The Greek Islands ignite the imagination and satisfy the soul with a history laced in mythical tales and told through ancient, sun-bleached ruins. Experience Island Life Sink your toes deep into the sand and listen to the warm Aegean lap the shore like you have nowhere else to be. This is island life.
On a quest to find the Greek islands of your dreams? Start, here, in the Cyclades (Κυκλάδες). Rugged, sun-drenched outcrops of rock, anchored in azure seas and liberally peppered with snow-white villages and blue-domed churches, this is Greece straight from central casting, with stellar archaeological sites and dozens of postcard-worthy beaches.
With equal measures of grunge and grace, Athens is a heady mix of history and edginess. Beaches and Ruins Beyond Athens, down the Attica peninsula, are more spectacular antiquities, such as the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion and the site of Ancient Eleusis, as well as very good beaches, such as those near historic Marathon.
Ever pined for the old Greece, where timeless islands beckon modern-day adventurers just as they did Odysseus and Alexander? Enter the far-flung Dodecanese (Δωδεκάνησα; do-de-ka-ni-sa) archipelago, curving through the southeastern Aegean parallel to the ever-visible shoreline of Turkey.
Northeastern Aegean Islands
The northeastern Aegean Islands (Τα Νησιά του Βορειοανατολικού Αιγαίου) are notable for their proximity to the Turkish mainland. Influences from Asia Minor abound in old-fashioned island cuisines, traditional village culture, dramatic celebrations and even the language.
With their cooler climate, abundant olive and cypress trees, and forested mountains, the Ionians (Τα Ιόνια Νησιά) are a lighter, greener variation on the Greek template. Venetian, French and British occupiers have all helped to shape the islands’ architecture, culture and (excellent) cuisine, and contributed to the unique feel of Ionian life.
Saronic Gulf Islands
The Saronic Gulf Islands (Νησιά του Σαρωνικού) dot the waters nearest Athens and offer a fast track to Greek island life. As with all Greek islands, each of the Saronics has a unique feel and culture, so you can hop between classical heritage, resort beaches, exquisite architecture and remote escapism.
If there is one region that 'has it all' it is surely Macedonia. The country's biggest province has urban fun, fabulous beaches, great hiking, fascinating history and first-class gastronomy. Thessaloniki is Greece's second city and its gastronomic capital, and it's a city so magnetic, you'll struggle to leave.
The Peloponnese (Πελοπόννησος) is the stuff of legends. Literally. It is here that Hercules fought the Nemean lion and gods walked the earth, meddling in mortal affairs; it's from here that Paris of Troy eloped with Helen and the Argonauts set sail in search of the Golden Fleece.
The west of Crete stands apart in so many ways. A land of giant mountains, grandiose legends and memorials to great battles past, it is presided over by the romantic port city of Hania, once Venice’s jewel of a capital and now filled with arty hotels, interesting shops and some of Greece’s best eateries.
Delphi – Ancient Greece's centre or 'navel' of the earth – is these days among Greece’s most visited places for its archaeological site, ancient footpaths and vistas of the Corinthian Gulf. Delphi is rivalled in popularity only by Meteora, the breathtaking outcrops of rocky towers topped by teetering monasteries (and rock climbers).
Iraklio is Crete’s most dynamic region, home to almost half the island’s population and its top-rated tourist site, the Minoan Palace of Knossos. Priceless treasures unearthed here, and at the many other Minoan sites around Crete, have catapulted the archaeological museum in the capital city of Iraklio onto the world stage.
Lasithi is the wildest area of Crete with the richest biodiversity and least trampled ranges; it’s so rugged in places, you half expect Pan to emerge, pipe in hand, from the meadows. With its abundance of caves, gorges, gas-blue coves and snow-capped mountains, the region seems to have been naturally lavished by the gods.