Best quiet islands to visit for Greek holiday?
May 31, 2012 4:48 PM   Subscribe

Your recommendations for Greek islands to visit, please.

Going to be in Greece for approx 2 and a bit weeks in late June / early July. Landing in Athens and will be in that area for a few days, and then would like to see some islands. (prob 3 maximum, but I'm open to ideas).

What are MeFites recommendations? Would like to keep it fairly cheap if possible and if you can recommend associated hotel/apt-style accommodation where we could make our own breakfasts etc, that would be great.

Looking for places that are not too touristy, quiet rather than clubby, but ideally where we could mostly get by with English and phrasebook Greek where necessary.
posted by modernnomad to Travel & Transportation around Greece (21 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Folegondros and Amorgos fit your criteria when I visited 15 years ago, but I can't guarantee that's still the case. However, I'm guessing they haven't changed that much.
posted by whoaali at 5:17 PM on May 31, 2012

Tourism is most of the economy in the islands at the moment- you'll only need Greek for street signs in Athens, after that you'll be fine with English. I personally would be optimistic and hope that since the island people rely on tourism, you'll have a happy combination of good service/low prices/quiet streets because of the economic downturn. The islands certainly won't be full of partying British/German teenagers this year. When we visited, it was directly after the first big bout of riots in Athens, and while there was politically charged graffiti everywhere and the streets seemed subdued, that impression lifted once we headed for the islands.

My partner and I went to the Greek islands for three weeks after our final university exams (in July a couple of years ago), on a limited budget, and it was wonderful.

If you've got two and a bit weeks, I wouldn't limit yourself to 3 islands; the trips between them are short and beautiful, and most of the islands don't have enough to occupy you for more than a couple of days. You feel like a voyager if you travel between many, and because most main towns are at the ports, you don't waste time in any dead zones doing the unpleasant sort of travelling between destinations. It's all gorgeous. According to my memory, we went Athens- Mykonos - Delos (legendary birthplace of Apollo and home of the gods, full of temples)- Naxos (beautiful relaxing city)- Amorgos (for Hozoviotissa monastery built into the cliff, also gorgeous quiet mountains for hiking) - Santorini - Crete - Athens.

Absolutely visit Santorini- it's a little pricier than the other islands, but it is spectacular. If 'we' is a couple, it's extremely romantic. It and some other (deserted because still volcanic) islands are on the rim of what used to be a huge island with a civilisation on it, which sank into the sea after volcanic activity. So one side of the coast of Santorini is now the rim of a huge underwater caldera.

I wouldn't worry about the 'clubby' reputation of some of the islands. We went to Mykonos, for example, hoping greatly for lots of gay/lesbian clubbing, and in fact the scene was very very minimal and we ended up hopping on a 20-minute bus to a quiet beach, where we camped, rather than bothering. Mykonos is popular for good reason; it's one of my favourite memories, with the windmills, beautiful harbour bay, and quiet be-flagged streets. The Greek islands aren't like the Spanish islands, most tourists are there for a quiet beautiful getaway.

If you like history, go to Crete or Rhodes, and go on lots of historical trips and to the museums. So many cultures passed through the islands, and it shows. The food on both of those is also slightly more varied and delicious (it's tasty everywhere though). The White Mountains in Crete (especially the Samaria Gorge) are great for hiking. On Crete, Rethymno is a much more beautiful city than Heraklion (though the museum in Heraklion is great). Don't miss Knossos (the palace above the Minotaur's labyrinth- it's really beautiful).
posted by pickingupsticks at 5:20 PM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Keeping it cheap is very possible- we camped, but getting cheap delicious groceries to feed ourselves (for you I guess that's breakfast and maybe lunch) was easy without Greek. Also eating out is much less expensive than you would expect for such a beautiful area, I guess because of the downturn. If you like seafood/game/fresh vegetables you'll be in heaven.
posted by pickingupsticks at 5:22 PM on May 31, 2012

is there any kind of multi-island ferry pass, or is the only way just to book each leg separately?
posted by modernnomad at 5:32 PM on May 31, 2012

I don't remember a multi-island pass, though there could be one now. It's not hard to do- whenever you arrive at one island, book the next ticket at the dock for when you'll leave in a day or so, or further in advance for a big trip (e.g. Athens-Cyclades, Cyclades-Crete/Rhodes).
posted by pickingupsticks at 5:36 PM on May 31, 2012

There's a reason that the islands which are expensive and touristy are like that. Specifically, Mykonos, which has great beaches, is the base point from which you can visit Delos on a day trip, which is a must-see for its ruins, including the only example of ancient Greek homes. Santorini, also expensive and touristed, has a freaking volcano!

