The Ultimate Guide to Sporades Island Hopping
This ultimate guide to Sporades island hopping is a must read for anyone thinking of heading up to celebrated Skiathos, uber-chilled Skyros, or the others in the chain.
The Sporades Islands are some of the closest of all to Athens. Yet, they seem a world away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. There are just four of them that are permanently inhabited, washed by the lapping blue waves of the northern Aegean Sea off the end of the Pelion Peninsula. Each has its own USP: Skiathos those gleaming white pebble beaches; Skopelos its hills of rustic fruit farms and pine woods; far-flung Skyros its cathedral-buttress peaks and whitewashed villages.
This ultimate guide to Sporades island hopping will whisk you off to this accessible but less-trodden corner of the nation. It will reveal the top times to visit the islands, what you can expect on each, and some of the more practical things about getting there in the first place.
What's in this guide to Sporades island hopping?
- Where are the Sporades Islands?
- When to visit the Sporades Islands?
- The top Sporades islands
- The top things to see and do in the Sporades Islands
- How to get to the Sporades Islands
- Getting between the Sporades Islands
Where are the Sporades Islands?
Trace your finger over the map to the north of Athens. First, it will traverse the wide dog-leg of an island that is Evia. Then there's a short strait before you get to a speckling of green-hued dots stretching out from a thumb-like peninsula where Volos town hides in the bay. They're the Sporades. They actually run nearly 80 miles into the Aegean from the coast, encompassing 24 isles in all, although only four are inhabited by humans.
When to visit the Sporades Islands?
Shh! Don't tell everyone, but we'd say that the climate in the Sporades Islands is just about perfect. Short-lived winters go from late November to around March time. That's perhaps the only time of the year that isn't downright irresistible, although it can still be good for hikers looking to explore the peaks of nearby Evia and the wooded valleys of inland Skiathos without the crowds.
Spring kicks in in earnest in April, and, by May, you can be soaking up the rays with temperature averages of 21+ and less than half of the rainfall of just a month before. Summer gets flowing shortly after that, with averages increasing to the high 20s. Things don't cool down again until at least October, by which time the crowds have all but deserted even the most popular parts of the chain (AKA Skiathos Town). There is some chance you'll get midsummer Meltemi winds on the Sporades, especially in the peak of the summertime. They can be very strong and, occasionally, disruptive.
We think the best seasons to visit the Sporades Islands are:
- Summer (June-August) – Skiathos Town is positively pumping in the high summer, like a mini Ios with plenty of marina-side bars. Yes, the beaches are busy, but they are also bathed in virtually endless sun.
- Autumn (September-October) – Late-season trips in October are some of the very best in the Sporades. The Meltemi winds will calm a little and the crowds really disperse, so you can hike the bays of Alonissos and get some peace and quiet on famous Big Banana Beach.
The top Sporades islands
Picking the top Sporades Islands for our ultimate guide to Sporades island hopping isn't hard. There are only four that are inhabited. However, we also think nearby Evia is worth a mention on this list…
Skiathos is the welcoming party of the Sporades chain. The closest to the mainland and by far the most developed of the lot, it's the one to look to if you're after a hit of classic Greek R&R. The south coast is the hub. There, Skiathos Town cascades down to a boat-bobbing harbour in a flow of dancing tavernas and beer bars. It's very lively in the midsummer and the vibes are good. Beyond that lies an island that's spiked by medium-high hills, clad in pine woods, and dotted with intriguing sites like the Panagia Eikonistria Monastery. The beaches here are also something else. We're talking some of the best sandy beaches in Greece at spots like Koukounaries and Lalaria.
It might have been thrust into the limelight by Mamma Mia! back in 2008 but Skopelos quickly reverted to its old, sleepy, rustic traits. Sailing in from Skiathos, you'll notice lush hills of scented evergreen forests and olive groves falling all the way to the coast. Talking of the coast…Skopelos's beaches channel a little of Ionia, what with shimmering white stones and turquoise waters on offer at Stafilos, Panormos, and others. Skopelos Town is small and kitschy, flanked by a muscly Venetian castle and a few low-key ancient sites.
Skyros is the outlier of the Sporades chain. It's far further east in the Aegean than its brothers and has a distinctly more Cycladic character to show for it. Notice how the pine forests have been replaced by dusty ridges and crags of limestone rock. Notice how the speckling of villages on the shore glow perfect white above scythes of beige sand. These are the hallmarks of the south Aegean, yet here they are. Highlights on Skyros include the postcard-worthy cove of Aspous and the Game of Thrones-esque Chora town, spiked through by a castle on a bluff.
