The Best Greek Isles to Discover

The view is unmistakable. With gleaming whitewashed houses and cobalt domes overlooking vast expanses of deep blue sea, it’s as if the Greek isles were painted from the palette of the flag itself. The views aren’t the only draw card, either. This is a destination boasting the full travel trifecta: unparalleled scenery, captivating ancient history and cuisine so exceptional you’ll be fantasizing about it long after the trip has ended. With hundreds of islands to choose from, narrowing down your options can seem like a daunting task. Although each island has its own unique vibe, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single island without the signature gasp-inducing coastal views and otherworldly blue waters for which they have become so renowned. With that in mind, here, in our humble opinions, are the absolute best Greek islands to discover.

best greek islands

Best Romantic Views: Santorini

Of hundreds of isles in the Aegean Sea, Santorini has garnered a certain romantic notoriety due in part to its distinct terrain. As the rim of a volcanic crater, the once complete island erupted around 3,500 years ago, creating Santorini’s now famous volcanic ridge. Today, these steep cliffs are the island’s trademark, blanketed with whitewashed cubiform houses overlooking the aquamarine caldera lagoon. Narrow streets framed by stucco walls spill over with colorful bougainvillea and rustic windmills stand as the quiet reminders of a bygone era.

Enjoy the scenery on a hike along the caldera’s edge on the trail from Fira to Oia, and stay for southwest-facing sunsets. Here, the impossibly romantic landscape is the centerpiece, where couples clamor for the perfect patio spot, lingering over seaside dinner for the evening show—the dusk sky awash in hazy pink as the sun dips into a sea as smooth as glass.

best greek islands

Best Glitz and Glam: Mykonos 

Known the world over for throngs of A-list jetsetters and bronzed beachgoers, the most popular of the Greek Isles is a place to see and be seen. A Cycladic maze surrounded in rolling hills, gleaming white sand beaches and panoramic coastal views, it’s no surprise this glamorous isle has attracted such a high-profile crowd. Mykonos truly has it all; a walkable wonderland that lends itself to unstructured exploration and abundant leisure at every turn. Spend the day exploring chic cafés and European boutiques of Mykonos town, take a day trip to see the ruins at Delos Island or survey the full spectrum of beach vibes, from full-service palapas to secluded aquamarine inlets. For dinner, head to the embankment of Little Venice, the perfect spot to enjoy same-day seafood with a panoramic waterfront view.

After dark, Mykonos boasts a nightlife scene with which few cities can compete—where seemingly innocent cafés shape-shift into booming dance clubs and serene beaches transform into raging dance floors drenched in flashing lights. Pace yourself—it’s going to be a long and unforgettable night.

best greek islands

Best Old World Charm: Rhodes

As the nearest Greek island to the Holy Land, Rhodes was once a natural gathering point for crusaders from all over Europe—the primary contributing factor for its impressive historic and archaeological sites today. The largest of the Dodecanese islands, Rhodes is also the island group’s historical capital, its entire Old Town designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Within its walled interior, its former historical glory becomes apparent—from the cobblestoned Street of the Knights and the castle-like Palace of the Grand Masters to Byzantine churches, castles, Roman ruins, synagogues and bastions scattered with cannon balls. For an easy day trip, visit the nearby village of Lindos with its charming streets and a majestic hilltop acropolis dating back to the classical period.

best greek islands

Best Beaches and Beyond: Crete

Greece’s largest island is known for its beaches of absolutely every style, like the isolated Sweetwater Beach in Crete’s Sfakia region, the pink sand and candy blue waters of Elafonísi Beach near Chania, palm-flanked Vai Beach on Crete’s Eastern point, the bohemian Mýrtos Beach, powder white sands of Balos Beach, and even a beach anchored by a Venetian castle at Frangokástello Beach. Beyond the beaches, Crete is wildly diverse. Mountains and deep gorges frame ancient inland ruins, lush green valleys are striped with vineyards, and olive groves and stories lurk within age-old Minoan palaces.

Of Crete’s two main cruise ports, Heraklion is the most visited. Don’t miss Knossos Palace—its 4,000-year-old ruins are recognized as one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. From Chania port, visit the chapel of Agia Paraskevi set atop a pagan cave and venture into the fertile inland with a guided wine and olive tour.

Inspired to discover one—or all—of the best Greek islands to vacation to? Give one of our travel agents a call. Not only are they chock-full of insights that can elevate any getaway from good to euphoric, but also their professional relationships with all of the leading names in travel bestow you with access to exclusive perks and amenities—cementing them as the best way to travel throughout Greece.