One village, a few (incredible) beaches, a handful of tavernas and bars. Holidays on Greece’s smaller islands are all about the beauty of simplicity.
If you want to get away from the crowds of tourists and the hustle and bustle of the nightlife at some of the more famous summer destinations like Santorini, Mykonos, and Rhodes, there are countless other options (Greece, after all has over 100 inhabited islands).
Greece’s smaller islands are amazing getaways for those looking to slow down and enjoy the simpler things, along with the sun and the sea. Small means less tourism, more authentic experiences, and locals who are eager to show you around. And each island is unique.
1. Paxos & Antipaxos – a paradise in green and blue
Within a cluster of little islands in the Ionian, about an hour away from Corfu, you’ll find Paxos. Only 13 kilometers across, with three picturesque villages and only 2,300 permanent residents, this is a truly small place. You can easily visit all three villages, Gaios, Lakka, and Loggos, in one day, but you’ll want to stay forever in each.
The gorgeous port of Paxos’ capital, Gaios, is protected from rough seas by the two little islets of Panagia and Aghios Nikolas, creating jaw-dropping green-and-blue scenery. The islets are home to a monastery, and three little churches. In Gaia, you’ll find many shops, restaurants, and cafés. For the most serene settings with gorgeous beaches nearby, stay in Lakka or Loggos.
If you want to feel even more like Robinson Crusoe, you can take a boat to Antipaxos, an even smaller island that’s effectively uninhabited, and covered mostly with vineyards. It only takes 15 minutes. You won’t find hotels here, but you can spend the day hiking up the green hills and snorkeling in the clear turquoise water.
Get to Paxos with ferry boat or hydrofoil from Igoumenitsa, on the mainland, or from Corfu. Fast passenger ferries and hydrofoils from Corfu take about an hour, whereas ferries carrying cars can take over three hours. Corfu can be reached by airplane or by ferry from many major Greek, Italian, and Albanian ports.
Tip: Rent a boat and discover all the pretty coves, sea caves and beaches around the two islands.
2. Koufonisia - a fishing community turned tourist haven
Koufonisia is a cluster of three islands; Pano (Upper) Koufonisi, Kato (Lower) Koufonisi, and Keros. They used to be a secret summer paradise only a few knew about. Now they’re bustling with tourism, but the small island charm lives on.
Pano Koufonisi is the only one that’s inhabited, with close to 400 year-round residents. The other two islands, reachable by a small boat daily, are great for swimming excursions and camping. Kato Koufonisi is popular with nudists.
The village, Chora, bursts with Cycladic charm. It used to be the home of mainly fishermen and their families, as fishing was the main trade here before the tourists found the islands. Today you’ll find plenty of places to stay, eat, and drink.
Reach Upper Koufonisi by ferry from the port of Piraeus (about 8 hours).
Tip: You’ll find some of the most beautiful beaches you’ve ever seen on the eastern side of Pano Koufonisi.
3. Kastelorizo - red castles and blue caves
The bright colors of the amphitheatrically built harbor town of Kastelorizo will take your breath away. While small and remote, Kasterlorizo’s fame is far greater than its size. It’s that pretty. It’s also where the film Mediterraneo was shot in 1991.
There are plenty of things to see. Visit the Lycian Tomb – a 5th century BC grave built into a rock face, the churches of Aghios Kostantinos and Aghia Eleni, and the 14th-century castle Kastello Rosso which gave the island its name.
A true must see is the blue cave. It is said that the famous deep blue color of this cave, which is created by the sun’s reflection in the walls of the cave through the water, has to be experienced as it cannot be accurately captured by cameras. You enter in a shallow boat (you’ll find boat operators to take you there in the port) through a meter-high opening, although note that you can only visit when the sea is calm.
Get here by ferry boat (about 4 hours) or plane (25 min) from Rhodes.
Tip: If you have a sweet tooth try “strava”, a local version of baklava.
4. Agistri - Great beaches within reach
Easy and quick to reach from Piraeus, you would expect this island to fill up to the brim with weekenders all year round. It doesn’t. While it does get a lot of both Greek and foreign tourists in the summer, you won’t notice it as soon as you venture out of the little villages of Skala and Milos.
It’s a green island, with dense pine forest that often leads all the way down to the sea and provides welcome shade in the heat (a fact which makes it popular with campers, although no legal campsite exists on the island). The villages offer plenty of options for meals and drinks. The main reason to visit Agistri however, is the amazing sea and beautiful beaches.
While many tourists find the sandy beach in Skala to be the most convenient, it is more than worth it to visit some of the other, incredibly beautiful beaches of the island. Greeks often come to Agistri on day tours, knowing they’ll have a perfect swim in crystal clear water.
Aponisos is perhaps the most famous destination. It is actually a tiny islet in itself, privately owned and organized, and connected to Agistri by a little bridge. Many birds and animals roam free here, and the dramatic view towards Methana (on the Peloponnese) across the sea is breathtaking. Dragonera is another popular choice a little closer to the villages. Chalkiada, an non-organized white stone beach on the opposite side of the island, offers an adventure in that you have to do a short hike over a hill and wade through water to get there. The latter is great for snorkeling.
To get to Agistri, take a ferry or hydrofoil from the port of Piraeus, direct or via the port of Aegina. It takes less than an hour to get here from Pireaus, and 10 minutes from Aegina.
Tip: Rent a scooter and see the whole island in less than a day. Stop at the village of Limenaria for a traditional meal at the local taverna.
5. Therasia – a secret Santorini without the crowds
The charming settlements that are carved into the landscape on Therasia are home to only 250 permanent residents, and most tourists that come here only visit for a few hours. Being easily accessible by boat from Santorini, it’s the perfect destination when you need a serene spot to take a break from the busy streets of Oia and Thira. Stars like Brad Pitt and Angeline Jolie have stayed here – a clear sign that this is a great private place to get away from the crowds. The island only has a handful of tavernas and shops.
As you hike through the volcanic landscape, you’ll get a taste of what Santorini was like before the overwhelming tourism, and if you get bored, you can always hop back on the boat to the big island.
Get here by shuttle boat from Ammoudi, Santorini.
Tip: There are only a few rooms to rent on the island, so make sure you book yours in time.
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