Anyone with the travel bug like us will love exploring new places. Today I want to introduce you to some of the Greek Islands in Southern Europe and, hopefully, inspire you to book your next holiday on one of them (or more!). With over 200 islands inhabited in the Aegean and Ionian Seas, it’s hard to discover which one is right for you as each one lends itself to a different type of vacation, so here is an overview of my top four.
But first… Here’s how to plan your trip
Some Greek islands are more geared towards tourists, especially during the peak season (April to October). It is important that you research your chosen island before you go and, if you are traveling out of season, check that all of the amenities are open during your chosen dates. The best time for you to travel will depend on where you are going, what you want to do and your tolerance for hot weather. When choosing an island, don’t simply go for the cheapest option, unless you are happy with anything you can get on a low budget. Keep in mind that some islands are more difficult to reach, which could mean a proper getaway, whereas others present themselves as busy tourist destinations.
If you’re leaving your car at the airport it’s worth pre-booking your parking spot. You can often pick up a good deal when choosing a spot further away from the terminal. On the price comparison website Looking4Parking.comyou can see different parking options at many airports in the US and Canada.
Wear layers for the journey (air-conditioned planes can get very chilly), but, if you’re visiting Greece between April and October you might need to pack fewer clothes as the temperatures typically range from the mid-seventies to the low hundreds (in Fahrenheit) during this period. We have scaled down our possessions on the road to not be weighed down by the stuff we carry with us. You should, of course, take all essentials (medication, entertainment etc.), especially as shops can be sparse on some islands.
Last but not least, get some currency before you fly out and consider getting a travel card, too. You can preload a travel card with the amount you wish to spend, or you can choose one that simply takes the money out of your account and converts it at the current exchange rate as and when you need it. Don’t forget to buy some adapters for European plug sockets in advance, so you don’t have to run around the island trying to find some.
Corfu: A beach paradise
Corfu looks like the perfect choice for a relaxed family holiday with its idyllic beaches dotted around the island, such as Paleokastritsa with its imposing cliffs, the unspoiled Myrtiotissa or Sidari and its coves of Canal d’Amour. The island has been occupied multiple times over the years and a very strong Venetian influence can still be seen in its architecture. There are direct flights to Corfu International Airport from many European cities or via connecting flights from the US.
With Corfu consistently being one of the top tourist destinations in Greece for decades, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing accommodation. Check out the island’s capital, Kerkyra (Corfu Town), on the East coast, or consider popular resorts in Sidari, Dassia, Paleokastritsa, Benitses, or Cape Komeno.
If you’re after a holiday filled with culture and history, explore the Old Town of Kerkyra. The UNESCO world heritage site is home to Spianada, the largest square in the Balkans, three historical palaces, the Archaeological Museum of Corfu and the Museum of Asian Art of Corfu, and to numerous other historical monuments and attractions. Even a simple stroll through the characterful, pastel-colored alleyways and Liston can make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
Crete: Local charm and glorious food
The largest Greek island is a true foodie’s paradise. Thanks to its size, Crete has something for everyone, from those seeking the luxury of a five-star, all-inclusive vacation to fans of camping or adventure seekers. There are direct flights to the island’s capital, Heraklion, and to some of its biggest cities, like Chania, from the main European cities, whereas if you’re traveling from the USA you’ll need to book connecting flights.
Two of the top destinations on the island are Heraklion and Chania. Heraklion boasts an interesting museum dedicated to the ancient Minoan civilization. Fans of archaeology will also enjoy a visit to the ruins of the ancient palace of Knossos, not far from the capital. Chania is a bustling coastal town with charming old alleys, Venetian-style architecture, and a picturesque Venetian harbor.
Wherever you decide to stay in Crete, make sure you try the local specialties. Cretan cheeses, made from goat’s or sheep’s milk, are often served with honey or grapes here and are best enjoyed under the Greek sun. As a local alternative to Greek salad try the dakos (or ntakos), and instead of ouzo sample the local raki (or tsikoudia), which is a type of strong brandy made from grapes.
Santorini: Breathtaking views and a world-famous sunset
Santorini oozes luxury with lush views of whitewashed buildings and deeper-than-blue sea. It’s the perfect destination for a special wedding or honeymoon, but it won’t disappoint you if you’re just visiting with family or friends. There are direct flights to Santorini from some airports in Europe, especially during peak season. Alternatively, you can fly to Athens and take a connecting flight from there, or, if you want to experience traveling like a local, jump on one of the ferries leaving from Piraeus.
The capital, Fira, on the Western coast, is one of the most popular destinations on the island. It’s a busy village, dotted with taverns, restaurants, bars, and cafés. You can walk everywhere and even reach other villages in the area within a few minutes on foot. Oia, on the Northern tip of the island, offers the world-class views of the caldera at sunset that tourists from all around the world flock to Santorini for.
The majority of Santorini’s villages are built on a dormant volcano, so no matter where you stay find a bit of time to make your way up its crater, to follow the hiking trail that connects Fira to Oia, and to visit one of its unique beaches with their characteristic volcanic pebbles. Don’t miss the opportunity to sample some of the local wines, too, as thanks to the volcanic soil the island’s wineries produce some fine wine that you can’t get anywhere else!
Rhodes: Butterflies in your stomach
If you love nature, Rhodes could be a perfect choice. The island’s capital, Rhodes City, is a protected UNESCO world heritage site with picturesque cobbled streets. During the holiday season, there are direct flights from some of the largest European cities or indirect flights via Europe from America.
If you choose Rhodes for your vacation you won’t run out of options when it comes to choosing a beach to sunbathe on, a mountain to hike on or a historical attraction to visit. Petaloudes Valley (Valley of Butterflies), is a unique nature reserve, where nature buffs can enjoy the spectacular landscape, observe rare butterfly species and witness some rare phenomena, depending on the time of the year.
The capital city of Rhodes is impressive and boasts one of the best medieval castles in the Mediterranean, the Palace of Grand Master, a busy harbor and the ancient Acropolis of Rhodes. If you visit the town of Lindos on the East coast you’re in for a treat, as donkeys are the main means of transport here. The town offers a lively nightlife, great local cuisine and spectacular views from its ancient acropolis and temple.
Check out this guide on Lonely Planet for an overview of some of the most popular Greek islands if you want to discover more information about them. No matter where your next journey takes you take in the beauty the world has to offer and experience a location’s character by slow-traveling. There is so much to be gained by really living in your chosen destination for a while. If you have the chance, you should try it!