Some "positive" features you're looking for might be helpful here to guide the answers. Are you looking for a place that has nice beaches? Hiking? Are there historical interests you have that motivate your visit?
posted by deanc at 6:01 PM on May 31, 2012

Yes, nice and relatively peaceful beaches are high on the list... day hikes would also be a bonus. We are also not averse to renting a car to get around larger islands if necessary. We've both spent time see historical sites on the mainland, so it's not vital to see more but of course if there are any standout must-sees, then by all means we'd go take a look.
posted by modernnomad at 6:14 PM on May 31, 2012

I really loved Hydra when we went to Greece (ages and ages ago, though). The lack of cars was a great feature, and I remember it as having better food than anywhere else - a good trick given generally awesome food. Not sure how touristy it is now, but worth a look maybe.
posted by gemmy at 6:38 PM on May 31, 2012

Seconding Santorini. Went there on my honeymoon in 2006. The caldera is like nothing you've ever seen. I'd also second Mykonos (we also went there)—I think pickingupsticks is correct that its reputation for "clubby-ness" is overblown, though admittedly, we were there in September, which is just after the end of the high season.

We took the ferry from Mykonos to Santorini—it was decidedly non-special, as you had to stay inside the whole time. (That may not be the case for all ferries.) And it's also one thing to take a 20- or 40-minute jaunt on a boat. For several hours on end... eh. We later learned that there is (or at least was) plane service between the two islands, though I think it's the sort of thing where you may not be able to find out flight schedules on English-language travel websites but rather the kind of thing you'll want to ask your hotel front desk or concierge about.

We also did the day-trip to Delos, which was cool. It's almost more of junkyard of ancient ruins, with little signage, so you'll want a good guidebook or perhaps to take a tour.

Also, yeah, as others have said, you'll be fine with English. My wife can actually read Greek lettering (thanks to studying ancient Greek in high school—somehow she still remembers!) and I think there was maybe one helpful occasion where she made out some sign or note that was only in Greek.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 6:47 PM on May 31, 2012

Seconding Hydra. It was very cool. No cars, not overly touristy. Pretty places to swim. One of many pics:
posted by FlyByDay at 7:05 PM on May 31, 2012

I really enjoyed Skiathos and Skopelos.
posted by BibiRose at 7:17 PM on May 31, 2012

I was in Mykonos on a weekend last August, and it entirely lived up to its reputation for clubbiness. You couldn't force your way through the streets because of the crowds.

Still, it was very beautiful, and a highlight of my trip to Greece. It was the only island I went to, though (excluding Delos), so I can't speak to how it compares to others.
posted by dd42 at 8:03 PM on May 31, 2012

We did Naxos-Santorini-Milos last year. People above have sung the praises of the first two well enough, but I'd like to put in a good word for Milos. Gorgeous, gorgeous island, great food, and easily the best isolated swim-naked-in-the-Mediterranean beaches of the whole trip.
posted by Oktober at 8:14 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

We had lovely times in Crete and Santorini. Santorini is very, very pretty and we spent several happy hours driving from beach to beach.

Highly recommend leaving Heraklion if you go to Crete. We stayed at a wonderful little pension smack dab in the middle of Crete called Studios Keramos a few years ago. It was very difficult to get to - we had to rent a car, and we were both math majors in college and thus spent the whole car trip trying to sound out the signs in time to figure out whether it was our turn. We got there well after dark, feeling entirely wiped out and having entirely lost hope of getting any dinner in Zaros, only to discover that when we finally stumbled into the pension, the proprietress sat us down and made us a homey supper of several courses, prattling on in Greek the entire time. It was tremendous. And then breakfast the next morning put dinner to shame. Crete is a great place to see random amazing historical sights, and it's definitely way less tourist-infested than Santorini.
posted by town of cats at 8:24 PM on May 31, 2012

We loved sailing in the Dodecannese Islands. Patmos, Leros, Samos were all beautiful, way less visited by tourists than the more famous islands. Plus it's an easy ferry ride to Kusadasi in Turkey, where you can see glorious Ephesus.
posted by purenitrous at 8:41 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Since it's not been mentioned, I'm going to recommend Aegina, which is in the same general area is Hydra. I've been there twice on different trips. They grow delicious, delicious pistachios there.

