Ancient civilizations and sun-bleached ruins define the landscapes of Greece’s azure archipelagos. Active travelers can scuba dive, swim, sail and hike their way around this Medeterranean paradise.
From Santorini’s volcanic caldera, to the traditional fishing dwellings, known locally as syrmas, that line the fishing villages of Milos, Greece’s spectacular island scenery will bewitch you and beckon for your return. Trust me, I’ve been three times in the last four years.
With so many fantastic sights to see and active adventures to enjoy, it can be a challenge to decide which Greek islands to visit. Need a little help? Here’s my guide.
Scenic Hikes in Santorini
Santorini’s iconic sunset vistas and quaint whitewashed towns are quite possibly the most recognizable of Greece’s attractions. Add to that the maze of cobbled streets that wend their way up and down the steep caldera and it’s easy to see why so many choose to visit each year. For active travelers, a cliff top hike from the island’s capital, Fira, to the historic port of Oia is a must. This hike offers unapparelled island views it offers some of the best scenic sights on the island.
Top tip: Due to the excessive number of annual visitors, Santorini’s mayor Nikolaos Zorzos is capping daily visitor numbers from 2018. If arriving by cruise ship, check that Santorini is a scheduled departure point for day trips prior to booking.
Water Activities in Hydra
Hydra is less that two hours from Athens by ferry, yet boasts an eclectic vibe that is far from the bustling streets of the country’s capital, thanks in no small part to the fact that the island is car-free and protected by a preservation order. Scuba diving, snorkeling, and hiking are some of the most popular activities in Hydra, and the chic bars and eateries are perfect for ending an active day with a relaxing meal or seaside drink. Choose Hydra if you’re looking for picturesque places to soak up some sun.
Top tip: Hydriot hikes are best explored outside of the summer season when the heat of the Mediterranean sun has lost its luster. Don’t forget to fill a sturdy day pack with water and energy snacks whatever time of year you visit.
For a Cosmopolitan Escape Try Corfu
There’s much more to Corfu than the sun, sea, and souvlaki it’s noted for. In fact, you’ll find just as much to pique your interest on land as you will by the shore.
Explore beyond the beach and traverse the trail that wends its way toward Corfu’s tallest peak, Mount Pantokrator. Dominating the landscape of the island’s northeast region there’s plenty to see as you climb toward the heavens; impressive panoramic ocean views and picturesque Greek villages pepper the route. At the summit, the opportunity to explore a small yet ornate monestory dating from around 1689 rewards those who stay the course.
Top tip: Stay or dine in a local home for a more immersive island experience. Platforms like Airbnb and Traveling Spoon offer the opportunity to find local Corfiot hosts who can help make your experience unique.
Disconnect From the World on Milos
A relatively undiscovered gem, only the most adventurous travelers make it to Milos. Just a short hop from Santorini on the ferry (I caught the faster SeaJets service which reduces the crossing time by over an hour), once you’re laid on the island’s picturesque beaches the hustle and bustle of Fira’s busy streets seem like a world away.
Head to the secluded village of Klima for insight into Greece’s once thriving fishing industry. Set on the edge of the Aegean Sea in a sheltered bay, here brightly colored boathouses line the water’s edge and old timer’s sit mending their nets. The shallows are ideal for coastal swimming and snorkeling.
Top tip: A quick drying towel is a packing list must have for a water-front escape.
A Yacht Charter in the Cyclades
If, like me, you prefer to see as much of a destination as possible during your stay, a skippered yacht charter is the ideal option when in Greece. Defined by rugged landscapes, ancient archaeological sites, and a healthy peppering of traditional blue-and-white stucco towns, the islands of the Cyclades are some of the most beautiful in the Greek archipelago.
Unsure as to which Greek island to visit last summer I opted to join the Greece Explorer route crewed by Yacht Getaways. With a wealth of active escapes awaiting me on each island and a healthy amount of time dedicated to water sports as I sailed between each port, my sailing adventure offered a memorable multi-island escape.
Top tip: Storage space on a yacht is minimal so I’d recommend that you travel with a collapsible duffel bag instead of a hard case alternative.
Want it All? Cruise the Eastern Mediterranean
If you’ve been inspired by the idea of visiting the Greek islands but can’t decide where to start, why not book a Mediterranean cruise and spend a week or two sailing from one historic port to the next? As well as navigating archipelagos such as the Saronic, Cyclades, and Ionian, some itineraries also include Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast and the Black Sea.
A cruise is also a great option for active families looking to make the most of their time away. Kid’s clubs, waterparks, and childcare services are available on board meaning you can make the most of your time both on and off the islands. With space at a premium in cruise ship cabins, consider utilizing packing cubes to keep your belongs ship-shape and organized throughout your voyage!
Top tip: Try to avoid the peak of summer (July and August when European schools are on vacation) as cruises get very busy and prices are at their highest. At this time the islands also see a peak in capacity and some attractions can feel overcrowded. My advice? Book your trip in May when the weather is warm but the masses have yet to emerge.
You’ll find a wealth of active escapes awaiting you on the Greek islands. Wherever you choose to visit I’ve no doubt you’ll enjoy a healthy mix of meze, mythology and majestic sunsets.
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