The myriad of compelling reasons to visit Greece is reflected in the country’s geography: the expansive network of islands and the intricate (almost squiggly) coast of the mainland create endless opportunities for discovery. Though these paths might not be “less traveled” — after all, modern civilization has its roots in this enclave of the Mediterranean — the wealth of intriguing and mesmerizing spots scattered across the aquamarine waters give visitors the beguiling opportunity to choose their own adventure. The only real daunting task, then, is figuring out where to begin.
Even if it’s your first time visiting Greece, island-hopping is an exceptionally unique way to take in a lot of the culture and atmosphere. They key to making the most of your trip is concocting a perfect island-hopping itinerary. Then, based on which islands you would like to see, picking a good starting/ending point is crucial. Ideally, your first and last islands have easy access to your flight in and out of Greece. A great option is starting and ending in Athens, a fantastic city and definitely worth at least a day or two of your time. Plus, nearly all island ferries operate out of Athens, so you will be sure to have an easy way home at the end of your trip.
A great starter island-hopping experience, which gets you to some of the most beautiful islands with the least amount of hassle, is the Paros, Naxos, Ios and Santorini loop. The other two main attractions of doing this particular loop are the islands’ proximity to one another and their strong ferry network. This means you can easily stay on one island and day trip to the others, and at the end of your trip you will be less likely to get stranded (though, really, being stranded on a Grecian island doesn’t sound so bad!).
To help you start planning, here are just a few of the reasons these islands are so special:
The ideal first island to visit on your adventure, Paros is quite large for a Grecian isle, and therefore, a central point for the Cyclades ferries. The hustling, bustling, white marble capital of Parikia will be where you land, but there’s good deal to explore all over the island. I was totally enchanted by Naoussa, a port that has been called “the most picturesque place in all of Greece.” Besides that superlative distinction, the food there is so good you’ll definitely be writing home about it. My favorite spot is the intimate, out of the way retaurant, Soso. There are also some nice beaches to relax at nearby and a butterfly garden, should you not already be feeling all a flutter about the Grecian eye-candy.
The largest island in the Cyclades, the breathtaking landscapes of expansive, secluded beaches and deliriously steep cliffs, will make you swoon. This is the island where you will want to let your sporty side out, with amazing hikes at every turn. Make sure you take a map or a guidebook, as the true wilderness of this island can be too seductive and it’s far too easy to get lost (seriously lost). Luckily, the locals will be happy to help you out, lost or found. Known as one of the last places where filoxenia, traditional hospitality towards strangers, is still alive and strong, visitors feel especially welcomed and at home on Naxos. One of the best places to experience filoxenia is at The Finikas Hotel.
This beautiful, serene island has a handful of crescent beaches and the epic reputation of being the final resting place for Homer. Its quaint, white washed capital town resembles the ultra touristy island of Mykonos (known for its big party scene that draws throngs of gay men), but is quieter and less crowded. The afternoons are a great time to explore its tiny, labyrinth-like streets, stopping for a snack at Enigma. And, when the sun goes down, the town proves it knows how to party all its own—you’ll find a plethora of lively joints where good times await. My favorite spot to go when I want to see how locals live it up is Aftershock Nighclub. Another lively time to visit is during the Homeric Festival, which happens every year on May 15.
Crescent shaped Santorini is one of the most iconic islands in all of Greece. Even before arriving, you probably already have seen pictures of the white washed buildings that sweep up the sides of cliffs, against the backdrop of impossibly blue water. Yep, that’s Santorini. The island’s main town, Fira, is the one in the postcards—sitting on the crest of the caldera, with delicate little churches springing up on every corner and bells chiming on each hour. No matter which way you turn, you will be stunned with postcard worthy vantages. In the distance, the legendary volcano (a wonder of the world) rises up regally. Hands down, The Porto Fira Suites is one of the best spots to stay on Santorini. It’s worth the small splurge for the luxurious haven with jaw-dropping sunset views of the volcanic crater.