Get to Know These Great Lesser Known Greek Islands

Beautiful Greek island, Hydra. (Phtoo via f8grapher / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Scott Hartbeck
by Scott Hartbeck
Last updated: 9:00 PM ET, Mon May 29, 2023

Hydra

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In Greece, you don’t have to travel too far off the mainland to find island bliss, as long as you look in the right places and Hydra—one of the Saronic Islands—is most definitely the right place to look. Located only around a two-hour ferry hop from Athens. Hydra is as calm as the capital is bustling. Here, you won’t find any cars but you will find working donkeys, lazy cats and tavernas by the water perfect for wasting away an afternoon or two. Small pebble beaches and one small sandy beach can be found on the island, with several conveniently located near the largest town on the island, also called Hydra. 

Sifnos

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Sifnos is part of the ever-popular Cyclades group of islands in the Aegean Sea—home to Santorini & Mykonos among others—but it retains much of its traditional charm and has picked up a stellar reputation for having a rocking food scene. Enjoy fresh-grilled seafood beside beautiful stretches of sand like Platis Gialos Beach or Kamares Beach before visiting the dramatically perfeched Church of the Seven Martyrs, which looks as if it's been ripped straight from a Greece travel poster. 

Astypalea

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Located at a crossroads-at-sea where the whitewashed buildings and blue domes of the Cyclades meet the Dodecanese Islands, Astypalea is home to a characterful old town crowned with a Venetian castle and an atmosphere that offers a step back in time. Explore the alleyways and tavernas of Chora town—including stopping by its set of rustic windmills—before making for one of the island's gorgeous beaches where you're guaranteed to have more square foot of beach to yourself than on one of the more popular Greek Islands. 

Crete

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The closest thing to a household name on this collection of underrated Greek Islands, Crete is the country’s largest island and extremely popular among European vacationers, but there’s still plenty to discover. From the history-filled backstreets of the romantic town Chania to the pink sand at Elafonissi and countless other stretches of idyllic beachscape, the island has something for every type of traveler. This is to say nothing of the cute port town of Agios Nikolaos, the ancient Minoan ruins at Knossos and the natural wonder that is Samaria Gorge. In fact, two weeks here would just barely be scratching the surface of this magical island. 

Folegandros

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A short hop from Santorini, Folengandros offers up a quieter atmosphere but the same stellar views of the sun sinking into the sea. The main town is home to rustic tavernas and bars, while the island’s most dramatic feature is the hilltop Church of Panagia, which can be reached by a steep path and is worth every single step. 

Zakynthos

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Located in the Ionian Sea—on the opposite side of the country from the Aegean—Zakynthos is a popular summertime resort island, but not nearly as popular with North Americans as it should be. Home to several wide sandy beaches and an array of eateries and nightlife, Zakynthos is home to one of the most remarkable beaches in all of Greece: Navagio, also known as Shipwreck Beach. Only reachable by boat, this beach looks like something straight from a movie and the wreckage of a ship on the sand only adds to the dramatic, cliff-filled surrounds. 

Kefalonia

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Just north of Zakynthos sits Kefalonia, which is home to a rugged interior ringed by gorgeous beaches and a group of appealing villages and towns. The footloose and carefree capital of the island is Argostoli and here you’ll be treated to a variety of shops and restaurants including a thriving nightlife scene. No matter where you stay on the island, you won’t be too far from a tremendous beach, with just two of the best being pretty Petani Beach and the jaw-dropping white pebble crescent of Myrtos Beach, which is surrounded by cliffs and had a star turn in the 2001 film Captain Corelli's Mandolin

Milos

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The southwesternmost isle of the Cyclades, Milos manages to swim under the radar of most but it has much the same charm as many of its sister islands in the region and a few surprises. In addition to the warm hospitality, great beaches and whitewashed facades you may expect to see on an island in the Cyclades, Milos is home to unsual sea caves and otherwordly rock formations that will make your visit truly special. 

Spetses

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Like its Saronic Islands sibling Hydra, Spetses lies a short ferry from Athens and has been loved by Greeks and savvy travelers for years but has been skipped by a shocking amount of other travelers to Greece. Home to cute harbor towns, fetching stretches of beach and a proud population famed for their heroics during the Greek Revolution, Spetses will exceed all your expectations. And if you’ve seen the recent release Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, you may just recognize it as multiple scenes were shot on Spetses.

Serifos

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A haven for those looking for the quintessential Cyclades experience without all the crowds, Serifos is a truly special Greek island. After exploring the shops, tavernas and flower-filled courtyards in whitewashed Hora—the island’s main town—make your way down to the lovely Livadi beach for a day by the sea you won’t soon forget.   

Skiathos

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Situated in the Sporades island chain—located to the northwest of Athens, Skiathos is home to striking orange-tiled buildings, clear water and forests full of pine. The island is known for having over 50 beaches and as a hub of social life in the region, making it the perfect place for travelers who are young at heart and enjoy their nightlife. 

Andros

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The northernmost of the Cyclades, Andros is home to an elegant main town of Chora and is crisscrossed by an impressive network of walking trails, making it the perfect lesser-known Greek island for active travelers. This doesn't mean there aren't great beaches here though, as Zorkos Beach and Apothikes Beach—among many others—will take your breath away, but you may leave cherishing that "secret beach" you discovered during a hike. 

Greece is hot. And I don’t just mean its weather during the summer. No, this country surrounded by the sea in southeastern Europe is positively sizzling with North American travelers, rocketing up the wish lists of those heading to Europe and oftentimes landing on trending destinations and “What’s Booking” compilations. 

And for very good reason, as with its combination of history and fun by the sea, Greece’s offer is almost unmatched anywhere in Europe. 

While the mainland is loaded with big cities, coastal towns and villages that will make you swoon, it’s the romantic islands that most of us have our gaze set upon when planning a trip to Greece. 

While rock stars Santorini, Mykonos, Kos and Rhodes are known around the world, the nation is home to dozens more lesser known Greek Islands that manage to fly under the radar of many North American travelers. 

Whether you are a traveler or a travel advisor, getting familiar with a few of the lesser known Greek Islands will come in handy and you never know, it just might lead to one of your most unforgettable trips to Europe yet. 

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Scott Hartbeck

Scott Hartbeck

Born in the USA but now based in England, Scott has been writing about travel for over 10 years. He specializes in Europe, rail...

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Helping leisure selling travel agents successfully manage their at-home business.

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Agent Specialization: Group Travel

Laurence Pinckney

Laurence Pinckney

CEO of Zenbiz Travel, LLC

About Me