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Top 8 Greek Islands | Insight Guides

Top 8 Greek islands

The Greek Islands are the perfect year-round destination. Whether you're looking to soak up some sunshine, take in a little culture, savor a quiet beach vacation, or enjoy a taste of lively nightlife, Greece has an island destination to suit. Here is our guide to the top Greek islands.
Fira town, Santorini, Greece. Photo: Shutterstock
Fira town, Santorini, Greece. Photo: Shutterstock


Mention Mykonos, and the image that comes to mind is of cobbled streets lined with immaculately whitewashed houses adorned by splashes of color from blooming plants and trees. The main port town on the island, Chora, lives up to this idyll, and is home to Mykonos town hall, Panigirakis Castle and the 17th-century orthodox church complex Panagia Paraportiani. Other interesting architectural sites on the island include the Kato Mili windmills, and the colorful area known as Little Venice, which is one of the best spots to watch the sunset on the island. Mykonos is also known for its nightlife: bars line Matayianni Road, which comes alive at night with crowds of party people bar-hopping. By day, this road offers an upmarket shopping experience with a combination of local boutique retailers and luxury international brands.  

Mykonos' famous Kato Mili windmill.Mykonos' famous Kato Mili windmill. Photo: Shutterstock


The white, rocky landscape of Milos is almost entirely different to all the other Greek Islands. The island's lunar-like terrain was formed by volcanic movement centuries ago, which created hidden crevices and caves that can be explored from land or sea. These white rocks form a barrier around numerous lagoons that are filled with blue waters lapping at fine golden sands, making Milos the ideal destination for a quiet, relaxing beach break. The tiny, white-washed villages across the island are painted with patches of vivid color, which complemented by the deep turquoise colour of the surrounding Aegean Sea, has earned Milos the nickname, ‘The Island of Colors’. 

Milos Island, Greece.The Island of Milos, Greece. Photo: Shutterstock


Naxos is home to one of the best preserved medieval towns in Greece. This old town features a host of architectural gems, including the ancient Temple of Dimitra and the Venetian Castle of Naxos. The island's tranquil coast and beaches look out over waters ranging in color from deep blue to turquoise and emerald green. The western side of the island has the best beaches, with translucent waters and soft sand. Water sports, sailing and fishing are available at many of the seaside hamlets that hug the quiet coastal roads. Agricultural villages pepper the island's interior, where the hills offer excellent conditions for hiking and mountain biking – the highest peak on Naxos is Mount Zas, which stands at 1,000 meters (3,240 ft) above sea level. 


Santorini is well known for its party scene and culinary prowess. Beaches buzz with life well into the night, with DJs playing in the beachside bars that serve fruity cocktails and stiff drinks until dawn. Some beaches also cater for families by lining the sandy shores with sun loungers shaded by parasols, cafés offering a variety of food and water sports to help keep children entertained. For those who want to see more of the island, available excursions include boat trips to the two younger volcanoes that have emerged from this caldera, touring the wineries and sampling their produce, and hiking excursions that take in charming villages such as Akrotiri or the island's hot springs. There are also numerous churches and monasteries to explore in the capital Fira. 


With frequent ferries to and from other islands in the Aegean Sea, Syros is a great place to base yourself for island-hopping day trips. One of the best-preserved port towns in the Greek Islands, Ermoupoli has a fascinating mixture of medieval, Cycladic and Venetian architecture. The town features grand neoclassical buildings like the town hall, the Apollo Theatre and a number of churches. This low key island not only offers architecturally rich towns, but also a host of attractive small villages to explore, including Ano Syros, which sits above Ermoupoli. Walk up the hill to reach this quaint settlement and enjoy breathtaking views over the town and out to sea. 

Syros, one of the Cyclades Islands.Syros, one of the Cyclades Islands, Greece. Photo: Shutterstock


The mixture of rock and sandy beaches on Paros creates dramatic coastal vistas. The two most visited villages are Naoussa, which displays perfect examples of Cycladic architecture, and Parikia, the main port village, where boutiques, bars and cafés stand alongside old churches. Perhaps the most notable of these is Panagia Ekatontapiliani, a Byzantine stone-built church complex located near the ferry port. Paros is a popular island to visit on a day trip from Santorini, but you should consider staying here if you like exploring sandy beaches. The aptly named Golden Beach and New Golden Beach are two of the island's best. 


The mountainous island of Symi rises from the deep blue water of the Aegean, forming a charming bay which the island's main harbor occupies. Dozens of elegant orange, white and yellow neoclassical houses stand on the hills on either side of the harbour testifying to the days when Symi was one of Greece’s most prosperous islands. Yialos, the lower part of the main town, is home to the majority of attractions on the island, including the Nautical Museum, the harbor lined with charming cafés, and the town square. The Kali Strata (a set of 350 steps) leads from Yialos up to the village of Chorio, from where you can take in breathtaking views over the town and surrounding Aegean Sea.

The port of Yialos, on Symi Island.The port of Yialos, on Symi Island, Greece. Photo: Shutterstock


Corfu was one of the first Greek Islands to open up to tourism. As a result, the main city – also named Corfu – has developed a cosmopolitan ambience, that exists amid the buildings and streets that illustrate the island’s past. A variety of architectural styles can be seen throughout the towns and villages, including Byzantine churches, Venetian fortresses, Greek temples and classic Cycladic whitewashed houses. The traditional character of the Greek Islands is still present on Corfu, but you need to venture to the villages in the island's interior to find it. Here you can get a taste of authentic Greek food and culture. Corfu is also home to many beach resorts with all the amenities, including bars, restaurants and a variety of water sports for those who prefer to remain beachside.

Ready to take a trip to Greece?

Insight Guides can help you plan and book incredible trips to Greece. Simply get in touch to let us know your ideas for the trip and when you would like to travel. Our local experts will then create a personalized itinerary based on your preferences which you can amend until you're totally happy with every detail before booking. Our existing itineraries can offer inspiration, and keep in mind that they can all be fully tailored to meet your specific needs.

Updated 18 December, 2019