(This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that we have recommended. While clicking these links won't cost you any extra money, they will help us keep this site up and running and keep it free!)
(All hotels recommended in the article have been rated exceptional by previous visitors)There are so many Greek islands, it feels funny to just choose the 5 best destinations out of thousands. Yes, it’s true. There are more islands than one can count. We are not talking about 20 or 30 islands. We are talking thousands. But then again only hundreds are inhabited which narrow down your options – so to say. If you have already done some research and found yourself puzzled as to where to go, don’t worry. It’s absolutely natural! There are so many great places in the mainland of Greece, so many archeological sites, and so many islands one easily loses track. Back to your vacation destinations in Greece this summer. You most likely think of Greece and vision blue waters, a warm breeze, souvlaki and a cold beer under pine trees. You’ve got it! That’s exactly where we send you.
If you could open your wings and fly over Greece, you will see an endless turquoise sea interrupted by small and big islands, embellished by long coastlines and paired with a mountainous mainland which also has so much to offer. It’s really hard to choose where to go; heck, it was really hard for us to choose destinations for you. But all in all, we made a choice with the intention of satisfying all needs:
- For vacations in long sandy beaches washed with crystal blue water, prefer Zakynthos.
- If you like a romantic getaway on an island where witnessing the sunset is beyond compare, Santorini is the right choice for you.
- When trendy holidays on an island where extravagance meets an idyllic environment is what you are looking for, travel to Mykonos.
- If you opt for the best family vacations without cutting short the excitement, book a trip to Corfu.
- If you want a place to explore, rediscover it, have fun, visit archeological sites, and still relax, go to Crete.
It’s not the only jewel in the Ionian Sea but the shipwreck, the white beaches, and the Caretta Caretta sea turtles all make Zakynthos a must-go vacation destination in Greece. The Venetians once called Zakynthos the Flower of the East (Fiore di Levante) due to the great variety of flowers. But hang on a minute, you won’t go all the way to Zakynthos to view flowers. But admit it. It will add a touch of aroma and color to your life.
Okay, enough with that. Why should you travel to Zakynthos? Because this Greek island has it all: beaches (beyond compare), breathtaking views, a great nightlife, sea turtles…
It’s like you’ve taken a beautiful island and photoshopped it to look stunning. And we are not even close to doing it justice yet. Let’s just say that God was in a very good mood when he made Zakynthos.
What’s the most interesting thing in Zakynthos? The caves. Centuries of erosion changed the shape of the coastline by creating natural arches. The erosion created caves and unavoidably a dramatic and striking scenery. And so the blue color of the water becomes deeper under the larger arches making the seascape even more astonishing.
You MUST visit the Blue Caves. You get there by boat unless you are an experienced swimmer. It’s the most popular attraction in Zakynthos due to the succession and shape of caves. Why is it called Blue Caves? Because the blue of the waters changes tones due to the reflection of the sun and the plethora of caves.
What NOT to miss?
To visit Navagio, Greek for shipwreck. The turquoise waters will keep you in awe for months while the beach is not long but it’s beautiful. Now, what’s interesting is what sits on the beach. As you have probably guessed, a shipwreck. So what happened here?
The story is that the ship named Panagiotis encountered bad weather in his return from Turkey and ran aground the shallow cove of this part of Zakynthos. To spice up things a little, the core of the story is that the ship was smuggling goods and so it was abandoned and remains at the beach ever since. And so, it’s easy to understand why the beach is also called Smugglers Cove.
Have you heard of the endangered sea turtles, known as Caretta-caretta? You can actually see them here and if you are lucky, you will witness them lay their eggs.
Beaches in Zakynthos to swim with or without the Caretta-caretta sea turtles?
Marathonisi, Sakania, Gerakas, Kalamaki, Dafni, and the Blue caves (of course).
You also have to visit Zante. You will love the strolls and the panoramic view not to mention the crystal waters. Simply put, this is just paradise on earth.
Which other parts of Zakynthos to visit?
- The small village called Bochali.
- Keri’s lighthouse to stand over the cliff and view the sunset.
- Dionysios Orthodox Church, which stands since 1926 in spite of the catastrophic 1953 Ionian earthquake.
- The National Marine Park which is a protected area for the Caretta caretta sea turtles.
The Best Hotels (Zakynthos)
On a Budget: Zante Studios
Average Priced: Vice Apartments
Luxurious: Ionian Mudita
Visiting Santorini must be on everyone’s bucket list. It’s the island where you enjoy a drink and have the blue Aegean Sea lie before you for miles and miles. It’s the ideal place for romantic weddings, luxury vacations, and views full of blue & white. Stop right there. Close your eyes and picture yourself in a comfy chaise-long with a glass of cool white wine and the Aegean at your feet! Intrigued?
You will love every single moment spent on this Greek island. Its main feature? The volcanic caldera. Oh, the sunset too. Swimming in the hot springs. The best part? You can enjoy all three in one boat tour. The boat will cross you over to Nea Kameni where you climb about 130 meter to the top to get face to face with the active volcano (don’t forget to wear a hat and have a bottle of water with you). Most boat tours end up in the hot springs, which are the yellow waters (due to the sulfur) around the caldera. And then you will see the most beautiful sunset in the whole wide world.
What NOT to miss?
- Whether you stay in Fira, Imerovigli, Firostefani, or Oia, walk the streets to get the sense of the Mediterranean feeling in all its glory. You can actually go up and down the public stairwells and walk (almost) through the balconies of the whitewashed houses. Most shops and restaurants are in Fira but you can eat, drink, and relax in any part of the island.
- Santorini is known for its wine. And you can book a winery tour to taste local varieties and see the other side of this Greek island. There is a wine museum in Santorini too. It’s in a cave (which is a distinctive architecture in Santorini) and you can learn about the history and development of the local wines.
- Visit the ancient Akrotiri. What’s that? It’s the remains of the village, which was destroyed when the volcano erupted.
- If you are used to having an early dinner, book a restaurant with a view. Alternatively, go to Oia. It’s the best place to watch the sun disappear in the horizon. Go early and get a bottle of water with you – it gets really crowded but it’s totally worth it.
Santorini is known for many things but not its beaches. Due to the caldera, they are black. So this is not the perfect island to visit if you fancy white sandy beaches. But they are extremely interesting.
Best beaches in Santorini?
Perissa, Vlychada, Perivolos, Agios Georgios, Kamari, Monolithos, White Beach, and Vourvoulos. Santorini is a must-take trip at least once in your lifetime.
The Best Hotels (Santorini)
On a budget: Casa Sigala
Average Priced: Azalea Houses
Luxurious: Casa di Mare
It has been the favorite vacation destination in the Cyclades for its loud nights, gay-friendly bars, and party atmosphere day and night for decades. But apart from its cosmopolitan aura, Mykonos brings more to the table. At a second glance, you will see the extraordinary contradictions which make the mecca of entertainment much more than a party-animal-island.
Its position in the Aegean Sea, the rocky terrain, and absolute lack of plants leave Mykonos exposed to the elements. It’s righteously known as the island of the winds. The best part? It features some of the best beaches in the Aegean.
The best beaches in Mykonos?
Paradise, Super Paradise, Ornos, Platys Gialos, Psarou, Paraga, Elia, Agios Ioannis, Megali Ammos, Agrapi…
This is the Greek island, where you find glamorous mansions but also whitewashed houses and so high-end and humble accommodations. It’s the perfect place to be if you yearn for long nights of partying and long days in sandy beaches with long drinks and a light meal under your umbrella. You can still enjoy a great sunset and lots of great retail stores whether you want to buy branded clothing or souvenirs. It’s an excellent vacation spot for those that money burns in their pocket but for those on a budget too.
Once you get enough of the local windmills, you can also hop to a boat and cross the sea all the way to the nearby Delos to see the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo.
A nice surprise? If you are greeted by a pelican upon your arrival, don’t raise your eyebrows. The original pelican, also known as Petros the Pelican, was once found wounded by a fisherman. The pelican lived on the waterfront with the help of the locals and quickly became the mascot of the island. His death brought great grief to the locals but since he was a must-see, Petros has been since replaced by other pelicans but never forgotten.
The best Hotels (Mykonos)
Average Priced: Mina Studios
Expensive: Rocabella Mykonos Hotel
Luxurious: Cavo Tagoo
As one of the largest and greenest Greek islands, Corfu has plenty to offer to all kinds of travelers. It’s one of the most remarkable islands in the Ionian Sea. Whether you are into cultural tourism, love history, prefer to stroll, want to swim, or simply need an island to offer it all, Corfu will have you covered. Although you will love to spend more hours on the beach, don’t miss strolling the alleys and pathways of the Corfu Old Town.