Also recommending Mykonos and seconding dd42 that it can be very clubby at night, but I found it delightful during the day. I was also there near the end of the season, though.
posted by cabingirl at 8:56 PM on May 31, 2012

I love the northern islands , Thassos and Samothraki and also Crete
Samothraki is a bit more rugged than the other islands I have been to. You can definitely hike- there is a lovely waterfall. It is also the site of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods- gorgeous ruins where fertility rites occurred. Supposedly Alexander the Great was conceived there. It is a very mountainous island- Mt Fengari is over 5,000 ft. Very few tourists compared to other islands, but you will be able to communicate. The Winged Nike, now in the Louvre, was found and stolen there.

Thassos has a little more tourism, but not too crazy. Aliki is a perfect harbour with a great beach and old ruins and marble quarry. It is less rugged than Samothraki, but still partly forested. Limenaria is a nice town to stay in,too.

On Crete I would head to Paleochora on the south coast. The Gorge of Samaria is a National Park and well worth hiking. The people of Crete are incredibly friendly.
posted by Isadorady at 10:45 PM on May 31, 2012

I visited Hydra and Syros this time last year; both were lovely for different reasons.

Generally, in terms of trip planning, I would start in Athens, go to Hydra for a day or two (it is lovely but not the biggest island, then back to Athens (well, Paraeus), and then get on one of the huge ferries out to the Cyclades. Then, move south through the Cyclades hitting all the islands you care to see, ending in Santorini. From Santorini, another big ferry down to Crete, time in Crete, then a final ferry or flight back to Athens to get out of dodge. I've never been up to Skiathos or Skopelos, but I think if you're trying to maximize your time on the ground rather than traveling, it doesn't make a ton of sense to visit the Sporades or the eastern islands (Agean, Dodecanese, Ionian, &c). On preview it looks like pickingupsticks followed a plan more or less like the one I just outlined.

On Syros: it is very neat architecturally if you're into that sort of thing. Ermopouli was once the biggest port in Greece by virtue of its location in the middle of the Cyclades, but big cruise liners shifted that honor to Paraeus around the turn of the century. So they have a ton of Greek Revival (and Greek Revival in Greece is its own wonderful thing) dating from Greece's independence until about 1890. It has a certain air of ruined decadence, like a champion boxer gone to seed.
ANYWAY, have fun. It's a beautiful corner of the world.
posted by daniel striped tiger at 2:13 AM on June 1, 2012

I went to Paros a few years ago and LOVED it. Pretty sleepy and definitely un-touristy, but they have an english-language art school on the island so local folks are used to people bumbling around in bad phrase book Greek. The lodgings were cheap, the food was amazing and cheap, and the day hikes and beaches were beautiful.
posted by EmilyFlew at 6:52 AM on June 1, 2012

> Highly recommend leaving Heraklion if you go to Crete.

Seconded. Crete is wonderful if you get away from the capital. I spent several days in Chania and loved it; there's nothing much to do but look at the sea and Venetian walls, wander the tiny streets, and sit there sipping coffee like the locals. Not many tourists. Blissful, if you don't want to be Doing Things all the time.

I would also recommend Naxos, as did pickingupsticks above; not only is the port city nice, but there's great hiking in the interior uplands. Santorini is beautiful but I wouldn't go there again; I didn't even try Mykonos. But your tolerance for herds of tourists may be greater than mine.
posted by languagehat at 8:10 AM on June 1, 2012

I highly, highly recommend this book, Greek Island Hopping. It gives you enough information on each island, the attractions and placed to stay on each island, and the ferry schedules between them to let you make up your own vacation on the fly. It made for one of the best vacations of my life.
posted by Clambone at 8:37 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

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