Now entirely encompassed by a marine reserve on account of its native monk seals, Alonissos is the wilder and more untouched member of the chain. Long and thing, it erupts in rolling hills about three miles from neighbouring Skopelos, rising and rising in tufts of Phoenician junipers and twisted oak trees. It's definitely the one for adventurers, as weathered donkey paths weave through the woods and down to the coves and the H2O is hailed as the cleanest in the whole of the Aegean.
Evia isn't technically a member of the Sporades chain, but we've included it here because it's an easy steppingstone into the region from Athens. It's also downright lovely in its own right, coming complete with gnarly mountain ridges that will challenge hikers with the 1,700-meter-high tops of Dirfi. A lot of Evia was ravaged by wildfires back in 2021, but there are still pockets of its lush forest meeting idyllic beaches – at Agia Anna, and Rovies, for example.
The top things to see and do in the Sporades Islands
The Sporades Islands are a treasure trove of things to do and see, whether that means searching for shadowy caves on the Alonissos coast or seeking out idyllic beaches on Skiathos.
Skiathos Town, Skiathos
The summer months bring real energy to Skiathos Town. It's still a bit more chilled than, say, Ios or Mykonos, though there are some clubs – Viral, De Facto – that rumble on until the small hours. More than a party hub, it's also a bustling mass of whitewashed Greek architecture, with vibrant thoroughfares where you can shop for olive oils and olive wood carvings and plenty more.
Agios Ioannis Church, Skopelos
Mamma Mia! buffs certainly won't want to miss this spot. Look up – the white-painted church on a boulder bluff of stone above the Aegean featured heavily in the hit film. But it's not just a movie backdrop. It's an enchanting Greek Orthodox shrine set on a dramatic perch on the coastline of the Kastri region, complete with serene swimming coves to the north and south.
The Blue Cave, Alonissos
Alonissos is famed for its sky-blue waters. In fact, it's a part of a protected marine reserve that's got some of the richest aquatic biodiversity in the whole country. That means boat trips are arguably the number one activity on this member of the Sporades. Just be sure to book one that drops by the Blue Cave. It's a gaping cavern chopped out the north-east coast, complete with glinting waters of perfect azure and strange hanging rock formations.
Banana Beach, Skiathos
Yes, the pebble cove of Lalaria on the north coast of Skiathos is a stunner, especially with its jagged rock arch above the Aegean. However, Banana Beach really sums up the quality of the island's beaches for us. It's long. It's yellow. It's got shallow waters of perfect crystal blue. Behind is an arc of olive trees and leaning pines to offer shade, while other parts of Banana Beach stretch north around a headland to offer the only nudist spot on the island.
There aren't that many Greek island villages that look as dramatic as the Chora of Skyros, which really is saying something! A waterfall of white that rolls over the sun-baked cliffs of the east coast, it's all anchored at a great citadel that was built by the Byzantines hundreds of years ago. Delve in and you can get lost in twisting lanes that occasionally open onto small plazas, each hosting their own coffee shops or pastry bakeries.
How to get to the Sporades Islands
Skiathos is the main gateway to the Sporades because it's the only island in the chain with its own international airport. It's not a big airport by any stretch, but it still hosts a good array of seasonal connections that go to lots of European hubs. We'd recommend trying this option first if you know you want to focus on only Sporades island hopping. There are links in on charter fliers like TUI Airways (from Birmingham, Bristol, London, and more) and even on low-cost carriers like Jet2.com and Ryanair (who mainly run summertime connections from Italy).
The other main way to arrive in the Sporades is by boat. You've got a couple of ports on offer. The bus-ferry combos that leave Athens and go to Skiathos via the harbours of Agios Constantinos are one of the most popular options. They usually take a full half a day, or even more. Alternatively, you can make your own way to the mainland port at Volos, from where ferry links take about 3.5 hours, or go to Evia's Mantoudi port, from where the boats take approximately 2.5 hours.
Getting between the Sporades Islands
Sporades island hopping is actually relatively easy to organize. This chain of destinations is neatly linked very close together, almost tailor-made for those looking to go from one to the other and onto the next.
The best way to do it is to move from west to east, since you're probably going to be arriving into Skiathos anyhow. Ferries then leave from the port in Skiathos Town direct for neighbouring Skopelos. Most arrive at the west-coast port of Loutraki, from where you'll need to cross the island (a pleasure in itself) to reach Skopelos Town's harbour for connections onto Alonissos.
Skyros is the exception to the rule. The main boat links to that most-distant of the Sporades Islands actually leave from the eastern side of Evia, from the port of Kymi. There's also a short-lived summer ferry that links Skyros to Alonissos for those who want to complete a full west-east Sporades island hopping trip, although it gets booked up fast and stops as early as the first week of September.
We hope that this guide to Sporades island hopping has opened up a window onto this lesser-known corner of the Greek Aegean. Be sure to get in touch for more inspiration on trips and island adventures across the land of feta and moussaka!