kiteboarding and windsurfing
With constant gusting winds, Paros island is favorite among kiteboarding and windsurfing enthusiasts. Head to Santa Maria, Prassonisi, and Pounda beaches to see some of the best athletes in each sport ride the waves. Newbies should head to Thalasea Sports Center on the bay of Mikli Vigla for lessons.
Located in the Aegean Sea, Milos is a beautiful volcanic island that is rich in minerals and history. There are more than 80 beaches to explore on the island with Firopotamos, Kastanas, and Paliorema the most popular among visitors. Rent a boat to find private stretches of undisturbed sand, white-washed Cycladic villages, and black sand beaches to explore.
Best for nature lovers
Ikaria has some of the World’s most pristine and untouched natural spaces. Known for the longevity of its residents (on average ten years longer than people in the U.S. or the rest of Europe), the island is named for the mythical Icarus who flew too close to the sun and fell into the sea.
Best Robinson Crusoe destination
Koufonisia is made up of two islands, Pano and Kato and is a popular but uncrowded destination with beautiful, white-sand beaches. Everything is within walking distance, and the best way to see the island is by foot or bicycle.
Best couples getaway
Less crowded than many of the other Greek islands, Folegandros is known for its restaurants and cafes and a perfect child-free getaway. This island is off the beaten path with little in the way of tourist amenities. If you’re looking for a quiet, relaxing, and authentic experience, this island is for you.
Crete is a food lovers paradise, and Cretan cuisine focuses on fresh, all-natural ingredients. Try the local dishes dakos, gamopilafo, mizithropita, and apaki for an authentic taste of Cretan life. With beautiful architecture, scenic waterfronts, and rich history, Crete is an excellent choice for an escape to the Greek Islands.