Greece has over 2000 islands, from landmasses big enough to be countries themselves to smaller private islands. Some of these beautiful islands are the most visited holiday destinations in Europe, with each offering a wide diversity of beaches, Greek history, adventure activities and warm weather year round. In this guide we outline the features, crowds and excursions for each of the best Greek islands that you can visit directly from the UK, to help you choose the perfect location for your next holiday!
When to go: Late May to early October (all islands)
Crete is the largest island in Greece and has a varied terrain of beaches, towns, hillsides and Greek history. It has a number of beaches surrounding the coastline, whilst inland you’ll find ancient monuments, small churches and local towns without a tourist in sight. As well as being the cultural heart of the islands, Crete is also great for food, offering a full Mediterranean selection of local cheeses, olive oils and wine to go with fresh seafood. Crete suits holiday seekers who want quiet relaxation alongside a cultural and historic experience of the Greek islands. If you’re more into the party scene, the popular resort of Malia is the centre of Crete nightlife, attracting 18 – 30s from across Europe. One of the best Greek islands for scenery.
Recommended for: Families, couples and singles of all ages – a large island with plenty to do and something to suit everyone
Top tips for visiting Crete:
- Visit Anogia cave (Cave of Zeus), regarded in Greek mythology as the birthplace of Zeus. There’s a selection of impressive caves to explore on the island
- If you’re staying to the west of the island, visit Elafonissi beach and Nature Reserve. It’s often regarded one of the best beaches in the world and provides an excellent photo opportunity
- Try to plan your visit around a local festival – it’s a brilliant way of seeing the local culture and is great fun. See the major festivals taking place in 2017 here.
Where to stay: If you’re looking for a quiet retreat with cultural excursions, we’d recommend Rethymno. If you’re looking for a busier resort great for partying Malia in the Iraklio area of the island is ideal.
Known for its nightlife but also offering ancient Greek ruins, Kos is one of the best Greek islands for a younger crowd of couples and friends looking for good nightlife. The island has enough bars and clubs to keep you entertained for a full week and there’s plenty of cultural activities and sights to explore during the day when you’re not relaxing on the beach. The island also has quieter areas ideal for family holidays – we’d recommend Kos Town. A small destination with excellent beaches and plenty to do.
Recommended for: Couples and singles
Top tips for visiting Kos:
- Visit the Asklepion Greek ruins and take pictures of these towering ancient pillars as you stroll around the site in the hot Greek sun. Being quite a vast archaeological site, we’d recommend you join a guided tour
- The best beaches on the islands (in our opinion) are Agios Stefanos, Camel beach and Xerokambos beach – be sure to visit at least one of them during your stay
- If you want the liveliest nightlife resort, Kardamena is the place to be. For a quieter but equally as fun nightlife, Kos Town and Tigaki are good options
Where to stay: Kardamena – nice beaches and the best nightlife on the island.
Mykonos is a tranquil scene of relaxation and beautiful beaches during the day that comes alive at night. Mykonos Town is at the heart of the island, lined with pretty white buildings and quaint churches with plenty of holiday resorts in the surrounding area. The island attracts a party crowd of all ages, including cruise ship tourists, honeymoon visitors and beach lovers. Mykonos is one of the best Greek islands for luxury holidays and can be more expensive than other options. Nevertheless, it’s well worth visiting and remains one of the most visited destinations every summer!
Recommended for: Couples, friends and singles who like a good nightlife
Top tips for visiting Mykonos:
- Buses are a great way to get around the island. They’re cheap, regular and don’t take too long. Pick up a bus times schedule from the bus station in Mykonos Town so you can plan ahead
- The Mykonos Town beach area is the centre for nightlife on the island and has plenty of bars to crawl, our favourite being Lola Bar-Café, a chilled out cocktail bar, ideal for pre-drinking before hitting a club
- You may be staying near a beach but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t explore some of the other beaches on the island. Rent a car or take the local bus and try out some different beaches during your stay. Some of our favourites include Kalafatis Beach in Mykonos Town, Elia Beach, a secluded bay to the south, and Agios Sostis beach to the northern point of the island
Where to stay: The west coast of the island near the airport has the most going on.
