Greece is surrounded by approximately 1,400 islands, 200 of which are inhabited. I have visited only 2 – Santorini and Paros – and I’m already in love for life… but I wouldn’t say that it was love at first sight.
When I landed on Santorini by ferry, the island looked like nothing more than a chunk of barren rock in the middle of the Aegean sea with little signs of civilization. I began to panic, thinking all the beautiful postcard images I had seen were nothing more than someone’s impressive Photoshop skills. Lucky, I soon discovered the Greek Islands give Photoshop a run for its money.
To give you an idea of the kind of beauty the islands hold, here are the 6 clusters of islands in the Aegean Sea and some of the characteristics that make each cluster unique:
- The Argo-Saronic islands – home to the most well-preserved temple in all of Greece – the Temple of Aphaia
- The Cyclades – known for their whitewashed cliff-side houses and the extreme purity and beauty of their sunsets
- The North Aegean islands – known for their hot springs, traditional fortress villages, and authentic local cuisine
- The Dodecanese – known for the diversity of their settlements, ranging from Greeks and Romans to medieval knights and Ottoman rulers
- The Sporades – known for their peace, tranquility and legendary wine (also where Mama Mia! was filmed)
- The Ionian islands – known for their tall mountains, hauntingly beautiful beaches, and deep water ideal for divers
Fun facts aside, here are 5 reasons why these diverse islands stole my heart and why I will most definitely be visiting them again:
The Aegean Sea
Once you have seen the Aegean sea with your own eyes, you will understand what all the fuss is about regarding the “Greek blue”. The Aegean waters surrounding Greece are characteristic of their rich indigo colour that abruptly transforms into a crystal clear turquoise around the rocky coast.
Reaching a temperature of 25 °C in the summer months, the Aegean sea is not only pleasant to look at, but also pleasant to swim in. It has a long swimming season starting in early June and extending all the way to the end of September with countless beaches to choose from.
I visited Santorini and Paros at the end of September and the water was still warm enough to comfortably swim in.
While the water is wonderful, the most charming thing about the Greek islands are their picturesque villages. I had the pleasure of visiting Fira and Oia on Santorini and Naoussa on Paros. Each village had something distinct to bring to the table:
- Oia is best described as walking inside of a picture frame. It is home to the famous blue roofed Church of Panagia and the even more famous Santorini sunset. A photographer’s dream.
- Fira, located at the centre of Santorini, has something to offer for every kind of traveler: restaurants, nightlife, adventure, romance, you name it. Perhaps the most famous thing the village is know for is its “Donkey Trail” – a 600-step path that zig-zags up the face of a 800-foot cliff. Visitors can choose to take a donkey up or brave going on foot. I was one of the brave ones that chose to walk the trail… lets just say, by the time I made it to the top I was at least 10 pounds lighter and my feet were covered in donkey gunk. Not one of my greatest ideas but it makes for a great story!
- Naoussa, the least well known of the three villages I visited, was perhaps my favourite. A sleepy seaside fishing village on the island of Paros that comes to life every evening to welcome its visitors. Come sunset time, the village lights up as countless local souvenir shops and restaurants open their doors. Lovers fill the stone-paved streets looking for their evening’s meal. The best part: Naoussa is not nearly as crowded or expensive as the more well known Fira and Oia, meaning you get to enjoy it (almost) all to yourself and stay well below budget.
Speaking of Paros, apart from the charming village of Naoussa, the island is home to some of the most spectacular beaches I have ever seen (and I’ve seen many!). Only accessible by ferries that run a few times during the day, a handful of visitors get to enjoy these hidden treasures entirely to themselves.
The two beaches I visited were Kolymbithres and Monastiri. Both blew me away with their azure shallow waters surrounded by smooth granite rock formations. Looking out to the distant shore, it felt like the rest of the world was a million miles away.
A great perk offered at both beaches was catering – the drinks and food were delicious and more than affordable.
Another memorable beach I visited in Greece is the Red Beach on Santorini. It is only a short ride away from the town of Fira. The beach gets its name from the colour of the rock and sand that surround it – it’ll make you feel like you are vacationing on Mars! Have a look:
The best iced-coffee
The best iced-coffee is found in Greece. There, I said it. I’m not even a regular coffee drinker and even I can appreciate the deliciousness that is Fredo Cappuccino.
This Greek favourite is made with espresso, a thick milk foam called “afrogala”, lots of ice, and varying amounts of syrup depending on how sweet you like your coffee. Served in a tall glass, it’s the must-have summer drink in Greece, perfect for cooling down after a day of exploring.
Despite the beaches, charming towns, and delicious iced-coffee, if I had to pick my absolute favourite thing about the Greek islands, it would have to be their spectacular sunsets.
Santorini of course, is home to the most beautiful sunset of all.
As the sun reaches closer to the horizon line, it paints the island’s white-washed houses in an array of golden hues which seem only to multiply as the rays reflect off of the calm evening waters. The result it too beautiful to put into words, you have to see it for yourself: