Escape the Crowds and Set Sail to These Lesser-Known Greek Islands
Head off the beaten path to find your own hidden oasis.
March 16, 2023
The most famous of the Greek islands are wonderful to visit, of course, but they are almost perpetually swamped with tourists. Plus, large swathes of them have been totally redeveloped — they paved paradise and put up a bunch of luxury hotels.
Not your vibe? Skip the likes of Santorini and Mykonos (or just stay there briefly), then sail off to more remote islands throughout Greece, where local culture is thriving hand in hand with tourism. Check out our list of recommendations so you can find your own island paradise off the beaten track.
MEGANISI, IONIAN ISLANDS
We would describe this as yacht country. So few people come here by ferry and stay on the island, but it is encircled by small yachts throughout the summer. That's because this part of the Ionian Sea is full of beautiful little islands that are hard to get to with ferries — our other favourites being the nearby Kastos and Kalamos.
When staying on Meganisi, spend your days laying on empty sandy beaches or snorkelling around the clear waters before heading into one of the three towns (Spartochori, Vathi, and Katomeri) for dinner and drinks. Alternatively, hire a yacht with a skipper and explore this region of the Ionian Sea from the comfort of your own wind-powered boat. That's the best way to experience Greece's lesser-known islands. Try sites like Sailogy, Boataround and Borrowaboat for decently priced yachts that come with skippers.
If you're wanting a chiller version of Santorini, then check out neighbouring Anafi. Here, you'll find long stretches of sandy beaches as well as countless monasteries and churches located atop mountains. Split your time between hiking up to views of the surrounding Aegean Sea and lazing about on the beaches below. But, to get around with ease, be sure to hire quad bikes or a car.
You'll stay in the village of Chora (the only village on this small island) which is built onto the slopes of the mountain. It's a quiet town that still has enough bars and restaurants to get you by. Wander up and down the winding streets to see all the locals going about their daily business, warmly welcoming you to their lesser-known Greek island paradise.
PAXOS, IONIAN ISLANDS
Paxos (also known as Paxi) is a small island famous for its steep cliffs that drop right down into crystal blue waters. See also: quaint little villages that have not lost their charm to tourism. We recommend you spend a few nights in Lakka, the northernmost town, located within a cove surrounded by hills covered in pine trees. This laidback town has a few shops and restaurants located by the two beaches, but you can easily wander off to find your own secluded swimming spot.
Alternatively, try the slightly larger town of Gaios for colourful architecture as well as more bars and tavernas. While you're here, be sure to take a boat tour down to Antipaxos island for even more hidden beaches sitting below chalky cliffs (no one lives on this island, so it is pristinely preserved).
We still don't know why this hidden gem hasn't gone the way of other tourist-heavy islands. It is super easy to get to — it has its own airport and is only a short ferry ride from Athens — and is full of locals going about their daily lives. Tourism isn't everything here.
The bustling port town of Ermoupolis should be explored and lived in for a while. Yes, you can find beautiful beaches and hikes around the hills but you can also expect more culture and history. Admire the Venetian architecture, spend nights out at small local bars that sprawl out onto the streets and eat all the best fresh seafood. Enjoy the bustling island village life on Syros before exploring other nearby islands.
A few years ago, Milos was the perfect unknown island that you had to visit. But, as it goes, the word got out. That's why we recommend you get on a short ferry ride to the lesser-known Greek island Kimolos instead. This nearby island is much smaller but has the same natural landscape and still has plenty of good places to go out for dinner and drinks.
Also, those who aren't keen on hiring a car or quad bike can still get around by taxi and local bus. It isn't so remote that you have to do it all on your own. You can easily get to stacks of quiet beaches (with a cheeky goat or two wandering around) or over to walking trails around abandoned monasteries and windmills overlooking the sea below. Picturesque doesn't even begin to describe Kimolos' beauty.
ITHACA, IONIAN ISLANDS
Located a short ferry ride from the more popular Kefalonia is the island of Ithaca. Most accommodation on Ithaca is in the main town of Vathy, so this will likely be your base of operations. During the day, the town feels fairly quiet and deserted as everyone runs away to the many hidden coves dotted about the island. But, at night, the locals and tourists return, flooding the small streets with a lively atmosphere. It's a great place for people-watching.
If you have the time, make your way to the sleepy fishing village of Kioni to experience even more of traditional life by the water. Stone homes with balconies adorned in colourful flowers as well as the small cafes and tavernas make this one of our very favourite towns to visit.
Celebrities have discovered Antiparos, meaning the ferry loads of tourists can't be too far off. You should get here ASAP, to not only do your celebrity spotting but also to take in the sites before it gets too busy. It won't be a lesser-known Greek island for long. Set yourself up at a beach bar, laying in a hammock with cocktails or ice-cold beers in hand and let this become your next happy place. When you're back in the office, this is where your mind will wander.
If you are looking to get a bit more active, then hike around to some of the island's caves full of stalactites and stalagmites, or wander off to the monasteries and churches located atop hills and down on beaches (like the Church of Agios Ioannis Spiliotis). You can also take a day tour to the uninhabited Despotiko Island to feel even further away from the rest of the world.
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Top image: Dragos Gontariu (Unsplash)
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