Greece looks certain to be one of our summer holiday options, with its government this week confirming plans to reopen to tourists in May. Britons hoping to visit will need to show evidence of a Covid vaccination, a negative PCR test taken within the previous 72 hours, or an antibody test proving they have already caught the virus.
A Greek island holiday sounds like just the tonic after the bleakest of winters. Who could possibly turn down a week or two of reliable sunshine, and simple but delicious food served in rustic seaside tavernas? To help you start planning your perfect escape, here are 15 of our favourite options.
Best Greek islands for a post-lockdown holiday
1. Best for beaches: Zakynthos
The Ionian Islands can’t be beaten for sandy beaches backed by dramatic coastlines. Myrtos Beach on Kefalonia and Porto Katsiki on Lefkada are among the most photogenic, but Shipwreck Bay on Zakynthos (also known as Zante), only accessible by boat, trumps them both – even if it does get a bit crowded.
Heidi Fuller-Love, our Greece expert, says: “Zante is split into two main regions: the liveliest resort towns occupy the low-lying southern coastline (where loggerhead sea turtle also come to nest), and the mountainous and more difficult to reach northern regions are home to remote villages and some of the island’s most isolated beach coves – hedged in by dramatic, chalk-pale cliffs many can only be reached by boat. With several well-organised museums, there are also plenty of opportunities to soak up the local culture, whilst a string of nature parks and organic farms offer the chance to get in touch with this lush Ionian island’s sustainable side, too.”
2. Best for families: Corfu
“If I could give a child a gift, I’d give him my childhood,” said Gerald Durrell, the author and conservationist, shortly before his death in 1995 – a ringing endorsement of Corfu, where the Durrells spent four years from 1935-39. Much has changed since then, but away from the excesses of Kavos in the south, you’ll still find idyllic, sleepy spots.
Helen Iatrou, our Corfu experts, says: “Corfu has long enticed conquerors and holidaymakers with its intoxicating mix of historical monuments, lush hillsides, blue skies, sand and pebble beaches and calm, azure waters. British and French influences can be seen in Corfu’s atmospheric Old Town – however, it’s obvious that the Venetians, who stayed around for 400 years, exerted the greatest sociocultural impact on the island.
“While resort areas are spread around a vast coastline, the eastern shores, such as Ipsos, Dassia, Moraitika and Benitses, are especially popular and particularly family-friendly. Retreat to the swish northeast and stay in a pastel-coloured villa hidden among olive tree-covered slopes, where you can revel in spirit-boosting sea views.
“Hit television series The Durrells, inspired by Gerald Durrell’s entertaining trilogy on his family’s time on Corfu, has sparked a revival of interest in the Ionian island and attracted many enthusiastic first-timer visitors. Add to that new luxury hotels, and interesting openings on the dining, beach bar and nightlife scene – and you have an eternal Greek island classic on your hands.”
3. Best for history and culture: Delos
The birthplace of Apollo, according to mythology, Delos boasts some of the most extensive remains from the golden Hellenistic age (and earlier) of classical Greece. The entire island – a Unesco World Heritage Site – consists of ruins, which have been systematically unearthed since 1872, including temples, statues, mosaics and a theatre. It is not possible to stay on the island; visitors arrive by boat from nearby Mykonos, which is the best Greek island for…
4. Best for swanky hotels: Mykonos
Greek hotels have a reputation for being rustic – not so on trendy Mykonos, which has some of the most stylish boutique properties around. They include Cavo Tagoo. Our reviewer, Marc Dubin, says: “Originally built atop an abandoned quarry in 1985 by owner-architect Paris Liakos, then renovated thoroughly in 2007, this barefoot chic complex set the bar high for all the cutting-edge lodging that followed on the island. The 38-metre-long infinity seawater pool with an aquarium bar and wood decking, looking towards the sunset, forms its heart.”
5. Best for food: Crete
Crete’s southerly location gives it the longest growing season in Greece, and it produces a surfeit of edible delights – you’ll even find avocados and bananas.
