26 September 2022
Something for everyone
Set in the slow-cooked south-east corner of Europe, Greece has simmered for thousands of hot Mediterranean summers and rainy winters into a land of every kind of richness: fertility, antiquity, ingenuity and biodiversity. This is a place where the sun reigns supreme; one that is blessed with hot and dry summers and mild winters. Perhaps that’s why this stunning Mediterranean archipelago is home to the most beautiful array of wildlife, scenery and 1.5 million souls, scattered among just 227 of its 6,000 islands and islets.
These islands, in all their variety, are something of a mixed bag: wild nightlife contrasts with the serenity of white sand beaches to offer the most incredibly well-rounded holiday experience you could ask for. The beauty of this place is in its ability to draw people in from all walks of life, whether you’re an avid birdwatcher, a party person or a curious backpacker. These stunning islands are alluring in a way that is all-encompassing. Whether you’re looking for a warm-weather beach holiday, or to explore a relaxed culture that is worlds away from the stresses of your every day life, look no further than the Greek Islands. They really do have something perfect for everyone.
What makes the Greek Islands, the Greek Islands?
1. Variety's the spice of life…
They say variety is the spice of life, and nowhere is that clearer than on the Greek Islands. From party islands packed with beach clubs, bars and nightclubs, to tiny islets that hide gorgeously serene beaches full of incredible wildlife, this archipelago is perfect for any and all travellers. Whether you’re honeymooning, backpacking with friends, or taking the kids on their first holiday, the Greek Islands really do have something for everyone. Here are some of our favourite islands:
Take a walk on the wild side of Greece in Mykonos - one of the most popular destinations in the Greek Islands. Home to some of the most stunning beaches and a legendary rave scene, Mykonos is the definition of a party in paradise. Whether you’re more of a day-party-on-the-beach kinda traveller, or someone who likes to party all night, Mykonos is one place where the party don’t stop. More on that below…
They say Santorini is the best romantic holiday destination in the world, but I went with a friend and let me tell you - it doesn’t lose its romanticism whether you’re there with a partner or not. Luxury whitewashed houses perched on caldera cliffs that offer stunning views over the Aegean Sea, enchanting sunrises and sunsets, and an all-round charming atmosphere make this isle the perfect romantic stop-off in the Greek Islands.
This charmingly liliputian isle is a hidden gem in the Aegean sea. Syros, the capital of the Cyclades, remains largely untouched by tourist crowds, offering the perfect island getaway if you’re looking for something a little more lowkey. From its rich history to its dazzling beaches and fantastic food scene, it has all the essential ingredients for an unforgettable experience.
Crete, the largest of the Greek Islands, is home to its own unique history and culture, with sights including the ancient palace of Knossos, an incredible food scene and unique traditions to experience. In fact, one trip to Crete may not be enough…
With its lush green scenery and idyllic white-sand beaches fringed by great pine trees, Corfu weaves a powerful spell on its visitors. But there is so much more to this island than its beauty. This is a place whose historic monuments offer mythological tales alongside military history, and whose rich multi-cultural heritage brings forth a fascinating food culture and more.
Fun fact: The largest and most populous island in Greece, Crete covers a whopping 8,336 square kilometres, with a population of over 630,000 people.
2. Mykonos: the island where the party don’t stop
Mykonos is one place where we’d be lying if we said it had great “nightlife”, because this island has great “round-the-clocklife”! Whether you’re looking to dance the night away or you want to party in the sun, there’s always something happening on this wild island.
For the love of great music - Cavo Paradiso
Hosting some of the best DJs in the world, Cavo is a huge pillar of Mykonos nightlife. Located in the south, this is one of the island’s flashiest beach clubs with an enormous lighting rig, booming sound system and A-grade security. But don’t worry, if you need a breather, Cavo also has a beautiful outdoor terrace with tonnes of space. If you’re headed to Cavo, don’t rush to get there too early; the bangers get going around 1am, and you’ll need enough stamina to last until sunrise, when revellers crowd together on the clifftop to watch the sun peeking over the horizon.
For the pooped-by-midnight - Kalua Beach Bar
If you’re someone who likes to party early and be tucked in bed by midnight, Kalua is just one of the many Mykonos bars you’ll find that gets popping early. Set in the heart of the idyllic Paraga Beach, Kalua offers a cute and classy experience during the day with unparalleled cuisine, tasty cocktails and chilled beats. But around 4PM, the whole place transforms as revellers descend on the area to party the night away.
