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15 best small Greek islands for your holidays

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As long as it takes to eat a souvlaki
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As well as famous large and medium-sized islands, Greece hides dozens of small islands. Some already have a dedicated following while others are virtually unknown to an international audience. Don’t expect to find the infrastructure and resort hotels of Greece's landmark islands. The beaches often come without amenities and the food & drink options are more limited. But you’re rewarded ten times over in authenticity and pristine landscape. They are all about the beauty of simplicity and they deserve our love and protection to keep them that way. So, if you want to travel to the source of the Greek summer magic, it’s time to discover some of the best small Greek islands.  

Ikaria

North Aegean Islands

Ikaria is known for its wild and virgin landscape and the legendary capacity of its residents for fun, food, music and long life. Its summer festivals go on long into the night, but your main reason for coming is to find complete tranquility on pristine beaches with names like Seychelles (yes, it lives up to its name), Livadi (or Armenistis), Messakti (home to the Ikaria Surf School), Nas and more. The water in Ikaria is an intense blue colour and can often be wavy due to the strong winds. You’ll love the authenticity of villages like Christos Raches (the largest), Therma (named after its thermal springs) and Karkinagri and Karavostamo

Nas beach, offers the best sunset spot  in Ikaria island

Paxos

Ionian Islands

It’s a case of love at first sight when you’re introduced to Gaios. The main settlement of Paxos lies behind the islet of Agios Nikolaos, on which there are ruins of a 15th-century Venetian castle built from plans made by Leonardo da Vinci. From the fortress, the collection of sailboats, yachts and little fishing boats of Gaios is likely to be the best you’ll have. Other settlements on Paxos include Lakka (with its picturesque little harbour), Loggos and Magazia (where there is an olive press museum). You’ll find quaint little tavernas and places for a drink in all the villages – although you’re here for relaxation, not nightlife.  Paxos’ beaches are some of the best in Greece, including Erimitis (especially at sunset), Monodendri, Kipiadi, Kaki Langada, Marmari and Orkos. And don’t leave without taking a boat trip to even tinier Antipaxi or maybe visiting the Blue Caves.

Getting there: You can reach Paxos by hydrofoil from the main port of Corfu (without a car) or by boat from Lefkimi in Corfu (with a car). Ferry boats (with cars) also leave from Igoumenitsa on the mainland (470km from Athens).

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Ithaca

Ionian Islands

The green homeland of Odysseus (as described by Homer), Ithaca is the smallest and, for many, the most alluring of the Ionian Islands. It’s a favourite sailing holiday destination in Greece and everyone who visits is treated to turquoise waters and jaw-dropping beaches: Filiatro, Aspros Gialos, Skinos, Mnimata and Gidaki (reached by boat) to name a few. The main town, Vathi, is a natural deep harbour and has Venetian architecture and charming narrow streets with shops, all-day bars & restaurants and stylish hotels. 

Other settlements include Kioni and Frikes and – in the hilly interior – Perahori, Anogi, Platrithias and Exogi. Meanwhile, the village of Stavros (where there’s a small museum) is believed to be where Odysseus built his palace. Head to Katharon Monastery, at the highest peak, for a 360-degree panorama that includes the islands of Kefalonia and Lefkada and the silhouette of the mainland.

Getting there: Ithaca has three ports (Vathy, Piso Aetos, Frikes), which you reach by boat from neighbouring Kefalonia and Lefkada, as well as from the mainland ports of Patra and Astakos.

Discover the best beaches of Ithaca

Kalymnos

Dodecanese

Kalymnos is famous for its sponge divers and as a rock climbing destination because of its limestone cliffs and overhangs. But it’s also one of those small Greek islands that offers total holiday relaxation. The port-town of Pothia will immediately put you in the mood, with spots for coffee and meze and colourful neoclassical buildings. The Maritime Museum tells the story of the island’s sponge divers. It’s also famous for its seafood … as you’ll guess from the number of fishing boats. 

