There is something undeniably magical about Greece in the summer.
Whether it’s the picturesque whitewashed villages, guaranteed blue skies or turquoise waters, island-hopping around the Aegean only seems to grow in popularity with time. And after the uncertainty of the last few years, many of us have been collectively longing for those long souvlaki lunches on sun-drenched cycladic beaches that we once took for granted.
Thankfully summer holiday plans are looking more promising this year. But with 227 inhabited islands to choose from, where to go? Looking to avoid the hordes? Want to experience a different slice of Greece this time around? We’ve rounded up some of the most beautiful and lesser-known destinations that are well worth the trip.
Imagine powdery white sand beaches stretching languorously along the coast, flanked by the kind of unbelievably blue water Greece is known for and you’ll find Naxos: a sun-worshipper’s paradise. Cobbled alleyways line the capital of Chora and contrasts nicely with the vast countryside filled with mountain villages, idyllic beaches and historic sites.
Where to eat: nibble on handmade Naxian pastries and cheeses at Antamoma.
Where to stay: for a chic upgrade on the classic Greek beach house, it’s got to be Naxian on the Beach.
A typical Cycladic island, you’ll find whitewashed villages spread across Serifos, but without the usual tourist hubbub of nearby Ios and Santorini. With quiet harbours and golden beaches, the island is rugged and best explored by car.
Where to eat: for no-frills Greek fare, book a table at Anna’s Fish Taverna.
Where to stay: Coco Mat Eco Residences offers chic cottages on the shores of Vagia beach.
The Dodecanese islands lie in the sunniest corner of Greece, close to the Turkish mainland. For the spiritual, the island of Patmos is best visited at Easter when the locals hold a number of religious festivals to celebrate Holy Week.
Where to eat: opt for the stuffed squash blossoms at farm to table dining hotspot, Ktima Petra.
Where to stay: perched neatly above Loukákia cove, you’ll find Patmos’ finest hotel at Eirini Luxury Hotel Villas.
To the west of Naxos and Ios, Amorgos is a long and narrow island, famed for its mountainous landscape, with steep cliffs, narrow inlets and enchanting towns, ideal for hiking, diving and rock climbing.
Where to eat: sample the hyper-local fare - a pork and cinnamon omelette - at the Ston Pyrgo taverna in Arkesini.
Where to stay: book a stay at Vorina Ktismata for its delicious (and daily) traditional Greek breakfast.
Where the Dodecanese meets the Cyclades, this butterfly-shaped island boasts hilltops covered with historic whitewashed villages. Sun-drenched beaches are aplenty and the capital of Chora is one of the most picturesque towns in the Aegean, with a castle and blue domed church towering over the town.
Where to eat: the lemon and butter grilled squid from Astropelos Cafe Restaurant is a must.
Where to stay: Chrysalis Boutique Hotel offers some of the best views on the island.
A mainstay summer destination for British travellers, Corfu is one of the more urban islands. With a UNESCO world heritage Old Town, intertwined with historic monuments, stunning beaches and glorious natural landscape – it’s easy to see why this is a family favourite.
Where to eat: for when you can’t take another taverna, head to Pomo D'Oro, a wine bar serving fantastic handmade Italian pasta (and other fresh, seasonal delights).
Where to stay: an adults-only luxury retreat, rooms at MarBella Nido are thoughtfully designed, many with their own outdoor hot tubs.
Located just off the coast of Turkey, Symi is part of the Dodecanese group and the foreign influence is prevalent. Symi’s main town of Ano Symi is filled with colourful neoclassical buildings introduced by the Italians who ruled the island almost a century ago, that descend the hill slopes to the water’s edge.
Where to eat: pick up a divine, freshly baked spanakopita at Symi Bakery.
Where to stay: plonked in the centre of Symi’s glorious harbourfront, Limani Life is boutique Greek luxury at its best.
There’s a reason why Santorini is the most revered Greek Island – and it’s largely due to its iconic pink-hued sunset. But Santorini is also home to its famous red beach, black sand beach and Akrotiri – a prehistoric village. While there, be sure to go cliff diving under the cliffs of Oia.
Where to eat: for the best seafood taverna in Santorini, head to To Psaraki.
Where to stay: skip the crowds in Oia and catch the famous Santorini sunset from your private plunge pool at Carpe Diem in Pyrgos instead.
Crete is the largest of the Greek islands. Elafonissi is often touted as one of the best beaches in Europe, while the 11.1 mile-long Samariá Gorge is the Continent's longest and well worth the hike – even to see a Cretan badger or a spiny mouse.
Where to eat: sample farm-to-table dining at its finest at Agreco Farm.
Where to stay: spend the morning in the couple’s spa suite before parking next to your private pool at Abaton Island Resort & Spa.
