Skiathos is favoured by British visitors and our choice for a pure, lazy family beach holiday with varied good beaches, a bit of pleasant walking and a lot of swimming.
Which islands to visit?
Once just farmed for olive oil or used as a base for fishing, over the last 50 years the Greek islands have developed into Europe’s best beach holiday destination, with a huge variety of natural tourist attractions from the soft bleached sands, and pine forests of Skiathos to the staggering volcanic views and red beaches of Santorini, the stylish party scenes in the hora (old town) and pebbly gathering places of Mykonos, the ancient cultures, sites, hikes and hot beige sands of Crete or Rhodes, the hiking routes and dunes of Naxos and the young and wild clubbing scenes of Ios where the beaches morph into recovery wards the morning after.
Greece offers massive variety at a reasonable price. We haven’t visited all the Greece islands but with our current knowledge we’d choose Skiathos for Brits who want good value beach holidays on soft sand and who don’t have pollen allergies, Mykonos for stylish sun-seekers and Santorini for its out-and-out bizarre configuration, staggering views and Atlantis connection, but you’d have to tolerate well-cooked black sand beaches.
One of Skiathos’ few non-sandy beaches.
The Sporades islands: North of Athens
*Koukounaries and *Banana beaches, Skiathos (not for people with Pine allergies!)
One of the busier Greek islands, packed with British sun seekers and a fair number of yachties, Skiathos handles it well, hiding a lot of hotels and villas under a cover of pine trees and managing to retain charm in its old town, especially when the sun goes down and the warren of little streets get their kit out.
Skiathos claims to have 65 beaches tho’ many are smaller than my sofa. Koukounaries is one of the best (the longest as well) on the island, with pine reserve backdrop, (unusually) fine yellow sand, clear, water and three tavernas.
It is half mile long and offers various watersports. Accessible by bus from Skiatos Town (7mls).
Banana Beach (also known as Krassas), next to Koukounaries, also has fine golden sand backed by pine woods, but is smaller and has more character and ‘cool’, with a couple of tavernas – one particularly hip.
Little Banana (aka Spartacus), next door, is a popular nudist spot.
Lalaria is a small, tranquil beach on the north-east coast only accessible by sea. It has smooth pebbles, and a stylish sea-formed rocky arch. There are no facilities there and excursion boats fill the place up pretty fast. Boats there go from the Old Port in Skiathos Town.
On the north coast Elias and Mandraki are quite isolated, accessible by a dirt road only, big strands of fine sand, scenic surrounds and unrefined tavernas. There are no watersports and it can get breezy. Nudists welcome!
Skopelos (very close to Skiathos)
We’re not very enthused about Skopelos but if you need a very quiet, traditional forested Greek island experience then Skopelos is easy to reach and encompasses a handful of good beaches.
See the incredible views, town and stony beaches of Santorini, birthplace of the Atlantis legend? Photo by Tango7174.
Santorini is a strange, beautiful and dramatic island with incredible views though beaches are volcanic stoney and hot. Santorini caldera (the volcanic bowl) is the site of Atlantis – or rather the Atlantis legend, so we Bugheads believe.
See the famously stylish Little Venice hora and beaches of Mykonos. And no, it’s not all about gays, but it is about style. It’ll be all white on the night!
Mykonos is one of the top Greek Islands for its exquisite little town, wild nightlife, stylish surroundings and pretty good beaches, though it is a bit pricey.
See the high hills, old town and extensive beaches of Naxos, a favourite of German tourists.
Naxos is a sizeable island with central mountains and beaches that are sandy and huge, the waters are clean and many of the visitors here are off walking in the mountains.
See not much of Ios.
Ios – just north of Santorini in the Cyclades island group – has had a reputation as a party island which may be running out of steam as the island is attracting more mature holidaymakers with new, sophisticated developments.
See the towns, ancient sites and beaches of Crete.
Huge and southerly Crete island offers not only massive beaches but also history and remnants of an important ancient culture, the Minoans, along with Romans, Venitians, Ottomans and more.
Crete is also alive with mythology as the birthplace of the Greek god Zeus, home to the Sirens, Muses, Icarus, the Minotaur, and visited by Athena, Hercules and Theseus.
Off the beaches and out of the palaces there are many hiking and biking trails, notably the Samaria Gorge.
Vourvourou beach in Halkidiki.
The Sithonia peninsula in Halkidiki (Macedonia, north Greece) is not an island, but it might as well be as it possesses all the assets of great sand, warm water and comfortable life support systems. The main difference is you can drive there via Thessaloniki. Halkidiki is a popular German holiday destination though after the eurozone crisis it’ll be interesting to see how Greeks react to German visitors.
Agios Giordo town and beach.
Corfu was once supposed to be one of Greece’s most beautiful islands, but a rash of unsubtle overdevelopment soon put paid to that; Kavos, Ipsos and Sidhari are neon-lit, raucous examples of good gone bad.
However, northern parts of the island still have some charm and excellent beaches. Aghios Georgios North is a secluded resort on the northwest coast, off the usual tourist route, with soft golden sands in a huge bay. Over in the northeast there is a cluster of restrained, comfortable fishing villages with good adjacent beaches, such as Kassiopi and Agios Stefanos. The best beach in the area is Kerasia, a long, quiet and very clean bay, with just one perfect taverna. It’s a couple of miles south of Agios Stefanos.
Vasilikos, Zante (Zakynthos)
Zante is relaxing, peaceful, typically Greek, with friendly locals. The beach in Vasilikos is the best in the island, a long stretch of sand with secluded coves, 16kms from the airport. There are a few hotels and basic self catering places, and good traditional restaurants, but they may require a long walk to get there, so your own transport is advisable.
For watersports, go to Mavratzis, Banana or St. Nicolas beaches, or Mare for snorkelling. There is also an interesting place called Shipwreck beach, which can be reached only by boat.
The Pelion Peninsula
Just fours hours drive north of Athens and on the mainland is this fairly tourist-free yet primitive, attractive area of hidden rocky coves, sandy beaches with shallow, sheltered kid-friendly waters (on the west coast), terrific walks, remote villages and no international hotels. The east and wilder coast of Pelion is even less visited and more dramatic.
For novice independent travellers the easiest option is to combine islands on the same ferry run, such as Paros/Naxos/Santorini, Syros/Tinos/Mykonos, or Serifos/Sifnos/Milos.
Be aware, however, that not all ferry companies release their summer schedules at the same time, and some can be quite late to do so. If this makes planning difficult, the Open Seas site lets you backdate so you can find out last year’s schedules for the dates you need, although of course you cannot guarantee that this year will be the same.
If you are on a budget remember that the high speed services are considerably more expensive, generally speaking, the slower the cheaper. And be prepared to be flexible.