Santorini is one of the best Greek islands for spectacular hillside scenery and is famous for its white walled buildings on top of mountainous volcanic terrain. It can be one of the more expensive islands to stay on and generally attracts those looking for a luxury holiday for the family or a romantic couples break. Cultural walking, wine and local town tours are a core part of a holiday in Santorini and it provides both culture and mountain top relaxation. Many holidaymakers visit Santorini in tandem with Mykonos.
Recommended for: Families and couples looking for a luxury trip.
Top tips for visiting Santorini:
- Santorini is big on locally produced wine and has a number of vineyards. Spend an afternoon wine tasting in the hot Mediterranean sun. We suggest Santo Winery. It has great views of the bay as you sip on a selection of crisp white wines
- Another highly popular activity on the island is sailing. Join a sunset sailing trip one afternoon to see another side of the island. Self-sail and guided tours are available
- Being a small island, hotel places are limited on Santorini, especially in the peak summer season. Book as early as possible to guarantee and room for the best prices
Where to stay: Oia is both romantic and quiet but has enough going on to keep you entertained on an evening.
Another large island, Rhodes is a cultural haven of the Mediterranean with excellent beach resorts. It has a number of both lively and quieter beach resorts and plenty of sights and towns to visit. Faliraki is the well known party resort whilst Rhodes Town on the northern tip of the island is a medieval port full of monuments, museums and photo opportunities. You’ll also find quieter beach resorts dotted around the coastline.
Recommended for: Young couples and singles (Faliraki), Families and older holiday seekers (Rhodes Town and surrounding beach resorts)
- No matter what area of the island you’re staying in, Rhodes Town is a must see. Museums, monuments, an impressive harbour and a castle are all possible to see in a one day trip
- If you plan on touring the island, terrain can be difficult to navigate and we’d recommend renting a car and sat nav over a moped
- The area of Lindos to the central east of the island has the best beaches and sea views. Visit for the day if you’re not staying in a nearby resort for a chance to see this lively but beautiful side of the island. It’s tranquil during the day but has an excellent nightlife
Where to stay: Due to the large size of Rhodes, we’d recommend staying in a beach resort to the North East of the island. It’s close enough to visit the attraction packed Rhodes Town whilst also hosting some of the best beaches
Corfu is another one of the largest Greek islands, with a rich culture and history. Inland you’ll find acres of trees and mountains, whilst the coastline is lined with developed holiday resorts. Corfu is a long-standing centre for beach holidays and is definitely has one of the busiest coastal areas on the Mediterranean, particularly in the North. It is commonly known as one of the original islands to open its doors to tourism and is ideal for those wanting a traditional beach holiday with plenty of hotels, restaurants and activities to choose from. It can also be a little be cheaper to holiday here over some of the other islands. In our opinion, Corfu is the best island for sightseeing and things to do if you like a long and active holiday
Top tips for visiting Corfu:
- Corfu isn’t all about beaches and holiday resorts. Inland you’ll find plenty of small villages and powerful scenery to hike and explore. Visit Kaiser’s Throne to the east of the island for impressive views of the entire island
- No matter where you’re staying on the islands, Corfu Old Town is a must-see! It’s a town full of Venetian architecture and influence. Wander the boutique shops and narrow streets, tour one of the two medieval castles and stop by museums to learn about this ancient but iconic area of Greece in detail
- Whether you’re on a fun holiday with the family or travelling with friends, a water park can be a great way to enjoy the hot Greek sun whilst staying cool. Aqualand, in the centre of Corfu, is a great day out for the whole family.
Where to stay: We’d recommend staying in the central eastern part of the island. It has a variety of nice beaches and resorts and is a good base to explore other parts of the island. If you’re looking for parties, Kavos in the south is the best place to book
The islands listed in our guide are by no means the exhaustive list. Greece has many more popular islands to explore, however our selections are generally easier to get to due to regular flights from the UK. If you wish to explore another island during your trip, join a boat tour and go on a Greek island voyage!