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TOP PLACES TO KNOW THE GREEK ISLANDS

Ranging in size from uninhabited rocks to the substantial Crete and Évvia, the popular Greek Islands draw crowds to their brilliant beaches, pretty ports and renowned ruins. The islands are vastly different in character, but have in common great food, hospitable locals and the alluring Greek sea.

1-THE IONIAN ISLANDS


Lying off the west coast of mainland Greece, the scattered Ionian islands, each culturally distinct, share dramatic coastlines of plunging cliffs and blue seas, backed by cypresses and olive groves. Most islands are reached easily from the mainland, and visitors flock here in summer for beach holidays.

Best for West coast beaches, Italianate churches 
Home to Corfu Town 
Experience Feeling like you’re in the Caribbean on  Vríka beach, Andípaxi


2-THE ARGOSARONIC ISLANDS 


The lush Argo-Saronics, easy to reach from the mainland, are extremely popular on weekends, and have cosmopolitan port towns with trendy bars and shops. Even so, these islands still feel a world apart from the capital.

Best for The characterful port town of Égina 
Home to Égina, Temple of Aphaia 
Experience The wild (and occasionally violent)  Easter celebrations on Ýdra 


3-SPORÁDES  AND ÉVVIA 


The rich and the beautiful first docked their yachts on the then-deserted beaches of Skiáthos and Skópelos in the 1960s and 70s. No longer as exclusive, but even more popular, the Sporádes offer preternaturally blue seas, green countryside and achingly photogenic towns, whereas gigantic Évvia has compelling archaeological sites, museums and thermal spas.

Best for Unspoiled mountain scenery  on Évvia, yachting holidays 
Home to Halkída 
Experience Spotting wildlife on a boat tour through Sporádes Marine Park


4-THE NORTHEAST AEGEAN 


Whatever you’re looking for in a Greek island holiday, you’ll find it in the Northeast Aegean. Closer to Turkey than to Greece, the seven major islands here have distinct personalities, from the isolated and brooding Samothráki to the crowded resort island of Thásos, all marked by significant ancient sites. While Sámos, Thásos and Lésvos attract the package-holiday crowd, Samothráki appeals to hardy nature lovers and Ikaria to those seeking a slower pace and more traditional life.

Best for Ancient sites, hiking on Samothráki, beaches 
Home to Híos town, Néa Moní, Mastic Villages 
Experience Tasting the grapes of Límnos at its numerous wineries, famous since ancient times

5-THE DODECANESE


 Scattered along the coast of Turkey, the Dodecanese attracts visitors for its hot climate, fantastic beaches and lively nightlife. Each island is different in character, as well as landscape – some, like Hálki, are stark and barren, while others, such as Tílos, are green and fertile. The islands here are scattered with dramatic fortifications left by the Knights of St John, the Ottomans and the Italians, who also left an enduring taste for Italian gelato.

Best for Charming whitewashed hilltop towns  and dramatic fortifications 
Home to Pátmos, Rhodes Old Town,  Rhodes New Town, Líndos  
Experience The dramatic volcanic caldera with  its craters on Nísyros

6-THE CYCLADES 


With whitewashed villages, blue church domes, blonde- and black-sand beaches and incredible sunsets, the Cyclades are, to many, the ideal Greek island holiday destination – particularly postcard-ready Mýkonos and Santoríni. Made up of 56 islands, 24 inhabited, the large number of islands in the Cyclades ensures diversity. That means that while there are islands, like Íos, where staying up all night at a club is de rigueur, others, like Síkinos, are quiet and traditional.

Best for Venetian kástra and  sunset views 
Home to Delos, Santoríni 
Experience Watching a movie in the balmy Greek summer at an outdoor cinema on Mýkonos

7-CRETE 


Crete is also known as the Great Island, not just for its size, but for the space it takes up in the heart of the locals. The most southerly, and largest, of the Greek Islands, Crete is dominated by soaring mountains  and sandy beaches, and is marked with a history of occupation that has not dimmed the Cretan passion  for individuality and freedom. Its north coast bustles with resorts as well as historic towns, while the south-  west is less developed. The island has possibly the best hiking in the region, and attracts rugged hikers bent on trekking famous Samariá Gorge.

Best for Beaches, traditional  culture, Venetian castles  and urban architecture 
Home to Haniá, Réthymno, Iráklio,  Palace of Knossos, Phaistos, Samariá Gorge
Experience Live Cretan music and free -flowing tsikoudiá  spirit in a taverna

8-ATHENS 


Sprawling, concrete Athens is an incredibly vibrant city. This bustling capital, overlooked by the ancient temples on the Acropolis, is the birthplace of philosophy, Classical art and democracy – a tradition that continues through lively student protests and activism. The streets here are alive with open-air markets and walls decorated with some of the best street art on the globe. While you can see the major sites, including the Acropolis, in one well-planned day, the city may tempt you to stay longer.

Best for Lively student life, Saturday morning  markets, gritty street art 
Home to Acropolis 
Experience A summer concert at the Odeon of  Herodes Atticus on the Acropolis 

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