Sponge harvester from Kalymnos

The organised beaches are mostly in the west, including Massouri, Panormos, Kantouni and Linaria and Myrties, from where you can take a 10-minute boat trip to the uninhabited Telendos island for an even more remote experience. Another boat trip (from the main port) takes you to Pserimos, an island with a tiny settlement and a smattering of tavernas and shops.

Getting there: Kalymnos has an airport with regular (but not daily) flights from Athens and is reached by boat from Piraeus (about 11 hours). Alternatively, fly to Kos and take the boat to Kalymnos (1 hour).

Discover the best things to do in Kalymnos

Amorgos

Cyclades

Amorgos is known for its epic blue sea (especially when viewed from high up) and untouched beaches. The castle-topped main town (Hora) is filled with cobblestone Cycladic streets made for exploring, especially the Vorina district just below the castle. And on the hillside opposite are the abandoned windmills of Troulos. Favourite beaches include Agia Anna (where The Big Blue was filmed), Mouros, Maltezi and Levrossos, and you can cross to the islet of Nikouria from Agios Pavlos. Boats also leave from Kalotaritissa Bay to uninhabited Gamvroussa. Amorgos is full of authentic touches – such as the tavernas in the mountain settlements of Langada and Tholaria and the hiking paths around the island. But perhaps the most memorable view is from the Monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa, built literally into the rock face. You have to climb 300 steps just to reach the main gate.

Getting there: You reach Amorgos by boat from Piraeus (about 7 hours). There are two ports in Amorgos (Katapola and Aigiali)

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Skyros

Central Greece

Skyros is one of those small Greek islands that seems lost in time. Its main town (Hora) has sugar-cube houses tumbling down from a Venetian castle, as if Skyros were part of the Cyclades island chain. In reality, Skyros is in the Southern Sporades and far more down-to-earth. There’s a lovable authenticity to the island, with traditions like woodworking and pottery and an unpretentious and long sandy main beach (Magazia). Other beaches include Pefkos, Agios Fokas and Kalamitsa. The best views are from the top of the castle, which you reach by passing through the Monastery of Agios Georgios (founded in the 10th century). 

Peer through open doors and windows at the living-rooms proudly decorated with colourful ceramics

From there, you can visit the statue of the First World War British poet Rupert Brooke (who died in Skyros) and walk through town. Other sites include the prehistoric settlement of Palamari and visiting the Skyrian horse sanctuary at Mouries. You can also take a boat trip from Linaria (the port) to secluded beaches and sea caves.

Getting there: You reach Skyros by plane from Athens and by boat (2 hours) from the port of Kimi in Evia (156km)

Symi

Dodecanese

Symi is a tiny Greek island with a very big past, which you’ll immediately understand from the colourful and grand mansion houses in the harbour, Gialos. They were built with the riches of shipping in the 19th century, when Symi was a commercial powerhouse. At the time, the island was home to a scarcely believable 25,000 people. The atmosphere is very different now, with little fishing boats bobbing peacefully in the port and tavernas where you could spend half the day nibbling meze. 

View from Symi

Climbing the 500 stone steps of Kali Strata, you reach Ano (Upper) Syros. Keep going and you get to the 14th century Byzantine Castle, from where the views are incredible. Other sights include the Archaeological Museum of Symi and the Church of St John the Baptist. The best beaches are pebbly Gialos (or Nos), Pedi and Marathoundas, and boats take you to other memorable beaches like Nanou and Agios Georgios.

Getting there: To reach Symi, first fly or take the boat from Piraeus to Rhodes and then cross to Symi (about 1 hour)

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Koufonisia

Small Cyclades

Two gorgeous little islands, so close to each other that they almost touch, the Koufonisia isles are part of the Small Cyclades island cluster. Of the two, only Ano (Upper) Koufonisia is inhabited and it’s so small that you don’t need a car. You can walk or hire a bike to get to the beach. You can also hop across to Kato (Lower) Koufonisia by boat. On both islands, you’ll be treated to some of Greece’s most exotic beaches, with golden sand and blue-green waters. Pori, Pisina, Gala, Fanos, Italida and other beaches await… without the amenities of the beaches of other Cycladic islands but rewarding in every other way. Don’t leave without ordering the spaghetti made with lobster, prawns or crabs. They’re local specialities.

