The Perfect Greek Island for Every Traveller This Summer

There are more than 200 inhabited islands in Greece, each of them offering visitors a multitude of reasons to put them high on their travel list. But how can you work out which to choose?

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Konstantina Pyrnokoki | 18 May 2021 | Photos: Unsplash

To make things easier, we’ve figured out which island best suits your needs, based on its special traits. Whether it’s a delicious meal, a hiking adventure or a spiritual experience you’re after, discover your go-to Greek island for the summer through our curated list.

Most Greek islands boast their own traditional delicacies and individual recipes, with food usually being a big part of their culture. If we had to choose just one, it would probably be Crete. Thanks to the island’s wide range of ingredients, that can only be found here, its inhabitants’ distinct recipes make for mouth-watering dishes. From the savoury-sweet Sfakiani pita — a pie filled with smooth anthotyro cheese and topped with honey — to the spicy cold meat apaki or the staple gamopilafo (made with pilaf, tender meat and extra butter), the options are endless.

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For those adrenaline junkies who would choose adventure over lying on the beach, there are several Greek islands that could do the trick. Milos has some spectacular remote beaches with caves, ideal for snorkelling and further exploration. Some of them can only be accessed by boat, which might encourage you to hop on a canoe and paddle there. For water sports, like wakeboarding, water skiing and paddle-boarding, Zakynthos is the way to go. Keen bikers will particularly like islands like Nisyros, Symi and Halki, which offer plenty of routes in between their villages, beaches and coves.

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A number of Greek islands present intricate hiking trails worth exploring. Hikers are bound to love the impressive, 18km (11mi) gorge of Samaria in Crete, or the innumerable rocky paths of Ithaca; the latter unveil the beautiful places that Odysseus, Ithaca’s fictional king in Homer’s epic poem Odyssey, was supposed to have visited. Some will also appreciate the trails of Andros that pass through virgin valleys and ancient water mills, while others might be drawn to Naxos. This island offers an amazing hiking experience in Tragaea, the vast valley of olive groves with the infinite trails that lead to charming villages.

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When it comes to beaches, it would be unfair to pick just one island, since most of them offer so many great options to choose from. Both the Ioanian and the Aegean Sea are known for their idyllic waters, sometimes emerald, smooth and almost transparent, and other times deep blue and wild. All of these different types of beaches can be found on the island of Tinos that will accommodate any beach lover’s needs. For the more exotic, try Paxi’s bright turquoise waters or Milos’s volcanic beaches like the black-sand Fyriplaka or the famous Kleftiko beach, which is surrounded by volcanic white rocks.

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The island group of Sporades includes some of the greenest in the Aegean Sea. Those in love with the natural world will be mesmerised by Alonissos and its unspoiled landscape, where they can make the most out of pristine beaches, intimate coves and lush forests, and even spot rare animals, such as the Mediterranean monk seal. To best explore the fascinating flora and fauna of the island, it’s worth hiking through the imposing Kastanorema gorge. This starts as a narrow riverbed from the location of Kastania before turning into a full-blown, winding gorge revealing steep cliffs and rocks.

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It probably doesn’t get more picture-perfect than Santorini. Shaped as a semicircle formed by a half-submerged caldera, this volcanic island is a tourist magnet, thanks to its black-sand beaches, attractive villages and world-famous sunset views. Influencers and Instagrammers will effortlessly snap that perfect selfie against the backdrop of the tangerine sun diving into the caldera, or in between stunning Cycladic white houses and churches. Gorgeous cliff views, other-worldly, black-sand beaches and an accessible, active volcano that constantly exhumes sulphur and ash amount to a unique visual experience — guaranteed to win you a few more likes.

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The Argo-Saronic Gulf’s most artistic island, Hydra has been serving as a quiet sanctuary for painters, musicians and writers for centuries. The unassuming beauty of Hydra, with its quaint harbour, its serene beaches and its cobbled pedestrian-only alleyways, provides the ideal setting for inspiration. Henry Miller, Pablo Picasso and Leonard Cohen are among those who frequented Hydra in the past and this is where they created some of their popular works. Cohen even bought a house on the island and lived there in the ’60s. Today, Hydra still hosts exhibitions, art festivals and all kinds of cultural events that are sure to attract artists and culture enthusiasts alike.

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A favourite among Hollywood celebrities, Mykonos is defined by its posh, cosmopolitan character, particularly present in its stylish cafés and restaurants, as well as in the numerous high-end boutiques found on its cobblestone alleys. There are more than 170 stores to choose from, so fashionistas will never be bored here. From local brands to prestigious fashion houses, these all come in the form of inviting, white-washed fashion hubs that are really hard to say no to. For all the chic international brands, try Soho Soho Mykonos, or pass by Greek designer Orsalia Parthenis’s minimalist boutique for a taste of the local fashion scene.

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The epicentre of the Minoan civilisation (documented between 3000 BC and 1100 BC), Crete is one the islands with the richest history in Greece. History buffs will marvel at astonishing archaeological museums and monuments, with the most prominent ones being the sites of Knossos and Phaistos. Their respective palaces in Heraklion city remain largely intact, revealing entire centuries of Crete’s sumptuous past. It’s also worth visiting the little island of Delos and its museum that hosts an impressive archaeological collection of around 30,000 vases, 8,000 figurines and 3,000 inscriptions. The island of Rhodes, with its grand temples, ancient cities and ruins from the Hellenistic and Roman periods, also makes for some captivating history tours.

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Whether you’re a deeply religious person, or simply someone who’s intrigued by the spiritual world, Patmos should be your go-to Greek island. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Patmos’s Cave of the Apocalypse is where Saint John (one of Jesus Christ’s 12 Apostles) received the visions that led him to write the holy “Book of Revelation” around 95 AD. Fans of the spiritual will also love the majestic 11th-century Monastery of Saint John the Theologian brimming with precious religious artefacts. An important hub of hagiography during the Renaissance, Patmos still carries those holy, spiritual vibes that are bound to pacify even the most anxious of souls.

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