Best Greek Islands

With more than 200 inhabited Greek islands to explore, each with their own attractions, brilliant sunsets and aquamarine waters, it can be a tall order to decide which one is best suited for your vacation. That's why U.S. News took into account sights, seasonality and traveler sentiment to come up with this list of the best Greek islands. Have a favorite isle? Vote below to help determine next year's ranking. (Note: Some of the below destinations may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Check with the CDC and the U.S. Department of State before traveling.)

 

SUMMARY

Best Greek Islands

  • Santorini
  • Corfu
  • Crete
  • Hydra
  • Kefalonia
  • Naxos
  • Mykonos
  • Skopelos
  • Delos
  • Paros
  • Zakynthos
  • Koufonisia
  • Ikaria
  • Patmos
  • Kos
  • Ios
  • Skiathos
  • Milos
  • Kythira
  • Sifnos
  • Syros
  • Kalymnos
  • Nisyros
  • Kasos
  • Amorgos
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    Santorini

    #1 in Best Greek Islands

    Santorini's classic Cycladic architecture (think: whitewashed buildings with domed blue roofs) makes this archipelago one of the most stunning and frequented of all of Greece's isles. On the main island of Thira, you'll find beautiful black and red sand beaches and well-preserved archaeological sites thanks to its volcanic history. After exploring Thira's busy tourist sights, take a daytrip to quieter Thirassia to experience its quaint villages and untouched wilderness. You'll also want to visit Santorini's acclaimed wineries. Most are concentrated in central Santorini and can be seen during a winery tour.

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    Corfu

    #2 in Best Greek Islands

    Since the eighth century B.C., Corfu's natural beauty has caught the eye of famous writers like Homer and Shakespeare, as well as ancient Venetian, French and British armies that fought to control the island. Today, it's a picturesque haven for travelers seeking some serious R&R. There are plenty of resorts overlooking the Ionian Sea and restaurants, bars and shops lining the streets in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed capital of Corfu Town. For a more secluded getaway, venture farther up the coast.

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    Crete

    #3 in Best Greek Islands

    Greece's largest island offers something for every traveler. Sun-seekers can lounge on beaches (such as Vai and Elafonisi), nature lovers can hike through Samaria Gorge National Park and history buffs can explore archaeological sites like the ancient Venetian Fortezza and the Palace of Knossos (where the mythical Minotaur reportedly lived). Everyone will enjoy savoring authentic Cretan fare – including graviera (a Gruyere-like cheese) and dakos (a twice-baked bread topped with tomato, oregano and olive oil) – at the island's tavernas.

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    Hydra

    #4 in Best Greek Islands

    Part of the Saronic Gulf southwest of Athens, Hydra immediately stands out from its neighbors for its lack of motor vehicles. That's right – you'll have to meander your way around the cobblestone streets on foot or on a donkey. But that's a large part of Hydra's appeal to travelers. While here, walk the island's pebbly shorelines and explore its charming seaside towns like Hydra Town, where you'll discover traditional houses and some of Hydra's best nightlife venues.

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    Kefalonia

    #5 in Best Greek Islands

    Although much of Kefalonia's beautiful Venetian architecture was destroyed during an earthquake in 1953, it still feels magical thanks to its diverse landscape. Wander through charming villages like Assos and Fiskardo to see colorful houses and beautiful churches. Then, soak up some sun on one of the island's sandy or pebbly beaches, or take a dip in the clear turquoise water to snorkel or scuba dive. If you'd rather get an adrenaline rush, hike to the top of Megas Soros (the island's highest point) in Mount Ainos National Park or explore one of Kefalonia's underground caves.

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    Naxos

    #6 in Best Greek Islands

    Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades, meaning there's a lot more shore to go around. Here you'll find plenty of beaches to write home about, from popular Plaka to low-key Alyko, and lots of water sports activities. Due to the wind the west side of the island gets, Naxos is an excellent place for windsurfing and kitesurfing, so be sure to sign up for a lesson. Also save time for exploring ancient ruins like the temples of Apollo, Demeter and Dionysus.

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    Mykonos

    #7 in Best Greek Islands

    If you're looking for a more raucous Greek vacation, opt for Mykonos. When you're not dancing the night away at one of the island's many clubs, you can relax with a cocktail as you admire the Aegean Sea. Other Mykonos must-dos include trying its delicious seafood and admiring its whitewashed architecture. Keep in mind that this popular island does not come cheap – especially during the peak summer season. To see Mykonos without rubbing elbows with hordes of tourists and paying more for flights and accommodations, visit during the shoulder seasons in spring and fall.

