Island Groups in Greece: An Ultimate Guide

The ultimate Greek island guide

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Greece is a country that is at once European, Balkan, Mediterranean, and Eastern. It lies at the juncture of Europe, Asia, and Africa making each region very different.  Greece has over 6000 islands and smaller islets. Just 227 are inhabited.   

So the question is, where to begin?  The largest Greek island is Crete, located at the southern edge of the Aegean Sea. The second-largest island is Evvia, separated from the mainland by the 60 m-wide Euripus Strait.  The third and fourth-largest Greek islands, Lesbos and Rhodes

Brief Information for the Greek islands

The Greek Islands are some of the most beautiful places in the world. The beaches are pristine, the people are friendly, and there’s always something to do.  

Greece has the longest coastline on the Mediterranean and the 11th longest coastline in the world at 13,676 km (8,498 mi) in length.  This beautiful and dramatic coastline is sheltered by bays and coves, sandy beaches, sand dunes, pebble beaches, wetlands, caves, and multiple volcanic areas.

If you’re considering going on vacation to Greece this summer, knowing where to begin and what Islands to visit can be quite challenging.   Start with the geography of the Greek Islands when planning a Greek Island hop to one of these amazing spots. 

This Greek Island guide will help you to get a handle on which Islands may be right for you to visit.

Greece map - Island Groups in Greece

Which are the island groups in Greece?

Ionian Islands

The Ionian archipelago consists of big and small islands scattered along the western coast of central Greece and to the south of the Peloponnese. The group is made up of 14 islands in total. Zakynthos, with its Navagio beach, is the most well-known.

The Ionian islands are distinguished by their natural setting, which sets them apart. Their lush foliage here merges seamlessly with the turquoise of the water and the azure of the sky, producing a gorgeous natural landscape that seems like it came from a painting.

Other notable features of the Ionian islands are the Venetian influences in architecture, the mellifluous speech of many inhabitants, musical influences, and its world-renowned gastronomy. Fresh fish is a big part of the local culinary tradition, but many other recipes are based on lamb, beef, local vegetables, and pasta.

The Ionian Islands are known for the large variety of products such as olive oil, local wines, figs, honey, fruit liqueur, meat, cheese, and legumes. The Italians influenced the cuisine due to the long period of Venetian rule. 


The term “Cyclades” relates to the islands that form a circle surrounding the holy island of Delos (the word in English means “circular islands”).  Delos was the center of ancient Greek civilization and today is a very popular island to visit, but you can not stay overnight on this sacred island.  

The Cyclades are undoubtedly the most well-known island group in the Aegean Sea.  The ideal method to experience this island group is “island hopping.”  due to their proximity to one another and to Athens, utilizing the very efficient ferry boat system that operates within the Cyclades Island group.  

Mykonos, for example, is a cosmopolitan island known worldwide for its party atmosphere and sophisticated hotel firms.  Conversely, Tinos is just a hop, skip, and jump away, known for its religious significance and peacefulness.  Many that follow the Greek Orthodox Faith will pilgrimage to this tiny island.  

This archipelago comprises numerous islands, with Mykonos and Santorini being the most well-known.  However, many others are worth visiting, such as Paros, Anti Paros, Naxos, Folegandros, and Milos.  

Santorini is recognized for its colorful volcanic stone backgrounds, white buildings, and meandering lanes that ascend the cliffs, leading to settlements and beautiful sunsets. Milos, located in the southwest of the Cyclades, features breathtaking natural landscapes and rock formations created by volcanic activity and numerous beaches that satisfy the soul at every turn.


The Sporades is a group of Greek islands off the Aegean Sea’s east coast. The islands are known for their beaches, wooded terrain, and coastal diving and snorkeling. They are made up of 24 islands. Four of them are inhabited – Alonnisos, Skiathos, Skopelos, and Skyros.  Alonnisos is at the center of a marine park home to rare seabirds, dolphins, and the Mediterranean monk seal.  

Skyros is the largest Island, Skiathos is closest to the mainland, and Skopelos is probably the most popular Island in this Island group. Alonisos is famous for its natural beauty, amazing beaches, and genuine atmosphere.  Great for those looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure.  

Skopelos and Skiathos were featured in the 2008 filming of “Mamma Mia,” inspiring movie droves to travel to Greece not seen since “Summer Lovers” came out in the early 1980s.


In the southeastern Aegean Sea, the Dodecanese is a group of Greek islands known for their medieval castles, Byzantine churches, beaches, and ancient archaeological sites. There are 15 larger plus 150 smaller Greek islands within this group. The Dodecanese translates to “12 islands”, named after the 12 biggest islands in this region: Rhodes, Kos, Karpathos, Kalymnos, Patmos, Astypalea, Simi, Leros, Nisyros, Halki, Tilos, and Lipsi.

Rhodes is the most popular and largest Island, and the Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracting millions of visitors annually.  When visiting, stroll around the ancient paved alleys, visit the Venetian Castle, the Palace of the Grand Master, and the Street of the Knights.

​​Halki is the smallest inhabited island of the Dodecanese, just 9 km west of Rhodes. According to the legends of ancient Greek mythology, Halki was first inhabited by the Titans. Halki is also quite close to the Turkish coasts, up to two hours away, making it a great jump-off point to get into Turkey quickly and inexpensively.  The population at Halki is just 330 people, and there is only a single inhabited village. 