For the aesthetic - Scorpios
If you’re looking for a more refined, Instagrammable clubbing experience in Mykonos, head to Scorpios. Drawing in a mix of young professionals from their late 20’s to 40’s, Scorpios offers an experience that is a world apart from the island’s other clubs. With its extravagant bohemian ambiance, tropical beach with turquoise waters and sunset-facing cliffside, this is a beach club with a truly upscale atmosphere. The live bands and DJs are thoughtfully chosen and play music that is unlike your typical club music - think traditional Greek music blended together with club-style electronic beats.
But be warned: the club’s prices definitely reflect a uniquely high-end experience. Cabanas can be rented from 11.00AM and are €100 to €200 for a double or two singles. Additional sun beds are €30. Starting at 5:00 pm you can reserve a spot at Sunset beach or the Terrace. The Terrace is for groups as table reservations have a €2,000 to €5,000 minimum consumption policy.
The restaurant is open from 1:30pm to 11:30pm and serves food focused on Greek ingredients with Mediterranean and Oriental influences. The restaurant is completely outdoors and a fun place to eat. For food, you can also expect a pretty hefty bill, with a small quinoa salad costing €22, burger €24, poke bowl €26, smoothies €11, and chicken skewers €16. If you can afford it, it’s a wonderful, though overpriced, meal.
If you want to experience Scorpios on a budget, we recommend making a reservation for 1 or 2 in the Sunset Beach area. Reservations for the Sunset beach area require that you buy a bottle (wine/champagne/liquor for parties of 1-2, must be liquor for parties of 3 or more). Basic brands of liquor are €160 to €300 for a regular sized bottle, but you can split the cost of the cheapest bottle of wine, at €50.
For the authenticity - Blue Myth
As much as we love partying, we’re also firm believers that no holiday is complete without a taste of the local culture. Greek culture centres around the togetherness of mealtimes, so it seems fitting that Blue Myth restaurant offers a taste of Greek nightlife with a “glendi” every Wednesday and Sunday - a traditional Greek feast livened up with local musicians, dancers and singers. Over the course of dinner, traditional Greek music brings the atmosphere while dancers perform the traditional moves that pair with each song. It’s not uncommon that, by the end of dinner, half the restaurant is up on their feet! If you can make it to one of Blue Myth’s Greek nights, you’re really in for a treat.
Fun fact: The island of Santorini actually remains an active volcano to this day (though in a dormant state). Scientists have found evidence of at least 12 large eruptions in the last 200,000 years, with the last one shaking its shores in 1950.
3. A delicious Mediterranean diet
Greek cuisine offers an incredibly rich and diverse array of food - the culmination of thousands of years of tradition. From unique fried cheese appetisers like Saganaki to the more traditional Souvlaki, you’ll find endless mouth-watering dishes in the Greek Islands. In fact, Greek cuisine alone is more than enough reason for someone to visit Greece. Firmly rooted in the Mediterranean diet, Greek food is rich in nutrients - and many nutritionists believe it is actually the key to life longevity!
Perhaps the most integral component of Greek cuisine is olive oil - whose characteristic flavour forms the base of most dishes. This “Liquid Gold” of the country - as Homer once called it - is an irreplaceable nutritional component for every Greek, being synonymous with Greek tradition, as well as its healthy diet and its rich history. Ancient Greeks consumed olive oil for a healthy, long life—both as food, or as an essential treatment for the skin and hair. Today, olives and olive oil are staples in a Greek home, where they are used in salads or as an essential ingredient in much of Greek cuisine.
As a whole, Greek cuisine is rich in authentic flavours and aromas. With a history of around 4,000 years, any traditional Greek cuisine is based on the pure and unique quality of home-grown produce, and is characterised by 4 things: fresh, quality ingredients; fine use of flavourings; the famous Greek olive oil, and simplicity! Tavernas and some restaurants are among the main venues serving traditional Greek dishes for locals and visitors. Some traditional Greek foods, especially souvlaki and pita with gyros are often served in street food style.
But beyond the food, how you eat in Greece is equally as important. The time of the day when Greeks gather around the table to enjoy a meal along with wine or ouzo is a long lasting tradition, and mealtimes are usually spent amongst good company with flowing conversation. In fact, this deeply entrenched social custom is as old as Greece itself, as shown by the Greek word “symposium”, which means “drinking with friends”.
Good to know: Many people associate Greek food with tender, succulent lamb dishes like souvlaki (lamb skewers) and kleftiko (slow cooked lamb) or tangy sheep's cheese like feta. This is thanks to the region’s arid climate and rocky terrain; it was much easier to graze sheep and goats than cattle, so most traditional Greek dishes focused on the ingredients they could harvest from them.
4. Incredible natural beauty
Mixing the paradisiacal with their rugged beauty, the Greek islands reign supreme as some of the most beautiful spots in Europe. From natural landscapes like sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and coastal caves, to the manmade port towns, winding cobbles streets and incredible monuments, the Greek Islands come together to form a stunning archipelago.