Getting there: You reach the Koufonisia isles by boat from Piraeus (about 5-7 hours depending on the boat)

Discover the best beaches of the Koufonisia isles

 

Kimolos

Cyclades

Kimolos doesn’t have a Hora (main town) like other Greek islands. Instead, its main settlement is known as Horio (village), built at the foot of Mount Ksaplovouni, about 1km from Psathi, the port. But it’s not as sleepy as you might think. Enterprising residents have marked out hiking trails to enjoy the volcanic landscape and have set up an open-air cinema and even outdoor lending libraries. The Venetians knew Kimolos as Arzantiera, or Silver, because of the colour of the rocks as they approached. From the Venetians, we also have the remains of a 14th-15th century castle that was once a stronghold against pirate raids.

Alley in Kimolos

The beaches of Kimolos (Aliki, Bonatsa, Kalamitsi, Prassa, Dekas, Monastiria, Soufi, Mavrospilia…) typically have amazingly clear water. And there are small settlements to visit, such as Goupa, where you’ll find syrmata boathouses, literally built into the rock. Finally, you can enjoy a boat trip to uninhabited Polyegos, another tiny Greek island near Milos, or around Kimolos.

Getting there: You reach Kimolos by boat from Piraeus and occasionally Lavrio (around 7-8 hours) or from Milos (20 minutes). Milos is 45 minutes by plane from Athens or 7-8 hours by boat from Piraeus.

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Leros

Dodecanese

Your first impression of Leros is quite different from other Greek islands. Lakki, the main port, has an Italo-Mediterranean air, with wide streets and even some Art Deco-style buildings. The reason? Mussoloni had big plans for Leros during the 1930s Italian occupation of the Dodecanese islands, mainly because Lakki (called Porto Laggo) is the deepest natural harbour in the Mediterranean. Lakki even has a war museum in a World War II tunnel. The capital and oldest settlement is Platanos, from where you can climb to the Byzantine-era Castle of the Virgin. Look out for the landmark 17th-century windmills along the way. 

Agios Isidoros, the most picturesque church of Leros

There are numerous settlements, such as Platanos and Agia Marina (linked by a hill). Alinda is the most developed part of the island, with a 400m beach. Other well-known beaches are Dio Liskaria and Kryfos and the more remote Agia Kiouria. Leros is known for its good food and nightlife. And there’s no doubt about the most romantic spot… the tiny chapel of Agios Isidoros, across a promontory at Kokkali, on the west coast.

Getting there: You can reach Leros by plane from Athens or by boat from Piraeus (+9 hours)

Discover the best things to do in Leros

Kastelorizo

Dodecanese

Tucked away in the corner of the Aegean, Kastelorizo is just 800m from the Turkish coast and is another small Greek island with a big history. Colourful, two-storey buildings stand guard around the natural harbour of the only settlement, hiding narrow streets, tavernas and cafes. There’s a folklore museum in the former mosque and an archaeological museum. And above you are the remains of Kastello Rosso (after which the island was named), a 14th-century castle built by the Knights of St John. Kastelorizo doesn’t have beaches in the classical sense of the word. Around the harbour are ladders into the sea, which is an exotic blue-green colour. Alternatively, you can swim at nearby Mandraki or take a kaiki (traditional wooden boat) to the islet of Ai Giorgis, where there are sunbeds and a beach bar/taverna. The best views are from the monastery of Agios Giorgos of the Mountain (if you can manage the 400 steps) and the fortress of Paleokastro, especially at sunset. Finally, you can enjoy a boat trip to the islet of Ro and the Blue Cave

Getting there: You can reach Kasterollorizo by plane or boat from Rhodes or by boat from Piraeus (22 hours)

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Alonissos

Sporades Islands

Alonissos is a member of the Sporades islands, the chain known for the intense green of its pine trees forests and the brilliant blue of the sea. It is also synonymous with the first marine park in Greece and the largest in Europe (2,200 square kilometres), which protects the population of elusive Monachos Monachos monk seals and other species in the area. The tranquil setting is also ideal for nature walks. Beaches like Agios Dimitrios, Chrisi Milia, Kokkinokastro, Megalos Mourtias and Tsoukalia are perfect for relaxing all day. And the main town (Hora) is full of narrow streets, white and coloured stone houses and quaint cafes and tavernas. At the Awareness Centre, you’ll learn all about the marine park, including the remains of an ancient shipwreck with more than 3,000 amphorae. A boat trip into the Alonissos Marine Park (including nearby islands) is an unforgettable experience. In the harbour, the Alonissos Museum also has a great little collection of weapons and objects from the early days of piracy in the Aegean.

