When: May- September
How long: 2-3 days for all islands, Crete 5-7 days
Following its financial calamity in 2008, fortunately, the only reputation that Greece has lost is its economic one. In the true Grecian style, everything else remains unchanged and extraordinary- and as magical as ever. For anyone with a cultural bone in their body, Greece cannot fail to inspire. Its historic sites span four millennia, encompassing both the mythical and the obscure. It is vast and diverse. Its coastline is dotted by stunning beaches while its mountainous inland urges you to push your boundaries and explore. Nevertheless, it’s no secret that its greatest riches are the islands, ranging from secluded beaches to resorts as contemporary as any in the Mediterranean. Here’s a guide to the five best Greek islands to visit…
For beaches: Milos
The mesmerising colours and bizarre rock formations of Milos beaches make it an absolute must-see. With some 75-odd beaches and breath-taking views, Milos thankfully, hasn’t had to tart itself up to court tourism, meaning you can enjoy the best of the Mediterranean Sea and culture. Perhaps the most famous beach is Sarakiniko; a moonscape land with glaring white rocks contrasted beautifully against the azure seas and skies. Kleftiko is just as stunning. Renowned for its towering rocks and underwater caves, pirates famously hid themselves and their treasures during Turkish invasions, linking it to the name Kleftiko, meaning ‘stolen’ in Greek. Tsigrado, Firiplaka and Mytakas are just as favourable…the list is endless. Excursion boats from the small town of Adamas make it especially easy to get around and visit the beaches. They are reasonably priced and frequent, and refreshingly, not overcrowded during peak season, making it the perfect location for exploring and basking in the sun.
For nightlife: Mykonos
The party capital, only much more sophisticated and chic than the Spanish spots you’re used to. The town of Mykonos is a confusing labyrinth design that was supposed to confuse the pirates who plagued Mýkonos in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It has the same effect on today’s visitors. By day the town is charming and quaint, and surprisingly quiet, as most tourists visit the beaches for the opposing, chaotic beach parties. By night, the town drastically transforms itself to a trendy and stylish night district- completely unrecognizable from its daytime facade. Beyond the partying and hectic town, the shoreline leads to the area known as Little Venice (due to the high Venetian houses built right up against the water’s edge). This is another busy area packed with art galleries, trendy bars, shops and clubs. The well-known windmills of Mykonos look over the water’s edge- a spot that has also been renowned for picturesque moments when the sun settles. Don’t come here for scenery, seclusion or tradition; instead, enjoy the lively beaches and strong Ouzo for a party experience you won’t be quick to forget.
For views: Santorini
If there are some things in life that you cannot miss, Santorini’s sunset is one of them. The town of Fira sits hundreds of metres above the deep blue sea, clinging on a reddish-brown volcanic cliff which at first sight sets it drastically apart from the surrounding islands. Once you reach the maze-like town of Fira, which is only a short coach journey from the port, you realise why thousands of tourists flee to Santorini each year. The rising and setting of the sun is especially beautiful when seen here against the blue and white Cycladic buildings lining the clifftop and is even enough to make battling through the high-season crowds worthwhile. The tourism industry has of course changed traditional island life, making it one of the most expensive islands to visit. Understandably, the island lacks the prominent Greek culture that is so apparent on other islands. Still, there are plenty of cheap hostel and hotel choices and good restaurants dishing up traditional Greek cuisine once you manage to swerve the tourist traps.
- Don’t leave without visiting the volcanic beaches- Red Beach (Akrotiri)AkrotiriAkrotiri and Black Beach (Kamari) where you can still enjoy the warm Mediterranean waters against the colossal backdrop of volcanic walls.
- The best view of the sunset can be enjoyed at Santo Wines which faces Nea Kameni. Get there early and book a table a few days in advance to make the most of the wine and sunset!
For choice: Paros
Paros is one of the less notorious islands but not one that should go unnoticed. It is diverse and beautiful, offering a little bit of everything you’d expect from a Greek Island: monasteries, beaches, miniature villages, fishing harbours and excellent food. Despite it being the less prevalent choice when equated to other famed islands such as Santorini and Mykonos, don’t mistake it for being any quieter, especially in August. Try to avoid staying in the bustling capital Parikia- avoid the tourist crowds and unnecessary money-spending by staying in the outskirts of the town. The island is small enough to easily get around by car and like the rest of the islands; plenty of coach and boat excursions are offered to tourists and locals for a reasonable price. The fishing village of Naoussa is one of the highlights of visiting Paros. Its houses, bars and restaurants rest right on the water’s edge, giving an illusion of a floating village from afar. Spend a day here watching the fisherman at work, chatting to the locals, eating in one of the delicious fish tavernas and generally kicking back, savouring the sea views with a drink at hand.
- Take a day trip to its neighbour Anti-Paros where you can also see its other neighbouring island, Naxos.
- Get to Kolymbithres beach early before the crowds. Kolymbithres is the most famous beach in the area known for its crystal clean water and rock formations.
For something a little different: Crete
Crete sets itself significantly apart from the other Cycladic islands and around. As the largest Greek island, it almost feels like a country in itself and more so resembles its neighbour Cyprus; the furthest and second largest of the Greek islands. Both islands have overtime nicknamed themselves ‘The Big Villages’. This in a way feels very true- they are indeed substantial lands in their own rights. The language, cuisine, history and age-old traditions offer a different and fascinating side to Greece; but of course, the locals still display the same warmth, hospitality and friendliness as anywhere else in the region. The pretty town of Haniá sits to the west of Crete and is perhaps the most favourable location for style, atmosphere and things to do. Don’t leave Crete without braving the Samaria Gorge for one of the best hike experiences in the country.
- Visit Balos beach for white sands and a Caribbean feel nestled in the Mediterranean.
- Elafonissi beach in Chania is also known as ‘Pink Beach’. The pale, turquoise sea and rosy sands will stay with you forever.
- Drive to Preveli beach in Rethymno. A river flows into the sea, passing through many palm trees and forming a lake close to the sea.
With thanks to Ivy Photiou, English teacher for a fantastic guest blog post with amazing pictures, hopefully many more to come!
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