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    Skopelos

    #8 in Best Greek Islands

    Whether you enjoy watching movies or spending time outdoors, chances are you'll love visiting Skopelos. Greece's greenest island is where the movie "Mamma Mia!" was filmed. In addition to featuring Agios Ioannis (the church where the movie's characters Sophie Sheridan and Sky Ramand get married), Skopelos is home to pine forests, vineyards, orchards and olive groves. Plus, it offers several beautiful stretches of sand, including pebbly Panormos, a prime spot to catch one of Greece's famous sunsets. Since Skopelos only has two main roads, plan on getting around on foot or by bike.

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    Delos

    #9 in Best Greek Islands

    According to Greek mythology, the Cycladic island of Delos is where the god Apollo and the goddess Artemis were born. Today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Greece's most important archaeological sites. Can't-miss ruins include the Terrace of the Lions, the Sanctuary of Apollo and the Artemision. Additionally, Delos is home to Mount Kynthos, which you can hike to the top of for panoramic views of surrounding islands like Mykonos. When you need some relief from the sun, check out the impressive artifacts on display at the Archaeological Museum of Delos.

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    Paros

    #10 in Best Greek Islands

    Paros, one of the most central Cycladic islands, is a mecca for water sports activities. At the island's beaches, travelers can windsurf, kitesurf, scuba dive and go boating, among other pursuits. Away from the water, visitors will find bustling Parikia, which boasts numerous boutiques, restaurants and bars. Paros' capital also features several noteworthy historical sites, including the sixth-century Panayia Ekatontapyliani (which means "Church with 100 Gates" in English) and a 13th-century Venetian castle. Arrive in summer to attend the Festival at the Park, a popular event held annually at the island's 800-acre Paros Park.

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    Zakynthos

    #11 in Best Greek Islands

    Head to Zakynthos to explore its breathtaking yet rugged coastline full of hidden coves and beaches. Some of the island's most popular spots include Shipwreck Beach and the magical Blue Caves, where the reflection of the sky and the white limestone turns the water an ethereal shade of blue. Other can't-miss sights can be found away from the water. Check out the Venetian Castle that overlooks Zakynthos' main town, then visit the Post-Byzantine Museum of Zante to peruse exhibits featuring religious art.

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    Koufonisia

    #12 in Best Greek Islands

    Koufonisia's three islands may be among the smallest of the Cyclades, but they offer everything you need for a relaxing seaside getaway. Pano Koufonisi (Koufonisia's only inhabited island) is where you'll find the destination's most beautiful beaches, some of which are clothing optional. For a more secluded feel, take a daytrip to Kato Koufonisi to swim or sightsee by boat. Keep in mind, you can't visit Koufonisia's third island, Keros, because of its status as a protected archaeological site, but you'll likely see it from afar while traveling to Pano Koufonisi and Kato Koufonisi.

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    Ikaria

    #13 in Best Greek Islands

    A Blue Zone-designated island thanks to its residents' healthy habits that help them live well into their 90s, Ikaria is an ideal place to unwind while spending time outdoors. Make your way to the island's beaches to swim or surf, or head inland to its mountains to hike, rock climb or bike. After a busy day outside, relax with a glass of Ikaria's famous Pramneios wine. The bold red varietal is said to be named after the island's mountain range, where the god of wine (Dionysus) was born, according to Greek mythology.

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    Patmos

    #14 in Best Greek Islands

    Patmos appeals to everyone from history lovers to sun-seekers. This small island in the Aegean Sea is where St. John reportedly wrote the Book of Revelation based on visions he received about the end of the world. It's also home to stunning stretches of sand, where you can swim, sunbathe and go boating. Start your trip in Chora, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed capital of Patmos, to see the Cave of the Apocalypse and the Monastery of St. John the Theologian. Then, relax at a popular beach like Agriolivado or Psili Ammos before grabbing a bite to eat in Skala.

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    Kos

    #15 in Best Greek Islands

    Kos is home to numerous historical sites, making it a haven for history buffs and archaeology enthusiasts. In addition to offering old-world relics like a medieval castle, an 18th-century mosque and the ruins of an ancient city, Kos features the Tree of Hippocrates, where the famous Greek physician (who was born on Kos) is said to have taught his students. Additionally, Kos boasts nearly 70 miles of coastline, so you'll have your pick of top-notch beaches, including visitor favorites like Paradise Beach and Kardamena beach.

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    Ios

    #16 in Best Greek Islands

    Visitors flock to Ios during the warmer months to enjoy its excellent nightlife scene. But this island north of Santorini offers more than bars, nightclubs and beach parties. During the day, vacationers can enjoy Ios' quieter side while they stroll the winding streets of Chora, a village with whitewashed buildings. Or, they can check out can't-miss attractions like Panagia Gremiotissa (a church with superb sunset views), Skarkos (an archaeological site) and Homer's tomb (where the world-renowned Greek poet is allegedly buried). Travelers who prefer to stay active while on vacation should hike to Pyrgos, the highest spot on Ios.