- If you like hiking, don’t miss the Corfu Trail.
- If you love museums, visit the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Asian Art, and the Kapodistrias Museum – once the summer home of Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first Greek governor.
- If you like the Byzantine art, visit the Byzantine Museum of Antivouniotissa – this is a church.
Spiridon is a common male name in Corfu and so you will probably hear it often. Saint Spiridon is considered the keeper of the city for expelling the plague from Corfu.
Music is a significant part of the local culture. The Philharmonic societies in Corfu are exceptional and you might get a chance to enjoy summer concerts. You will become overawed if you happen to travel to Corfu for your Easter vacation. The Philharmonic societies accompany the Epitaph procession on Good Friday (and on Holy Saturday) and Corfiotes throw clay pots from their balconies to commemorate the phrase of King David ‘Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel’.
With a vast history as its legacy, Corfu provides more than a 5-day visitor can actually see. But since vacations and strolls go hand in hand, don’t forget to check out the islet called Pondikonisi (mouse island) – no mice in the island, don’t worry.
According to Homer, this inlet used to be the Phaecian ship on its way back to Ithaca. God Poseidon got angry with Odysseys for blinding his son Polyphemos and in order to take revenge, petrified the ship which became an island.
And so this islet is a rock, which hosts only a church and visits are not usually allowed.
The best beaches in Corfu?
Paradise, Gardenos, Bataria, Agios Stefanos, Halikounas, Marathias, Avlaki, St. Spyridon, Canal D’Amour…
The sky is the limit when it comes to the things you can do, see, and visit in Corfu. One thing that makes Corfu inviting is its different ‘color’. Under the British and Venetian rule for so long, it has been definitely influenced. You will love the Italian architecture which makes the old town really fascinating.
The Best Hotels (Corfu)
On a budget: Nikodimos Garden Studios
Average Priced: Austella Suite
Luxurious: Villa Aeolos
If you haven’t heard of Crete, you might have heard of the Minoan civilization. You might have read about Theseus and the Minotaur – one of the most popular myths of the Greek Mythology, or you might have been told about the myth of Icarus and Daedalus. How about El Greco, aka Domenikos Theotokopoulos? Or Nana Mouskouri? Or Jennifer Aniston?
Even if you weren’t the best kid in class, you might have read Erotokritos, the epic romance written by Vikentios Kornaros. Or you might have heard of Nikos Kazantzakis or Odysseas Elytis. You might have a friend who visited the Venetian castle in Rethymno or the gorge of Samaria, spent the last vacations in Elafonisi or is obsessed with the traditional Greek salad known as dakos.
What do all these things have in common? They are all part of the Cretan culture, history, and legacy. Crete is the largest island in Greece and has a history as long as humanity. You can surely not cover every inch or learn everything about it in a single visit, but it’s good to make a start. This is the island you want to visit whether you care to see archaeological sites, get family vacations, enjoy your honeymoon, witness folklore dancing, or are a lover of the Mediterranean diet. Crete boasts about its olive oil, rusks, tsikoudia, and rakomelo.
Want to see natural beauty? Go to Crete. Visit Chania, Elounda, Heraklion, Rethymno, Agios Nikolaos, Ierapetra, Sfakia, Malia…the destinations are endless just like your to-do choices.
The best beaches in Crete?
Elafonisi, Balos, Falassarna, Vai, Preveli, Plakias, Rodakino, Matala, Istro, Tymbaki…
Places to make sure you visit in Crete?
- The Minoan sites, Knossos
- Spinaloga – the island which once became the harbor of the leper colony and inspired Victoria Hislop’s book “The Island”
- Samarian gorge
- Koufounisi – an islet
- Gaidouronisi / Hrysi – an islet
- Arkadi Monastery
- Nikos Kazantzakis Museum
Crete is seductive, luring, interesting, and hospitable. You won’t only love every minute of it, you won’t want to leave.
The best Hotels (Crete)
On a budget: Porto Kalyves
Average Priced: Parthenis Beach
Luxurious: Blue Palace