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It seems like this past decade or so everyone and their mother has been going to Greece on vacation. But despite there being 227 inhabited islands to choose from, they all go to the same Mykonos and Santorini! This over-tourism not only has taken away from the charm and traditions but it has made travelling to those islands quite unpleasant Walking down narrow streets with hundreds of strangers breathing and coughing on you is not enjoyable!
So if you want to go to a Greek island but don’t want to participate in over-tourism and wish for a more authentic experience, this article is for you.
Yes! Greece is a beautiful Mediterranean country composed of one mainland and over 6,000 islands and islets. The landscapes, climate, traditions, and history can vary significantly, so depending on the island and time of year you visit, you can have very different experiences. That being said, some islands don’t have a lot going on in the winter time and local businesses and restaurants close for the season. Therefore, if you wish to go off season, check with the hotel directly that they are open during your time of visit.
That being said, here are the most underrated greek islands you should visit:
Take a 2 hour ferry trip from Athens and you’ll be transported to Hydra, a cute and vibrant island where cars are not allowed. As one of the easiest islands to reach from Athens, Hydra is a popular day trip destination for Athenians, but not so much for international travellers.
For a newbie, Hydra is a perfect introduction to the Greek islands. Here you’ll find everything from friendly locals, colourful hill-side homes, fresh seafood, amazing beaches, and more. Additionally, there are over 1,000 friendly donkeys employed in the transportation of heavy items.
Hydra has also remained one of the most authentic of all Greek islands, and you can really feel its culture and traditions as you walk around the town. In the past, the island prospered thanks to its shipping industry and reached a peak population of 16,000. In the 50’s and 60’s the island was very popular among the Old Hollywood stars. Today, Hydra is a peaceful and relaxing island with around 2,500 permanent inhabitants.
The easternmost inhabited island in Greece, Kastelorizo is located just 800 meters off the coast of Kaş in Antalya, Turkey. This island is fairly remote and has under 500 inhabitants, making it a perfect escape for those looking to kick back and relax. There are plenty of places to stay and eat, but don’t expect any fancy, modern shops or amenities.
Kastelorizo has one town with beautiful Dodecanese style homes lining the waterfront. The weather is warm year-round with average temperatures of 11°C in January and 34°C in August. One of the most popular things to do is to book a boat tour of the Blue Caves. However, for the tide to be low enough so you to enter the cave, you should visit in the summer months.
If you wish to see more of Kastelorizo before visiting, just watch the 1991 Oscar-winning film Mediterraneo, as it was shot on this lovely island.
Like Kastelorizo, Symi is also located off the coast of Turkey. However it is a bigger island with more attractions and things to do. Arriving to Ano Symi (the island’s main town) by ferry feels surreal. Colourful neoclassical homes, tavernas and restaurants give you a glimpse into Symi’s glorious past. The island used to be very prosperous thanks to its shipbuilding industry, and over 22,000 people used to call it home at its peak. Today, there is a permanent population of around 2,500 inhabitants and the main industry is tourism.
One of the most popular things to try are Symi’s shrimps. These are tiny shrimps, unique to Symi, that are pan fried and eaten with the shell. Furthermore, the Nautical Museum, housed in Symi’s old shipyard, displays a variety of artefacts such as ship models, diver suits, old maps, sponges, stones, and more. Additionally, there are multiple secluded beaches around the island, waterfront restaurants, and hiking paths.
The second-largest Dodecanese island, Karpathos has a mountainous landscape and charming villages. There are over 6,000 permanent inhabitants, over 12 main villages, and numerous beaches. In addition, some of the most popular activities include hiking and windsurfing. This makes Karpathos a great destination for the travellers looking to mix exploration with relation.
Pigadia is the capital and main port of the island, and it it bustling in the summer months. A little south, on the opposite side of the island, you will find the traditional village of Arcesine, which offers a more relaxing atmosphere. In the center of Karpathos is Olympos, a very traditional village and former self-governing region. Here you can still see people wearing traditional clothing.
Alonissos is heaven for nature lovers. The island is covered with lusciously green landscapes, stunning beaches, and green-blue water. Unlike other Greek islands which are covered in rocky terrain and low vegetation, Alonissos is abundant with pine forests and cedar trees. Thus, it makes a great destination for hiking enthusiasts.
Moreover, the island is surrounded by a National Marine Park, which exists for the protection of the sea life, including the Mediterranean monk seal. This endangered species lives in the caves around the island, and for its protection, humans are prohibited from approaching some of the islands in the park. It is estimated that there are fewer than 700 Mediterranean monk seals still living in the wild.
With over 60 beached, Skiathos is a sunbather’s paradise. But that’s not all it has to offer. This island is also abundant with hills and tall trees. In fact, Skiathos is one of the best Greek islands for hiking and mountain biking. There are 25 signposted paths of different lengths and difficulty, covering 243 km.
In addition, Skiathos town (the main town on the island) has a cosmopolitan, bohemian atmosphere. It is relaxed during the day and bustling by night with lots of music and good times. Other popular things to do include visiting the water caves, seeing the monastery of Evangelistria (which dates back to 1794!), exploring the peninsula Bourtzi, and going to the open air cinema.
Located west, just off the mainland, Ithaca was the birthplace of Odysseus. However, keep in mind that Odysseus is a fictional character and thus, you won’t find any ruins associated with him. That being said, Ithaca has been inhabited since the Neolithic Ages and many civilizations have left a mark on it. This includes the Romans, Venetians, Ottomans, French and the British. Yet, despite its long history and close proximity to the continent, Ithaca is overlooked by tourists.
Today, there are about 3,000 permanent residents on the island. The capital city is Vathy, which is relatively new as it was rebuilt following a major earthquake in 1953. Similarly to Alonissos and Skiathos, Ithaca is also covered with tall vegetation. Thus it is a great destination if spending too much time in the sun isn’t your cup of tea. In addition, there are wonderful beaches with mountain views and crystal-clear water that are rarely visited by other people.
Chios sits on the eastern side of the Aegean Sea, close to the popular resort of Izmir, Turkey. Like all Greek islands, Chios is abundant with beaches, but it is also rich in history and stunning architecture. The medieval villages of Pyrgi and Olympi are particularly interesting thanks to their elaborate hand-painted buildings and fortification-like structure. Chios had been conquered by the Byzantines and Ottomans in the past, and you can see it in the styles of architecture.
Despite being the 5th largest Greek island and having a population of 54,000 permanent inhabitants, Chios is not that busy. Even in the height of tourist season, you can still find empty beaches.
One thing this island is most well known for are the Mastic trees. While they do grow in other parts of the world, only the trees on Chios produce the sap. This sap is collected and used to make a variety of products from chewing gum, to ice-cream, and even ouzo. It has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, and it can help with stomach aches and ulcers.
Chios is a great destination for those with multiple interests from history and architecture to sporting activities. Other things to do include: taking a bike tour, enjoying the volcanic beach of Mavra Volia, visiting the Byzantine Nea Moni Monastery (a World Heritage Site), strolling around the abandoned medieval village of Anavatos, and more.