Saronic Islands

Let’s sail to the next archipelago on our Greek Island Hop.  The Saronic Islands are between the Attica peninsula and the northeastern shores of the Peloponnese.  These are the closest Greek islands to Athens and include Aegina, Poros, Hydra, Spetses, and Agistri.   Agistri is not that popular but is worth exploring as it has yet to be commercialized.  

Hydra is the most well-known of the islands and is easily accessible with a one-day cruise from the Port of Piraeus in Athens.  Upon arriving at the harbor of Hydra, you feel as if you have returned in time with the cobblestone streets and well-preserved mansions. This is the ideal island for those that wish to discover on foot as you will not find cars here, and instead, everyone travels by boat, foot, or even mule, providing a truly historic experience. 

North Aegean Islands

The North Aegean Islands are best visited between July and early September when the weather is warm, and the best method to explore the island group is by scooter. Samos and Ikaria are two famous islands in this group and are very popular among the younger crowd.

Samos is a beautiful setting for history and culture buffs as it is the birthplace of Pythagoras, the famed Ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician. Myth has it that goddess Hera was born and raised on the island. Samos has an outstanding natural landscape, beautiful beaches, and fine wine.  You can visit one of the many traditional pubs and restaurants that provide to-die-for traditional local delicacies.

The Island of Crete

Crete is the largest island in Greece and one of the largest in the Mediterranean.  Crete has an unparalleled character and atmosphere which cannot be compared to any other part of Greece. Driving along one of its bountiful coasts will reveal a constantly changing countryside.  In one place, harsh and barren. In another wooded and gentle. 

Its villages are perched on mountain ridges adorned with olive trees, orange groves, vineyards, and Cypress forests, while the hillsides are speckled with old stone farmhouses and monasteries. Shores are lined with forbidding rocks at one glance, only to be transcended to beaches blessed with miles of sand or pebbles.

It offers a variety of unique experiences, including two magnificent pink-sand beaches (one of only around twelve in the world), historical towns, medieval castles, and gastronomic delights.

The ancient Minoan palaces of Knossos and Phaistos and several other landmarks and museums highlight the island’s rich past, where the development of one of the most important civilizations on Earth, the Minoan (2800 – 1150 B.C.), came to be. The most famous archaeological site on Crete is Knossos, located in Heraklion, which contains the ruins of the Minoan Palace, built in 2000 BC, excavated in 1900, and partially reconstructed.

Cretan hospitality is truly a unique experience, allowing for one to taste such “meze” as yogurt and honey, sweet tarts (kaltzounia), pies made with wild greens flavored with Fennel, fried cheese (staka), rabbit stew, cheese pie from Hora Sfakion, cockles, and boiled goat. An array of delicacies, fried or grilled over charcoal, can be found along the seaside, from calamari to octopus.

Rhodes - Island Groups in Greece

Island Groups in Greece: Getting Around

Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport (ATH), sometimes known as Athens Airport, is Greece’s principal international airport. It is the primary means of entering and exiting the country overseas. However, there are also hundreds of flights to many of the Greek Islands. 

While not all islands have airports, the bigger ones do, such as Santorini, Mykonos, Naxos, and Paros. Crete, Rhodes, Lesvos, Corfu, Skiathos, Chios, Samos, Kos, Kefalonia, Zakynthos, and other islands are included.

The Greek islands are inter connected by ferries, which is the best way to get around and typically very affordable.   It’s not the quickest, but it runs often, is efficient and gets to islands that you can’t get to.Although many complain about the length of a ferry journey as they can range from a couple of hours up to 20 hours we must remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said; “Life is a journey, not a destination”

Choosing the right island for you

Choosing the right island is important as it’s not just about where you want to go but what you want to do while you are there. There are many factors to consider when deciding which Greek island is suitable for your vacation.  The first step to planning your Greek Island hopping trip is deciding which islands you want to visit. There are hundreds of options, so this can be a daunting task. 

Do you prefer beaches or mountains? Would you like hot weather and long days of sunshine or cooler temperatures with shorter days?  Are there any special activities that may be on your bucket list, such as scuba diving, parasailing, kitesurfing or hiking up a volcano?

Naxos - Island Groups in Greece

If beaches and relaxation appeal most strongly to you, head south toward Kos or Crete (for example, Heraklion) if time is limited. If mountain views appeal more than sea vistas, head north toward Naxos or Santorini.

Where to Stay on Your Greek Island Vacation

When choosing where to stay, there are several options. You can rent a boat, house, or apartment on the island. You can also choose from hotels and hostels.  

If you don’t want to spend too much money on accommodations but still want somewhere comfortable and safe to sleep at night, consider some adventure by pitching your tent on one of the many beaches, or renting a hammock from one of the locals.  Ikaria may fit this bill for this one. 

With this Greek island guide, you will plan a perfect vacation.

Choosing the right Greek island will depend on what kind of experience you’re looking for.  Check out the Greek Island Hopping Guide for some insight. It has many tips and advice on making the most of your time on the Greek islands.

You can read in detail how to plan and execute the best Greek island hopping in our article “The ultimate travel guide to Greek island hopping.”

Island hopping - Island Groups in Greece

Island Groups in Greece: Conclusion!

We hope this guide has given you a good overview of what to expect on your trip to Greece.

If you want more information about specific places, we recommend checking out our guide to Greece’s top 12 things to do.

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