Listening to the words Greek islands, which questions run into your mind…
How may are the Greek islands?
How come the Greek islands are famous?
Do all the Greek islands have the tiny cube-shaped white houses with blue windows?
How do I get to the Greek islands?
Which one of the Greek islands should I visit?
I’ll try in this guide to give answers to all possible questions of those who have never been to the Greek islands or never heard of them.
So let’s start from the fact that there are various island complexes, which differ a lot from each other. Cyclades, the Dodecanese, the Northeast Aegean Islands, the Argo-Saronic Islands, the Sporades and the Ionian Islands. To these island complexes we should add also the islands of Crete & Evia.
This is a complex of 220 islands out of which just around 40 are inhabited. Cyclades are located in the middle of the Aegean Sea, which makes access to them from Athens easy. Their name comes form the Greek word “kiklos”, meaning circle, as this island complex has a circular formation.
To Cyclades belong some of the most visited Greek islands, Mykonos and Santorini. The famous scenery of cube shaped, white-washed houses with blue windows can be found mainly at the Greek islands of this complex.
Famous Cycladic Islands
Mykonos with its vivid nightlife and traditional architecture
Santorini for its breathtaking natural beauty owed to the volcano and the caldera
The name of this island complex come from the Greek word “dodeka” (meaning twelve), as the major islands of the Dodecanese complex are twelve. In total though this island complex consists of around 150 islands, most of them uninhabited. The Dodecanese islands are in the southeastern of the Aegean Sea, neighboring to Turkey.
Ferry connection to these islands is not that frequent and the trip may last longer, but they can be reached by plane. Not to mention that at the two major and most famous of the Dodecanese islands, Rhodes and Kos islands arrive many charter flights daily.
The influence from the Venetians can be seen at all Dodecanese islands as they have been under Italian government until 1947.
Famous Dodecanese Islands
Rhodes with its Medieval Town, which is under the protection of UNESCO
Patmos where St. John wrote the Book of Revelation
Just right next to Athens and Piraeus, you can find a small island complex with 7 inhabited islands. The Argo-Saronic islands are named after the Saronic and Argolic Gulfs, in which they are located. In great proximity to Athens, no more than 10min by ferry you can find Salamina island and more to the south of this complex the island of Spetses.
Some of the Argo-Saronic islands like Spetses and Hydra have maintained their traditional architecture and style and have prohibited vehicles.
Famous Argosaronic Islands
Salamina for the Battle of Salamis between the ancient Greek cities and Persia that has taken place there
Aegina for the famous Temple of Aphaia
In the northern part of the Aegean Sea there is another small island complex, known as Sporades. Out of the 24 islands of the complex only four of them are inhabited, Skiathos, Skopelos, Alonissos and Skyros. These islands are famous for the natural beauty and green forests that cover them.
Famous Sporades Islands
Alonissos the natural habitat of Mediterranean Monk Seal
Skiathos for the beach Koukounadies and the nudist Banana beach
In the Ionian Sea, which is at the western side of Greece, neighboring to Italy, there is another island complex with its own characteristics. In Greek it is also known as Eptanisa, meaning the seven islands, because guess what.it consists of 7 main islands.
With the exception of Paxoi islands, the Ionian islands are much bigger than those you will find at the Aegean Sea.
These islands have been under Venetian rule for centuries, therefore one can see up to today the influence of the Italians in the architecture and local’s culture.
Characteristic of the Ionian islands is their natural beauty. In contrast to the Cycladic islands which are barren, the Ionian islands are covered by green forests that end at the golden beaches and turquoise waters. Port Katsiki beach of Lefkada and the Navagio Bay in Zante are some of the most photographed beaches of Greece.
Famous Ionian Islands
Corfu with the vivid traditions and the
Ithaca the homeland of Odysseys
Northeast Aegean Islands
The rest of the Aegean Sea islands that do not belong to one of the typical complexes mentioned above are named after their location. They do not have much in common with the small and barren Cycladic islands nor do they resemble much to the Dodecanese.
Each one of these islands is unique; Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Ikaria are all large islands of great natural beauty, history and with strong traditions.
Famous Northeast Aegean Islands
Lesvos homeland of ancient poet Sapho and land where ouzo is produced
Chios the only islands producing the famous mastic gum
Crete & Evia
Crete is an island lying at the south of the Aegean. As it is the biggest island of Greece and the 5th largest island of the Mediterranean it cannot be categorized into any other island complex. Its main four cities are Agios Nikolaos, Rethymno, Chania and Heraklio, which is also the Crete’s capital.
For more information on Crete find a detailed guide. Evia cannot also fit in any island complex. Many forget it is an island (the second largest in Greece) due to its proximity to the mainland of Greece. Access to Evia is easy as the island is connected with a modern bridge with mainland.
A small island of just 4 square miles is called Megisti , meaning Biggest
Greek islands, like Aghios Efstratios and Giaros, were used as an internal exile for political prisoners until the early 70’s
Mykonos island has a mascot 5 decades now, which is a pelican called Peter
The island of Kythira is geographically, culturally and historically belongs (is closer) to the Ionian islands, but administratively Kythira belongs to the prefecture of Piraeus. Despite all these, the closer ties and some service provision by the nearby mainland prefecture of Lakonia.