Getting there: By boat from Agios Konstantinos (168km from Athens) or Volos (328km from Athens) or by plane from Athens to Skiathos and then by boat.

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Nisyros

Dodecanese

Nisyros lies off the southern coast of Kos and has a volcanic landscape that is dominated by a giant crater that gives it an otherworldly beauty. The main town, Mandraki, is a small settlement of white houses and cobbled streets, with the port at one end and (overlooking the town) the Virgin Mary Spiliani Monastery at the other. Nearby, Paleokastro is the fortress built on the site of the ancient city of Nisyros. There’s a pocket-sized beach in Mandraki and next door is pebbly Chochlaki beach. Pali (another seaside settlement) is another swimming spot, as is the more remote Pachia Ammos (fat sand) beach on the east coast. Other swimming spots include Pali (another seaside settlement) and the more remote Pachia Ammos (fat sand) beach on the east coast. 

The most memorable experience is walking in the giant crater (actually made up of three craters, with the largest named Stefanos). Be sure to visit the Volcanological Museum in tiny Nikia first. Another village overlooking the crater is Emporios. From Nisyros, there are day trips to neighbouring Tilos (45 minutes by boat) boat), where you can tick off another tiny Dodecanese island.

Getting there: You can fly to Rhodes or Kos and take the little boat to Nisyros. In the summer, there are boats from Piraeus.

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Anafi

Cyclades

Just like its neighbour, Santorini, Anafi is an island with a volcanic past. But that’s where the comparisons end because wild and rocky Anfafi is all about rugged beauty and total escape rather than glitz and glamour. The landscape makes it perfect for hiking holidays that include epic sea views. The south of the island is dominated by Kalamos, the second-largest limestone monolith in Europe after Gibraltar. At the top is the monastery of Panagia Kalamiotissa. Another hike takes you from Hora (the main town) to Kasteli, where you will find the remains of the ancient city of Anafi, founded in the 8th/7th century BC by Dorians. Hora (just above the port) is classically Cycladic picture of sugar-cubed houses, with blue doors and shutters. And a string of relaxing and remote beaches (Roukounas, Klisidi, Katsouni, Megas Potamos, Monastiri, Prasies etc) completes the picture.

Getting there: By boat from Athens from Piraeus or Lavrion (about 10 hours). Alternatively, you can fly to Santorini and take the boat (1-2 hours) to Anafi

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Schinoussa

Small Cyclades

Our last Greek island is (like the Koufonisia isles) part of the Small Cyclades. It’s just 9 square kilometres and has fewer than 400 inhabitants, spread over three tiny settlements: Mersini (the port), Hora (officially, the main town) and Messaria. It’s so tiny that people walk everywhere. Holidays in Schinoussa involve enjoying a different exotic beach every day – although Psilli Ammos (fine sand) is No.1 for a reason. 

Tsigouri, Livadi, Ai Vasilis, Aligaria, Lioliou and Gerolimnionas are others. You’ll enjoy great food (especially the seafood) and total relaxation. It’s also worth taking a boat trip around the island or to one of the other Small Cyclades islands.

Getting there: You can reach Schinoussa by from Piraeus or from neighbouring islands (Naxos, Iraklia, Donoussa, the Koufonisia isles and Amorgos)

Discover the best things to do in Schinoussa

The best small Greek islands

Greece has over 100 inhabited islands, so there are plenty of other small Greek islands for your holidays. Many are close to each other and can easily be part of an island-hopping holiday. Once you start searching, you’ll be amazed at the possibilities.

Discover 8 hidden gem Dodecanese islands

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