10 Small Greek Islands That Are Simply Stunning
Greece has a whopping 7,000 islets across its sun-kissed seas. They come in all shapes and sizes, from the rugged caldera of Santorini (one of our favs) to sunset-cocktail-sloshing Mykonos (yep – another of our favs!).
But what about the small Greek islands that lie off the beaten path? There are plenty of them. They beckon the intrepid traveler with promises of whitewashed tavernas by secluded beaches, pine-fringed bays where the snorkeling can rival the Philippines, and quaint mountain villages built from stone.
This guide is all about the diminutive, bijou, small Greek islands out there. It hops from the Saronic Gulf, where Hydra's sail-filled harbors pulse with life, to the bath-warm Ionian Sea, where chalk-white bays skirt the edges of mythical Ithaca.
Ready? Let's go…
Which Islands are in this guide?
The thing about Hydra is that it's only 1.5 hours on the ferry from Athens. Yes, that brings the crowds in the summer months, but also ensures it's larger than life. Only 13 miles from tip to tail, the island's harbor town fizzes with action from May to July as the yachters come in.
Many will make for the epic sunset bar at Spilia Beach, which tumbles down the rocks under Venetian windmills to wild swimming spots. Others will go to the tavernas in the car-less cobbled lanes behind, where the likes of Leonard Cohen have blazed a trail in the past. Hydra (pronounced id-ra) is known across Greece for its super-clear waters. You can sail or hike to bays like Mandraki in the east or Kaoumiti in the west to dive under in the company of damselfish and sea turtles. There's also great hiking, through the pine forests of Mount Eros to the haunting Prophet Elias Monastery above.
Ithaca is the mythic home of Odysseus. Legend has it that it took that great hero more than 10 years to return to his island after the end of the Trojan War. But return home he did. It's easy to see why he was so determined to get there, too…
The place is a sparkling mass of stone that lurches straight from the Ionian Sea. It's dashed by pockets of ancient olive trees (some thought to be more than 1,500 years old!). It's edged by pebbly coves that lap with crystal-clear waters of greenish blue.
The main town on Ithaca is the come-explore-me marina of Vathy. It's in the heart of the island, from where a web of walking trails fan through the mountains. They can take you to the boat-bobbing harbor of Frikes in the north in just 2.5 hours, or south to hidden inlets like Antri, where there's usually not another soul in sight.
Forget Rhodes, Symi is the real star of the eastern Dodecanese. A gem-shaped isle that's tucked into the lovely waters just off the Datça Peninsula in Turkey, it opens onto a wide natural harbor on its north side. That's where the main attraction lies: Symi town, with its creaking windmills and ice-cream-colored homes and bobbing yacht boats.
Recent years might have seen Symi transform into something of a middle-class day tripper spot, but there are reasons for that. Firstly, the food is fantastic. Some say the eateries here serve the finest saganaki cheese and freshest grilled octopus in the country. Secondly, the main town is one of the prettiest in Europe. Seriously, no hyperbole – it's all artfully painted and woven together with charming stone lanes. You'll love it.
Kastellorizo might just be the smallest of all the small Greek islands on this list. At just 3.5 miles across at its longest point, it's 100% walkable. The other strange thing about Kastellorizo is that it's a mere 1.2 miles off the coast of Turkey, which puts it right on the frontier of Greece and the European Med.
It's also quirky and enthralling from the moment you step off the boat. Take the pastel-painted mansions of the harbor, which hearken back to a glory age when Kastellorizo was a major trading point on the Silk Road routes out of Beirut. Take the half-crumbled citadel on the hill, built by the Knights Hospitaller as a bulwark against the Ottoman empire way back in the 1300s.
The joys of life here are the simple things. You'll swim from cove to cove and sunbathe in the company of the pine trees. You'll gaze out at the Turkish mountains at sunrise and dine on fresh-caught octopus and spice-infused baba ganoush. Take us back now!
Delos is one for the culture vultures and history buffs. It's only a whisker from the rollicking streets of Mykonos Town, but it swaps out ouzo-soaked bars for 2,500-year-old relics of the Hellenic World. They include an overgrown drama theater, the proud Lion Terrace carved from marble, and the rather niche Altar of Dionysos (a now-ruined double phallus statue!).
The important archaeological digs continue on up the sunburnt summit of Monte Cintos on the south side of the island. You can hike up there so long as you bring the right gear and enough water. Sweeping views of Mykonos and Tinos to the north are the reward.
Folegandros is fast becoming a favorite pitstop on the conventional island-hopping route through the Greek Aegean. It's perfectly located for that, being roughly midway between Milos (head there if you want blazing white-stone beaches) and Santorini (the most-visited island of all).
But Folegandros remains a relatively unknown and small Greek island compared to its Cycladean compadres. Still, we'll go out on a limb and say that the sunsets here are among the BEST in Greece – sorry Santorini! Every evening there's a ritual: Hike the zigzagging path from the main town to the Church of Panagia and take a perch on the rocks, then wait for the sun to scorch the horizon with pink and red and ochre. If remote beaches are your thing, Folegandros has some corkers. Check out rocky Agali Beach for a snorkeling mecca. Or go to hidden Galifos Beach, where the swimwear is optional.
Teeny-weeny Astypalaia has just 1,334 permanent inhabitants and isn't yet in the spotlight like, say, Santorini. It's a part of the Dodecanese chain, which spreads through the very heart of the Aegean Sea.
The first thing you'll notice? That has to be the soaring Venetian-era castle on the rugged clifftops above the port. It dates from the 1300s and was intended to fend off marauding Berber pirates. The swashbucklers and cannons are now in the past, but the Chora town that surrounds the citadel is a magical maze of stony alleys and flower-strewn tavernas that rarely fails to enchant.
You won't want to miss sleepy Livadia village, either, where lemon groves spill onto the beaches, or the Drakos Cave, with its gnarled stone stacks and stalactites. It's amazing stuff.
The party animal of the Cyclades is a must on any island-hopping trip through Greece. At least, it is if you ask us.
You see, there's nothing quite like sunset cocktails on a Chora rooftop followed by dancing sessions in Slammers and a night-cap boogie down in Irish Dream Club. We see it as a rite of passage for any first-time travelers to the country.
Of course, there's more to Ios than just the hedonism. A whopping 46 miles of sandy beachfront rings the whole island, and the stretches of Mylopotas and Magganari are regularly hailed as some of the most beautiful in the whole region.
Prepare to be stunned by Syros. The main town of Ermoupoli is a symphony of dazzling domes and shimmering mansions, which cascade like a waterfall down to a bay of clear blue water. It's all woven together by narrow alleys and twisting stairs that seem to lead nowhere but then suddenly reveal a sweeping view of the central Cyclades islands.
Venture from the Orthodox spires of the main settlement and there's even more. You can settle on the pebbly sand of Galissas Beach to swim in the shadow of a whitewashed chapel. Or, consider the taverna-lined sands of Agathopes Beach, where you can clink cold Mythos beers as the sun sets over the bay.
Antiparos is just across the strait from the main town on the island of Paros (one of the main stopovers on our 11-day island hopping). You can jump between the two on a ferry that takes about seven minutes. Easy. What awaits is an altogether slower and more chilled escape, where marina tavernas soon leave off for a backcountry of undulating scrub peaks covered in pockets of pines and olive trees. The western shoreline is the definition of seclusion. If you can get there (usually in an ATV), look forward to black-stone beaches and long-lost Orthodox shrines. The east coast is more quintessentially Greek, hitting a lazy zenith at sandy Paralia Panagia.
This list of the 10 top small Greek islands is just a taster of what's on the menu in the veritable playground of islands that is the Mediterranean Sea. We've got loads more suggestions and even whole island-hopping itineraries that can whisk you away to equally amazing spots. Get in touch to find out more.