A beginner’s guide to island hopping in Greece

Santorini island in Greece
Santorini island in Greece

Greece is an incredible country, thanks in no small part to its diverse cultures and landscapes. There’s everything from mountain monasteries and beaches to archaeological sites and cities to discover, all underpinned by a history as old as time. Yet one of the main draws to this alluring country is its islands. There are thousands of them, each with its own unique appeal. If you have a private yacht Greece island hopping is a breeze, but there are public ferries that will do the job too. The only trouble you’ll have is deciding where to go.

So, which islands are best for a multi-destination adventure in sunny Greece?

Best island groups for first-time visitors

It can be a bit overwhelming trying to choose which Greek island to visit. Some have airports whilst others are accessed by boat from the mainland, so do take this into consideration when planning your visit.

The Cyclades

The Cyclades Islands are probably the most famous, thanks to their beauty and accessibility. Lying in the Aegean Sea off the Greek mainland, the Cyclades group are home to picture postcard scenes, with sandy beaches, blue seas and charming villages punctuating the hillsides.

Santorini is a favourite with overseas visitors, thanks to its striking caldera and whitewashed dwellings dotted along the clifftops. You can fly there direct too. The island is an Instagrammer’s dream, with the blue church domes making for epic photos. Mykonos is a hit with the party crowd, while Milos is known for its unusual lunar landscapes and pristine beaches. All can be visited on an island-hopping holiday.

Church on Mykonos

Ionian Islands

Over in western Greece, the Ionian Islands are famed for their white cliffs, secret bays and idyllic beaches. Corfu is the star of the show and comes with bags of history and a dash of Italian culture. You can even fly to Corfu and begin your Greek island-hopping explorations here.

Head to Zakynthos to see the much-photographed Shipwreck Beach, which can only be reached by boat. Or pop over to Kefalonia for colourful fishing villages, secret caves and some great hiking.

Dodecanese Islands

You’ll find the Dodecanese Islands over near Turkey, so this is a great place to go if you want to experience a bit of unique culture. Orthodox churches keep watch over pasted-hued settlements, while UNESCO World Heritage sites keep budding archaeologists happy.

Rhodes is a popular starting point – another island you can fly to from around Europe. Here, you’ll be charmed by the island’s rich history, where medieval architecture rubs shoulders with golden beaches. Visit the Old Town of Rhodes for palaces and forts or venture into Butterfly Valley for a dose of nature. The quiet island of Symi is popular with travellers looking to escape the bustle, while Kos is great for sunbathing, cycling and snorkelling.

Acropolis in Rhodes

Private yachts or public ferries?

There’s no question that one of these options is more expensive than the other, but when you weigh up the convenience and independence factors, it can be a tough decision to make.

Inter-island ferries are plentiful during the summer months, particularly between the most popular destinations. The extensive ferry network will easily transport you between the islands, and there’s everything from short hops to longer overnight legs on offer. If you’re setting off into the Aegean Sea from Athens, you’ll need to make your way to the ferry terminal at Piraeus. From here, the larger ferries will take you down to your first island. Smaller boats are often used between the lesser-known islands, so it’s always a good idea to book ahead to make sure you get a seat.

Travelling with operators like Vernicos Yachts is ideal if you want a cosy and bespoke boating experience away from the crowds. Luxury interiors make you feel right at home, while the ocean creates the perfect backdrop to your adventure. You’ll be able to visit the islands that you are most intrigued by, rather than following the well-trodden tourist trail with the hordes. Imagine anchoring in secluded bays overnight and waking up to views of remote island beaches and some of the country’s most stunning coastlines. It’s an all-inclusive experience, with meals and activities usually provided as part of your package.

Another option is to book a guided tour, which takes the hassle out of all the transport logistics. Yet make sure you read the small print. Many of these trips do in fact use the public ferries, so you probably won’t be getting a much more exclusive experience than if you’d gone alone.

Kos island harbour

When to go island hopping in Greece

While many of the islands can be visited year-round, summer is the ultimate time to travel between them and enjoy all that they have to offer. Of course, places will be at their busiest during the July and August holiday period. Prices rise then too, and you’ll need to book accommodation and tours well ahead, especially on the smaller islands.

Some islands more or less shut down in winter, with limited or no ferries, and few hotels and restaurants remaining open. So, come between spring and autumn and you’ll have a blast. Just aim for June onwards if you want to swim in a warm sea during your trip.

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