There are a lot of islands in Greece. How many Greek islands are there, you ask? 6,000 of them. However, only 227 are inhabited and are all spread across two main seas, the Ionian and Aegean. What is interesting about these islands is that each has something different to offer; from landscapes and tradition to food and wine.
At Alternative Airlines, we have put together a travel guide will that explore three of the islands in the Cyclades and Dodecanese regions.
Greek islands to visit
Capital: Heraklion Size: 8,336 km2
The first island we highlight is Crete (pronounced Cre-ta in Greek). It’s the southernmost island from Greece’s capital Athens which is based on the mainland. In fact, Crete is also the largest Greek island, 88th in the world. Its mountainous and forest covered landscape remains untouched and it’s wonderfully surprising to be able to walk from the wooded areas straight to the beaches. The island is also famous for the Minoan civilisation artefacts and ruins that are located in the East.
Stopping off at the mountains in Crete. Credit: Sophie Georgalakis
Places to see in Crete
Chania is located in the northwest of Crete. It’ss one of the two cities in Crete and is full of history, with a mixture of 14th–16th century Egyptian, Ottoman and Venetian influenced architecture. There are many fish restaurants on the waterfront serving up freshly caught octopus ready to eat (which you’ll also see strung up outside!) However, if you want to eat like a local, head further south into the wooded areas to enjoy local lamb or locally grown cooked vegetables.
Heraklion (pronounced Iraklio by the Greeks) is the capital of Crete and is more of a bustling city compared to Chania. It’s noticeably more modern with a lively nightlife. If you’re looking for a bit more history whilst in Heraklion, you can visit Knossos which is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site in Crete.
Elafonisi beach is on the west coast of Crete. What makes this beach so special is the pink sand that covers its shores. Why is the sand pink in Elafonisi? Great question. This is due to the coral naturally breaking down over thousands of years and pieces of shells falling to the bottom of the ocean and then being washed onto shore, giving off a pink hue.
Elafonisi beach. Credit: Sophie Georgalakis
Crete travel tips
If you’re travelling by ferry from Athens, the journey length is seven hours to Crete. Once arriving at the port, it’s recommended to hire a car to drive around the island if you want to see Crete fully. Be warned that you will have to drive around the mountains in the centre of the island so allow extra time for your journey! If you are looking for places to stay in Crete, you can find a range of hotels and Greek style villas through Crete Travel.
Which airlines fly to Crete?
The main airports in Crete are in Heraklion (Nikos Kazantzakis) also known as Heraklion International Airport (HER) and Chania International Airport (CHQ)("Ioannis Daskalogiannis")
Airlines that fly to Crete are the Greek flag carrier Aegean Airlines, easyJet, Ryanair, Norwegian Air, Lufthansa, Olympic Air. You may have to connect flights at Athens International Airport depending on your original destination. Sky Express is the airline that connects you from Crete to its neighbouring Greek islands, such as Rhodes. These can all be booked online through Alternative Airlines.
Capital: Oia Size: 76.19 km2
Santorini is known as one of the most beautiful Greek islands and a testament to this is its clean whitewashed and blue door houses, beaches and stunning views and sunsets. It’s recognised as the island with the famous “Blue Church dome”. My experience of Santorini is that it is a tranquil, calm and beautiful island, making it a great destination for weddings! (You can read more about this in our weddings blog).
However, there is more to Santorini than just the beautiful clean Grecian streets and buildings. An active volcano lies in the centre of the island which last erupted in the 16th century and is the reason for the island’s crescent shape. The eruption is believed to have flown for hundreds of miles and that the volcanic ash can be still be found in Turkey today!
Oia — Santorini.
Places to see in Santorini
Santorini towns are located very close to each other but all have something different to offer. Oia and Imerovigli are romantic, with lots of couples holding hands and honeymooning whereas Fira, which is just behind Oia, is great for shopping and nightlife. The Greeks love to party and eat dinner late, so don’t be surprised when you finish dinner at 11pm and then out partying until 6am.
Santorini travel tips
Hop on a ferry from Crete to Santorini which takes two and a half hours and is in service twice a day. There are more services available during the summer season. Ferry tickets can be bought at the port or online.
The blue colour painted on the doors and church domes is believed to ward off evil spirits.
Or, you can take a five-hour ferry from Santorini from Athens or two hour to the neighbouring islands such as Naxos or Paros.
Capital: Rhodes Size: 2,714 km2
Rhodes is the most visited of all the Greek islands due to its mixture of wooded landscape, history, beaches and natural resorts to visit. The island is also popular for its nightlife based in Faliraki town and it has a lot of historical connections with neighbouring Turkey. However, it's recommended to drive further south the island to experience the different landscapes and villages.
Places to see in Rhodes
The Valley of the Butterflies
Located near the village of Theologos is Butterfly Valley (of Petaloudes in Greek) which is a natural forest that habitats a huge number of — you guessed it — butterflies. Particular species such as the Panaxia swarm the valley during August in order to reproduce. This is also a picturesque spot to visit, as you can marvel at the valley and walk around the rivers. In the heat of mid August, I found it surprisingly cool in Butterfly Valley due to the tree canopies and moisture in the air from the valley rivers.
Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes
If you're into history and walking, this is a highly recommended site to visit. It’s a large medieval castle but feels like you are in a small historical town. As soon as you enter the grand gates, you are greeted by cobbled stone streets, statues and tall grandeur walls so you are sightseeing whilst dining or shopping. There are even hotels located inside which are handy if you want to experience the nightlife inside the castle walls and don’t want to travel to far late night.
Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights. Credit: Sophie Georgalakis
The village of Apollona is located up in the hills, in the centre of the island. The town is small but it’s a great stopping point for real Rhodean food and local Greek wine when driving between Rhodes and the seaside village of Limnos. I recommend Taverna Yiannis as a lunch spot for traditional Greek food. The particular favourites is cooked local goat, moussaka and also a range of dishes from meat to vegetable options available, depending on your preference.