Corfu, home of the ancient Phaeacians and the mythical stomping ground of Poseidon, sprouts proudly from the Ionian Sea, offering up a medley of sandy beaches, pebbly coves, and UNESCO-accredited villages perched atop chiselled cliffsides. This is a place whose natural beauty is only enhanced by its manmade elements, with spots such as the Angelokastro Castle, located at the top of the highest peak of the island's shoreline in the northwest blending perfectly with the landscape to leave visitors awestruck.
A patchwork of crumbling ancient harbours and charming Venetian port towns, Crete brings to the fore the beauty brought to the islands by man. This delightful little Greek Island is home to endless olive groves, sun-kissed peaks and dramatic canyons. Explore wildly rugged beaches to the west of the island, or discover the ethereal beauty of pink sand beaches like Elafonisi on the Libyan Sea.
Though it may seem a cliche to include this romantic getaway on our list, there’s a reason why Santorini is so well-loved… This liliputian isle is the stuff of postcards and travel brochures, with a beauty so unparalleled it’s hard not to feel in complete awe as you wander it’s narrow cobbled streets. Carved into a crescent shaped caldera by the volcanic eruptions of the past, Greek blue domes cascade over the volcanic cliffs of the island to create the most spectacular views. Even more stunning is when the sun rises and sets on this beautiful island, casting hues of orange, pink and red over the brilliant whitewashed walls of the cubist villages of Oia and Fira.
Fun fact: Ever wondered why Greece’s islands have so many beautiful blue and white houses? According to ancient beliefs, this particular shade of blue keeps evil away. The locals call the colour kyanos, which is where we derived the words ‘cyan’ and ‘cyanide’.
5. The most beautiful wildlife
Lying at the point where Europe meets Asia and hemmed in by great oceans such as the Mediterranean and Black Sea, Greece makes for the perfect wildlife hub. In the spring, while the rest of Europe is still shivering, the Greek Islands are already awash with blooms. As early as April, the islands come to life with an army of orchids of all shapes and sizes, crowding the corners of Greek fields and hillsides all the way to the roadside. But the beauty of this place goes far beyond its flora…
Birds make the short-haul journey over from Africa, passing by the migratory flyway that is Greece in their millions to delight visitors and liven up the mornings with their birdsong. Often, these beautiful migrants are on their way to somewhere else, but some, of course, settle to breed alongside the residents in the olive groves, woods and Mediterranean scrub. Islands such as Lesbos and Samos, with their rich mix of habitats, bring the most eclectic mix of migratory birds. So much so, in fact, that spotting a rarity is, if you like, common. Marshes and wetlands turn up waders, herons, rails and crakes and pelicans; birds of prey such as Red-footed Falcons pass through; the sheer range of small birds, such as warblers, flycatchers, chats and pipits is incredible. Meanwhile, the islands’ mountainous, forested landscapes host some of the loveliest birds in the whole of Europe: Bee-eaters, Hoopoes, Rollers and Golden Orioles, as well as Black-headed Buntings and Black-eared Wheatears. All are in their stunning spring finery. Into the mix come such specialities: Kruper’s Nuthatch and Cinereous Bunting on Lesbos, for example, and the more widespread Cretzschmar’s Bunting and Ruppell’s Warbler on both. For birdwatchers, the views are staggeringly beautiful.
The Greek Islands are exceptionally rich in marine life: their open waters are frequented by some of the most incredible aquatic mammals in the Mediterranean - from whales and dolphins to seals. Take a boat trip or, if you want to get up real close and personal, a snorkelling or diving tour to see what the Greek seas have to offer.
Monk seals were, according to the ancient Greeks, sacred animals, protected by Poseidon and Apollo. Sadly, this unique species is one of the most endangered animals on the planet today, facing an extremely high risk of extinction from its natural environment in the immediate future. The Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) is an earless seal of the tribe Monachini. They are the only earless seals found in tropical climates, and it is in Greece where roughly half of the monk seal’s global population - 250 to 300 individuals - lives and breeds.
Loggerhead turtles, also known as Caretta turtles, are common in Greece. These living fossils have been traversing the Earth’s seas for the last 100 million years, and are an awesome sight to see. The Greek Islands are home to the seven biggest egg-laying destinations for Loggerheads: Zakynthos, Kyparissia, Lakonikos, Rethymno, Chania, Messenia, and Koroni, so be sure to have these on your list if you want to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitats. If turtle-watching is on your bucket list for your Greek Island trip, here are a few things to keep in mind:
It’s important that you leave the beaches before it gets dark, so the turtles may nest in peace.
