The Best Greek Islands That Aren’t Santorini or Mykonos
There is nothing more enviable than watching someone’s Instagram stories unfold as they arrive on a Greek island. The summer months, known as the high season for Greece, bring tons of travelers to the country’s many scenic islands for the beaches, the relaxation and the nightlife. Some of these, like Santorini and Mykonos, can get overcrowded and busy, so it’s a good plan to seek out a lesser-known island when heading to Greece. Some of these, like Spetses, aren’t unknown to tourists, but they’re certainly quieter and more enjoyable. Here are five of the best lesser known Greek islands to book for you next vacation, from Tinos to Kefalonia.
Hop a short ferry ride from Mykonos and you’ll find yourself on the small island of Tinos, a quaint destination in the Cyclades archipelago. The island is known for its traditional villages, picturesque beaches and Greek Orthodox church, Our Lady of Tinos, which draws religious pilgrims throughout the year. Explore the villages–Pyrgos, Kardiani and Ysternia are some of the most popular–or visit one of the many museums, including the Cultural Centre of Tinos. There are lots of outdoor activities, like hiking and scuba diving, and the food scene is full of hidden gems (look for a restaurant called Thalassaki in Ysternia). The island also has guest houses and B&Bs aplenty, but one of the best is Xinara House, a traditional, white-washed building set on a hillside. Tinos is best traveled with a rental car, although there are plenty of paths throughout the island to walk from place to place.
You may recognize Skopelos from Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again as the film used this idyllic destination as a stand-in for the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi. Despite that, there’s not a lot of Hollywood glamour on the island, located in the western Aegean Sea, and it’s still quiet enough to make the spot feel secluded. It’s perfect for both couples and families, with Skopelos Town providing numerous eateries and hotels. Be sure to visit the blue waters at Panormos Beach, as well as Agios Ioannis Kastri, the hillside church used in Mamma Mia. The hotels are remarkably inexpensive, even the most luxurious properties, so it’s possible to extend your visit into a relaxed weeklong stay. Book into the Adrina Beach Hotel, where the guest rooms offer water views from the private balconies.
Part of the so-called Greek Riviera, Spetses is a slightly more popular destination than the other islands, although it’s managed to retain much of its traditional charm. Take in the history, from the 17th-century House of Bouboulina to the House of Hatzigiannis Mexis museum, or just head to one of the many beaches, which offer access to crystal blue water and lots of watersports. July and August can be very busy, so plan a trip off-season to avoid the crowds. Cars aren’t allowed on the island during the summer months, but visitors have plenty of ways to get around, including taxis, ferry boats and scooters, which can be easily rented. The Poseidonion Grand Hotel, opened in 1914, is the most famous property on Spetses and visitors can pick between the historic wing and the more contemporary new wing. For something more intimate, book into Guesthouse Niriides, a boutique hotel walking distance from the main port.
Iraklia can be found in between Naxos and Ios, and the tiny island is a calm spot for a relaxed vacation. It doesn't necessarily cater to tourists, which means that Iraklia can feel a bit remote and low-key. Head to island by ferry from Naxos and book into one of the traditional, local-run guesthouses, like Villa Meltemi or Villa Zografos. The main port and beaches are in Agios Georgios, but it’s worth hiking in to Livadi Beach, accessible via trail. Because the population is sparse and island quiet, Iraklia is best visited as part of a longer journey to Naxos (unless you’re someone who really enjoys sitting and doing absolutely nothing) or one of the other, bigger Cycladic islands.
Travel west of mainland Greece, into the Ionian Sea, to discover Kefalonia. It’s not the most well-known Greek island—it’s claim to fame is acting as the shooting location for Captain Corelli's Mandolin, a movie you may be too young to remember. Arrive by ferry or charter plane, and enjoy the island’s laid back vibe, which remains so even during the busiest months. There are numerous towns throughout the island, including Fiscardo and Assos, and visitors can seek out the many beaches (some only accessible on foot) or visit one of the medieval castles. Snag a room at the Kefalonia Grand, a four-star luxury hotel in Argostoli that has a chic vibe and a good location. Book a room with a sea view or splurge on the master suite, which has its own Jacuzzi. For dinner, head to Tassia, where you can sit on the outdoor patio and chow down on food from acclaimed Greek chef Tassia Dendrinou.