From James Bond to Shirley Valentine and Mamma Mia, a Greek island-hopping holiday channels a Technicolor vibe that sings out to the traveller in all of us. Legend has it that dreaming of Greece is supposed to signify new journeys and adventures; and who doesn’t fancy a dream vacation right now?
With cerulean seas, gorgeous weather, charming local culture, ancient history, delicious food and over 200 islands to explore, Greece is top of our wish list for an island-hopping odyssey. Here are five of our favourite Greek islands to tick off.
Corfu is arguably one of the most beautiful of the Greek islands, a gem in the Ionian Sea sitting just west of mainland Greece. The atoll’s lush green landscape and Italian heritage make for a truly singular experience.
The coast may be dotted with busy resorts, but the pretty seaside village of Paleokastritsa is the place to head for an authentic taste of Corfu. Here you’ll find off-the-beaten-track beaches, secret caves and an array of small tavernas serving flavoursome Greek food. Lovers of Greek mythology take note: If Corfu is the mythical island of Phaeacian, then Paleokastritsa is said to be the bay where Odysseus was shipwrecked following a terrible storm.
This pretty island is perfect for hiking enthusiasts. Tackle the Corfu Trail, a 137-mile waymarked route extending from Arkoudilas in the south to Cape Agia Ekaterini in the north.
You can find the Corfu Small Step here.
Further south and the third largest in the Ionian archipelago, the island of Zakynthos – also known by its Italian name, Zante – is famed for its nightlife and natural beauty, with unbelievably turquoise seas and powder-white sand beaches. Wherever you head, you’re guaranteed picture-perfect, Instagram-worthy photos.
The most southern beaches on the island are home to protected nesting sites for loggerhead (Caretta Caretta) turtles. The endangered reptiles return to the same spot to spawn year after year. Zakynthos Marine Park – set up to protect the turtles, seals and fauna – stretches along the southern coast from Marathia Cape to Gerakas beach.
Leave the busier south behind to encounter traditional villages, forested wilderness and the rugged West Coast.
You can find the Zakynthos Small Step here.
Located in the Aegean Sea roughly halfway between Athens and Crete, Santorini is the southernmost of the Cyclades islands. Immediately recognisable thanks to its iconic whitewashed buildings with blue-capped domes clinging to the cliffs, Santorini’s volcanic past has shaped its rugged landscape. The beaches are beautifully adorned with white, pink and black volcanic sand.
This gorgeous island has an origin story to match the hype: Greek mythology has it that whilst searching for the Golden Fleece, one of the Argonauts dreamed of making love to a nymph, who told him to throw a chunk of earth into the sea near the island of Anafi. When he awoke, he followed her instructions and witnessed a miracle as the island of Santorini rose from the water.
Visit one of the dozen or so vineyards; take the cable-car ride off the edge of the volcano to the old port in the capital, Fira; go on a sunset sailing cruise; and visit Akrotiri, a city destroyed by the volcanic eruption in the 17th century, whose buildings and contents remain eerily preserved like Pompeii.
You can find the Santorini Small Step here.
The fourth largest Greek island, Rhodes sits closer to Turkey, part of the Dodecanese island chain. Here ancient history meets active adventure and relaxing beach life in equal measure.
The island’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed capital is Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited medieval town, its focal point being the Palace of the Grand Masters of the Knights. Continuing on the history trail, pay a visit to the ruins of an ancient citadel at the Acropolis of Lindos. Built on a cliff, the site is worth the trip for the views alone.
For aquatic exploits head to Anthony Quinn Bay. Widely regarded to be one of the most beautiful beaches on Rhodes, the cove was named after the actor, who fell in love with the place when filming The Guns of Navarone in 1961. The crystal-clear waters make this one of the top spots for snorkelling on the island. Elsewhere, there’s ample opportunity for kitesurfing and windsurfing on the Aegean Sea as well as hiking and biking.
You can find the Rhodes Small Step here.
Another of the Dodecanese islands, smaller Kos draws visitors to its long, sandy beaches, hot water springs and ancient monuments. It’s also the birthplace of Hippocrates, the father of medicine.
One of the island’s charms is the ease of getting about by bike. The ‘cycling isle’ has plentiful places to hire bikes and over 50 routes, many of them flat. Anyone seeking a challenge should tackle the 14-mile round-trip from Kos Town to Tingaki via the uphill leg to the village of Zipari.
Top beaches include Lambi, family friendly Kardamena, Kefalos and the aptly named Paradise. Or check out the Therma Hot Springs where volcanic heated springs meet and mingle with seawater, providing a pool rich in therapeutic potassium, calcium and magnesium.
You can find the Kos Small Step here.
In addition to the above Greek islands, you can also find the Crete Small Step here.
Which is your favourite Greek island?