Over the last five years, the country of Greece has seen a steady increase in the number of international tourists who visit each year, a trend that industry experts believe will continue in 2018. This is due in part to the Greek National Tourism Organization’s development strategy to bring in new visitors. However, tourists choose Greece as their preferred vacation destination for all that it has to offer: ancient history, rich culture, beautiful, varied landscapes.
While many visitors are drawn to the historical allure of renowned mainland cities like Athens, one of the most enticing options for people who wish to plan a vacation in Greece is the prospect of visiting one of the 6,000 islands located across the Ionian and Aegean Seas. With only 227 of these 6,000 are inhabited, below are eight of the most popular islands for visitors from around the world.
Also known as Thira, Santorini has a rich background, both historically and according to Greek myth. Archaeological evidence suggests that a civilization existed on the island as far back as 3600 B.C., and that a Minoan colony once settled on its shores. According to Greek mythology, Santorini was a miracle island created when a man named Euphemus threw a clod of earth taken from the island of Anaphe into the sea. Santorini is built on a caldera that resulted from a massive volcanic explosion in 1600 B.C., but today it exists as the third most popular tourist destination in the country.
The tourist season runs between April and November every year. Visitors enjoy exploring its black sand beaches, exploring its clifftop towns and villages, and taking in views of romantic sunsets over the Aegean Sea from anywhere on the island. Oia, a village located on the island’s northern tip, is known specifically for its views of the sunset, and is an excellent place to get away if couples are looking for a romantic vacation spot.
Less popular among tourists than its neighbor Santorini (but no less beautiful) is the island of Naxos, also located in the group of islands known as the Cyclades. Greek myths state that Naxos was the location of the nuptials of the Greek god of wine, Dionysus, and accordingly, the island is home to a sanctuary honoring the god.
Naxos appeals to tourists who wish to get some distance from the ultra-modern, nightlife-heavy scene prevalent on some of the more popular islands, and who are instead interested in experiencing some of the more traditional elements of Greek culture. In addition to the beautiful, less crowded beaches located on the island’s west coast, Naxos also boasts ancient ruins, an ancient Venetian castle that hosts orchestral concerts, and horseback riding expeditions that lead visitors through local farmlands as well as beaches that run alongside seaside cliffs.
One of the best aspects of Naxos for the visitor looking to see a more authentic side of Greek life is the ability to visit any of the island’s 46 traditional villages, where locals sit together drinking coffee outside of cafes and fresh baklava is sold fresh from the bakery.
Located in the Saronic Gulf, Hydra is closer to Athens than almost any other island. As a result, it is a popular destination for locals looking to get out of Greece’s capital city for a weekend. It is known for its bohemian, artistic culture and has been visited by many celebrities in the 20th century, including writer Henry Miller, musician Leonard Cohen, and movie star Sofia Loren.
One thing that sets Hydra apart is the fact that the use of cars or any other motorized vehicle is banned on the island. Locals and visitors alike travel only by boat, by foot, or by donkey. Tourists on Hydra enjoy taking donkey tours to admire the monasteries, stone mansions and cobblestone streets of the island’s main town. They can also visit one of the island’s many impressive art and history museums. Hydra is also a popular place for yachting, and many tourists enjoy lunching as they watch boats come and go inside the harbor.
Corfu is a part of the Ionian Islands, and it is known as the “Grand Lady” of this Greek Island Group. Located farther west than most islands, Corfu historically has had a strong connection to Europe. This helped it become one of the first Greek islands to open itself up to tourism. European influence mingles with Greek tradition in Corfu’s cosmopolitan culture. Additionally, the lush nature of the foliage there means that the beaches are among the most beautiful of all the Greek islands.
One of the best places for tourists to visit on Corfu is Old Town, which is home to two Venetian fortresses. Visitors can tour monasteries and medieval castles or visit Achillion Palace, which was constructed by the Empress Elizabeth of Austria in the late 19th century as a summer vacation home.
Another popular activity on Corfu is diving, and tourists have the opportunity to take classes, guided tours, or rent equipment to dive solo. Many locations along Corfu’s coasts give visitors the opportunity to explore coral reefs, including the Kassiopi, Pipitos, and Kalami Reefs.