Known as the foodie island, Sifnos is packed with fresh, local fare as well as charming villages, great swimming spots, excellent hotels and a whopping 366 churches. If you’re into hiking, swimming and good food – this is the island for you.
Where to eat: for traditional Sifnian fare in a farm-to-table, family-run taverna, it's got to be The Tsikali on Vathi Beach.
Where to stay: a lover’s bolthole, take an early morning dip and watch the sunrise from Verina Astra’s infinity pool.
A shoulder season visit to Mykonos is your best bet to experience it’s beauty without the party scene. Snack on a gyros underneath its famous windmills while you bathe in the glowing sunset.
Where to eat: the island’s most famous beach club Nammos also boasts a world-class restaurant.
Where to stay: discover Mykonos’ quieter side at the incredibly luxurious Myconian Villa Collection.
Usually a stomping ground for heady youth in the height of summer, it’s Ios’s hilltop monasteries, fine sand beaches and undiscovered trails that makes it truly magical.
Where to eat: for when you can’t stop your avocado on toast cravings, head to Hellenic Social.
Where to stay: for the best views in town, it’s got to be Liostasi Hotel & Suites.
Hop in a rented car or quad bike on Paros to discover all corners of the isle - often finding private beaches you’ll have all to yourself. The Cycladic island is also home to the Panagia Ekatontapiliani, a landmark Byzantine church built around 300 AD.
Where to eat: for traditional Greek dishes with a modern twist (and the perfect spot to watch the sunset), book a table at Siparos.
Where to stay: surrounded by amber hued fields, araucaria trees and with views of the Aegean, design-led ParÄ«lio is Paros’ most luxurious hotel.
It’s likely you’ve seen various images of Navagio beach in Zakynthos pop up on the ‘gram - it’s the site of a 1980 shipwreck and is surrounded by tall cliffs – only accessible by boat. Zakynthos is home to some of the bluest water in Greece, so whichever beach you land on, you’re in for a treat.
Where to eat: ask for a window table at Porto Limnionas Taverna for incredible sea cave views.
Where to stay: the adults-only Zante Maris Suites. Most rooms are fitted with private pools and its just a short walk from Tsilivi Beach.
The largest of the Ionian Islands, Kefalonia is made up of limestone cliffs and white sand beaches – many of which are only accessible by foot. Myrtos beach located on the northwestern coast is a must-visit and is considered one of the best beaches in the world.
Where to eat: for an off the beaten path bite, slide into the sea view tables at Captain Nikolas.
Where to stay: perched atop a cliff, Stella Vineyard Studios is an eco vineyard with its own private beach.
Perhaps the most visually-exciting of the Cyclades, Milos boasts a volcanic landscape filled with surreal rock formations that contrast beautifully with its twinkling teal seas.
Where to eat: dine on the Psatha family’s handmade cheese and homegrown veggies at O Hamos.
Where to stay: on the quiet side of the island, you’ll find the minimalist Santa Maria Village.
Lefkada is connected to the Greek mainland by a causeway – yet remains one of the more idyllic Greek Islands. Here you will find traditional villages, sheer cliffs and, of course, turquoise waters.
Where to eat: head inland for authentic Greek dishes at The Old Plane Tree.
Where to stay: perched above the seaside village of Vasiliki, Captain’s Studios is an ideal base.
When Mamma Mia was filmed in Skopelos it cemented the island’s place in Hollywood history - be sure to look for the church of Agios Ioannis Kastri that features in the film. Other than fawning over movie sites, Skopelos has plenty of traditional tavernas and hidden beaches to discover.
Where to eat: set in the courtyard of an old olive oil factory, Zoupa garnishes its dishes with fresh ingredients from its own veggie and herb garden.
Where to stay: most rooms come with its own spa bath or private pool at Natura Boutique Hotel Skopelos, making it easy to lap up the luxury.
Skiathos is part of the Sporades archipelago and is best known for its gorgeous beaches and buzzing nightlife. Yet, unlike Ios and Mykonos, Skiathos' nightlife is less touristy but just as hedonistic. Shake off the hangover by exploring sea caves or lying on one of its magnificent beaches.
Where to eat: for when you want to quell your pasta cravings, Lo & La serves the island’s best Italian.
Where to stay: with direct access to Agia Paraskevi Beach, Skiathos Princess is an excellent hideaway.
The northernmost and lesser-trodden of the Cyclades, Andros is home to tavernas, stunning beaches and … a Museum of Contemporary Art. MOCA, as it is known, has earned a reputation in the art world for its summer exhibitions of famous artists like Picasso and Matisse – definitely worth a visit while you’re there.
Where to eat: dine on fresh seafood while watching ships bob in the harbour at Theros.
Where to stay: with killer Aegean views and ‘grammable interiors, Melisses is a place you’ll want to brag to your friends about.