The islands of Greece are many and varied with sheltered bays and coves, sandy dune beaches, pebble beaches, coastal caves with steep rocks, dark volcanic soil, and coastal wetlands. With about 6,000 islands total, it is no wonder that the features are so diverse. The islands are further divided into distinct clusters in the Aegean and Ionian Seas. Each has its own features with coastal towns, unique wildlife, shopping, dining, and beaches.
The Aegean, east of the mainland, is home to the Northeastern Aegean Islands, The Sporades, Evia, Islands of Argo Saronic, The Cyclades, The Dodecanese, and Crete. The Ionian Sea to the west, however, is home to only one complex, the Ionian Islands.
In addition to beaches, quaint towns, and water activities, the islands of Greece are also home to some of the oldest European civilizations, like the Minoans, making for some of the most unique archaeological sites and museums as well. Whether you are a history buff, cultural enthusiast, or just looking to soak up the sun, the Greek Islands have a little bit of everything.
One of the most popular islands of Greece is, of course, Santorini. With its picturesque blue and white houses, steep cliffs over glimmering waters, famous black sand beaches, and unforgettable sunsets, it is no wonder the island tops the charts. Some people do not realize, however, that the island is a geological wonder as well. It is, in fact, a volcanic island, renowned for its spectacular sea-filled volcanic caldera. It is to this volcanic history that Santorini owes its unique black sands and colorful cliffs like white beach and red beach.
Another popular island to visit is Mykonos. Part of the Cyclades group, Mykonos is full of naturals wonders to explore during the day with a glamorous nightlife to match. Hydra is unique due to its absence of motorized vehicles, with donkeys and water taxis for transportation, and Aegina is representative of a quaint fishing port with humble shops and sparkling beaches.
Crete itself has its own island group due to its size and diversity. Its city, Heraklion, is home to one of the best archaeological museums in the country as well as the famed Minoan Palace of Knossos. One of the most beautiful beaches of Crete is Elafonissi Beach located on the west end of the island. It is actually an island just off of Crete's southwestern corner, and much of its pristine condition is due to its status as a protected nature reserve. Other notable islands include Paros for its beaches, Skiathos for its nature, wildlife, and historic structures, as well as Skopelos where the movie Mamma Mia was filmed.
Of the 6,000 islands, about 227 of them are inhabited. Villages range in style depending on the geography, but nearly every hub of activity is on the water, near a port. Aegina port is fairly flat and easy to navigate with beaches, shops, hotels, and restaurants all within walking distance. Hydra port is crowded into a little cove on a mountainside. With no motorized vehicles, the walkways are cobbled and navigable by foot or on donkey. Santorini is even more mountainous with neighborhoods situated on sloping clifftops, while a place like Mykonos has neighborhoods clustered along the shoreline. Most of Greece's modern structures are blue and white, reflecting the nation's colors, and are built very close together for easy access on foot. No matter the island, Greece is a country with a thriving atmosphere of old world charm.
Every island of Greece has the glittering sea right at your fingertips. Whether you prefer to soak up the sun and swim, or engage in something more active like scuba diving, snorkeling, water skiing, sailing, or windsurfing, the activities available on the water are limitless. Many of the islands also offer boat tours for visitors looking to experience the surrounding sights and wildlife.
Beyond beaches, many of the islands have some of the oldest archaeological sites to be found in Europe. Ancient civilizations like the Minoan and the Cycladic were known to have inhabited the islands of Greece, and much of their history has been uncovered through excavations. In addition to the sites themselves, many of the islands also display some unique cultural and ancient histories via museums exhibits.
Food and Dining
The islands of Greece have access to some of the freshest seafood available. With many ports frequented by active fisherman, most of the catches at local restaurants are right off the boat. Many of the coastal neighborhoods even hold regular fresh fish markets, as well as those featuring fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and cheese products. If you are interested in traditional Greek fare, taverna-style eateries are dotted throughout the islands and on the mainland as well. In addition to seafood, places like these serve up Greek-Mediterranean fare full of herb-rubbed meats, fresh vegetables, tzatziki, fresh baked breads, and olive oil. Many of Greece's islands also brew their own beers, wines, and spirits. Nearly everything is from scratch. Even the Greek fast food gyros are made with meat right off the spit.
To navigate the islands, a large variety of passenger boats and ferries
crisscross their way around the Aegean Sea. Some of the fastest are the Flying Dolphins and Flying Cats, run by Hellenic Seaways. If you wish to save on travel time, two major Greek carriers offer daily flights from Athens to many Greek islands: Olympic Airlines and Aegean Airlines.
The islands of Greece are also a major destination for cruise ships, especially the more popular islands with large ports like Santorini and Mykonos.
As far as public transportation goes, many of the tourist-run islands have public buses, while other have options like boat taxis, donkey, and scooter or 4-wheeler rentals.
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