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    Skiathos

    #17 in Best Greek Islands

    Most Greek islands are known for their beaches, but Skiathos features some of the region's best. Here, you'll find more than 60 stunning options, including secluded Lalaria Beach and clothing-optional Banana Beach. Skiathos' vibrant blue water also makes it a terrific place to go sailing. When you've gotten your fill of sun and sand, spend some time admiring the island's monasteries, churches and medieval ruins. No visit would be complete without heading to Skiathos Town to eat authentic Greek cuisine and party at a local nightclub.

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    Milos

    #18 in Best Greek Islands

    Gorgeous scenery is available everywhere you turn on the Cycladic island of Milos. This volcanic island boasts 80 beaches surrounded by jaw-dropping rock formations, as well as houses in a variety of colors. Plus, Milos features multiple caves (including underwater options for scuba diving), hot springs and hiking trails. For a dose of local history, check out the island's catacombs, ancient theater and Archaeological Museum. The latter houses a life-size replica of Alexandros of Antioch's world-renowned Venus de Milo sculpture, which was discovered on the island in 1820.

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    Kythira

    #19 in Best Greek Islands

    Located just south of mainland Greece, Kythira wows visitors with its natural beauty. According to Greek mythology, the island is where Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of beauty, was born. It's hardly surprising, then, that travelers will find beautiful beaches and waterfalls here. Vacationers can swim in coves at Paleopolis and Kaladi beaches or visit the village of Milopotamos to hike to Neraida waterfall. The island is also home to relics from Kythira's past, including medieval and Venetian castles.

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    Sifnos

    #20 in Best Greek Islands

    Sifnos is a haven for food lovers and artsy types. Here, you'll find highly regarded Greek cuisine, including local specialties like manoura (spicy cheese covered in red wine sediment) and mastelo (lamb cooked in a wood-burning oven with red wine and spices). Plus, Sifnos boasts some of the Cyclades' best pottery. Visit a pottery shop to pick up an authentic souvenir and watch an expert hone their craft. Don't forget to also save time for sightseeing: The island features 227 churches, some of which offer superb sea views.

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    Syros

    #21 in Best Greek Islands

    Spend your next vacation on Syros if you want to be surrounded by history and culture without rubbing elbows with hordes of tourists. Syros offers a quieter scene than other Cycladic islands, making it easy to leisurely explore its charming towns. Check out Ermoupoli's architectural marvels, such as its town hall and the Apollon Theater, then climb the hill above Ermoupoli to Ano Syros, where you'll discover medieval fortifications and panoramic city views. After a few hours of sightseeing, unwind on one of Syros' sandy beaches.

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    Kalymnos

    #22 in Best Greek Islands

    Travelers who want to enjoy adventurous activities while visiting Greece should consider vacationing on Kalymnos. This Dodecanese island's mountainous landscape provides ample opportunities for rock climbing and hiking. Plus, its sea sponges, underwater caves, reefs and shipwrecks make it a highly regarded spot for scuba diving. When visitors are not exploring the island's interior or its surrounding waters, they can lounge on a white sand beach or stroll through the colorful port town of Pothia.

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    Nisyros

    #23 in Best Greek Islands

    Nisyros doesn't offer many beaches, but what it lacks in stretches of sand it more than makes up for in other ways. The distinguishing feature of this less-crowded island is its volcano, which is the youngest active volcano in Greece. Stop by the Volcanological Museum to learn about the volcano's history before venturing into one of its craters. Once you've gotten your fill of the volcano, wander through Mandraki and Emporios (two of the island's most picturesque villages) or enjoy a relaxing soak in one of Nisyros' hot springs.

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    Kasos

    #24 in Best Greek Islands

    Visit Kasos for an authentic dose of Greek life. Because most of Kasos' visitors are former residents, you'll discover a more laid-back atmosphere here than what you'd find on islands with booming tourism industries. Spend some time exploring the narrow alleys of Kasos' five villages: Fri, Agia Marina, Arvanitohori, Poli and Panagia. Then, visit Bouka (a former refuge for pirates) and Emporios (a harbor with a beach and a few eateries). Try to arrive in mid-July, -August or -December so you can enjoy traditional food, music and dancing during one of the island's cultural festivals.

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    Amorgos

    #25 in Best Greek Islands

    Amorgos is the hidden gem of the Cyclades. This quiet island appeals to nature lovers with its beaches, caves and hiking trails. Plus, Amorgos is home to the town of Chora, where visitors can explore a 13th-century castle, sip a glass of rakomelo (a warm alcoholic beverage made with honey and clove) and admire traditional Cycladic houses. While in Chora, travelers should visit the second-oldest monastery in Greece, the Monastery of Hozoviotissa. Located about a mile outside of town, this cliff-side sight offers spectacular views of the Aegean Sea.

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