In Travel

Step Aside, Santorini: Six Of Greece’s Lesser-Known Islands

Sure, Santorini and its blue-domed buildings are beyond photogenic and Mykonos is world-renowned for its party status, but the summer months, in particular, can be overcrowded at best. Those keen on something more authentic and local should venture to explore some of the country’s lesser-known, outer islands.

Offering beautiful beaches, plenty of privacy and welcoming hospitality, it’s no wonder they’re quickly becoming a favourite of Hollywood celebrities with many scooping up properties. While many can be visited on a day trip from main hubs Athens, Santorini and Mykonos, others deserve an overnight.

Here are six lesser-known Greek islands.


Tom Hanks (with his Greek wife Rita Wilson) and Matthew McConaughey have both been spotted holidaying on this tiny Greek island. Roughly a 40-minute flight from Athens, a one-hour ferry from Naxos or a three-hour boat ride from Piraeus, Antiparos is the quieter alternative to neighbouring island Paros.

Just 35 square kilometres, its main town Chora is walking distance from beaches. But despite its small size, the island is nothing short of beautiful. Think the whitewashed, blue-domed homes of Santorini sans crowds. Despite all the glamour, it’s also significantly cheaper than the more populous islands.

Here you can spend your day exploring charming towns, kayaking to famous sea caves or simply relaxing beachside. Spend your afternoons sipping beers in a local Taverna while watching freshly caught octopus dry in the sunshine. This tiny island can easily be enjoyed in a day trip.

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Explore the tiny harbourside town of Agios Giorgos where several fish taverns line the water’s edge, the perfect place for fresh seafood and a spectacular view.


greek islands

Image: P Dimitrakopoulos

Equally celebrity-laden – Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli and the Missoni family are reportedly big fans – Koufonisia is a trio of small Greek islands located near Mykonos. It’s been called ‘The Greek Hamptons’ with many of Italy’s elite holidaying here in recent years. This mini-paradise is bursting with gorgeous white-washed architecture in the main port of Pano Koufonisi.

Check out the white sands of Pori Beach for some serious relaxing with plenty of local eateries serving up delicious, authentic fare. Everything on the island is walkable. Come from May to September when it’s much quieter.

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Koufonis isn’t so much a sightseeing location as it is a relax-and-unwind destination. So bring your bathers and slip some of the clearest water you’ve every seen.


greek islands

Image: D Rozaki Greek / National Tourism Organisation

Icaria was named for Icarus, the fabled boy who flew too close to the sun and met a tragic end. Ironically, today the residents of Icaria are some of the longest living people in the world with one in every three people living into their 90s.

Maybe it’s the laid-back nature of the area, the amazing local wines or the pleasing sight of the beautiful mountainous terrain and sheltered swimming coves with turquoise water. Whatever it is, Icaria is worth the visit.

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A one-hour flight from Athens, the island is ideal for nature lovers with its mineral hot springs, ancient buildings and ruins for exploration and of course, gorgeous, golden beaches.


greek islands

Image: Skoulas / Greek National Tourism Organisation

Your surroundings on Skopelos might look a little familiar as the island was the filming location for Mamma Mia!. But Hollywood aside, the beaches and village areas here are typically quiet. In fact, much of the island is covered in thick pine forest so it’s ideal for hikers and explorers. And if churches are your thing, Skopelos is your spot. The island has a whopping 120 of them.

The island’s town is car-free so visitors can roam around and explore the alleyways and traditional white-washed homes draping with bougainvillea without worrying about passing wheels.

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Even if you aren’t a fan of churches, the Agios Ioannis Church is a must-see. Sitting on what would seem a highly improbable outcrop, it sits 100 metres above water and takes 200 steps to reach. Once you’re up there, the view of the cove and the yachts is nothing short of incredible.


greek islands

Image: Aleksandr Zylov / Visit Greece

Named after a mythological serpent with multiple heads, Hydra’s name unfortunately doesn’t reflect what you’ll find here. Far from the stuff of middle-of-nowhere nightmares, the island isn’t actually too far from Athens’ main port of Piraeus (it’s two hours by scenic ferry). Art lovers will swoon over the selection of contemporary art galleries on the island.

Rumour has it, Hydra was a favourite holiday spot of Leonard Cohen and he wrote ‘Bird on the Wire’ here. Over the years, the island has also hosted everyone from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to Princess Diana and Sophia Loren.

The car-free island relies on donkeys and boats for transport. You’ll find more than 1000 of them on the island used for everything from carrying luggage to transporting visitors.

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The museums and monasteries here are pretty amazing for history buffs. But if history isn’t your jam, the coastal walks along the island are spectacular places to spend a day.


greek islands

Image: Discover Greece

Put this one on the top of your must-visit list. Located near the Turkish coastline, Symi may seem like a sleepy island, but in actual fact, it’s not. The best way to get here is by flying into Rhodes and taking a ferry.

Once here, climb 500 steps to the Acropolis in the town centre or make a pilgrimage to one of the monasteries. Strolling into town, you’ll pass multi-colour mansions, charming shops and tavernas with delicious local fare.

Don’t miss

Take a sailing trip to one of the outer beaches or rent a scooter for the day and explore the little village towns all over the island. You’ll have plenty to keep you occupied for a few days.

(Lead images: Agios Ioannis Church / Discover Greece & Antiparos / Katerina Tarasidou via Unsplash) 

Published 31 July, 2019