Late in July the hatchlings will appear. During this time beach-goers should not interfere with the baby turtles.
Tourists should stay away from and not try to lift the turtles and carry them to the sea because this first journey is supposed to strengthen their bodies.
Do not pour water on them either because it may confuse them.
The basking shark is a slow-moving, plankton-eating giant. These gentle creatures are easy to spot, thanks to their large dorsal fins and love of surface-dwelling plankton. Diving or snorkelling with a basking shark is an incredible once in a lifetime experience. They are most common off the coast of Rhodes in the summer months, but these gentle giants can be found all over the Greek Islands, and are a must-see for any wildlife enthusiast visiting the islands!
Fun fact: Loggerhead turtles are named for their large heads that support powerful jaw muscles, allowing them to crush hard-shelled prey like clams and sea urchins. Their sex is determined by nest temperature: hot temperatures result in more females, and cool temperatures result in more males.
Good to know
The Greeks are on Island Time: people in the Greek Islands are pretty relaxed about timings, so if you’re expecting everything to happen when it should, you’ll likely end up disappointed. Restaurants might open a little later than signs indicate, taxi drivers might be a few minutes late, and even ferries may turn up late! Try not to stress about timings and just go with the flow while you’re in the Greek Islands.
Shop closing times: almost everything closes on Sundays in Greece. Everything closes in the early afternoon on Mondays and Wednesdays as well. Be sure to take these hours into consideration when planning your trip itinerary, and always check opening hours in advance!
Haggling: In Greece, haggling is a normal part of the culture, but it’s important to know when to haggle and when not to. In stores, you’ll usually be approached to buy something. If, when you ask for the price, they respond by saying something like, “It’s 10 Euros, but I’ll give it to you for 8,” prepare to haggle. If they flat out say a price, that price is unlikely to shift. When haggling, it’s best to lowball initially, as you’ll end up meeting in the middle. So, if your first offer is 50% of the original price, you’ll end up paying 75%. And, finally, if you don’t like the price, feel free to walk away! As a matter of fact, if you do, there’s a good chance that the person you were bargaining with will start the negotiations up again — and in your favour.
Always have cash: While most European countries have shifted to using credit cards and debit cards, Greece is still a cash economy, so be sure to always have cash on you. If you don’t have cash at any point in time, there’s a good chance that there’s an ATM nearby, especially in the big cities.
The Greek islands are, unfortunately, not a disability-friendly destination: on the small islands, you have to climb hundreds of steps to get from one destination to another, so they are unfortunately not easily accessible for anyone who has trouble walking. If you or someone you’re traveling with does have a disability, it’s a good idea to check in ahead of time with your accommodations and transportation to make sure that they have options that work well for you. If possible, try to book everything early, because the few places with disability accommodations are often booked far in advance.
Drink, but don’t get drunk: In Greece, drinking is popular. Ouzo and Tsikoudia top the list of the most common types of alcohol in the country. But it’s important to note that while Greek people drink, they don’t usually get drunk - pretty impressive, considering the high alcohol content in both Ouzo (between 37.5% and 50%) and Tsikoudia (between 40% and 65%). The secret is this: don’t drink on an empty stomach. Make sure you have some food before you start drinking. And even after that, take a few breaks between your shots to sample some food and drink some water.
Drink bottled water: on some islands, the water isn’t safe for drinking. On others, tap water is scarce and preserved for things like doing laundry and showering. And on a few, it just doesn’t taste pleasant. I brushed my teeth with tap water in Santorini and it tasted like seawater - definitely not something you want to be drinking!
Don’t flush toilet paper: The pipes on the Greek Islands are too small to handle toilet paper, so you’ll need to dispose of it in the bins rather than flushing it down the toilet. It’s a little weird to get used to, but the alternative is overwhelming the island’s sewage systems. You can bring scented bags with you to dispose of your tissues, or if you prefer, you can wash yourself with water to minimise the amount of soiled tissue you’re putting in your bin.
Clothing-optional beaches: it’s pretty common for people to be topless on Mediterranean beaches, and Greece is no exception. However, Greece is a little different because there are quite a few clothing-optional beaches – and they’re not tucked away or hidden as you might expect. You can easily stumble upon them. If you’d prefer to steer clear of nudist beaches, your best bet is to stick to the more crowded beaches filled with umbrellas and beach towels.
The Greek Islands are an absolute must-see. This stunning archipelago is among the most beautiful European holidays I’ve ever been on, and is it any surprise? These islands are home to some insanely beautiful scenery, they offer the chance to see some rare wildlife, and they’re known for some of the most delicious cuisine. If you’re all about the food and the views, you’ve got to go.