The 3,000 plus Greek Islands fan out into the Aegean Sea from the mainland; those closest to Athens include the Saronic Islands, where Hydra, Poros, and Aegina are popular destinations. To the east highlights of the Cyclades encompass Delos, Mykonos, Kea, Paros, and Tinos.
North of Athens, Skiathos is the main draw of the Sporades, while further south the major Ionian Islands consist of Corfu, Zakynthos, Kefalonia, and Ithaca, while the North Aegeans include Lesbos. To the south-east of Athens lies Crete, the biggest of the islands, and just to the north-east, tucked under Turkey, Rhodes is the most-visited of the Dodecanese.
Most island hopping in Greece starts off from Piraeus in Athens and today the options include the stately inter-island ferries or high-speed catamarans and hydrofoils known as Flying Dolphins, which cut journey time by roughly a half. It’s easy to visit Hydra, Aegina, and Poros for the day, even on the ferry, and be back in Athens for a late supper, while Lesbos, Crete, and Rhodes all require an overnight ferry trip.
Internal connections between islands are not always possible – for example there is no ferry between Sifnos and neighboring Paros – so always check and confirm your itinerary before leaving Piraeus. You may have to be flexible in your travels or choose just a couple of islands to visit for a few days each – Hydra and Spetses are 30 minutes apart by Flying Dolphin – or you may find yourself having to head back to Athens between destinations. And always plan to spend your last night back in Athens; missed flights due to delayed ferry departures lead to unwarranted stress and ruined vacations.
And the best islands to visit? Mykonos is party central, with plenty of clubs and nudist beaches. Santorini is romantic, cultured, and famous for its caldera sunsets and cliffs. Rhodes is more commercially developed than many other Greek islands; Delos boasts one of the most important archeological sites in Greece but little else. Hydra has no beaches but plenty of nightlife. They’re all so diverse in character, so do your homework before you go to ensure your perfect vacation.
Check out multi-day tours of Greece.