When you think of a Greek island holiday, the epic sunsets of Santorini and legendary beach parties of Mykonos are likely the first things that come to mind. But there is much more to discover in Greece. The European country is comprised of nearly 227 inhabited islands with one of the longest coastlines in the Mediterranean. With that inventory, you don’t have to brave traffic jams and package-tourism overcrowding to find the perfect seaside getaway. Try these four spots to enjoy Greece’s clear blue seas, pristine beaches, and unique culture.
The largest and one of the most diverse islands in Greece sits between the Sea of Crete in the southern Aegean and the Mediterranean Sea. The island is home to an array of archeological sites—most famously the Minoan civilization of Knossos—a thriving wine industry and some of the most gorgeous beaches in the country. Head to the western side of the island for two of the best: Balos beach and Elafonissi. Both are lagoons that boast calm turquoise waters, white sands and endless opportunities for sun worshipping.
From black rock beaches to medieval towns, Chios is not your stereotypical Greek island. It’s the country’s fifth largest and is only four miles from the Turkish coast. Chios is known for the mastic tree, which produces an herbaceous resin that is woven into everything from toothpaste to soap. This is the only place in the world where the tree can flourish. Visiting the mastic villages of Pirgi and Mesta will give you two unique experiences. In Pirgi all buildings are decorated with black geometric patterns that aren’t found anywhere else in Greece—or the world. Mesta is a medieval labyrinth of serpentine streets you can wind through to the town’s center for a leisurely meal at a taverna. To complete your island experience, spend an afternoon listening to the waves crash on the black volcanic stones at Mavra Volia.
One of the most famous beaches in all of Greece isn’t on Santorini or Mykonos, it’s on the Ionian Island of Zakynthos. Navagio Beach is better known as Shipwreck Beach because it’s now home to the ruins of a ship that crashed into offshore rocks and washed ashore in the 1980s. Steep cliffs surround the pristine sand and calm waters, so it can only be accessed by boat. You can also take a boat to Marathonisi (turtle) Island. Not only does the offshore paradise resemble a turtle and boast beautiful beaches, clear waters and caves perfect for snorkeling, it is also a breeding ground for loggerhead sea turtles.
This mineral-rich volcanic island is in the same Cycladic geographical region as Mykonos and Santorini and the best detour from them by far. You won’t be hard-pressed to find a beach here—the island is home to more than 70 of them, ranging from the white volcanic rock of Sarakiniko beach to the emerald waters and curious rock formations of Kleftiko beach. The latter can only be accessed by boat, and make sure you’re on one that stops long enough for you to jump off the back to swim in the beach’s crystal blue waters. Sunset watchers should make their way to Plaka, a sleepy city on the island that boasts an iconic church whose round dome is the perfect subject for any photo.