There’s a lot of Greek Islands out there – some are party islands, others are family resort islands. Here’s a brief rundown of what you can expect to find on some of the more popular islands.
The Cyclades Islands are the group of islands I hear brought up most often when people talk about Greece. These include Santorini, Mykonos and Ios.
Best for sunsets, quad biking, shopping, water activities and hot springs.
Santorini has everything – stunning views and beaches, delicious food, snorkelling, hot springs, and quad bike rental shops on nearly every corner. Santorini is the island most likely to suit everyone’s taste and it was the very first Greek Island I visited.
I’ve stayed in Thira and Kamari Beach during my visits to Santorini. Thira is the main town of Santorini and is a good place to base yourself, but it can get noisy. But all roads lead to Thira. If you stay out of town and don’t have your own transport, be prepared to always have to change buses at Thira to get to your intended destination. The buses are modern, efficient and regular and cost from €1.60 each leg of your journey, so if you going from Kamari to Akrotiri for example, the cost will be €3.20 with a stop in Thira to change buses.
One of the most famous parts of Santorini is Oia because of its spectacular sunset.
Its cobbled winding streets are interesting to wander and are the place to do a bit of souvenir shopping or have dinner and drinks in a restaurant looking towards the volcanic caldera and the sunset.
Be prepared to get to Oia early to secure a prime spot to watch the sunset particularly in high season – it gets very crowded and there are selfie sticks galore.
Santorini is also the place to hire a quad bike. You can hire a quad bike seating two for about €35 euro a day (about A$50), including helmets and insurance. There are quad bike hire places everywhere. The quads bikes in Santorini feel very safe (not so much in Mykonos) and were fun to ride. It was a great way to see the island and not as time consuming as taking the bus.
Make sure you venture out to Red Beach, and you can also combine this with a visit to the Akrotiri archaeological site. The black sand beach, Kamari, is also a nice spot and there’s plenty of accommodation and food options here. There are also numerous tours on offer to the volcanic caldera and hot springs.
Best for beach parties and beaches.
It’s all about the beach parties on Mykonos or you can choose to drink and dance until after the sun comes up at Cavo Paradiso.
The beaches off the beaten track across Mykonos Island are beautiful so a quad bike is a great way to get around.
But be careful who you hire these bikes off – the bikes are far less sturdy than what you can pick up in Santorini and most often helmets and insurance are not included so ask if you want it. Expect to pay around €25 for a two person bike for 24 hours.
Super Paradise Beach is a great swimming spot as well as a beach party spot.
Cavo Paradiso is situated on nearby Paradise Beach and is open from midnight to 8am. There’s a cover charge starting from about A$40 depending on the DJ and event.
In Mykonos town, the Skandinavian Bar is one of more popular bars.
In the town, check out the iconic windmills and wander the streets of Little Venice.
There are regular buses out to some of the more popular beaches such as Super Paradise from the bus station at Fabrika in Mykonos centre. Buses also go to Cavo Paradiso at night.
If you’re hungry, make sure you go to the Attica Bakery right near the bus station. They have treats to suit all tastes but I loved the orange cake and Greek yoghurt with honey. Also find Premier Crepes – it’s cheap and there’s a great selection of savoury and sweet crepes, and the owner is lovely. My friend and I went there for lunch every day of our stay.
Best for nightlife.
Ios is full of many Australians there to drink away the night, and sleep away the day. If you’re lucky, you’ll see maybe a dozen people wandering Ios before 4pm during peak season. It’s a bit of a ghost town during the day.
Ios is filled with bars and pubs offering very cheap drinks. One bar I wandered past was offering two cocktails or three jagerbombs for €5 (about A$7.50)! You would be hard pressed to find that in Australia.
The island itself has pretty views and is worth exploring for a couple of hours before preparing for a big night out.
Make sure you head up to the churches on the top of the hill in the old town Chora for views over to the port and sparkling blue water of the Aegean Sea.
Best for hiking and history.
Corfu lies in the Ionian Sea on the opposite side of Greece from the Cyclades Islands.
A lot of British families flock here during the summer for their annual holidays and it’s more of a family resort town than a party island. But the island is stunning and it’s worth hiring a car to see the island outside the old town.
The old town itself is worth at least a half day to wander and visit the two fortresses on opposite hills. The old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Start with the Old Fortress, and then make your way through the town to the New Fortress, which was built to strengthen the fortifications of the island.
Spare half a day to visit Double Bay at Porto Timoni, about an hour’s drive from the old town past numerous olive groves.
Drive to the village of Afionas and park near the entrance of the whitewashed streets. From there, you walk through the village, past an ocean lookout, and down a narrow dirt path to Double Bay. This is a stunning swimming spot so plan to spend a few hours here before you tackle the walk back up the hill.
Corfu is also a great jumping point to take day boat trips to Saranda in Albania and the Greek Islands of Paxos and Antipaxos.
The waters of Antipaxos are a stunning, clear blue, and Paxos has a picturesque port area. The highlight of the Albania boat trip is the visit to Butrint. About 20km outside of Saranda is this former Greek town which was abandoned in the late Middle Ages. It’s now a site of fascinating ruins.
The islands listed here are just a sample of what’s on offer in the Greek Islands. Other islands you may want to consider visiting at least for a day or two include Naxos, Paros, Samos, Milos, and Crete.
Things you should know:
- Be careful on quad bikes in Mykonos. They’re not that sturdy and helmets often aren’t included. Be extremely cautious on corners. If you’re looking at hiring a quad bike, make sure you’re covered for any mishaps with your travel insurance. Quad bikes are often not included in the standard cover.
- You’ll need plenty of sunscreen and a wide brimmed hat during the summer months. It can get very hot in Greece during the warmer months.
- Be prepared for large crowds at Oia on Santorini to watch the sunset during high season. Get there early and be prepared to mingle with the crowd to get out once the show’s over.
- Greece has accommodation for all sorts of budgets from beach camping to upmarket resorts.
- If you’re taking a taxi on the islands such as from the ports, settle on a price with the driver before you leave. Most island taxis don’t have meters.
- Large sea ferries are a great way to go between islands. There are several companies that service the Cyclades Island routes but I can recommend Seajets, but I also saw a lot of Blue Star Ferries operating.