Mykonos? The Acropolis? Both are wonderful, but even in these challenging times those are popular places—but if you’re looking to take some roads (or ferries) less traveled this summer you’re in luck because Greece has plenty of them. In fact, there’s never been a better time to explore Greece like the locals do than right now. Here are five fascinating and uncrowded alternatives to some of Greece’s more famous tourist hotspots that are ripe for discovery.
Milos: Santorini’s wilder sister
This Greek island stunner is less poster child for Mykonos-style sizzle and more about nature and serenity. Like the iconic island of Santorini, Milos is volcanic in origin. There is a truly stunning array of landscapes and beaches with backdrops of multicolored cliffs and water that dazzles with crystalline greens and blues. The captivating geological formations here are the result of undersea eruptions that happened three million years ago. The surreal, lunar-white landscapes of Sarakiniko right next to the sea have provided the backdrop for many video and fashion shoots. In antiquity the Athenians weren’t always very nice to the denizens of Milos (Sparta was involved) but they sure do adore the place now: it’s quite a popular honeymoon spot, too. Milos is an easy three-hour ferry ride from Piraeus.
Karpathos: Ravishing & remote
Slender Karpathos is the second largest island of the Dodecanese archipelago. While Patmos, another island in this Aegean archipelago, has attained more of a following as an in spot in recent years, slender Karpathos is even more remote (it’s closer to Crete) and more coastline means—you guessed it—more beaches! But the island has a unique folkloric tradition too, especially in mountain villages like Olympos.
Spetses: Isle of delights
Spetses may hold the title of poshest of the Saronic islands—Greta Garbo and other film stars visited in the 1960s and gleaming yachts are a fixture in its gentle aquamarine waters today. But this breezy gem of an island also holds a vaunted place in history because of its prominent role in the 1821 Greek War of Independence. Spetses was home to the legendary naval commander, Laskarina Bouboulina. With few exceptions there are no cars here, and the beaches are numerous. Some, like the jewel-like Agios Nikolaos, are within easy walking distance of the island’s pretty port.
Serifos: Quiet beaches and beauty
Serifos is an off-the-grid yet well-located Cycladic island anchored in the Aegean Sea south of Kythnos, and north of the somewhat better-known Sifnos. Though quite rugged and barren, Serifos is endowed with a number of very good beaches. And no big chain hotels here: the islanders like to keep things small and simple. Fun fact: Serifos helped the Athenians beat back the Persians at the Battle of Salamis in 480 B.C.
Thessaloniki: the metropolitan surprise
Did you know that Thessaloniki was named after a half-sister of Alexander the Great? This soulful metropolis on the Thermaic Gulf is literally full of surprises, and a mountain of history: think ancient Roman ruins, early Christian heritage (Apostle Paul brought the first message of Christianity here) and a rich and fascinating Jewish history, too. And the myriad restaurants and little bakeries (ever tried fresh tsoureki? major yum!) make Thessaloniki a kind of culinary nirvana, too. Add to this real urban innovation—so cool, in fact, that they have big outdoor fans in some spots to help beat the summer heat! You’ll find that your Greek summer travel plate is incomplete without a few days to experience seductive Thessaloniki.