Heidi Fuller-Love says: “Variety is the spice of life on the largest Greek island. Crete, home of the Minotaur legend and birthplace of Europe’s first evolved society, is a vivid and sensual mosaic of contrasts: from lofty mountains and pink-sand beaches, to buzzing nightlife and traditional kafeneions (coffeehouses). Standing at the crossroads of three continents, the atoll described by Homer in his Odyssey as ‘a fair land… in the midst of the wine-dark sea’ has been invaded countless times over the centuries. The traces of successive invasions can be found in Turkish bathhouses, Venetian fortresses, and Byzantine architecture.
“However, Cretans refuse to dwell on the past: any and every occasion is an excuse for a glendi (party), usually revolving round food: home-grown vegetables, locally produced olive oil, fat snails gleaned in the mountains, or raki brewed in the local still. And (as any Greek will proudly tell you) Crete is the country’s most hospitable island, so you can expect plenty of invitations to join in the fun.”
6. Best for peace and quiet: Koufonissia
Rachel Howard, another of our Greek experts, is a huge fan of this overlooked spot. She says: “A two-hour ferry ride from Naxos, the twin islands of Ano (Upper) and Kato (Lower) Koufonisi are a castaway dream. Ano Koufonisi is small enough to walk around in a day. The coastal path from the pocket-sized port peters out at Pori, the largest of the island’s milky blue beaches. Kalofego is a laid-back beach bar where the owner, a musician, often stages impromptu jam sessions with his friends. On Kato Koufonisi, the only inhabitants are goats and the Venetsanos family, who run a wonderful taverna. Order fish soup or slow-roast kid goat.”
She suggests staying at Koufonissi Villas (koufonisivillas.com), four gorgeous Cycladic-style apartments overlooking Pori beach.
See Rachel’s 20 travel secrets of the Greek islands.
7. Best for otherworldly landscapes: Tinos
Having visited a clutch of Greek islands over the years, Tinos was my favourite – I long to return. A 15-minute ferry ride from Mykonos, it is very different from its overcrowded and glamorous neighbour. Hiking, rather than partying, is the big draw, and the island’s mountainous interior conceals forgotten hamlets, lofty chapels and hundreds of beautiful dovecotes (pigeon houses), all linked by a network of walking trails. Most spectacular of all is its northeast corner, beyond the villages of Falatados and Volax. Thousands of granite boulders scatter the landscape, lending it an appearance more like Arizona than the Aegean. Xinara House, designed and owned by a British couple, offers modern digs in the heart of traditional Tinos.
8. Best for hiking: Andros
There are wonderful walks all over mountainous Andros, the most northerly of the Cyclades. Sarah Baxter writes: “Second-biggest of the Cyclades, Andros isn’t much like other Greek islands. For a start it’s unusually lush, with year-round rivers and springs. The Ancient Greeks called it Ydrousa, the ‘watery one’, and back in the day, families were self-sufficient, cultivating their emasies (man-made terraces) to produce olive oil, vegetables, meat, fruits, wine, herbs and honey. Also, as the home of Greece’s shipbuilding industry, Andros hasn’t had to court tourists. The population – about 9,000 year-round – does swell in summer, largely with Athenians visiting their holiday homes. But this is as naught compared with nearby Mykonos, a quarter the size of Andros, which in August swarms with 200,000-plus people.
“No, Andros operates at a different speed: increasingly, walking pace. Walking on Andros used to be the norm. The mountainous, ravine-riven island is laced with old trails, from mule tracks and goat-tamped holloways to paved stenes, paths lined with the island’s distinctive dry-stone walls. Before cars, they were used for everything: to travel between the fields and villages, to get to church. But following the mass emigration from the island – from most Greek islands – after the Second World War, these ancient routes were largely abandoned. Until now.”
9. Best for couples: Symi
Santorini is a strong contender, but can be a little too crowded – so Symi gets our vote. It has one of the most picturesque harbours in the country, crowded with pastel-coloured houses, bars, tavernas and chic boutiques, and dozens of tiny beaches accessible only by boat. Travel writer Francesca Syz calls it a “rugged gem with a harbour of crumbling neoclassical mansions”, adding that it offers a wonderfully authentic Greek experience and some of the best food on any of its islands. She recommends staying at the British-run Old Markets hotel.
