If the kind of excitement you seek on holiday comes from natural beauty, historic interest, and authentic cultural experiences in unspoiled surroundings, then you might consider visiting one of these quiet Greek islands. Abundant in charm and character, rich in natural beauty, and above all pleasantly under the radar, on these lesser-known Greek Islands you can enjoy your own unique and unforgettable experience of Greece.
The best 18 quiet Greek islands to visit in 2020
The North Aegean is full of charms, and Lemnos is one of them. Tucked somewhere between the better known Lesvos and somewhat known Thassos, this more minimally developed island has a delightful wild side. There are many remote sandy beaches to enjoy in privacy, and windsurfers particularly like the eastern coast’s beaches. Fans of culture will enjoy ancient Kavrio and ancient Poliochni, and the Medieval castle of Myrina. Speleologists and other adventurers can have the thrill of visiting beautiful Philoctetes cave- named for a mythological hero- by boat!
You might be interested in: Things to do in Lemnos.
The Cycladic Islands are those who form a circle (“kyklos”) around sacred Delos. Some of them are world famous destinations- which means you’d have to share the crystalline Cycladic waters and white sandy beaches with many others. On smaller, less known Donousa, you can enjoy them in relative tranquility. And among them is beautiful Kedros, voted by Forbes Magazine as one of the 8 best beaches in the world (!). This is a tiny island- just under 14 square kilometers. Explore on foot- the villages of Mersini, Messaria, Stavros, and Kalotaritissa have always been connected by footpaths, which are groomed each year, making for comfortable hiking, and even an annual train run.
You might want to check out: Things to do in Donousa.
East of ultra-famous Santorini is a beautiful island worth discovering. It features the same stunning Cycladic architecture- stark white and blue against a glorious Greek sky- as its better – known neighbor. The Chora, populated since the middle ages, is centered around a Venetian fortress and the whole town is amphitheatrically arranged high above the harbor. The island has several gorgeously unspoiled beaches- like Kleisidi, Katsouni, Flamourou, Megalos (large) and Mikros (small) Roukounas, Megas Potamos , Agioi Anargyroi , Prassies, and Livoskopos, all of which are sheltered from northern winds. A magnificent feature of Anafi is Mount Kalamos, a 460 m high monolith that is linked to the island by an isthmus.
This mid-sized North Aegean island- just west of more famous Samos- has an exciting terrain combines lush green sloped with dramatic rocky areas. Ikaria is known for longevity: this is a “blue zone”- a region where life spans are much longer than the average. Is it the diet? Or the wildness and unspoiled purity of the terrain, and the exercise that day to day life involves? Or perhaps it’s simply the way they embrace a traditional lifestyle- enjoying the company of friends and family and not giving in to the stressful, fast-paced modern way of life. These are all qualities that make it a fine holiday destination, too.
The South Aegean Island Karpathos, located between Rhodes and Crete, is secluded- far from other islands. Only the southern part of the island has been partially developed in response to tourism, leaving the island’s middle and northern areas nearly untouched, with authentic traditional villages. This is a great place to experience the unspoiled culture, and nature too- the island’s excellent routes make it popular with hikers.
Click here for more things to do in Karpathos.
This is an island popular with people interested in alternative tourism, the kind of people who are more likely to be doing yoga at sunrise than seeking out the latest trendy cocktail by night. Dramatic natural surroundings bring out the nature lover in everyone- the island has not one but three mountains: Krokellos at 821m, Prophet Elias at 699m, and Korakas at 528m, and of course also wild and beautiful beaches. Agrotourism and activities centered around physical and spiritual wellness draw a select crowd to this Cycladic gem.
Close to Santorini and the ever-popular Milos, Folegandros thankfully remains relatively untouched by mass tourism. Beautifully terraced over generations, this hilly and rocky island is distinguished by its stone walls. Its three small towns- Chora, Ano Meria (“Ano” means “upper” in Greek) and Karavostassi (the port) is characterized by authentic charm, and Chora has the added attraction of having no cars or motorcycles to disturb the tranquility. Many footpaths make exploring the island a great pleasure.
The Ionian islands are much prized for their lushness, abounding in pine, carob, oak, olive, and cypress trees. Very close to popular Kephalonia, Ithaca none the less remains peaceful, offering all the Ionian charms. Chief among Ithaca’s attractions its variety of beaches suiting a host of tastes, from the tranquil to the active and fun, from soft sands to wild rocks. The island also has charming villages: picturesque Perahori has the finest view of across the island, and Anoyi, known for its very unusual rock formations. The Ionian Islands have excellent gastronomy with more than a little influence from their Italian neighbors, tasted in exotic local specialties like Savoro- fish fillets in vinegar, rosemary, garlic, and raisins.
Between Patmos and Kalymnos, this small Dodecanese Island was famously the hunting ground of the goddess Artemis as it was full of deer. Now it’s more popular with divers than hunters- the many shipwrecks of Leros’ coast make for fascinating underwater adventures. The beautiful traditional fishing villages provide a fine selection of places for a classic seaside meal. And if you like both swimming and hiking, this is the place for you- some of the most rewarding beaches are reached on foot.
