For beach lovers, it doesn't get much better than Greece. Boasting hundreds of inhabited islands and thousands of miles of coastline, the country is home to an astonishing number of golden stretches of sand, lapped by the crystalline waters of the Ionian and Aegean Sea. Whether you’re looking for a spot well suited to younger swimmers, a popular strip of sand with a bit of a buzz, or a secluded cove to escape the crowds, here’s our pick of the best beaches in Greece.
1. Navagio Beach
The blockbuster of Greek beaches, Navagio on the island of Zakynthos really does have it all. Framed by towering vertical cliffs, the beach boasts azure waters, pure, perfect sand and, just to give it an extra bit of character, like a beauty spot on a face, a shipwreck.
But just like any great Hollywood production, Navagio draws crowds. The beach is only accessible via boat, but in summer the waters immediately offshore are chock-a-block with sightseeing cruises. Travel off-season to have the best chance of seeing the beach at its most superb – a precarious lookout platform signposted between Anafonitria and Volimes offers bird-eye views.
2. Voidokilia Beach
Messina's Voidokilia Beach with its perfect sandy crescent and clear waters is presumed to be Homer’s “sandy Pylos,” where Telemachus was warmly welcomed when he came to ask wise old King Nestor the whereabouts of his long-lost father, Odysseus, King of Ithaca.
Follow the signs to Paleokastro and walk the lagoon-side track labelled “Nestor's Cave” from the Paleokastro car park (20 minutes) or approach by road from the village of Petrohori, four miles (6km) north of Gialova off the road to Chora.
3. Koukounaries Beach
Framed by electric-green pine trees, two forested headlands and a small salt-water wetland, Koukounaries' silky 3937ft-long (1200m) sweep of bleach-blonde sand is Skiathos' – and one of the country's – most sparklingly beautiful, with beach bars, sunbeds and water sports creating a buzzy vibe. The whole area is a protected nature reserve but still gets very busy in summer.
4. Myrtos Beach
From the road that zigzags down to it, you'll understand why Myrtos Beach in Kefallonia is touted as one of the most breathtaking beaches in all of Greece. From afar it's certainly a stunning sight, with electric-blue waters offset by what appears to be searing-white “sand” (in reality it's white pebbles). Unfortunately, a scrappy car park rather spoils the idyll. Even so, it's a beautiful spot and once you're in the sea it’s heavenly – come early in the morning to see it at its most serene. The closest village is Divarata, which has a couple of tavernas, including Alexandros.
5. Kokkini (Red) Beach
This stunning, surreal beach in southwestern Santorini is backed by rust-and-fire coloured cliffs, making it one of the most photogenic stretches of sand in the country. You can access the beach by boat or via a short walk (sturdy shoes recommended!) down from the nearby church, where there are parking spaces and a handful of good restaurants. Arrive early in peak season to score a good spot.
Tucked into Crete’s southwestern corner, this symphony of fine pink-white sand, turquoise water and gentle rose dunes looks like a magical dreamscape. As the water swirls across the sands, rainbows shimmer across its surface. Off Elafonisi's long, wide strand lies Elafonisi Islet, occasionally connected by a thin, sandy isthmus, which creates a lovely double beach; otherwise, it's easily reached by wading through 50 yards (50m) of knee-deep water.
Alas, this natural gem is less than idyllic in high summer, when hundreds of umbrellas and sunbeds clog the sand, putting enormous pressure on this delicate ecosystem and on the minimal infrastructure, especially the toilets. Consider a trip out of season for an overall more tranquil, and sustainable, visit.
7. Potami Beach
The long, tranquil beach of colourful shells and crystal-clear water in the mouth of a mountain river is one of the Northern Samos’ most attractive; Potami’s beach bar is one of the best, too. Trekking up the river, you'll reach a chain of waterfalls and pools, as well as a taverna hidden in the woods.
8. Possidi Cape
An absolute beauty of a beach lies hidden at Possidi Cape in the Kassandra Peninsula. Miles of sand is lapped by crystal-clear waters, and it's a rare place to find peace and quiet (though little shade) in the summer months. It's a joy year-round and is backed by a lighthouse and a pine forest. Be aware of dangerous currents at this beach; there is no lifeguard, so swim at your own risk.
9. Seychelles Beach
The small, stunning Seychelles Beach is 1.9 miles (3km) east of Manganitis on the island of Ikaria. Its marble pebbles, emerald water and giant rocks polished by the waves make you feel you've been teleported into the middle of the Indian Ocean – hence the name. To reach it, trek from the parking lot by the tunnel on the road to Manganitis, down an unmarked path leaning to the left side of the ravine. Don't wear flip-flops.
This broad sweep of beach on the island of Crete has magical-looking pink-cream sands and teal waters and is known for its stunning sunsets. Along with superb water clarity, Falasarna has wonderfully big waves: long rollers coming from the open Mediterranean. It gets busy from mid-July to mid-August, primarily with day trippers from Hania and Kissamos.
Unspoilt and undeveloped, Plaka has become one of the most popular beaches in Naxos. Long and sandy, it retains its popularity with nudists, but during the heights of summer you're likely to see more families than exposed tan lines on the main strip of sand. There is a good selection of accommodation and restaurants set a little way back from the beach.
12. Prasonisi Beach
Accessible via a windswept road that snakes for 10km south from Kattavia, Prasonisi Beach extends to form a tenuously-narrow sandy isthmus that connects to Cape Prasonisi, Rhodes' southernmost point, in summer. The Aegean Sea meets the Mediterranean here, creating ideal wind and wave conditions for kitesurfers and windsurfers. Outfitters help with everything from rental equipment and lessons to overnight accommodation in surfer-dude-style hostels, but it all closes down in winter.