See our pick of the best hotels in Symi.
10. Best for the mind: Skyros
Whip your eye across the map of the Aegean, and you may fail to notice Skyros – a lost shard of the Sporades, adrift in the south of the archipelago. Skyros is lushly forested in parts, while hard and elevated in others, where the highest mountain Kochila hits 2,598ft, it revels in a version of Greece so classical that Achilles is supposed to have set sail for Troy from its shore. More recently, it has also become a hotspot for holistic holidays. Travel writer Sophie Butler recommends Atsitsa Bay, which offers yoga, sailing, life-coaching, music, sketching, painting, singing, dancing and other activities guaranteed to sooth your lockdown-addled mind. See skyros.com.
See our pick of the best hotels in Skyros.
11. Best for traditional island life: Karpathos
Travel writer Jennifer Bradley explains: “You can forgive Karpathos its relative lack of fame. While it may be the second largest of the Dodecanese, it sits almost equidistant between two big beasts of the Aegean, Rhodes and Crete, and is dwarfed in holiday profile by both. No matter. With its wildflower meadows, and a safeguarded space of its own (the Regional Marine Park of Northern Karpathos), it is a perfect place for simple strollings.” She recommends an eight-day walking break with Responsible Travel.
See her pick of Greece’s other overlooked islands.
12. Best for villas (and monasteries): Skopelos
On a Greek island holiday, cool, stone-floored villas – in my opinions – are infinitely preferable to hotels, and Skopelos, the setting for the film adaptation of Mamma Mia!, has some wonderful options. Villa Aetoma, a 10-minute drive from Skopelos Town, and bookable through Ionian & Aegean Island Holidays, is one, but the company offers many more.
Skopelos is also known for its monasteries. There are dozens scattered around the island, including perhaps 10 on Mount Palouki, on the south-east corner of the island. They make for a perfect ecclesiastical crawl – what more innocent, life-affirming activity could there be?
13. Best for views: Santorini
Kastellorizo, Greece’s easternmost island, is utterly gorgeous, but it’s hard to look beyond Santorini. Our expert, Marc Dubin, says: “Santoríni is really best approached by sea; as your arriving craft manoeuvres over the impossibly midnight blue waters of the caldera, the sheer lava cliffs of the caldera lip, layered in varicoloured rock, loom overhead, with white houses on top like a dusting of snow.
“It’s one of the spectacles of the Med, as is the reverse practice of staring out over the caldera waters from up top – something not lost on the strangely assorted clientele of honeymooners, cruise-ship patrons and backpackers.”
14. Best for nightlife: Rhodes
Kos, Corfu and Mykonos all stand out in this regard, but we’ll go for Rhodes. The resort of Faliraki has a bad reputation, but things are infinitely more refined in Rhodes Town.
Helen Iatrou says: “Despite being a classic bucket-and-spade destination, there is so much more to Rhodes than its 300-plus days of sunshine and long, sandy beaches. The grand Dodecanese island’s Unesco World Heritage-listed capital is Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited medieval town and worth a visit in its own right. The Knights of the Order of St John, the Ottomans and Fascist-era Italian occupiers have all passed through, leaving an indelible mark. History-lovers flock to the majestic Acropolis of Lindos and its Cycladic-style village of Lindos. Adventure aficionados head to the verdant interior for hiking and mountain biking, and south to Prasonisi for kite and windsurfing.
“The northern half of the island is the most developed tourism-wise and where most hotels are located, including multiple all-inclusive options. New, high-end resorts are slowly unfolding along the south-eastern coast. The wind-whipped western side is where you’ll find serene, umbrella-free beaches amid a landscape of dramatic mountains, low shrubs and castle ruins.”
15. Best for watersports: Lefkada
Large bays and consistently blustery winds attract droves of sailors and windsurfers to Lefkada, with the coastal towns of Vassiliki and Nydri popular spots for hiring boats and boards. The island has plenty more to recommend it, from its glorious beaches to its sleepy interior – the gorgeous former capital of Karya is a particular highlight.
See our pick of the best hotels in Lefkada.
Which is your favourite Greek island? Please let us know using the comment box below.