Off the southern tip of the Peloponnese’s easternmost peninsula, this remote island is poetic in its beauty. Kytheraprovides an extraordinary variety of experiences. Waterfalls and forests and caves compete with the coves and beaches for your attention. This much sought after spot brought the Venetians, leaving romantic castles and fortresses. The island has several villages, each with their own unique and authentic characters.
When you think of remote, do you also think of small? Schoinousa is so tiny that you can make it your own by discovering it all: you can hike around petit Schoinoussa in just a couple of hours- it’s not even 9 square km, yet still has ruins from the ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine eras. The tiny port Mersini is popular with sailing enthusiasts, and this is a great starting point for your hike to discover lovely beaches, gardens, and palm trees. The small island’s rather big name could come from a plant that grows here in abundance, or perhaps from the name of a Venetian nobleman.
This is a Cycladic island with a difference- rather than the pristine simplicity of the classic white and blue Cycladic architecture, Syros is all about color: the capital Ermoupolis is awash in delicious pinks and ochres. A trading center in the early 19th C, the island’s wealth is seen is its glorious neoclassical architecture, and it even has an opera house. These considerable urban charms are of course joined by splendid beaches, like Kini and Finikas, and wonderful nature. For those who like a little urban lifestyle with their rugged terrain, this is a sweet choice (speaking of sweet, this island is famous for its excellent ‘loukoumia’- soft, chewy sweets perfumed with rose, bergamot, and other exotic flavors).
The small Greek island of Kastellorizo is one of the pretty Dodecanese islands which is nestled around 2km off the south coast of Turkey. This hidden gem remains one of the most untouched Greek islands, with a collection of colorful Neoclassical mansions built above the harbor and a handful of fishing boats gently bobbing on the surface of the water. Features that make Kastellorizo stand out against its neighbors are the Castello Rosso, built by the knights of St John in the Middle Ages, the 18th Century mosque and the singular cobblestone fishing village that is home to all of the island’s residents. While getting to Kastellorizo does involve a long ferry from either Rhodes or Piraeus, the peace and quiet you will experience, as well as the authentically local lifestyle will make it more than worth it!
Fournoi is a collection of tiny islands that lie between Ikaria, Samos, and Patmos in the North Aegean region. While there are a whole host of landmasses here, only two are inhabited, Fournoi and Thymaina. These are the perfect place to while away a summer’s day, with quiet beaches, classic Greek windmills and a handful of traditional hamlets with little tavernas serving up Greek coffee and a game of backgammon! The island has come to be known for its thyme honey, local cheese and its exceptional fish selection that are caught fresh by Fournian fishermen each day. The best way to explore the island is by moped, hopping on to discover each corner and cove at your own pace. The island is home to ancient temple ruins, hidden beaches, and stunning viewpoints so you could spend endless days here during the spring/summer months.
Tilos is another Dodecanese treasure that is wonderful in spring thanks to its wildflowers, verdant hills and birdlife that attract nature lovers from all over the world. It is also known as being the last place where elephants lived in the wild in Europe, with dwarf elephants having lived on the island around 4,000 years ago. Despite having some alluring natural hotspots, Tilos remains a relatively unknown Greek island, probably due to the fact that the island constitutes an ecological park which has meant that large hotels and chains have not been able to take over. This really is a blessing and it makes Tilos a great destination for those wanting to get away from it all.
Nisyros is a pretty magical island thanks to its mythological history, an active volcano and the stunning villages perched atop the mountainous landscape that looks out across the island towards the sea. Legend has it that the island of Nisyros was formed during a war between Gods and Giants that saw Poseidon cut off part of the island of Kos and throw it at his enemy Giant Polyvotis, sinking him the bottom of the Aegean Sea under the landmass that is now Nisyros.
Mythology aside, Nisyros is a stunning place to escape the buzz of real life, with the quaint villages of Mandraki, Emborios, and Nikia being quiet spots to relax. While most visitors only come to Nisyros for a day trip, it is worth staying to explore the island further, discovering beaches, churches and old thermal baths that are still in use today.
Another tiny island in the Dodecanese to discover is Chalki (pronounced Halki) a picturesque destination with just 430 inhabitants! Chalki lies 35 nautical miles west of the city of Rhodes and can be reached by ferry five times a week. The only settlement on Chalki is the harbor village of Nimborio with a collection of homes, guesthouses, cafés, and restaurants scattered along the seafront. Further inland lies the former capital of the island Chorio, which is built just below the castle fortress, the highest point on the island. While the only way to reach the castle is on foot, the hike is well worth it as the views are simply spectacular! Elsewhere on the island are beautiful beaches that can be explored on foot or by boat, including Kania, Ftenagia, and Trachia.
If you’re looking for a peaceful Greek island then Lipsi is it! This little island, located in the middle of the Dodecanese chain of islands has only around 700 inhabitants and just a handful of attractions that bring in tourists each year. The harbor itself is small yet perfectly formed, with colorful houses and churches rises up the hillside. Travelers can explore the church of Aghios Ioannis, Theologos, The Ecclesiastical-Folklore Museum and the Panaghia of Haros icon as well as taking time to visit the beaches of Kambos, Katsadia, Tourkomnima, and Platis Gialos.
Very often, the things we most remember from a holiday are the things we discover for ourselves- the secret beach, the casual seaside taverna with just a couple of other patrons. As popular as Greece is, at these lesser-known destinations it’s still possible to have your own unique experience.