One minute you're all like "let's hit a Greek island for vacation this summer" but then it dawns on you -- out of Greece's 227 inhabited islands, which do you choose? Which is where we here at Oyster.com come in. From under-appreciated gems to famous party spots, the Greek islands are a diverse and generally beautiful bunch. Unwinding on the stunning beaches is undoubtedly a key feature of a Greek island vacation, but the reasons behind each island's popularity go way beyond sun and sand. Away from the coastline, the islands appeal with their traditional tavernas, fresh local food, historic sites, and nightlife.
From Mykonos to Santorini, Corfu to Crete, here are six Greek islands that you should visit this summer.
One of the most popular of the Ionian Island cluster off Greece’s west coast, Zakynthos is the one for those with beach quality high on the agenda. Home to the famous Shipwreck Bay -- a scene that has blessed a million postcards -- the island doesn’t struggle for stunning scenery. Sandy beaches are the main lure, but inland there are mountains and Italian-influenced architecture in the towns. While the island is popular with tourists, especially the largest resort area of Laganas, it strikes a good balance between development and natural landscape. Don’t leave without taking a trip to Gerakas on the south of the island to experience one of the best beaches on Zakynthos.
Traditional whitewashed houses, ancient chapels, and shrines: there’s a reason Mykonos is the most popular of the Cyclades Islands, but it actually has little to do with any of those appealing sights. The reason for Mykonos’ popularity is its lively, carefree atmosphere. Once Europe’s premier gay-friendly hot spot, the island is still known for its upscale party image. For a beach holiday that also combines lively bars, good shopping, and some of the best hotels on any of the Greek islands, Mykonos is the place to spend a summer vacation.
Despite being the most popular of all the Greek islands, attracting millions of tourists every year, Santorini still manages to retain its traditional Greek charm. Like Italy’s Cinque Terra region, the light blue and white buildings on Santorini are instantly recognizable. With a reputation as a paradise island, Santorini delivers – if breathtaking vistas are your thing. Its volcanic dark sand beaches and steep, rugged coastal rock formations deliver idyllic views from almost anywhere on the island. Luxury hotels are another part of Santorini’s appeal and the island is particularly popular with couples and honeymooners. A word of warning though, cruise ships visit regularly so summers on the island can get crowded.
If you know your ancient Greek mythology then you’ll know that none other than Zeus himself was born on Crete, and if it’s good enough for Zeus, it’s good enough for us. Crete is a like a collection of Greek islands merged into one. If you want the combination of stunning sandy beaches, snow-capped mountains, ancient Minoan archaeological sites and isolated terrain to explore, this is the place. Crete is the largest of all the Greek islands and its towns and resorts are full of stylish hotels and Tavernas, which serve some of the finest Greek wine around.
Mountains, forests, sandy beaches and a medieval old town with UNESCO World Heritage status, Rhodes is the next Greek island you should visit. Aside from having miles of golden beaches, lapped by clear blue water, Rhodes has the historic appeal of its eponymous old town, an ancient acropolis at the village of Lindos and some excellent centers for water sports. Avoid the town of Faliraki during summer, when it becomes party central – and not in a good way.
Lush landscape? Check. Trendy hotspots? Check. Grand British and French colonial architecture? Triple check. Corfu is a big favorite with European tourists who appreciate that the island offers a relaxing beach vacation along with culture and tradition on the side. Highlights of the island include the impressive Myrtiotissa monastery and the town of Sinarades for a little traditional rustic charm. Hotels on the island are plentiful and while tourism means Corfu is well developed, there is plenty of exploring to be had off the beaten track. Oh, and remember, that 'Cor, phew, it's hot here!' dad joke never gets old when you're on Corfu.